Eight centuries ago St. Francis of Assisi famously told his followers to "Preach the gospel always. And use words if necessary." Like Francis, Rick Richardson's new book Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Intervarsity, 2006) challenges our popular assumptions about outreach. To jumpstart our discussion of Richardson's ideas we've invited David Robinson, pastor of Harvest Fellowship Church in Manhattan, Kansas, to review his book.

Rick Richardson opens his book, Reimagining Evangelism, with this statement?"Over the years, evangelism has gotten a bad name. It is sales, manipulation, TV preachers, big hair, pushing people to convert and going door to door. It elicits feelings similar to the intrusive practice of telemarketing." People are repelled by clich? images of evangelism and the church's tendency to reduce the dynamic work of God into an easy to read, streamlined, impersonal message. After our recent barrage of political ads, it's frightening to consider their similarities with certain methods of evangelism.

Reimagining proposes a fundamental shift in our current image of evangelism. If we are to engage people in this consumer culture with the gospel message, Richardson believes we first need to rid ourselves of this unhealthy image of evangelism as "closing the deal" on some impersonal spiritual sales call. He proposes the image of a travel guide who encourages those around them to recognize what is already going on and invite them to take part in God's much bigger story.

I appreciate how Richardson plainly states that those who follow Christ need to see themselves as collaborators with the Holy Spirit in guiding people on a spiritual journey. I think he does an excellent job of showing how evangelism is not exclusively reserved for a special group of Christians, but is something that we are all gifted to be a part of.

He takes this a step further by saying that evangelism is not to be seen as simply the role of one individual, but that entire communities have a role as well. In his challenging 3rd chapter he claims that there is a shift "to a central focus on community in the process of conversion" taking place. He states repeatedly that conversion is not to be seen as a "me and God thing", but instead as a family affair where we shift allegiance from the world to Jesus. In our "commitment-phobic" culture, this shift puts a much greater emphasis on healthy, authentic communities that understand their identity and their role. This importance of our corporate witness is certainly something the Church today needs to consider.

Richardson understands that we live in a spiritually hungry and self-absorbed time. He reminds us that what many people need know about Christ is that those who follow him can be trusted. I appreciate not only Richardson's clear writing and to-the-point style, but also his spirit of humility and vulnerability throughout. May we be the kind of communities who will guide others on the spiritual journey with the same spirit of humility and vulnerability.

Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Rick Richardson

Books  |  Evangelism  |  Gospel  |  Mission  |  Serving  |  Trends
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