The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…AGAIN
By George G. Hunter III, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010)
How can the church reach a violent, pagan people who demonstrate little interest in the message of Christ but seem enslaved to dark powers, the worship of nature, and the lusts of the flesh? This contemporary- sounding dilemma confronted Patrick fifteen hundred years ago as he determined to carry the gospel to Ireland (before he morphed into a mythic, snake-chasing Saint.) To nearly everyone’s surprise, Patrick’s mission planted seven hundred churches among the hard core “barbarians,” thousands of Christian workers were trained, the Irish slave trade was abolished, intertribal warfare was curtailed, and a Celtic renaissance in learning and the arts flourished.
How did the gospel make such amazing inroads among a resistant people in so short a span of time? Was the transformation of Ireland and the British Isles an anomaly in the history of mission? George Hunter doesn’t believe so. His study moves beyond describing the results of the Celtic mission and focuses on exploring the missionary methods Patrick and his colleagues developed that led to deeply contextualized Christian communities. Hunter believes that the conversion of fifth century Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England should encourage us to believe something like this could and should happen again—in neo-pagan, post-modern societies long thought to be impervious to the influence of the gospel.
Hunter attempts to separate fact from myth in the story of Celtic mission and distills a discernible pattern of outreach that valued
• An outward focus on reaching unbelievers with the love of Christ.
• The formation of small, mixed gender, mostly lay “intentional communities” that moved into new areas, modeling lives of goodness, hospitality, reconciliation, and beauty so that the life of Christ was incarnated in their midst. They healed the sick, ministered to the broken, prayed for the possessed, mediated conflicts, taught and sang and labored to capture the hearts of the people they loved.
• Deep contextualization. Celtic missionaries paid rapt attention to the host culture, learned the language, and incorporated traditional patterns of belief into new practices of worship and discipleship. The church that emerged was amazingly indigenous.
• Rapt attention given to the felt needs of pre-Christians, which included protection from dark forces, blessing their labor, and provision for their families.
Does our culture’s love for all things Celtic extend only to kilts and shamrocks, fiddles and jewelry? George Hunter is convinced the Celtic experiment still holds hidden treasure available to mission communities, church-planters, and all who long to expand the boundaries of the kingdom.
Reviewed by Dr. Timothy W. Ross, Adjunct professor of Mission and minister of the Hopwood Christian Church at Milligan College.