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Beautiful Witness | ANVIL vol 33 issue 2

Download PDF of ANVIL vol 33 issue 2 (1.14Mb)


ANVIL volume 33 issue 2
Download PDF (1.14Mb)

This edition of Anvil explores evangelism. We have taken this theme from a research project entitled “Beautiful Witness: Practical Theologies of Evangelism in the Church of England” funded by Durham University and the Evangelism Task Group of The Archbishops Council. This project involved interviewing eight practitioners around the country about their understanding and practice of evangelism. You can see the results of this in the videos that follow the articles.  They are wonderful snapshots of contemporary evangelism – heartening, warm and encouraging – beautiful witness indeed.

Evangelism is a tricky word. Some are happy using it, others not so. Perhaps it invokes a certain type of faith, or a certain type of practice. Sociologists of religion have noted, that as values of tolerance and civility have taken preference in post Christian societies like ours, Christians find the notion of evangelism increasingly uncomfortable. It has an uncomfortable connection to colonialism, to TV preachers and religious wars. Perhaps something to be feared, associated with intolerance and superiority. This raises questions for the church, her place in society, and how the church engages in faithful witness.

Alongside this increasing reticence about evangelism, the Church is placing more emphasis on it. Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel [1] has been influential across church traditions and within the Church of England active encouragement from both our Archbishops, with initiatives such as Thy Kingdom Come, [2] have reinstated the value evangelism.

Whilst the practice of the Church is being rejuvenated in this area there are significant gaps in the academic discourse. Paul Chilcote and Laceye Warner’s [3] comprehensive study of evangelism, written in 2008, explored the missional practice of the Church, and sought to bring the practice and theology of evangelism together by identifying key texts and landmark studies.  Here the lack of input from the UK is particularly noticeable. Contributions from British authors are scarce, and highlight the absence of contemporary landmark research in the UK. Chilcote and Laceye also note the disconnect between the practice of evangelism and the theology of evangelism. With such a lack of breadth and quality within the academic discourse, and with little notable work written from this context since, there is a noticeable gap offering the Church little alternative to the prevailing cultural narrative of tolerance.

We hope this issue of Anvil, in a small way, highlights current research, raises questions, and moves the discourse on. There is a mix of longer articles and shorter reflections on practice through which we hope to bring theology and practice together. Our hope is that held together with the longer articles these shorter reflections on practice help to ground some of the ideas and theory. 

The issue begins with findings from a small scale ethnographic study exploring attitudes to evangelism. The study investigates a Street Angels and Club Angels project and highlights the complexities Christians face in holding together values of tolerance and Christian soteriology.

The second article, written by Cate Williams discusses the perceived dichotomy between the social gospel and individual salvation. Here Cate helpfully tracks the historical development of evangelism, from the early evangelicals through to modern developments, critiquing the influence of individualism and consumerism, and arguing for a holistic evangel which emphasises the Kingdom of God.  

Similar themes are explored in Cathy Ross’ article, From a Theology of the Balcony to a Theology of the Road. In this article, Cathy uses a series of interviews with practitioners as the back drop to the piece. These are used to unpack the messiness of following the Spirit in mission and in being alongside people as they journey in faith.

These are followed by three shorter reflections on practice. Jamie Klair’s article is particularly useful in offering a different cultural lens in which to think about evangelism. Jamie contrasts evangelism in Nigeria to evangelism in Nigerian Pentecostal churches here in the UK. The questions posed here bring into sharp focus the extent to which culture influences our understanding and practices of evangelism, driving us back to reflect on how the church engages in faithful witness. Beth Rookwood reflects on bringing the disciplines of evangelism and listening together. The final piece, written by Ben Norton writes on how to create environments which help people to talk about faith. We hope this edition of Anvil can be a small contribution to the discourse and would love to hear from you in response.

Beth Keith
Guest editor

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Notes

[1] Francis, P., Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World (Vatican Press)

[2] See www.thykingdomcome.global

[3] Chilcote, P. W. and Warner, L. C., eds., The Study of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).