Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pathway to Jesus: Crossing the thresholds of faith

Pathway to Jesus: Crossing the thresholds of faith,
by Don Everts & Doub Shaupp, IVP, 2009, p. 142.
The church faces the challenge of bearing witness to Christ in a postmodern world. As missionaries with the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship in the USA, the writers have a wealth of experience in doing just that. Here they draw on the stories of over two thousand postmodern young people who have come to faith in Christ.

Everts and Shaupp came to the realisation that the cultural shift that is postmodernism had rendered older forms of evangelism ineffective. Simply turning up on the College Green for a good old Christian sing-song was no longer attracting the interest of students. A change of focus was needed if young people were to be reached for Christ. By a process of trial and error, the evangelists noticed that “postmodern conversions” often involved people passing through five distinct thresholds. This book is an exploration of those thresholds. The authors make it clear that their approach is not to be used a as one size fits all evangelistic technique. They insist that conversion is the work of God, rather than the product of any outreach programme.

A chapter is devoted to each of the Five Thresholds, ‘Trusting a Christian’, ‘Becoming curious’, ‘Opening up to change’, ‘Seeking after God’ and ‘Entering the kingdom’. The emphasis is on Christians cultivating open and honest relationships with non-believers. Often we are reluctant to do this, but Jesus was a "friend of publicans and sinners". He took an interest in people and engaged with their concerns. If we are going to get people to listen to what we have to say about the Saviour, we must first win their trust and friendship. Once we have gained the trust of a non-Christian, then we can encourage them to become curious about Jesus, and ultimately lead them trough the remaining thresholds to the point where they enter the Kingdom of God for themselves. The writers freely make use of personal anecdotes and stories to illustrate what they are trying to say. The style is chatty and informal, well suited to the student circles in which Don and Doug move.
There is a lot of practical advice to be found here on how best to win postmodern people for Christ. Churches endeavouring to reach young people, UCCF workers and the like will no doubt be able to pick up some useful pointers from the Five Threshold approach. The trouble is that the book carries little material on the theology of conversion. The oft repeated phrase, "postmodern conversion" makes me feel somewhat uneasy. It is problematic because it suggests a unique morphology of conversion for postmodern people. Surely a biblical understanding of conversion rather than our perception of cultural trends must be allowed to define the nature of conversion to Christ. Conversion entails repentance from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord (Acts 20:21). There is a whole world of theology in there - why we need to turn from sin, the person and work of Christ, how trusting in Jesus makes us right with God and so on. While no two conversion experiences are exactly alike, the basic elements of repentance and faith remain the same for people at all times and in every culture. In that sense there is no such thing as "postmodern conversion", although postmodern people may cross several recognisable thresholds before they are actually converted. Despite the authors' best intentions, their scant treatment of the biblical theology of conversion may lead to some taking up their proposals as nothing more than the latest evangelistic technique. We do after all live in a postmodern world that is impatient with doctrine, much preferring 'can-do' pragmatism. But we cannot simply assume the gospel and move directly to the practicalities of Christian witness. Our evangelistic methods, however good and effective they may be in themselves, must be firmly and explicitly rooted in the evangel we proclaim.
An edited version of this review will appear in a future issue of the Protestant Truth Magazine.

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