My brother-in-law BJ selected The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach by Elaine Heath for me to read as part of my 2016 reading challenge, and I selected it to be my pick for October. BJ completed his Doctor of Ministry degree last year, and he read The Mystic Way of Evangelism in one of his classes.
I’ll be honest. I was intimidated to read this book. Despite regular church attendance for much of my life, I have little background knowledge on theology. Apart from one class on the Old Testament that I took as an undergrad, the depth of my theological understanding ends at the Sunday School level. The introduction only confirmed my uneasiness. Apophatic? Kataphatic? I was indeed out of my comfort zone.
Yet the further I read in Heath’s book, the more interested I became. She spotlights several mystics from history, some of whom I knew (Julian of Norwich, for example) and many of whom I did not (Thomas R. Kelly and Father Arseny to name just two). I was a history major, so I enjoyed learning about these historical religious figures.
The Mystic Way of Evangelism is primarily aimed at pastors and those training pastors, but I found plenty of material with which to connect. Heath promotes a missional view of evangelism grounded in love. Rather than preaching fire and brimstone, evangelism in the mystic way is about showing the love of Christ through caring, giving actions. This is something all Christians, not just their pastors, should aim to do.
Heath criticizes the modern church in America, and the more I read, the more I agreed with her. We’ve largely lost the missional aspect of our faith. Many churches are more concerned with building massive complexes for themselves than with serving the neighborhoods around them. Having lived in DFW for most of my life, I have observed this for myself over and over. How much does it say about our country that missionaries from some of the poorest nations in the world are now coming HERE, the most prosperous nation on earth, to conduct their mission work?
In the final part of the book, Heath offers a number of strategies for pastors and churches to take to correct the path of Christianity in America. They sound wonderful on paper (bivocational pastors, smaller churches, eco-evangelism, etc.), but even as I read I was doubtful about the reality of a nationwide change. In this, I was struck by the similarity of my cynical reaction to education books I’ve read over the past 8 years. Yes, churches and schools need overhauling, but how in the world do you get everyone on board? The answer, of course, is that you don’t; you start small with yourself and your specific church or school. It’s certainly better to try than to say nothing will ever change. I pray that I will put some of what I read in Heath’s book into action myself.
So despite my initial uneasiness, I ended up giving The Mystic Way of Evangelism 4 stars on Goodreads. It’s very much a worthy, thought-provoking, action-inducing read.