The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach The West…Again.
Hunter, George G. III.
The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach The West…Again. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010. 154 pp. $17.00.
Given the current state of the church, a look back in history provides wisdom for how to engage the world with the message of salvation. The wisdom learned through the ministry mind of Patrick comes from an unlikely source. School children in the United States grow up learning about St. Patrick on March 17, which marks the date of his death. It is unlikely that these same school children learn the reason we celebrate his death. It is doubtful many people know that Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people. Regardless of what is known about Patrick in the minds of school children, much can be learned from his strategy towards reaching the lost people in Ireland.
Many of George Hunter’s writings share insight in reaching unreached people. Information from Patrick’s evangelism strategy graces the pages of several other works written by the same author. The author has a keen sense of awareness and concern for secular people, as a result of his extensive work at Muscle Beach. Much can be learned in attempting to reach other “barbarian” people groups, by reading Hunter’s works.
What could we possibly learn about evangelism from St. Patrick? Isn’t he Catholic? These are some of the surfacing questions that arise when finding this book on a required reading list. However, after a few short minutes of reading Hunter’s text, the reader realizes the connections, as questions are provided answers and myths are dispelled.
The star of the book is definitely Patrick. His life story molded him into a man God would use to reach the barbaric people of Ireland. In an unlikely chain of events, Patrick develops such a strong heart for the people who initially were his captors. Patrick’s early years in the faith planted a seed that was watered and took root while engaged with the Celtic tribes in Ireland.
While Patrick grew up in the faith, it was only after he found himself abducted to a foreign land that his relationship with God became part of his daily life. Perhaps Patrick had heard stories of the barbarians who were now his captors. The church in Rome decided that these Celtic barbarians were uncivilized and unworthy of being reached with the Gospel message. Hunter tells us that from the second century saying, “the Church assumed that reaching barbarians was impossible” (5). Several reasons are offered as to why the Church deemed the Celts and other people groups as barbarian. A person, or group of people, were considered barbarian if they were not culturally Roman. It is hard to believe that the Church had already lost their desire to reach all people for the sake of Christ as early as the second century. How did they lose their mission focus so soon after the apostolic fathers exited the scene?
As Patrick spent his formative years with the Celts in Ireland, his relationship with God began to mature. What was once for Patrick a normative relationship with God, quickly became a daily walk with his Creator. Hunter explains that Patrick’s relationship with God grew because of two settings. Although Patrick was in a foreign land alongside foreign people, he also spent time with other captives from his homeland. Evidently conversations took place during the evening when the daily work was completed and the prisoners had returned to a central location. Whatever happened, Patrick’s school boy religion matured at a quick pace.
Another setting helped to pave the way for Patrick’s growing faith. He was in charge of a herd of cattle which took him into the wilderness areas for grazing. While there he experienced God in a very real way. Alone and away from others, the setting gave Patrick ample time to pray to the God to whom he was yielding his life.
Several years passed and Patrick eventually escaped captivity, but he never forgot about the Celtic people. While continuing his spiritual journey, education was introduced to him. He pursued God’s call upon his life. After awakening from a dream, Patrick felt compelled to return to the island nation of the people he grew to love. With the blessing of the British church, he was “ordained a bishop and appointed as Ireland’s first missionary bishop” (3).
Hunter states, “Patrick’s mission to Ireland was to be such an unprecedented undertaking that it is impossible to overstate its significance or the magnitude of the challenge they faced” (4). Perhaps the author’s bias does overstate the significance; however, Patrick developed a great strategy for reaching lost people. Patrick systematically, along with a group of others, went from village to village and people to people. Hunter quotes from Liam de Paor’s, Saint Patrick’s World stating, “that as many as seven hundred churches were started and one thousand priests were ordained by Patrick during his mission to the Irish People” (11).
Hunter introduces the reader to Patrick’s legacy which far outlasted his life. To this day, the strategy he used to reach the Celtic people is worth being re-told. More than that, people in the twenty first century can be reached by utilizing St. Patrick’s approach.
From the opening page, the author is determined to reach un-reached people. By revisiting the fifth century, Hunter engages the church growth enthusiast with a proven strategy to reach today’s “secular, urban, postmodern and neo-barbarian people” (ix). It seems that the up-hill climb that George Hunter faced with some of his colleagues motivated the writing of this book. Encouraged that the lowly pastor is not the only one facing sharp criticism, the writer includes a jab overheard from a ministry colleague, “What could we possibly learn from [Celtic Christians]” (xi). Did the writer have something to prove when he wrote this work? It would be interesting to find out the tune the opposing voice sang as a result of the finished work.
The writer seems to accentuate the contribution that Patrick made to the Christian world. Perhaps this bias is more pronounced due to the lack of representation in most church history courses and textbooks. Admittedly, I found little reference to St. Patrick’s influence on the Christian movement in the texts I read during four church history courses. Whatever the reason for the writer’s insistence on the influence, the outcome is a pronounced presence in the Christian world because of St. Patrick’s role in evangelizing Ireland. If the facts are given their day in the limelight, it does seem probable that evangelism strategies initiated in this Celtic movement proved to have been effective. The facts alone should put critics in their corner.
When looking to antiquity for answers in spurring on evangelism in the twenty-firstc century, scholarship must not only reveal the issues at hand. Research must also find a way for the reader to apply the findings. George Hunter has immediate credibility in his vision to reach the secular. In other writings, Hunter engages the church growth community by encouraging the reader to find whatever means necessary to reach the unreached people. Hunter spent time early on in his career engaging the unreached muscle jocks and beach goers in southern California. He discovered why people shy away from church. His research led him to discover that we are living in a very secular society. Any resource that could potentially point its user to find lost souls for Christ would be extremely beneficial. George Hunter has a résumé filled with resources that do just that. The Celtic Way of Evangelism is written in the same stream as George Hunter’s other resources that point the reader to doing whatever it takes to reach the lost.
Finding relevant ways to reach the barbarians of this generation is a definite and obvious need. While the author relays the stories of St. Patrick and his compatriots, George Hunter shares a number of lessons that can and should be utilized in reaching the lost of this generation. Passion, strategy and execution are three words that best describe the lessons learned through this text. Patrick’s vision of going back to his captors rose out of a passion for the lost. How else could one explain why a person would risk going back to their captors to share a message of which they knew nothing?
The strategy that Patrick developed incorporated an apostolic team. The team went from village to village having spiritual conversations with the people that Rome thought were impossible to reach. Not only did Patrick develop a passion and a strategy to reach the barbarians, he also executed both. Without passion and a strategy, the island full of barbarians would never have been reached to the full extent that Patrick and his apostolic team reached the people. If a person wanted to discover motivation, or witness one man’s God-given vision for reaching a nation for Christ, The Celtic Way of Evangelism is a must read. Since reading this book, I have already recommended it to my ministry colleagues. It is a must read for anyone serious about reaching the lost.
If the average church was polled and asked how many Christians desire to reach the lost, that number would be near unanimous. If the same group of respondents were asked, “how many lost souls have they reached,” the answer would be staggeringly low. Why is there a disconnection between knowing what we are called to do as Christians and actually doing it? It appears that the great commission is an option. Lest we condemn the laity only, the clergy is or should be the model. A better question could be, “How well are we modeling the search for the lost?”
St. Patrick and his approach to evangelism apply to today’s pursuit of secular people. Although we are in the third millennium, we still need to reach the lost. Certainly people are more advanced today than in the first millennium. However, lost people are still lost. How many millions of people felt the ripple of St. Patrick’s efforts? How many more millions of people are out there waiting for the effects of a strategic plan to reach the lost? Time will tell the answer and God will judge the results.