Evangelism and Community Development
Posted on July 29, 2011
G’day all – it’s been a long time between drinks! Apologies for that. I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing for study, and haven’t had time to write for this blog, although the list of blog post drafts is building up.
So, I’ve decided to inflict some of my writing from my study onto you. The first is from an essay on Evangelism and Community Development, sharing the faith and sharing the power. You are welcome to download the PDF version if you want the full whack of academic writing.
Evangelism needs Christian community development because without it, evangelism can only trace the outlines of the personal and corporate vision that the ‘good news’ advocates. Christian community development is a powerful way to help people participate in the kingdom of God, and within such participation the stories and ideas of the gospel come alive. From the Christian community development side, evangelism provides a risk factor without which Christian community development easily slides into secularised self-help mush. Evangelism points to a larger, deeper transformation, one that community development methods, even Christian ones, can only grasp at.
Evangelism and Christian community development have a number of similarities that make them natural partners:
• Theologically, they share narratives and doctrines
• They work best at grassroots level
• They are both on about transformational change
• They both value voluntary methods of change highly
• They work by reframing present reality in the terms of the kingdom of God
• Both believe the resources for change are (partly) present already in people’s lives
• Both are inspired by the possibility of “real change”, by historically concrete changes in people.
• Neither makes sense in a secular context without the other: without Christian community development, evangelism will be co-opted by consumer spirituality; without evangelism, community development will be co-opted by the welfare economy.
Given these similarities, evangelism and Christian community development can co-operate and integrate…
Both evangelism and Christian community development suffer from a weak theological base. Although this is not the time to develop a detailed theology of evangelical community development, there are three central theological themes that enable a theological interface between evangelism and Christian community development.
First, the doctrine of the Trinity. Taking a social Trinitarian approach, we can see that a community of mutual relationship is at the heart of God. This application to Christian community development is obvious. For evangelism, the application becomes clear when we take WJ Abraham’s view of evangelism as “primary initiation into the kingdom of God”, because his view is an inescapably corporate vision of evangelism, in which people are drawn into a relational life with respect to their salvation and their identity.
Secondly, a partially realised eschatology. Both evangelism and Christian community development passionately advocate transformed lives in the present. A view of the kingdom of God that recognises its ‘now…not yet’ tension enables evangelism to be concerned with current reality, and Christian community development to recognise that its aims lie beyond the horizon of contemporary social work theory. This eschatology sees that Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection has planted a tree, the roots of which are deep and strong, which will one day flourish into a tree for all to shelter in. What is the effect of such eschatology? As NT Wright puts it:
It gives us a view of creation which emphasises the goodness of God’s world, and God’s intention to renew it. It gives us, therefore, every possibly incentive, or at least every Christian incentive, to work for the renewal of God’s creation and for justice within God’s creation…[T]here is continuity between our present work and God’s future kingdom…(Wright, 1999:24)
Thirdly, a keen appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s work. For evangelism, it allows us to be confident that the Holy Spirit has already been working in people, awakening them to the possibility of God. For Christian community development, this prevenient grace enables us to work simultaneously with the intrinsic strengths of a community, knowing that these strengths are not wholly human, their true source being the Spirit of God.