No need to be loony at uni
Posted: 29 Dec 2009 @ 00:00
Here’s a better way of student evangelism, suggests Mike Starkey
Pathway to Jesus: Crossing the thresholds of faith
Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
Church Times Bookshop £8.10
Youth Work After Christendom
Jo Pimlott and Nigel Pimlott
Church Times Bookshop £9
STUDENT evangelism is not known for its subtlety. In my own parish, I regularly meet couples tentatively returning to church with their young family, having been put off faith for years by the zeal, insensitivity, or general oddness of Christians during their student days.
At first glance, Pathway to Jesus might appear to be part of the problem. It is a handbook on evangelism, written for Evangelical students by two InterVarsity staff workers from the US. On closer inspection, though, it turns out to be a helpful part of the solution, pointing the way to a humbler, more creative approach to student outreach.
Everts and Schaupp listened to the stories of 2000 students who found faith in Jesus. These were students soaked in the culture of post-modernity, with its pervasive suspicion of truth-claims, absolutes, and authority. The authors were intrigued to find, in a culture of rampant relativism, that conversion is apparently alive and well, and that these students’ spiritual journeys passed through remarkably similar phases.
They dubbed these phases the “five thresholds” (trusting a Christian, becoming curious, opening up to change, seeking after God, entering the Kingdom), and their book is an exploration of these thresholds of post-modern conversion. The authors remind readers that conversion is a mystery, and that one should never try to “predict, reduce or control” this mystery; that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to faith-sharing.
They counsel sensitivity and a suitable reticence in evangelism, advising that a life that provokes questions will be more effective than memorised religious clichés. Their suggestions include inviting friends to take part in campaigns against human trafficking, environmental degradation or global injustice. They advise befriending, listening, and inviting; creativity rather than predictability; and (shock, horror!) hanging out in the college bar rather than in a holy huddle with other Christians.
This may not be a book aimed at most Church Times readers, but CT readers could do far worse than buy a copy for their local school or college Christian Union. Full marks to Everts and Schaupp for producing a book that could transform the image and effectiveness of student Evangelical Christianity for a generation. Nul points to IVP for misspelling Schaupp’s surname on the cover and spine of the book.
While Everts and Schaupp wrestle with the challenges of student work after modernity, Pimlott and Pimlott reflect on youth work after the demise of Christendom. Like other authors in Paternoster’s After Christendom series, they celebrate rather than regret the passing of an era when the Church wielded power and influence in society, citing with approval the series editor Stuart Murray’s claim that Christendom was a “virus” that impaired the authentic life and witness of the Church.
They identify a number of ways in which youth work was infected with the virus of Christendom, including a focus on respectability and middle-class values; a monolithic understanding of what “church” has to look like; a tendency to wait for youth to come to us rather than go to them; confusing faith with a set of cultural attitudes; and a colonial mentality that believes it has all the answers.
Instead, they argue, the advent of post-Christendom opens the way to a more fluid, incarnational faith that journeys alongside young people, unafraid to enter their world, and values process over a neatly packaged product. This is an intelligent, provocative book, which discusses, among other issues, the merits of the Homogeneous Unit Principle of mission (targeting a particular sub-culture, in this case youth “tribes”), the need to earth spirituality in everyday life, and the importanceof flexibility and risk-taking in our churches.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pimlott and Pimlott’s suggestions for effective youth ministry in post-Christendom turn out to be remarkably similar to Everts and Schaupp’s proposals for effective student evangelism in post-modernity.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Vicar of St Mark’s, Kennington, south London.
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