Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age by Brad J. Kallenberg

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Church
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Chapter 1: What does Kallenberg mean when he says that, “language constitutes the world”?

            Language “constitutes the world” underlines the importance of language in shaping how we view the world.  Language is the very tool by which we conceptualize and understand the world.  And, more importantly, this is done on a communal level.  As Wittgenstein asserts, individuals do not make the whole, but the community constitutes the individual.  We are the sum of our relationships.  After all, it is in the context of a community that we learn language skills.

“Language is the means by which we think,” states Kallenberg.  As such, the language, and thus the culture, by which we think inevitably influences the way we think.  Our language values time, which can be seen in the number of tenses that portray time: past, present, and future.  However, many cultures do not have these tenses because other things are emphasized.  The result shapes the way people in those cultures think.  And, furthermore, is molds the way we engage and interact with the world.  Kallenberg, as Wittgenstein, believes that language and the world are not separate… our world is language.  This becomes very important for later discussions of evangelism for our author.

Traditions are the results of language.  Kallenberg believes, “Learning a language is an irreducibly social enterprise that trains a child into a communal mode of living” (24).  So, language not only shapes how we view the world, but it builds up the type of practices through which we engage the world.  The Christian tradition is no different.  It is a social enterprise in which we relate through language.

Chapter 2: What are the various ways to understand “conversion”?

            Kallenberg believes there are three ways to understand the significance of conversion: it is a change in social identity, it is an acquisition of new language skills, and it is a paradigm shift.  There are a number of ways to view the significance of conversion; however, Kallenberg deals with it in terms of post-critical thought.

First, there is a change in social identity.  Basically, post-critical thought sees conversion as a change in narratives.  Everyone has a narrative that “makes up” the person.  We are not simply the sum of our parts.  Therefore, conversion is the “understanding of one’s place in the story line of the gospel” (38).  Kallenberg writes, “Because this story line is lived out by the community of Christ-followers, the new convert’s identity is necessarily social; one cannot identify oneself as a Christ-follower and avoid identifying oneself with the believing community that is seeking to embody the gospel both in its words and in its life together” (38).

Second, there is the acquisition of new language skills.  Since conversion is a social reality, language (by which we live in community) must also change.  There is a language that is unique to the Christian fellowship.  In order to be able to comprehend and use this language there must be a learning process.  After all, as Wittgenstein would say, language is the tool by which we interact with our world.  As such an important tool, it is only natural that our language for this new community would change too.  Without this language change, it is likely that we are speaking past one another without any real understanding.

Finally, we encounter a paradigm shift.  A paradigm is the belief set by which and through which we live our lives.  It is the lens through which we view the world.  Kallenberg believes that a pre-critical understanding that was evidenced in the Church before modernity needs to be re-instated.  That does not meant that we are naïve about facts, but that we see the Bible as a holistic narrative that stretches to our time.  Kallenberg writes, “Modern thinkers interrogate the text by subjecting it to historical-critical scrutiny, precritical and postcritical thinkers submit themselves to the text as Scripture in a way that allows the text to interrogate them” (38).

Chapter 3: Why is conversion a communal practice for Kallenberg?

            As stated in the previous chapter, conversion is becoming part of a different narrative that shapes and guides our life.  It is the donning of a new social identity.  Because a narrative does not happen in individualistic isolation, it is only natural that Kallenberg would understand conversion as a communal practice.  “Because conversion involves a change in social identity, evangelism must be a corporate practice, executed by the community that is the source of a believer’s new identity” (64).

Furthermore, Kallenberg has asserted that our language changes due to conversion.  When we become a part of this new community, we must adopt the language of the community.  Language is how we relate to one another in community.  It is the basis for relationship.  We can only relate inasmuch as we understand the language of the community.  And, importantly, the language can only be taught in the context of the community.  Thus, the acquisition of a new speech inevitably is derived from the community, not an individual.

Finally, conversion is a shift in our paradigm.  Kallenberg notes, “Because conversion involves a paradigm shift, evangelism must seek to assist that shift by being dialogical in style and by, wherever possible, enlisting potential converts in the telling of the story” (64).  Basically, this means that this is not a closed, exclusive community.  It is constantly expanding so that others become part of the story of the Gospel at work in the world.  We have heard it said that the Gospel is always one generation away from extinction.  As such, we understand that the faith has been passed to us and we in turn must pass it along to the next generation.

In looking at the post-modern viewpoint, the understanding of language’s role in conversion is essential.  If it is the basis of relationships and our interaction with the world, then it is impossible to relegate evangelism or our faith to a simplistic individualism.  Rather, a robust faith is integrally involved in the community of faith.  We gain a new narrative, a new language, and a new paradigm by which we are brought into the community of faith.

Chapter 4: How is fluency part of conversion?

            To be redundant, our ability to relate to one another in community is dependent upon a common language.  It is the tool we use to be included in a community.  As is the case in learning our native tongues, we too have a learning process for the “Christian language.”  It is a learning process that takes time and practice within the prescribed community.  The community takes responsibility for helping individuals become “insiders” by conversing with them in a dialogical fashion.  Through this method, people are continually able to grasp more of the concepts found within the specialized language of the Christian community.

One of the greatest ways to gain fluency in a new language is through cultural immersion.  One might be able to grasp a portion of a foreign language without doing so.  However, in order to be able to be highly efficient and proficient in the language, one must undergo total immersion in that particular culture.  The Christian community is no different.  In order for converts to become fully fluent in the Christian language, it is vital that they become immersed in the community of believers.

Catechesis is mentioned in this chapter as a way for initiating people in the language of the community.  People tend to steer clear from things that they do not understand or with which they are not familiar.  In an increasingly biblically illiterate society, this is very disconcerting.  This seems to bolster the belief that discipleship is not an option, but a necessity.  In order for people to be able to get involved and grow, there has to be some foundation upon which they can build.  Helping them grasp key concepts and history may be a stepping stone for future relationship with God and the community of believers.

Chapter 5: What does it mean to call Christianity a “form of life”?

            “What makes a community ‘Christian’ isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold roughly the same beliefs, but that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are faithful to the story of Jesus.  The christoform pattern of these lived-out beliefs is what consititutes their ‘form of life’” (91).  In essence, the practices that accompany the language of a community is its “form of life.”  In some sense, a community is what it practices.

One of the implications of this view is that evangelism cannot simply stop at words alone.  One does not win converts by wise apologetic tactics that give all of the answers… as if we had all of the answers.  Rather, it is inviting potential converts to join the community of practice as we live out our shared story, the Gospel.  It is an active engagement in the community that is most convincing about the power of God in the midst of people.  After all, Jesus did not say that the world would know we are his disciples by how well we preach or teach, not even how much good works we do.  Rather, God is evidenced by the love we share with one another.  That is the form of life that is the Christian community.  It is how we work out the implications of our faith together as a community.

The form of life, according to Kallenberg, is not simply a set of propositions that one must learn.  It may be important to have certain data sets, but they do not ultimately transform us.  No, the form of life is the natural outflow of our language.  It is the way we live out the stuff of our Christian language.  In other words, language has a creative potential.  Words are not static, but have a power of their own.  Language that is lived out is the most powerful form of evangelism.  As a pastor once told me, “People won’t remember what you preached, but they’ll remember how you lived.”  But, we must also remember that our language helps structure our form of life.  It is the narrative fabric of the community that shapes its form of life.

Chapter 6: Why is Kallenberg’s method of evangelism “growing the church the hard way”?

            Kallenberg’s method of evangelism is difficult because there is no sure and fast method available by which we can measure and adjust for success.  We live in a scattered, segmented society that has become increasingly opposed to the methods of evangelism produced by the modern age.  Evangelism, therefore, can hardly be a copy and paste activity.  We cannot simply memorize a number of propositions in order to convert people.

This makes evangelism difficult for a number of reasons.  First, and most importantly, it requires us to live out our faith genuinely.  This is a difficult but necessary foundation for spreading the Gospel.  Living out the Gospel is no easy task, but one that we must undertake if we are to truly be offering more than a false façade.

Secondly, people are organic.  Our methods of evangelism should be as well.  Essentially, this means that we must learn to discern how to present the Gospel message in each case.  How do we construct the story so that they can connect with its message?  That does not mean that we twist the story for our own objectives.  But, we must discern which parts of the story are most relevant given the situation.  This ability comes with time and practice and can only be learned in this way.

Third, we must really begin to view evangelism as a journey with a person rather than simply a target we must reach with them.  This takes time and effort.  It can be a very draining experience because it calls for a great deal of commitment from us.  However, we must understand that evangelism, especially due to biblical illiteracy, will inevitably take time.  We must learn to exercise patience, which is difficult for us because we want results.  But, like good seed, it is a process of growth.

Due to the post-modern culture, our society is very fragmented.  This means that there are many conflicting ideas available.  Not everyone approaches from a same, basic framework for life.  This means that we must help contextualize the message in a way that is understandable wherever people are.  I’m not talking about watering down the message.  However, we must understand where people are coming from and how we can best communicate with them.  Again, this is not an easy task.  There is no prescribed “method” available that will work every time.  Good judgment is a necessary quality that must be developed as we seek to communicate the Gospel.


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