1. What prompted you to write this book?
In my previous book, Evangelism After Christendom, I focused on the way Christendom and modernity have served as narrative rivals to the story of the people of God. Those narratives have powerfully shaped the practice of evangelism in a way that ultimately subverts its practice.
While I touch on pluralism in that book, I wanted to address it in a more sustained way, given the steady growth of religious plurality in our world, and in my own context, the United States. I wanted to take account of the way “pluralisms” function as social images that restrict and distort evangelism. The examples I focus on are empire, nationalism, and consumerism. Each of these can shape evangelism in unfortunate ways, and my book is a call to think and practice evangelism beyond, or “after,” these pluralisms. “After” here does not imply that I think plurality no longer exists, but rather it points to how we might act and think beyond pluralism.
2. List three key takeaways from this book you would like for the reader to experience.
First, religious plurality is not something to be feared or fought by those interested in practicing Christian evangelism. What is a problem, however, is the way “pluralisms” (the stories we tell about plurality) impose a unity onto plurality that turns evangelism into a competitive practice, and one that distorts the peaceable, nonviolent beauty of the good news.
Secondly, the thinking about and practice of evangelism could profitably take better account of the category of “beauty.” Evangelism is not simply the offer of truths to be believed or an ethic to be enacted, but a pattern of life that is transparent to the divine, a beauty to be encountered and in which we are invited to participate. Evangelism is bearing faithful witness to the beauty of Christ in such a way that others are invited to touch, feel, taste, and try on for themselves. Thirdly, evangelism is a fundamentally non-competitive, non-violent practice.
When we understand evangelism as the offer of beauty, we surrender our control over that along with our need to produce outcomes and results. Saints, rather than megachurch pastors, become our exemplars, and apologetics is, as Barth says, meaningless. The practice of evangelism is less interested in doing whatever it takes to secure conversions, grow churches, or achieve the spread of Christianity around the world. Rather, evangelism is to be practiced as an act of prayer and gratitude in ways that are receptive and from a posture of vulnerability.
3. Do you have a favorite passage or chapter in this book?
I think the chapter on beauty is probably one of the key chapters in the book for all the reasons I just named. While the analysis of various pluralisms is important as a way of reading and understanding our context, the theological lens that I develop there focusing on aesthetics is the more distinctive contribution I try to make to rethinking evangelism. It also undergirds the intrinsic connection I believe exists between evangelism and nonviolence.
4. If you were sitting beside the reader, what portion of the book do you feel you would want him or her to spend extra time on, and why?
For sure, readers should take time with the chapter on beauty, but the Epilogue is also not a throw-away ending. It is brief, but I would suggest taking some time with it.
5. What specific ways can this book equip, encourage, and/or instruct ministers?
Ministers often feel pressure (both externally and internally) to produce results, and we live in a world that imposes certain expectations of success and achievement that the Church has unfortunately yielded to, shaped as it has been by centuries of dominance and hegemony in the world.
I want to offer a different way of thinking about the mission of the Church that is pretty out of sync with the prevailing notion that our primary job as Christians is to grow churches and extend our reach throughout the world. Our primary calling is instead to bear faithful witness to a gospel that is social, embodied, and hopeful without trying to predict or control the results of that witness in terms of the conversions we might produce.
I recognize that, when misunderstood or distorted, my emphasis on beauty, witness, and participation rather than production and securing of results can give license to those who simply dislike evangelism and would rather focus on other things. But when understood rightly, I believe it is possible for evangelism to become a practice that is captivating and exciting. The one sure thing about beauty is that it entices us to share it with others.