Evangelism has been defined and implemented in numerous ways. In his book, Evangelism after Pluralism: The Ethics of Christian Witness, Bryan Stone seeks to do more than merely define evangelism. Stone, who serves as associate dean for academic affairs and professor of evangelism at Boston University School of Theology, identifies flawed thinking about what evangelism is and reimagines the ways in which Christ-followers can practice it in the context of a pluralistic society. The book is addressed to Christians in the United States or similar Western cultures.
Stone sets out to recapture a healthy respect for differences, dismantle the notion that evangelism is a competitive venture, and warns against competing loyalties, since they can detract from God’s intentions for evangelism as a way of life.
Stone’s first chapter introduces his thesis and goals for the eight chapters that follow it. Chapters two through four will particularly appeal to those who have dismissed evangelism as a mere numbers game. These chapters address the challenges faced by Christ-followers who seek to turn away from the lure of the empire and its grasp for power and control, as well as its often overly-private view of salvation. Stone offers snippets of global church history and its effect on the present, while challenging people to reengage in evangelism in a meaningful, community-minded way.
Chapters five and six address the pluralistic context of the military and what it means for Christians to follow Jesus’ call toward a path of peace and nonviolence. As a person who has little connection with the military, familial or otherwise, I found these chapters to be more of a challenge to read than the previous ones. I, and others similarly lacking context, would benefit from engaging in conversations with those who have closer ties.
In chapter seven, Stone continues unpacking his theme in relation to the way Christians often commodify people. Stone challenges Christians to resist the allure of consumerist culture when it comes to worship and evangelism.
Finally, Stone addresses the difficulties inherent in a pluralistic religious context in which other faith traditions exist. One beneficial aspect of chapter eight is that the author expands upon this theme of pluralism using a Wesleyan lens. Christians must not fear people who hold differing religious beliefs and, in fact, must remain vulnerable enough to learn from them.
Bryan Stone’s book provides an excellent theological framework for evangelism in a pluralistic society. Its content may be a bit unsettling for those who have viewed evangelism as a results-based effort rather than a way of life. This piece can certainly be appreciated by individuals seeking a compact assessment of evangelism in contemporary Western culture, but the experience would be enriched for those who are able to explore it within an academic community or small group study.
Part of the book’s beauty is its celebration of diversity. If the book is read in isolation, it could become a temptation for those who agree with Stone to pat themselves on the back for their understanding; for those who disagree with some of his key ideas, it may be easy to dismiss the whole of his framework. If the book is approached by a group of people with divergent thinking about evangelism, tempered with a heavy dose of humility, the book could serve to celebrate differences while still correcting errors to which a person may have been blind. In doing so, readers could embody Stone’s core theme in which Christians champion differences among people, lay aside the need to evangelize as a way of competing, and remain focused on their primary citizenship as followers of Christ.