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The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach

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Although each generation searches for effective ways to be salt and light, Elaine Heath argues that the church is currently in an especially difficult place--a dark night of the soul. She calls the church to embrace, rather than ignore, its difficulties and find different ways of doing outreach. Heath brings a fresh perspective to the theory and practice of evangelism by ap Although each generation searches for effective ways to be salt and light, Elaine Heath argues that the church is currently in an especially difficult place--a dark night of the soul. She calls the church to embrace, rather than ignore, its difficulties and find different ways of doing outreach. Heath brings a fresh perspective to the theory and practice of evangelism by approaching it through contemplative spirituality. By looking to mystics, saints, and martyrs of church history--such as Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, St. Francis, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, and Henri Nouwen--she suggests we can discover ways of thinking about God that result in a life of outreach.


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Although each generation searches for effective ways to be salt and light, Elaine Heath argues that the church is currently in an especially difficult place--a dark night of the soul. She calls the church to embrace, rather than ignore, its difficulties and find different ways of doing outreach. Heath brings a fresh perspective to the theory and practice of evangelism by ap Although each generation searches for effective ways to be salt and light, Elaine Heath argues that the church is currently in an especially difficult place--a dark night of the soul. She calls the church to embrace, rather than ignore, its difficulties and find different ways of doing outreach. Heath brings a fresh perspective to the theory and practice of evangelism by approaching it through contemplative spirituality. By looking to mystics, saints, and martyrs of church history--such as Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, St. Francis, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, and Henri Nouwen--she suggests we can discover ways of thinking about God that result in a life of outreach.

30 review for The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach

  1. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    This book happened to catch my eye as I was skimming through the list of books on my phone's Google Play book list. What was interesting about it was its combination of two things that I've tended to see as, if not opposites, then, certainly paradoxical: mysticism and evangelism. I think my hesitation to associate these two terms stems from a feeling that mysticism is more inward and introverted, while evangelism seems outward focused and extroverted. I think that is simplistic, of course, but I This book happened to catch my eye as I was skimming through the list of books on my phone's Google Play book list. What was interesting about it was its combination of two things that I've tended to see as, if not opposites, then, certainly paradoxical: mysticism and evangelism. I think my hesitation to associate these two terms stems from a feeling that mysticism is more inward and introverted, while evangelism seems outward focused and extroverted. I think that is simplistic, of course, but I was intrigued by the juxtaposition, nonetheless. In this book, Dr. Heath offers an interesting model for evangelism, suggesting that the insights of the great mystics say more to our modern culture than conventional evangelizing techniques do. Her vision is distinctly on the 'progressive' wing of the church, emphasizing social justice, mysticism and inclusion. They also fit well in the context of the 'new monasticism', stressing smaller communities whose focuses are missional endeavors and social action. I'm sympathetic to both sides, although I have caveats as we'll see in this review. What is best in this book is Dr. Heath's analysis of contemporary conditions in the American (and, by extension, the Canadian, with local variations) church is her argument that the church is experiencing an ecclesial 'long night of the soul'. That is, she argues that the scandals which have rocked Christianity, the erosion of its cultural place in American culture and the consequent decline in numbers of active Christians is analagous to that stage of the mystic process in which one feels as if God has deserted them and that's one's prayer life is dry and unproductive. I think that is a good description of where we are in North American Christianity and that the way out of this spiritual crisis is the deepening of prayer and meditation and should be manifest in our works. And that is pretty much what Dr. Heath is arguing. I'm a little less enthusiastic about the vision of the positive vision of church that this books offers. That vision is, of course, quite missional, church-speak for the new orientation of churches to adopting the attitude of a missionary to contempary culture with all of the flexibility of structures and approaches that that entails. That isn't the problem for me. I think we do have to start treating contemporary culture as one where Christianity isn't a given. The tendency for this book is to assume a smaller, free church kind of structure with a strong social justice focus. There is a running polemic about mainline churches and conventional church congregations as being too restrictive and not progressive enough. That tends to set my teeth a little on edge, especially because I think there is a place for conventional church worship which is sometimes neglected in discussions about mission. Still, I, also, think this kind of community also has its place. What puts me off rather more, however, is the conversion narrative about Sam, who represents a kind of Everyman in his encounter with First Church, a church adopting the evangelistic outlook of this book. I see what this narrative is supposed to do. It is trying to depict is the ideal community, I know, which is my problem. It so ideal that it is unrealistic. To be sure, its ideals are great, but I was left with the feeling that (to paraphrase Adrian Plass' description of a fictional evangelist) that the apostolic church was an early and not particularly good rehearsal for the First Church in this book. Give me some idea how that church deals with real conflict and real people, and we'll talk. That shouldn't invalid the good of this book, but it does put me off. Anyway, with those caveats, this book is worth reading. It is aimed at the post-evangelical, I think, which isn't particularly my story, although I am sympathetic to it. The insights about the contemporary church, by themselves, are worth reading as is how mystics can give us insight into how to reach people today.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

    Read this as a #millennial raised evangelical, who ran away and felt compelled to return (Jeremiah 20:9), who has experienced great suffering and great joy at the hands of this body... I'm trying to figure some things out. Including my relationship to the very construct of "evangelism" and what it could mean. How it maybe could heal, whereas I only ever knew it as a weapon. I agreed with her diagnosis, the dark night of the soul in the church. I felt that her consideration of the sins of the chur Read this as a #millennial raised evangelical, who ran away and felt compelled to return (Jeremiah 20:9), who has experienced great suffering and great joy at the hands of this body... I'm trying to figure some things out. Including my relationship to the very construct of "evangelism" and what it could mean. How it maybe could heal, whereas I only ever knew it as a weapon. I agreed with her diagnosis, the dark night of the soul in the church. I felt that her consideration of the sins of the church like racism and sexism could have used some more complexity or- dare i say- problematizing. As a white passing left-leaning Episcopal dame, I think I and others like me need something more to chew on especially in the area of racial justice and reconciliation, and more to afflict and affront us, than just a reiteration of the "isms". The example church she outlined was helpful but a little corny. I think storytelling is not her strong suit. My favorite part was learning about the mystics. :) Overall, interesting read- maybe get from the library.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    A leader in my denomination once referred to book on church growth as "baptized business books." He meant by this they used marketing strategies as the focus and added some scripture and quotes from church founders. Dr. Heath looks at the works of early church mystics and explores how their work can speak to the spiritual hunger of people who go to church today. Over half way through the book it took a turn I did not see coming. She carefully examines a model for parish ministry were a church wo A leader in my denomination once referred to book on church growth as "baptized business books." He meant by this they used marketing strategies as the focus and added some scripture and quotes from church founders. Dr. Heath looks at the works of early church mystics and explores how their work can speak to the spiritual hunger of people who go to church today. Over half way through the book it took a turn I did not see coming. She carefully examines a model for parish ministry were a church would be no larger than 150 members and be led by four non-paid volunteer ministry leaders. Each of the four would have a full time job ad they would share leadership responsibilities in the church while leading by example how to practice spiritual disciplines. During the second half of the book Dr Health uses a fictional narrative to explain how this model would ideally work. She also examines stewardship as creation care and more than financial pledges.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    An exploration of what might be seen as a more holistic pattern of evangelism rooted in Christian discipleship as explored by Christian mystics of the past. The author believes American Christendom is experiencing a period of the "dark night of the soul," and its current methods of attempting growth are not sustainable. She appeals to the examples within the mystic tradition as guides to exploring the nature of the faith, embodying the faith, critiquing social constructions regarding the faith an An exploration of what might be seen as a more holistic pattern of evangelism rooted in Christian discipleship as explored by Christian mystics of the past. The author believes American Christendom is experiencing a period of the "dark night of the soul," and its current methods of attempting growth are not sustainable. She appeals to the examples within the mystic tradition as guides to exploring the nature of the faith, embodying the faith, critiquing social constructions regarding the faith and on their own, and embodying care and concern for others and the environment. Throughout half the work a story is woven about a prospective Christian and his growth in commitment as it relates to these subjects. There is much worth considering here; the work is hindered by its insistence on the shibboleths of progressive liberal Protestantism. Most of the Christians with whom the author interacts would have understood gender roles in Christ quite differently from her, for instance, but they still have appeal. The specific realms of focus are also quite in line with liberal Protestantism. Yet much of the critique is valuable: evangelism in churches does seem to get associated with a sales/marketing strategy and far too often is disconnected from meaningful embodiment of the faith in discipleship. The way of the mystics is worth exploring as a critique of what has become of Christendom in late modernity. **--galley received as part of early review program

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer A.

    I feel like I may have said out loud that I believe the American church is in a dark night of the soul at least once. That is Dr Heath's premise. This book is an important one, I think, and I really appreciated it, although I do think some of her counsel needs to be contextualized and "phased in" over time, and I certainly found her suggestions challenging and not always altogether palatable, but I think her overall insights and counsel is really valuable and should be acted on. Now to discern h I feel like I may have said out loud that I believe the American church is in a dark night of the soul at least once. That is Dr Heath's premise. This book is an important one, I think, and I really appreciated it, although I do think some of her counsel needs to be contextualized and "phased in" over time, and I certainly found her suggestions challenging and not always altogether palatable, but I think her overall insights and counsel is really valuable and should be acted on. Now to discern how to teach and implement this stuff in "my" church.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brad Kittle

    I don’t consider this a book on evangelism. You could tie evangelism to any spiritual topic: prayer, friendship, spirituality, theology—any topic. I really enjoyed portions of this book; especially when she discusses the role of Christian mystics in church history. Note: her post-modern theological perspective permeates throughout.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    I love this book. I highly recommend it and will read it again and again.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Phillips

    Content of the book Elaine Heath argues that the church is in a dark night of the soul. It has thus lost its prophetic voice--its effectiveness in proclaiming the good news of redemption. Rather than resisting or decrying this state of affairs, the church, says Heath, ought to embrace its situation as a starting point to renew its vitality and consequently, its witness. A solution is proposed in the wisdom and contemplative spirituality of the great saints and mystics--people such as Julian of No Content of the book Elaine Heath argues that the church is in a dark night of the soul. It has thus lost its prophetic voice--its effectiveness in proclaiming the good news of redemption. Rather than resisting or decrying this state of affairs, the church, says Heath, ought to embrace its situation as a starting point to renew its vitality and consequently, its witness. A solution is proposed in the wisdom and contemplative spirituality of the great saints and mystics--people such as Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyola, Phoebe Palmer, Henri Nouwen, and others. This book brings fresh insights to the theory and practice of evangelism by examining it through the lens of the classic threefold path of purgation, illumination, and union. Different ways of thinking about evangelism are drawn from the lives and teachings of the mystics, and different ways of practicing evangelism are then proposed via narrative theology. The result is a holistic perspective, offering a corrective to programmatic and consumeristic forms of evangelism so prevalent today. Here is a unique contribution to the discussion on evangelism in our postmodern world. Thoughts I truly loved the concept of approaching the declining church culture as a "dark night of the soul." I think it mirrors what many are going through individually and to adapt it to a corporate thought, even one as large as Western Christianity was not only unique but appropriate. My biggest fear in this is to look at the church in Europe and wonder how long the dark night of the soul lasts as it seems that Christianity there has been in the dark night for quite some time. Heath brings together some unique areas of healing that must be addressed before this dark night can be over. She deals with issues such as race relations, gender issues and ecology. In taking on this task she develops the ideas of mystics from across all time and denominational spectrums to show how they might address the noted specific redemptive issues. She addresses the need for the church to deal with gender segregation within the church. Many may not appreciate her passion in this topic. However, she makes a great point that culture sees gender equality in almost every area of society except the church, and there is a need to address this issue regardless of how one believes about the role of women in the ministry of the church. Heath also addresses the role of the church in ecology. Ecological hazards, toxic spills, and the destruction and waste of rain forests and other natural resources is becoming more and more important to those outside the church. The church does need to address this issue as well, and help the culture understand its position. Read from one perspective, however, one could see some of what she is describing as a means to to justify a political philosophy. I'm not sure she does, but I would suggest that it could be an influence. However, that is not wrong, nor is it improper. In fact, I think Heath is trying to prod the church to come to grips with the issues of gender, race, health care, ecology, etc, and to take a stand one way or the other. I gave it four stars. I did this because it made me think, and I am appreciative of books that make me think. I do not agree with some of her conclusions, but I am trying to follow the advise of something I read recently: "Listen to friends for confidence and courage but listen to enemies for wisdom and information." I would not consider Heath an enemy by any stretch of the imagination; however, it is good to read people one may not always agree with. I'm learning to do that and appreciate what they have to say. This book will challenge you and that is a good thing. I enjoyed the read and found it to be enlightening.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I started out in ministry on staff at a large church as the part-time Director of Communications. It was cutting edge at the time for a church to think about how it uses communication and marketing tools to reach a wider audience. Since then, I've been through phases of trying to read about and implement current church growth models that ultimately felt untrue to the faith I was trying to proclaim. They were all about getting people to come to church, about boosting attendance, but, as one of th I started out in ministry on staff at a large church as the part-time Director of Communications. It was cutting edge at the time for a church to think about how it uses communication and marketing tools to reach a wider audience. Since then, I've been through phases of trying to read about and implement current church growth models that ultimately felt untrue to the faith I was trying to proclaim. They were all about getting people to come to church, about boosting attendance, but, as one of the leaders of the movement discovered a few years ago, they didn't do much to promote a deep faith based on relationship with Jesus Christ expressed as perfect love of God and neighbor. Elaine Heath is one of several to offer an alternative based on the depth of the Church's spiritual tradition.In The Mystic Way of Evangelism Dr. Heath calls for believers to embrace the "dark night of the soul" where we currently live as a Church: Contrary to being a disaster, the exilic experiences of loss and marginalization are what are needed to restore the church to its evangelistic place. On the margins of society the church will once again find its God-given voice to speak to the dominant culture in subversive ways, resisting the powers and principalities, standing against the seduction of the status quo. The church will once again become a prophetic, evangelistic, alternative community, offering to the world a model of life that is radically 'other,' life-giving, loving, healing, liberating. This kind of community is not possible for the church of Christendom. Following a contemplative path of purgation, illumination, and union, Dr. Heath introduces her readers to spiritual saints as a role models for doing evangelism by being followers of Jesus. No marketing, no bait and switch, no lists of 10, rather an experience of the lives of the saints and a fictional character named Sam with whom we walk as he comes to know healing and acceptance in a community whose foundation is Christian love.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Over the past several years, God has been working on me, showing me that being a Christian is a matter of discipleship, not simply a matter of claiming faith. It's not that I am saved through my works, but rather that my faith should be leading me to transformation and a radical reorientation of my life. Being a Christian is not about going to church on Sunday, checking off "tithed" and "did devotionals today," or making a statement of faith (not that those things are bad). It's about allowing G Over the past several years, God has been working on me, showing me that being a Christian is a matter of discipleship, not simply a matter of claiming faith. It's not that I am saved through my works, but rather that my faith should be leading me to transformation and a radical reorientation of my life. Being a Christian is not about going to church on Sunday, checking off "tithed" and "did devotionals today," or making a statement of faith (not that those things are bad). It's about allowing God to work within me, so that I become, by degrees, more and more Christlike. In the end, this book may be as much about discipleship as it is about evangelism, but sometimes we try to divide things up into neat categories (discipleship here, evangelism there), when they are really tied together. Heath is not alone in saying this, but she says it so well: Evangelism isn't about handing out tracts or awkwardly discussing Jesus with strangers. It's about handing one's life over to God and loving the world as God loves it, thus becoming salt and light in the world. God spoke to me, once again, through this book, reminding me of his deep love and of his call to follow him with all of one's life, radically and with a grateful heart overflowing with his love for the world. While I found this book very moving, note that it is oriented more toward groups (churches, denominations, seminaries) than individuals. Heath is writing about a completely new (to most of us) way of doing church, not simply about individual efforts at bringing God's good news to the world.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joe Davis

    In The Mystic Way of Evangelism, Elaine Heath draws from the vast wealth of Christian mysticism to reimagine the present and future for the church and its evangelistic mission in the U.S. Her vision is not merely based on the mystical sources; it uses the threefold mystical path of purgation, illumination, and union as the lenses through which to view the church’s vocation. Before laying out this mystical vision of evangelism, Heath provides a helpful definition of key terms. She defines evangel In The Mystic Way of Evangelism, Elaine Heath draws from the vast wealth of Christian mysticism to reimagine the present and future for the church and its evangelistic mission in the U.S. Her vision is not merely based on the mystical sources; it uses the threefold mystical path of purgation, illumination, and union as the lenses through which to view the church’s vocation. Before laying out this mystical vision of evangelism, Heath provides a helpful definition of key terms. She defines evangelism as a local faith community’s practice of initiating people into God’s reign that ends only when those people are fully incorporated in and active with that faith community. For Heath, holiness is at the heart of the mystical tradition and central to her mystical way of evangelism. Holiness is being set apart to be in partnership with God in God’s mission. Therefore, mysticism is not a way of escape from the world through private, spiritual experience but a way of being holy that is concerned with bringing wholeness and healing to persons who then increasingly pursue the love of God and neighbor. ...read the rest of my review over at my blog {receive & enter}!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    Theological work which looks at the great mystics of the past to provide insight into the Church's present situation and provide a way forward. The author makes some very good points, such as the fact that the American church often embraces a consumeristic lifestyle and that this undermines the Gospel. Unfortunately, I found many of her arguments unconvincing, and the text reads more as a jeremiad than as a well-reasoned argument.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Gann

    Good alternate view of evangelism through the eyes of mystical encounters. I do wish that her "practical application" sections using the fictional church would have been a little less fantastical/hoaky and a little more realistic, but overall she's right in her assertion that the church's approach to evangelism has been lacking the deep concern and connection to God that the mystics provide.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Atkins

    An example of being the church that I want to embrace. I loved this book because it paints a picture of what church could be. I particularly was impacted by stewardship re-defined as stewardship of creation.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michele Zuniga

    Now What, You Ask The first half was a fairly dense seminary text book. The juicy part was the vision of post-Christendom church, enticing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    excellent. academic. great story line visioning a community that embodies the practices

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Friedman

    Important idea to pursue and examine, though in my opinion rather uneven in execution.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Wow! and AMEN!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Howell

    http://exegetethis.blogspot.com/2011/... http://exegetethis.blogspot.com/2011/...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sherill Clontz

  23. 4 out of 5

    Justin Martin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Reynolds

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Ogle

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim Starbuck

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bill Woolsey

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jody Mask

  30. 5 out of 5

    Drew

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