Are “Christianizing” and “civilizing” the same thing?
The Lazy Friday feature is back! My Fridays are no longer so lazy, and this particular book is too good to write about in just one post. It has seven short chapters, and today I’m talking about number one.
“The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How the West can be Won…Again.”
George G. Hunter III
In only seven chapters, Hunter enlightens readers with information likely missing from the typical education. While in college I studied European history – including much of the history of Christianity – from top professors in these fields; yet, if I was ever taught what Hunter reveals in his book, it was merely brushed over.
With charming candor Hunter addresses that very issue in the preface, writing “…a class has only so much lecture time and reading time.” however, “When a colleague heard I was writing a book on how the ancient Celtic Christians did ministry and mission, he asked, ‘What could we possibly learn from them?’…Most people…wonder why Hunter would bore people with his new antiquarian obsession!”
Titled “The Gospel to the Irish”, the first chapter dives into the basics of St. Patrick’s story. Hunter provides the details many of us have heard: Patrick grew up in a Briton family of Roman culture and good social standing. Despite being raised in a Christian home Patrick himself chiefly ridiculed the faith and it was only after his capture and move to Ireland as a slave that God was able to get a word in edgewise. What theologians call “natural revelation” ensued, as did Patrick’s escape from slavery. After growing in his relationship with God and becoming a bishop, Patrick was called by God to share the love of Jesus Christ with the Irish. Hunter begins the exploration of what really made St. Patrick a person that Christians, and especially missionaries, can look up to.
Hunter discusses “Christianizing” and “civilizing,” stating that in the past few hundred years, Protestant leaders have assumed that evangelism and so-called civilizing are inseparable tasks for a Christian missionary. Hunter quotes Patrick Beaver on this matter as Beaver emphasizes how readily the Christian community accepted this charge, only wondering “which came first, christianization or civilization?” Spanish colonization, Puritan settlements and ‘work’ among the Native Americans, as well as British imperialism, all reflect these observations as unfortunate truth.
As with so much of modern Western culture, the Roman Empire had in the past tainted general Western thought. The Roman perspective, says Hunter, was “(1) Roman Christians leaders assumed that a population had to be civilized ‘enough’ already to be Christianized, that is, that some degree of civilization was a prerequisite to Christianization. (2) Once a sufficiently civilized population became Christian, they were expected…to do church ‘the Roman way.’ ”
When Patrick traveled to Ireland accompanied by a dozen other people, his mission was considered impossible. Hunter gives many details of why the Roman culture would have even considered the Irish barbarians in need of civilization – despite never reaching Ireland themselves. Tribal organization, shows of emotion, and a disinterest in literacy all contributed. Even after Patrick’s mission resulted in a number of genuine converts, the church which had ordained and sent him consistently expressed disapproval. Hunter asserts this as due to the lack of church “the Roman way.”
While reading I noticed that St. Patrick’s approach to evangelism and church planting is not unlike the methods OMS employs. Patrick worked as part of a team, sought to establish true friendships and trust with local leaders in order to move nearby and take part in tribal life. Patrick’s team would converse with locals in every day events, look for a receptive person, and minister to their needs. According to Hunter, “They would pray for sick people, and for possessed people, and they would counsel people and mediate conflicts. On at least one occasion, Patrick blessed a river and prayed for the people to catch more fish.” As people showed interest and began more intentionally fellowshipping with Patrick’s team, they invited their family and friends to take part. The churches that grew among the Celtic tribes were “astonishingly indigenous.” When Patrick and his group moved to the next settlement, a priest was left behind with a text of basic Christian instruction. Hunter adds that young converts from the current settlement would join the band as they moved on to the next.
St. Patrick never forgot his experience as a slave to the very people he now sought to share Christ with. Hunter notes him as “the first public man to speak and crusade against slavery.” Violence and intertribal warfare decreased as Patrick advocated for pure generosity, friendship, and the love Jesus demonstrated on earth.
Chapter two reveals the influence beauty and prayer had on the vivid Celtic imagination…here on the blog next Friday!