Thursday, December 15, 2005

'The Provocative Church' by Graham Tomlin - a book review

Normally when the words 'provocative' and 'church' are used in the same sentence, the thought that springs to mind is some small sect bring controversial about an issue, or perhaps even the Anglican Communion and the debate about the Windsor Report... But I've just finished reading a book of that title: 'The Provocative Church', and it has inspired me to a lot of thinking.

The book is all about evangelism, and how we can engage in evangelism to the post-modern generation around us. Why is such a book necessary? Well, the fact is that, while interest in spirituality is increasing (just look in any bookshop at the 'religion or self-help or spirituality' section), there is a corresponding decline in the numbers attending church. And yet we can sometimes feel inadequate about reaching out to others – what should we say? What should we do?

Graham Cray looks at the topic in an interesting way, by considering the local church first and foremost as the unit of evangelism. He asks if we are indeed a provocative church. For example, if someone new were to call into our service, would they be provoked to ask the question about Jesus, or would they be interested enough to come back the following week?

Or as we go about our daily lives, do those around us see something different about us, which provokes them to ask us about the hope we have? This is brought out from the verse in 1 Peter 3:15: 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.' The fact is that while our current evangelism training (through things like Alpha etc) for church members can help them with the answers, we are pre-supposing a question... which maybe doesn't come so often.

For Tomlin, the answer comes through the first part of the verse – In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.' It is in these few words that we find the entire centre of evangelism for our current day. AS we live our lives out under the rule of Christ, showing his love, and generosity, and being gracious, then people will indeed see something different in our lives and ask the questions – which then lead us to the place where we can talk about what God has done for us, in our lives, and then, if our church has it together, tell them that while we personally can't answer their harder questions, there is a course they could attend where there can ask questions and discuss these topics with others.

For me, this has been one of the best books I read this year (all 65 of them...), and will continue to inspire and challenge me on how we do things in the church.

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