Review: The Celtic Way of Evangelism (I)

George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism, published by Abingdon Press in 2000, builds on Thomas Cahill’s provocative How the Irish Saved Civilization, traces the roots of the establishment of the Celtic Church first among the Celts in Ireland by the Romanized Briton St. Patrick; then among the Picts in Scotland by the Celt St. Columba (using the monastic community of Iona as a missionary base); then among the newly arrived Angles and Saxons (think of the Rescript of Honorius, beginning the abandonment of Britain by the Roman military in 410) in now pagan England by St. Aidan (the monastery of Lindisfarne this time serving as the base of missionary operations). Finally, under the leadership of St. Columbanus, the Celtic way of practicing the faith was extended to many corners of the now “barbarianized” continent as well.

Unique features of the Celtic Church, according to Hunter, include the refusal to separate “lay people” and “clergy” for the purposes of doing ministry (resonating with Fr. David’s recent emphasis on the “grassroots origins” of the English Church and by extension of the Celtic Church); the wholistic nature of Celtic monasteries (they were more like cities, teeming with all sorts of economic, cultural, and religious activity, complete with families and children, as opposed to the standard picture of austerity and solitary reverence we get from more “Roman” monasteries); and the evangelistic practice of “belonging before believing.”

It is with this last feature of the Celtic Church (the idea that, both in the ancient world of the pagans as well as in our increasingly post-Christian world of the West, many people must belong to a community of Jesus followers before they are able to believe) that Hunter begins to apply the wisdom of this missionary movement to the (post)modern Western Church in our day.

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