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Levi C. Jones

Brad J. Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Chapter 1: What does Kallenberg mean when he says that, “language constitutes the


Language “constitutes the world” underlines the importance of language in shaping how

we view the world. Language is the very tool by which we conceptualize and understand the

world. And, more importantly, this is done on a communal level. As Wittgenstein asserts,

individuals do not make the whole, but the community constitutes the individual. We are the

sum of our relationships. After all, it is in the context of a community that we learn language


“Language is the means by which we think,” states Kallenberg. As such, the language,

and thus the culture, by which we think inevitably influences the way we think. Our language

values time, which can be seen in the number of tenses that portray time: past, present, and

future. However, many cultures do not have these tenses because other things are emphasized.

The result shapes the way people in those cultures think. And, furthermore, is molds the way we

engage and interact with the world. Kallenberg, as Wittgenstein, believes that language and the

world are not separate… our world is language. This becomes very important for later

discussions of evangelism for our author.

Traditions are the results of language. Kallenberg believes, “Learning a language is an

irreducibly social enterprise that trains a child into a communal mode of living” (24). So,

language not only shapes how we view the world, but it builds up the type of practices through

which we engage the world. The Christian tradition is no different. It is a social enterprise in

which we relate through language.

Chapter 2: What are the various ways to understand “conversion”?

Kallenberg believes there are three ways to understand the significance of conversion: it

is a change in social identity, it is an acquisition of new language skills, and it is a paradigm

shift. There are a number of ways to view the significance of conversion; however, Kallenberg

deals with it in terms of post-critical thought.

First, there is a change in social identity. Basically, post-critical thought sees conversion

as a change in narratives. Everyone has a narrative that “makes up” the person. We are not

simply the sum of our parts. Therefore, conversion is the “understanding of one’s place in the

story line of the gospel” (38). Kallenberg writes, “Because this story line is lived out by the

community of Christ-followers, the new convert’s identity is necessarily social; one cannot

identify oneself as a Christ-follower and avoid identifying oneself with the believing community

that is seeking to embody the gospel both in its words and in its life together” (38).

Second, there is the acquisition of new language skills. Since conversion is a social

reality, language (by which we live in community) must also change. There is a language that is

unique to the Christian fellowship. In order to be able to comprehend and use this language there

must be a learning process. After all, as Wittgenstein would say, language is the tool by which

we interact with our world. As such an important tool, it is only natural that our language for

this new community would change too. Without this language change, it is likely that we are

speaking past one another without any real understanding.

Finally, we encounter a paradigm shift. A paradigm is the belief set by which and

through which we live our lives. It is the lens through which we view the world. Kallenberg

believes that a pre-critical understanding that was evidenced in the Church before modernity

needs to be re-instated. That does not meant that we are naïve about facts, but that we see the

Bible as a holistic narrative that stretches to our time. Kallenberg writes, “Modern thinkers

interrogate the text by subjecting it to historical-critical scrutiny, precritical and postcritical

thinkers submit themselves to the text as Scripture in a way that allows the text to interrogate

them” (38).

Chapter 3: Why is conversion a communal practice for Kallenberg?

As stated in the previous chapter, conversion is becoming part of a different narrative that

shapes and guides our life. It is the donning of a new social identity. Because a narrative does

not happen in individualistic isolation, it is only natural that Kallenberg would understand

conversion as a communal practice. “Because conversion involves a change in social identity,

evangelism must be a corporate practice, executed by the community that is the source of a

believer’s new identity” (64).

Furthermore, Kallenberg has asserted that our language changes due to conversion.

When we become a part of this new community, we must adopt the language of the community.

Language is how we relate to one another in community. It is the basis for relationship. We can

only relate inasmuch as we understand the language of the community. And, importantly, the

language can only be taught in the context of the community. Thus, the acquisition of a new

speech inevitably is derived from the community, not an individual.

Finally, conversion is a shift in our paradigm. Kallenberg notes, “Because conversion

involves a paradigm shift, evangelism must seek to assist that shift by being dialogical in style

and by, wherever possible, enlisting potential converts in the telling of the story” (64). Basically,

this means that this is not a closed, exclusive community. It is constantly expanding so that

others become part of the story of the Gospel at work in the world. We have heard it said that

the Gospel is always one generation away from extinction. As such, we understand that the faith
has been passed to us and we in turn must pass it along to the next generation.

In looking at the post-modern viewpoint, the understanding of language’s role in

conversion is essential. If it is the basis of relationships and our interaction with the world, then

it is impossible to relegate evangelism or our faith to a simplistic individualism. Rather, a robust

faith is integrally involved in the community of faith. We gain a new narrative, a new language,

and a new paradigm by which we are brought into the community of faith.

Chapter 4: How is fluency part of conversion?

To be redundant, our ability to relate to one another in community is dependent upon a

common language. It is the tool we use to be included in a community. As is the case in

learning our native tongues, we too have a learning process for the “Christian language.” It is a

learning process that takes time and practice within the prescribed community. The community

takes responsibility for helping individuals become “insiders” by conversing with them in a

dialogical fashion. Through this method, people are continually able to grasp more of the

concepts found within the specialized language of the Christian community.

One of the greatest ways to gain fluency in a new language is through cultural immersion.

One might be able to grasp a portion of a foreign language without doing so. However, in order

to be able to be highly efficient and proficient in the language, one must undergo total immersion

in that particular culture. The Christian community is no different. In order for converts to

become fully fluent in the Christian language, it is vital that they become immersed in the

community of believers.

Catechesis is mentioned in this chapter as a way for initiating people in the language of

the community. People tend to steer clear from things that they do not understand or with which

they are not familiar. In an increasingly biblically illiterate society, this is very disconcerting.

This seems to bolster the belief that discipleship is not an option, but a necessity. In order for

people to be able to get involved and grow, there has to be some foundation upon which they can

build. Helping them grasp key concepts and history may be a stepping stone for future

relationship with God and the community of believers.

Chapter 5: What does it mean to call Christianity a “form of life”?

“What makes a community ‘Christian’ isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold

roughly the same beliefs, but that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are

faithful to the story of Jesus. The christoform pattern of these lived-out beliefs is what

consititutes their ‘form of life’” (91). In essence, the practices that accompany the language of a

community is its “form of life.” In some sense, a community is what it practices.

One of the implications of this view is that evangelism cannot simply stop at words alone.

One does not win converts by wise apologetic tactics that give all of the answers… as if we had

all of the answers. Rather, it is inviting potential converts to join the community of practice as

we live out our shared story, the Gospel. It is an active engagement in the community that is

most convincing about the power of God in the midst of people. After all, Jesus did not say that

the world would know we are his disciples by how well we preach or teach, not even how much

good works we do. Rather, God is evidenced by the love we share with one another. That is the

form of life that is the Christian community. It is how we work out the implications of our faith

together as a community.

The form of life, according to Kallenberg, is not simply a set of propositions that one

must learn. It may be important to have certain data sets, but they do not ultimately transform

us. No, the form of life is the natural outflow of our language. It is the way we live out the stuff

of our Christian language. In other words, language has a creative potential. Words are not
static, but have a power of their own. Language that is lived out is the most powerful form of

evangelism. As a pastor once told me, “People won’t remember what you preached, but they’ll

remember how you lived.” But, we must also remember that our language helps structure our

form of life. It is the narrative fabric of the community that shapes its form of life.

Chapter 6: Why is Kallenberg’s method of evangelism “growing the church the hard


Kallenberg’s method of evangelism is difficult because there is no sure and fast method

available by which we can measure and adjust for success. We live in a scattered, segmented

society that has become increasingly opposed to the methods of evangelism produced by the

modern age. Evangelism, therefore, can hardly be a copy and paste activity. We cannot simply

memorize a number of propositions in order to convert people.

This makes evangelism difficult for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly, it

requires us to live out our faith genuinely. This is a difficult but necessary foundation for

spreading the Gospel. Living out the Gospel is no easy task, but one that we must undertake if

we are to truly be offering more than a false façade.

Secondly, people are organic. Our methods of evangelism should be as well. Essentially,

this means that we must learn to discern how to present the Gospel message in each case. How

do we construct the story so that they can connect with its message? That does not mean that we

twist the story for our own objectives. But, we must discern which parts of the story are most

relevant given the situation. This ability comes with time and practice and can only be learned in

this way.

Third, we must really begin to view evangelism as a journey with a person rather than

simply a target we must reach with them. This takes time and effort. It can be a very draining

experience because it calls for a great deal of commitment from us. However, we must

understand that evangelism, especially due to biblical illiteracy, will inevitably take time. We

must learn to exercise patience, which is difficult for us because we want results. But, like good

seed, it is a process of growth.

Due to the post-modern culture, our society is very fragmented. This means that there are

many conflicting ideas available. Not everyone approaches from a same, basic framework for

life. This means that we must help contextualize the message in a way that is understandable

wherever people are. I’m not talking about watering down the message. However, we must

understand where people are coming from and how we can best communicate with them. Again,

this is not an easy task. There is no prescribed “method” available that will work every time.

Good judgment is a necessary quality that must be developed as we seek to communicate the