Charles Kiser and Elaine A. Heath
Eerdmans Publishing, 223 pages
Published April 11, 2023
“What if evangelism, when best conceived, is simply loving our neighbors well?” Charles Kiser and Elaine A. Heath ask. “The church has not loved its neighbors well through these experiences of spiritual abuse and trauma. But the answer is not to stop loving our neighbors. The answer is to learn how to love our neighbors better.”
As someone who grew up in the evangelical church, when I hear the word evangelism, I break out into hives and look for the exit. I believe that God in Christ has called us to spread the gospel, but the methods I encountered and participated in during the first half of my life have left a sour taste in my mouth. Unsurprisingly, I was suspicious then of a book with both trauma and evangelism in the title, but Trauma-Informed Evangelism: Cultivating Communities of Wounded Healers was a breath of fresh air.
Kiser is a pastor and theologian, and Heath is the former dean of Duke Divinity School. They draw from each of their contexts to interpret stories of spiritual abuse and trauma with hearty and relevant psychological theory and research. Recognizing that trauma robs survivors of the ability to imagine, the authors encourage church leaders to reconsider how we toss around atonement theories, forgiveness and narratives of suffering. Kiser and Heath offer consistent and clear definitions of spiritual trauma, spiritual abuse and moral injury, providing structure to what can often be a nebulous world of “church hurt,” easily dismissed by some and left to fester by others.
This is a timely book for folks navigating their own faith deconstruction or walking alongside someone who has been wounded by Christians. Kiser and Heath do not shy away from their own experiences of spiritual trauma and their complicity in systems that have allowed those patterns to proliferate — a practice of honest repentance they believe will and must animate the next reformation of the Church.
While this book could be used in seminaries, it should not be sidelined to the academy. Kiser and Heath pack dense theology into an accessible work that includes diverse voices in theology, not leaning too much on any one context and reminding the reader that all theology is contextual – whether we admit it or not. Each chapter concludes with a discussion guide ready-made for a Christian Educator, small group leader or sermon series starter.
Trauma-Informed Evangelism is a work of restraint, mining the relevant issues it addresses while planting seeds for readers to investigate for themselves. I especially enjoyed the portions that use Jesus as a model of both ministry practitioner and spiritual trauma survivor. Kiser and Heath extend an invitation to reimagine what evangelism can mean intellectually, but they do not skimp on the ways our hearts may be changed when we become a people “that repents from its history of violence, that turns and goes in a new, life-affirming, healing direction.” Even as this book delves into the darkest parts of our churches, it offers a vision of what we might become when we release the outcomes of evangelism to the Spirit who is already at work in and around us.
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