The Mystic Way of Evangelism

A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach

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"An important work that offers a penetrating diagnosis of the contemporary decline of mainline Christianity in North America. . . . All who are invested in seeing the church embrace its calling both to be and to bring good news to the world would profit from this most illuminating work."--Chris Flanders, Restoration Quarterly

Elaine Heath argues that the church is in a dark night of the soul. It has thus lost its prophetic voice--its effectiveness in proclaiming the good news of redemption. Rather than resisting or decrying this state of affairs, the church, says Heath, ought to embrace its situation as a starting point for renewal of its vitality--and consequently, its witness. A solution is proposed in the wisdom and contemplative spirituality of the great saints and mystics--people such as Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyola, Phoebe Palmer, Henri Nouwen, and others. As our vision of God is renewed, mission is reenergized.

This book brings fresh insights into the theory and practice of evangelism by examining it through the lens of the classic threefold path of purgation, illumination, and union. Different ways of thinking about evangelism are drawn from the lives and teachings of the mystics. Different ways of practicing evangelism are then proposed via narrative theology. The result is a holistic perspective, offering a corrective to programmatic and consumeristic forms of evangelism so prevalent today. Here is a unique contribution to the discussion on evangelism in our postmodern world.


"Elaine Heath is not afraid to name our demons and release our angels! She shows courage, honesty, and direction for the future in this very readable book. All Christian denominations are sharing common problems today and have a common future--a mystic future or none at all."--Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

"The Mystic Way of Evangelism is about evangelism, which is truly important obviously for our mainline churches that are aging and declining but no less for our evangelical churches that are far less effective in evangelism than they often think. But Elaine Heath's book is about much more than evangelism. It's about a richer, deeper approach to Christian faith. It offers a fresh perspective on church history, and it addresses the relevance of the gospel to contemporary problems. Here's my hunch: for many readers, this will be the most important book they read this year."--Brian McLaren (, author/activist

"Elaine Heath provides a narrative by which to understand what is happening within the mainline church, as well as throughout Christendom, through her use of the classic threefold contemplative path from night through illumination to union. Her use of this path provides both insight and hope for those who seek to be faithful to Christ and the church. Other books on evangelism have not always resonated with the 'mystic' within us, nor have they emphasized the importance of justice in evangelism. Heath's challenge to engage in eco-evangelism is essential in regaining the church's moral authority in the present global climate crisis."--Sally Dyck, resident bishop of Minnesota, The United Methodist Church

"The Mystic Way of Evangelism is a refreshing and profound contribution. With perceptive insight, Heath identifies issues facing the contemporary church in the West. She then responds to those issues with care and creativity, skillfully recovering the richness of Christian mysticism and its themes of holiness. Not many projects ably bridge the distance that can emerge between the study of evangelism and its practice in communities of faith--Heath's does."--Laceye Warner, associate dean for academic formation and programs, associate professor of evangelism and Methodist studies, Duke University Divinity School

"Elaine Heath has produced a remarkably creative work, linking the church's missional priority for evangelism with the neglected resources of the church's mystics. To do this, she confronts contemporary issues in ministry by opening a treasure trove of theological insight and mystical practices, including both current innovations and past centuries of Christian devotion. Within these pages are both a vigorous challenge to the church and a way for robust spiritual renewal of the faith to flourish."--William B. Lawrence, dean and professor of American church history, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

The Author

  1. Elaine A. Heath
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    Elaine A. Heath

    Elaine A. Heath (PhD, Duquesne University) is dean of Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. She previously taught at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where she directed the Center for Missional Wisdom. An ordained elder in...

    Continue reading about Elaine A. Heath


2009 Outreach Resource of the Year

"[Heath's] biographies of the mystics are inspiring, and her emphases on suffering and spiritual depth as the antidote to a prepackaged, method-obsessed, consumer-oriented evangelistic approach are refreshing."--Outreach

"Most would not think of mysticism and evangelism as complementary. . . . Elaine Heath's provocative work not only dissolves this apparent opposition but demonstrates how 'the mystics are the best teachers of evangelism.'. . . Though Heath is clearly conversant with scholarly discussion, her treatment of the Christian mystic tradition is quite accessible, and any church member could readily profit from it. The Mystic Way of Evangelism is an important work that offers a penetrating diagnosis of the contemporary decline of mainline Christianity in North America. Her fruitful vision extends the historic dynamism of the mystic tradition into the life of today's church for faithful witness in a post-Christian North American context. Her proposal is creative, challenging, and compelling. All who are invested in seeing the church embrace its calling both to be and to bring good news to the world would profit from this most illuminating work."--Chris Flanders, Restoration Quarterly

"Intriguing and unique. . . . [The] vignettes are thoughtfully constructed and movingly presented. They are useful for devotional use and growth in the school of Christ, even though they reflect widely divergent times and Christian traditions. . . . All who predominately think of evangelism in terms of strategies, structures, budgets, numerical goals, and church growth need to think seriously about what the author offers. . . . Many Christians who have led exemplary, loving, serving lives in their walk with the Lord have felt guilty about not being more evangelistic; this book should assure them that their lives have been more widely and deeply evangelistic than they probably thought."--James A. De Jong, Calvin Theological Journal