Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, spent eight years in slavery under Celtic lords, learning the culture and language of the Irish people. He learned to pray without ceasing and became devout. Directed in a dream, Patrick set out toward the coast, found a ship waiting and sailed in freedom to Rome, where he obtained a theological education. At age forty-eight, while serving as a parish priest in England, he had another dream in which faces of those he remembered in Ireland called to him to bring the gospel. The Vatican validated his "Macedonian call," ordained him a bishop and sent him to reach some of the 150 unreached Celtic tribes in Ireland. By the time of his death, St. Patrick had reached fifteen to twenty of these tribes and set the pattern for the work of Columba, Brigid, Columbanus, Aiden and many others in reaching pagan tribes all over Europe.
So what was the approach used for reaching the Celtic tribes? Might there be some application for better connecting to a postmodern generation today? Their approach may be summarized as follows:
1. Nature. The Celtic movement stressed humanity's kinship with nature, rather than a Roman view of dominion over nature.
2. Human nature. Celtic Christians believed that sin had blurred and twisted the image of God seen in human beings, but not destroyed it or left them as completely depraved.
3. God's presence. Celtic Christians emphasize the immanence (immediate presence) of God more than his transcendence. They long for a God who knows them and loves them and actually wants to be involved in their daily lives.
4. God's power. Dynamic and active, maybe even a little chaotic, rather than static or full of order and stability.
5. Organization. Where Roman Christians looked to preserve their institutions and traditions, Celtic Christians emphasized advancing as a movement through community. They really weren't into the whole organizational hierarchy thing.
6. Culture. While Roman Christians assumed Roman culture was superior to all other cultures, Celtic Christians didn't look to replace their culture, but adapted to it, introducing the good news in a way that made sense for them (while not watering down the message).
7. Religion. When Roman Christians saw other religions they reviled them as demonic or irrelevant, while Celtic Christians saw other religions as evidence of spiritual interest, that God was already at work in their hearts preparing them for the gospel. Pagan practices and symbols, like the standing stones, sacred groves and springs, were incorporated into Christian faith wherever possible. In the same way Christ as messiah was the fulfillment of the Jewish faith, the Celts saw Jesus as the fulfillment of pagan religion, not the destroyer of it.
8. Communications. Unlike the Roman Christians "left-brained" rational, propositional, doctrinal exposition of faith, Celtic Christians took far more of a "right-brained" imaginative approach. Romans taught content of the faith, the Celts helped people directly experience the faith. They sought to evoke truth, not explain it.
9. Mission. The Roman approach was to preach, see commitments, appoint a deacon, and start a church when people believed. Celtic Christians instead invited people into their monastic communities to belong before they believed. There they saw people devoted to prayer, love, and hospitality, accepting others as friends in a way that was not conditional upon their believing.
Many now, like then, might see these emphases as pretty radical. Others might see it as a Christianity that isn't lame, that they might even consider looking into?
Quote and information from article adapted from Rick Richardson’s Evangelism Outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2000), pp. 56-60. See also George Hunter’s “The Celtic Way for Evangelizing Today,” The Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, 1997-1998, pp. 15-30.