In his book The Great Commission Timothy Byerley attempts to apply the methodology Avery Dulles used in his landmark book on ecclesiology, Models of the Church (Doubleday, 1974), to develop a better understanding of evangelization and religious education. Dulles initially came up with five models: Church as Institution, as Mystical Communion, as Sacrament, as Herald, and as Servant. He later added a sixth model, the Church as Community of Disciples. Dulles’ models possess an unmistakable clarity and explanatory power. Most importantly, they have great heuristic value; they open us up to a deeper understanding of the mystery (fullness of meaning) of the Church.
Byerley’s six models do not illumine the mystery of evangelization in the same way. In the first instance the model names lack clarity: the St. Stephen Model is intended to evoke the idea of Christian witness; the Jerusalem model, liturgy; the Proclamation model, preaching; the Fraternity model, small communities; the Areopagus model, inculturation, and the Loaves and Fishes model, charity. Why force a biblical referent to each model when identifying them simply as witness, liturgy, preaching, small communities, inculturation, and charity would so much simpler? It should be noted though, that “inculturation” is more of a goal for all evangelization whereas the other model names designate methods or techniques of outreach.
Secondly, the examples given for each model vary widely from the micro to the macro and points in between. For example, the example given for the Proclamation (preaching) model is the parish mission and for the Fraternity (small communities) model it is the Paulist Fathers. This despite the fact that the Paulist Fathers have themselves always been principal advocates of the parish mission. Such confusion does not move us toward clarity or insight.
Lastly, in a concluding chapter it is suggested that working through the models highlights three issues in the field of evangelization that must be addressed: respect for all human cultures, the tension between evangelization and ecumenism and the need for one overarching theory of evangelization. But surely, consciousness of the first two issues exists prior to the publication of this book and the book contributes little to their resolution. The third might have been developed more since in my mind at least two of the six models might serve as the basis of a “supermodel.” These are “witness” and “proclamation.”
All of the above is not to suggest there is no interesting content in the book. The discussions of Rose Hawthorne and of the work of the Hawthorne Dominicans in the chapter on Loaves and Fishes (charity), for example, are noteworthy in their presentation of the facts motivating the founding and work of that great community of women devoted to service.