Theologian attacks mission report

02 November 2006

A KEY DOCUMENT in the Church of England's strategy for renewal has been condemned as so theologically weak that it could stop the Church from developing.

Professor John Hull, Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen's Foundation, Birmingham, charges the document Mission-shaped Church with being complacent, acquiescent in the consumer-choice culture, insensitive to the poor, and imperialistic. He says that it promotes an apartheid view of faith, and leaves no room for other denominations or other faiths.

Mission-shaped Church was the result of a working party set up by the Mission and Public Affairs Council. Published in 2004, it had sold more than 16,000 copies by November last year. Fresh Expressions of Church was set up to carry out its advice.

But Professor Hull says the report is so theologically weak it will inhibit fresh expressions of the Church unless it is put right.

Professor Hull's main criticism is that the report is too church-centred. But he also criticises it for failing to help the poor and marginalised break out of their situation.

He says that it sees the Church as a sign of the Kingdom when it is growing, but does not expect to see it as a sign of the Kingdom by exhibiting good news for the poor and the breaking down of social boundaries in the interests of justice. The report is "almost cynical" in its encouragement to the poor to form their own churches, Professor Hull says.

"The poor are empowered not by having their own poor churches, but by escaping from poverty. The complacency and insensitivity of Mission-shaped Church at this point is truly incredible."

He says that the report uses the concept of diversity to argue for separate development of races and cultures. "It is the basic principle of apartheid," he says.

Mission-shaped Church has little appreciation of diversity outside the Church, "and little awareness of the Church as engaged in resistance to racial and economic differences".

If such a document were written by senior leaders of Islam and supported by their representatives, "I would regard it as the announcement of an imperialism which acknowledges no diversity, tolerates no rivals and is bent on world domination. I would not be surprised if a Muslim reading Mission-shaped Church was alarmed in the same way. . . If the Church is to fill the earth there will be no standing room for Jews or Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus. All these, together with any remaining humanists or atheists, are to be crowded out."

He says: "We looked for a mission-shaped Church, but what we found was a Church-shaped mission."

Mission-shaped Church: A theological response is published by SCM Press (£5.99; 0-334-04057-4).

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)