Evangelism in a Spiritual Age: Communicating faith in a changing culture

02 November 2006


Church House Publishing £11.99 (0-7151-4054-X); Church Times Bookshop £10.80

The times they are a-changing: And the Church must do some rethinking, says Michael A. Hart

IS THIS just another book coming off the "Fresh Expressions" conveyor belt?  Well, it is; and it is one of three important books that are really worth reading.

The subtitle says what it is about: "communicating faith in a changing culture". The problem is that many in the Church don't really believe the culture is changing. This book, therefore, is valuable because its starting-point is research carried out in the Coventry diocese. Part One gives a spiritual snapshot of the "big questions" people are concerned about, and their attitudes, and understanding of four aspects of Christianity. This should make it clear to the reader that change is very much on the agenda. Many people have discovered a spiritual way, but it is not the Christian way.

Recently, there has been a move from "religion" towards a variety of "spiritualities", either a single one, or a mix-and-match that might include belief in angels and in aliens. The most alarming trend is that which sees the Church as "un-spiritual" - one interviewee says the Church "could be found guilty of killing off spirituality".

The loss of Christian story and language has caused much of this confusion. Yet people are "searching for a spirituality that works". It is not that people have moved away from us: it is that we have not extended our religious bridges, nor built urgently needed new ones.

All this challenges each Christian and every congregation to face the questions and themes that people are concerned about. The book doesn't stop with its alarming, and even depressing, picture of our age. Rather, the research enables other contributors to help us understand how to engage with context, and gives advice that might enable us to bridge the gap. The process of transforming evangelism begins with an awareness of the cultural changes, and, as Steve Croft says, with a lot of listening.

The book urges us to pay attention and reflect. I particularly enjoyed Anne Richards's contribution, with which Part Two begins. I also liked Rob Frost's points, that "Christian mission has never evangelised a culture by avoiding it," and that "Christian mysticism is the richest mysticism of all."

I recommend this book to church-council members and to the clergy. It is about a refreshing change - for, while it is important that we work with existing structures of the traditional Church, we do also need to rethink our way of bridge-building and our involvement with that 60 per cent of the population "beyond the fringe".

The book links easily with two others: the workbook Equipping Your Church in a Spiritual Age by Steve Hollingshurst and others; and Beyond the Fringe: Researching a spiritual age.

Canon Hart is Canon Missioner in Southwark diocese.

 To order this book, email the details to Church House Bookshop

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