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