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Mission is more than marketing

27 January 2017

LIKE Dr Margaret Barker (Back Page Interview, 20 January), I would have more confidence in the Church’s mission agenda if I knew what its content was. There is, as she put it, “so much emphasis on ‘mission’ — marketing — and very little knowledge of the actual product”. It is Christianity itself that needs to be rediscovered, and any mission strategy should begin by finding out why so many have simply walked away from the Christian faith.

Current mission strategy does not address this. There is an assumption that, if people are gathered together, offered a good time with the kids (free coffee, Sunday newspapers, Messy Church), and have a prayer at the end, they will mysteriously be­­come disciples (note, not Chris­tians). Some, of course, do find faith in such circumstances. But the religious content of much missional engagement (and I have sampled quite a bit) is curiously bland and sentimental. It may attract briefly, but it does not nec­essarily stick.

The content offered from the supposedly “liberal” end of the Church is no more convincing. Its agenda seems to be to turn Chris­tianity into a megaphone for every disgruntled voice on the planet. Again, there is little relig­ious content to the gospel of those who hurt. Jesus is simply enlisted to vaguely oppose capital­ism, and to condemn the West for being institu­tionally racist and sexist. He is, of course (in case you didn’t know), horrified by Trump and Brexit.

Articulating and defending the Christian faith is not easy. C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was, in its time, a masterly attempt. It was orthodox and scriptural while con­ceding nothing to literalists or moral bigots.

Lewis understood — which few seem to in today’s Church — that Christian apologetic must be as broad-based as possible, but not dumb down the fundamental issues of human existence. Those who are convinced will find their way to reinhabit and revive trad­ition. But the tradition must be there for them; otherwise there is no authentic faith to pass on. I fear that the end result of the Church’s current mission agenda will be the wilful destruction of the culture of the Church of England: its music, lit­urgy, and learning.

Of course, there are those who have always desired this, proposing a culture-free gospel that can be slotted into any and every environ­ment, like a SIM card. It is perhaps because this so-called gospel is a chimera that the current mission agenda seems so shallow.

Dr Barker says that we could start with relearning the Bible: I would add church history, doctrine, and liturgy. The marketing may be glossy; it is the product that is the problem.

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