Saturday, March 22, 2008
Here's my most recent assignment. It's a book review on one of the core texts for our Mission in Britain Today module.
This book is an examination of why Christianity has become so unpopular in Europe, when in most parts of the world religion is intrinsic to society and culture. MacLaren also looks at the few areas of Europe which have strong religious cultural expression, so that he can gain insight into what makes religion relevant and necessary in these societies.
In examining these concerns, the author makes detailed use of sociological analysis. He explores possible phenomena which may have caused the descent into unpopularity that the Christian faith has had to endure. These include industrialisation, urbanization, and consumerism. He asks how these processes have impacted upon the Church in Britain.
MacLaren observes that modern Europeans find the claims of Christianity to be implausible. Science and technology are certain, faith is not. He calls this ‘technological consciousness’. If society’s disinterest in religion is partly due to a crisis of credibility; understanding how something becomes credible to the modern mind will give insight into effective missiological practice.
MacLaren’s examination of shifts in the workings of the social order were absorbing, particularly the pages on community. By looking at the culture of modern society, Christians can devise a missiology which is relevant for today. As he asserts, old style preaching on street corners is out of step with modern culture. Knocking on doors is now counter cultural and is seen as an infringement of privacy. This was enlightening as I have certainly found such methods awkward and discomforting. He notes that we are a society used to making lifestyle choices by browsing, weighing up and considering the options available.
What also intrigued me was that consumerist mindset affects expectation. A demand for interest led activity hi-lights why passive church is often regarded as boring and why initiatives like Alpha are so attractive. All of these assertions would also sit well with the current philosophy of the ‘Fresh Expressions’ initiative. The last section entitled ‘Credible Witness’, examines three apparently disparate ideas: distinctive, inculturated and engaged community. MacLaren asserts that Christians should be weighing the three together and not see them as mutually exclusive. I would interpret this as being distinctive in our morality, theology and values, inculturated in the way we present these ideas and engaged in politics and the concerns of the world.
I was disappointed to find little practical application of the above insights. Case studies linked to some of his observations, showing how churches can assimilate modern culture into their presentation of Christianity, would have been helpful. MacLaren stops short of addressing how distancing Christianity from undesirable modern practices can be balanced with absorption of culture. It would also be fascinating to explore how the cultural language of today could be used to present the age old truths of Christianity.
In conclusion, this book is an excellent analysis of how social trends affect society’s attitude to Christianity. MacLaren comes up with some fascinating theories and insights. However, he includes little practical application or pragmatic concrete examples which I would have found illuminating and helpful.