Church Growth in Britain 5: analysis

Goodhew offers both an introduction and conclusion to the book, which are valuable. In the introduction, he identifies the classical secularisation thesis as a ‘dominant narrative’ assumed by much of the academy, and by essentially all of the media. He suggests that the book serves to ‘subvert’ that narrative. This might be ambitious: the secularisation thesis is a macro theory, concerned with what happens in general on a whole-society scale; particular accounts of growth cannot, by themselves, subvert the narrative, only a large-scale sociological change could do that. That said, the book is of great importance in drilling below the headline statistics. There is a bad old joke to the effect that a statistician can lie with his head in the...

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On writing and being read: Jared Wilson on Fifty Shades…

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ (Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass, ch. 6) A rather ugly storm in the blogosphere has broken out over the last couple of days over a recent post on the Gospel Coalition website. I don’t want to adjudicate who is right and who is wrong (like anyone involved might listen to me…), so much as to reflect on the misunderstanding – and the anger – to understand...

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Divided by a common language

I over-reacted in my post yesterday, as I admitted when challenged by Alan Jacobs in the comments. Ross Douthat himself was not only generous enough to notice and respond to the post, but was very kind in his response. I do certainly take the point that he and Alan were making concerning the centrality of the social gospel to a specifically American tradition of liberalism, and I am glad both have been willing to indicate that they took my point about the deeper intellectual roots. Douthat is an excellent journalist who I respect greatly. The misplaced passion of my reaction came, on reflection, from a different division between American and British traditions of Christianity, concerning evangelicalism – a subject I spend more time on, and care more about,...

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Defining liberal Christianity

There are a number of reports on the Web reacting to last week’s ECUSA triennial convention - Mike Bird linked to one at BeliefNet and one at the WSJ; Several people on Twitter and FB pointed out Ross Douthat’s piece in the NY Times, which took the opportunity to give thought to the wider issue of the ‘collapse’ (his word) of liberal Christianity in the USA. The piece is humorous (‘Leaders of liberal churches have alternated between a Monty Python-esque “it’s just a flesh wound!” bravado and a weird self-righteousness about their looming extinction.’) and perceptive in drawing attention to a fact that is also one of the chief lessons of Goodhew’s Church Growth in Britain: there is a strong positive correlation between...

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Church Growth in Britain 4: The Nations

Three final chapters look at Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, offering some helpful different perspectives on church growth. Ken Roxburgh notes that the recent narrative of decline in Scotland is even more catastrophic than in the UK in general, before looking at five congregations in Edinburgh that have nonetheless grown to some extent. The case-studies are deliberately denominationally diverse: an ecumenical congregation; ‘Ps & Gs’ (St Paul’s & St George’s Episcopal Church, to non-locals); St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral; Morningside Baptist Church; and Destiny new church. Ken notes that the growth generally – although not exclusively – happens within the evangelical and charismatic wing of Scottish...

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