Archbishop Praises Mission-Shaped Questions Book
Tuesday 12th February 2008'Mission-shaped Questions' is a new book of fifteen essays all examining issues raised by the Fresh Expressions movement.
The Fresh Expressions initiative – part of Archbishop Rowan Williams' vision to create a 'mixed economy church' of traditional congregations alongside new expressions of church life – already numbers 300 new congregations with 20,000 members. Fresh Expressions' aim is to create around 10,000 new worshipping communities across the UK within the next decade, by resourcing innovative mission through new expressions of church life.
The Archbishop of Canterbury attended the book's launch. He said he knew people were asking challenging questions about Fresh Expressions, and gave his views on the book.
Click link on the right to listen to the Archbishop's comments, or read a transcript below.
The hard questions that have faced Fresh Expressions have come, I think, from several different directions. Think about some of them – isn't this really a kind of Christianity light trying to smooth out the difficulties in order to make things more accessible to people who can't be bothered or haven't got the skills or the resources really to get themselves into the real thing? Isn't all this something which frankly brackets out a lot of theological questions by dropping them in the "too difficult" file, wastepaper basket that is, and moving on just to keep people engaged and entertained? Isn't this a very "churchy" thing which somehow ties up our energies in recruitment to something or other without really addressing the transformation or prophetic quality that the church needs to have in the world? And I phrase those questions so as to indicate that they come from the different bits of our church from Evangelical and catholic and radical corners. And they're real questions and they're very serious ones, because, Christianity light isn't Christianity at all – a Christian gospel that doesn't claim my soul, my life my all isn't actually good news. Likewise, a Christian expression of church life that doesn't bind people together in unities and solidarities that are given by god not by us, through sacraments, through the integral organic life of the church – that's not really worth bothering with. And a church that doesn't actually say to the world: "This is a new creation. This is an order of justice, reconciliation, a counter-cultural movement"- that again is not really the church.
And the challenge for all Fresh Expressions of church is how they're going to live in those three enormous demanding realities. And that's what the book is about. That's why you'll see here – some very fundamental theological thinking. The more the Fresh Expressions project rolls on, the more one is driven to ask very basic questions about the nature of the church.
People who get involved in Fresh Expressions who come very often from a different place from most of us, don't have the vocabulary and assumptions, but that also means they don't just get the church on the national health, they know it's something they've got to own and think through, and give their allegiance to in, well, in mind as well as heart – (they) don't know what it is they're involved in. So, there are discussions here of what the church really is. Discussions of the sacramental quality of church life, the inescapable givenness of that organic life into which we are drawn by the gospel. We are reminded here that we're not simply talking about a few little local experiments but something that is about the world-wide church – the church catholic, the church that is for everyone and that both affirms and challenges every culture. We are taken back to our biblical routes, we're faced with a question of transformation; we're faced with the question of what Fresh Expressions does to help people grow into Christian adulthood. Which is a very important question I think with various new sorts of church life – how do you move people on from being the recipients to being those who themselves grow into a real Christian fullness such that they themselves can take on the transforming work? We're asked again and again about how this relates to our culture and what difference that makes.
So, it's a huge agenda that this book addresses and I think the essays here address those questions with tremendous resource and imagination and vitality. Just flicking through it I found time and again as I light on a page and I thought "ah yes they got that one then" or "ah, I never thought of that". And to see that interweaving of the contemporary, the scriptural, the traditional, actually this does say something very basic of the nature of Fresh Expressions itself. Fresh Expressions is not a desperate panic strategy to sure up a crumbling institution. Fresh Expressions is about the rediscovery of the deepest roots of who we are as Christians, as people who belong to a living church which is the body of a living Christ. That's what Fresh Expressions is for. And that means of course it's not simply for a group of Café Church attenders here or surfers there or whatever, it's for all of us. The now extremely shop-soiled phrase "mixed economy" does remind us that what this is about is recalling the church to what I think I might call an excellence of service, praying that god will give us that quality of excellence of edge and depth in all that we do whether it is received ways of being church or new and exploratory ways of being church - what we want is edge and depth, and that surely has to be good news for the whole of the Church of England. That's why I think this book is good news for the whole of the Church of England.
© Rowan Williams 2008