Michael Moynagh (with Philip Harrold), Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice

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Michael Moynagh (with Philip Harrold), Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice, SCM Press, London (2012). Paperback (pp 490) 30 [pounds sterling].

Michael Moynagh, an Anglican minister from Belfast (currently based at Wycliffe College, Oxford), is an established figure in the "Fresh Expressions" movement in Britain. His role as its Research Director is witnessed by the comprehensive 28 pages of bibliography in this fat book. From an ecumenical point of view it is remarkable how so many of its items both relate to non-denominational projects and come from a wide variety of ecclesial backgrounds. These are mostly Protestant, but Archbishop Rowan Williams is prominent, and a few enthusiastic Roman Catholics. Moynagh's doctorate is from Canberra, but there is little material from outside Britain and North America. This is surprising in a self-consciously missiological handbook.

Some of us in Britain in the 1950s wept in frustration at the conventional disinterest among theologians in any dialogue with the social sciences; so the Fresh Expressions literature is very welcome in this respect. But the question of global relevance arises too in the context of the social scientific style that is dominant in so many of the items in the bibliography. The results of applied "science" should be discernible (and disprovable) in any situation, but in this field such an ambitious project is at best "work in progress".

It is not surprising that many early leaders of the ecumenical movement (so many of whom came from a background in "overseas mission") wanted to explore new and more context-savvy ways of passing on the virus of Christian faith to different cultures and generations. One of the leading members of Joe Oldham's "Moot" discussion-group during World War II was the refugee Karl Mannheim, the pioneer of sociology of knowledge in Britain. A high-profile department of the WCC worked to empower the laity, and the Bossey Institute was founded in 1946 to accommodate the training of lay leaders from across the world. The social disruption of war made plain the disconnection of the European working classes (and "ordinary life" in general) from their folk-churches' practice and their clergy. The response of ecumenical "industrial mission" (and "worker priests") aimed to discover and use an indigenous vocabulary for a kernel of Christian faith to be transplanted. From deep within the ecumenical tradition, Lesslie Newbigin set up "The Gospel and our Culture" movement in the 1980s to use the mission principles at home that he had learned in South India. …