Mission-Shaped Church: A Theological Response

John M Hull

Published 1 February 2006 by SCM Press   ISBN: 0-3340-4057-4   £5.99

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Publisher's Description:

Although there appears to have been no critical responses so far, the report on Mission-Shaped Churches is being used all over England in the training of people for public ministry. Here for the first time is a serious theological evaluation of the framework within which this policy document is presented. John Hull’s response to the report raises hugely important questions about the concepts of Kingdom, Church, Gospel and Mission, concepts that are not distinguished clearly, consistently or acceptably in the report. He looks in particular to the consequences this has on the treatment given to issues surrounding poverty, consumerism, pluralism in faith and community. Whilst the author shares the hopes for a renewal of the church, most strongly, and is an avid supporter of the fresh expression of churches, he raises critical questions about the way we go about creating cell churches and café churches. He also raises questions about the inherent territorialism, and possible ignorance of realistic situations of poverty or multi-faith communities that the Church may harbour. Although the report may look for a mission-shaped church what it finds and seems to want to recreate is a church-shaped mission.

Reviews of Mission-Shaped Church: A Theological Response

The Church Times, 09/06/06             Books

"Imperialist, patronising, consumerist" - Philip Welsh relishes a robust attack on an influential report.

Mission-shaped Church: A theological response. John M. Hull SCM Press £5.99 (0-334-04057-4) Church Times Bookshop £5.40

In 2004, the Church of England published the influential report Mission-shaped Church, with its strong advocacy of "fresh expressions of Church". John Hull supports that general policy, but in this devastating booklet argues that it deserves and requires a far better theological grounding than the report provides.

Professor Hull has had a long and distinguished career in religious education. Here he virtually accuses the authors of Mission-shaped Church of theological illiteracy in confusing Church, Kingdom, and mission. He goes on to find them guilty of confessional imperialism, a patronising attitude towards the presumed needs of the poor, and acquiescence in consumerist values, all these built around a superficial social and cultural analysis.

He sets out a view of Christian mission that is in hock to the church-planting movement, and which, under the guise of radicalism, is unself-critically accommodating of contemporary fashion in the service of essentially narrow values. Mission-shaped Church: A theological response is a professorial put-down that is likely to have café-church habitués spluttering into their lattes at being so wilfully misunderstood. It would be wrong to think, though, that it offers comfort to parochialist fogeys: Hull is clear that "the parish church must not be conceived as the only way that Church can be formed."

I hope the robustness of his polemic will provoke a vigorous exchange about the theological and cultural assumptions we make when we talk about mission. I hope, too, that enthusiasm for non-parochial expressions of Church will not ignore the huge experience of college and workplace chaplaincies. These are particularly well placed to counteract Hull's fundamental charge, that "We looked for a mission-shaped Church, but what we found was a church-shaped mission."

The Revd Philip Welsh is Vicar of St Stephen's, Rochester Row, in London.

Rural Theology (2007) Vol. 5, Part 2

Mission-Shaped Church: A Theological Response. John M Hull, 2006. London, SCM Press, ISBN: 978-0-334-04057-6 pp 37, paperback, £5.99

This little book, or booklet, offers a trenchant critique of the recent Church of England report Mission-Shaped Church. It is important to note what the author is affirming. He is committed to the idea of a mission-shaped church and he applauds the creative diversity of the many fresh expressions of church that have emerged and are emerging. These are signs of growth and of imaginative local initiatives. But what is in his sights is a critique of tin-theology that lies behind the report. In this the brevity of the book belies its worth and significance. The critique is approached from a number of different directions. There are seven sections, though these have occasionally recurring thematic content. The argument in its brevity can at times be intense, and it could do occasionally with a little more elaboration. The first two sections address questions relating to the relationship in the report between the church, its mission and the kingdom of God. The author deftly points out how the report often blurs and confuses the relationship between church and kingdom in the understanding of mission. On the one hand it seems as if mission is advanced by the church's own growth. On the other hand the goal of mission is the establishment of God's Kingdom, which is to be distinguished from the church and its mission. We do not build the Kingdom by (simply) growing the church. Allied to this are a number of other concerns. Firstly the church's commitment to its historic role of being a 'land church', that is, with a commitment to England (p 7), leads it to undervalue both the diversity of the church in ecumenical endeavour, and also to underplay the creativity and challenge in what is a multicultural society with a plurality of religions. Certainly Mission-Shaped Church affirms diversity, but this is understood somewhat narrowly, and is trapped in a call 'for more diverse patterns of church' (p 11). There is no real appreciation of how social diversity is actually an enriching factor in contemporary United Kingdom life. Moreover, in using an incarnational model in addressing multi-culturalism (p 23ff) there remains a profound problem for mission if it assumes that this only relates to process and not to content. To transplant Christ from one context to another requires us to value the affinity that may already exist in the new context, and to work out what that contributes to the meaning of Christ whom we not only bring but discover to be already present.

Perhaps enough will have been indicated of the importance of this pamphlet. Its challenge lies beyond the report Mission-Shaped Church with which it is primarily engaged. Just as in the report there is little relating to the rural church context, so there is also nothing specifically on the rural church here. Nevertheless, because of the underlying theological acumen, this book leaves the reader with a kind of checklist of warnings and possibilities that are relevant for the understanding of, and engagement in, mission under any circumstances.

JAMES FRANCIS Diocese of Durham