I am continuing to enjoy Rob Warner's Reinventing English Evangelicalism. I think it almost ranks with Pete Ward's Growing up Evangelical for its ability to give narrative shape to significant moments in my life.
I have particularly enjoyed and winced at Rob's description of Spring Harvest and his account of magazine publishing. Some of his insights are worth pondering long and hard.
For example, 'the multiple-choice approach of Spring Harvest's programme introduced many evangelicals to a comodified concept of worship and teaching: the autonomous individual makes an independent selection from the programme and may come to expect a similar autonomy in choosing local church activities.'
He adds that the Spring Harvest diet is therapeutic rather than theological and has led to the increasing ghettoisation of evangelicals. it is hard not to share his scepticism when he suggests that far from equipping evangelicals to live more effectively in the world, Spring Harvest has contributed to the creation of an evangelical family that 'looks less like a community gathering for advance than a remnant withdrawing into subcultural segregation.'
He is wonderfully acerbic on some of the music to have come out of this subculture in the past decade (joining Pete Ward and Nick Page) suggesting 'while singing songs that herald an army mobilised to take the land, Spring Harvest's evangelicals functioned increasingly as a gated community, a ghetto on holiday.'
I shall be at Spring Harvest this year working on the pastoral team as I have done for the past five years, seeking to help particpants make the most of any encounter with God that they have during their week away. But I know exactly what Rob means!
His analysis of evangelical magazines also looks spot on. As the launch editor of Christianity in the autumn of 1996, I am one who contributed to the demise of the evangelical monthly!
Our aim had been to produce a magazine that reached beyond the ghetto, found its way into news agents and Smiths and addressed the world through the prism of a carefully thought-through broad evangelical theology. What were we thinking!
Christian publishers were not prepared to invest the sums required to create such a product and Christian readers were not prepared to support it. Both seem to have opted for the easier task of talking to the converted and reinforcing their prejudices about the world and the church.
Rob is spot on when he says: 'Evangelical faith, at least in Britain, appears to have entered upon a consumerist trajectory, privately engaging but publicly irrelevant. The quest for an evangelical meta-narrative has been aborted in favour of inspirational entertainment. The secularizing process has produced evangelicals whose faith is compartmentalised and privatized according to the prevailing cultural pattern. Perhaps it is the evangelicals, to adopt Postman's polemical description of TV, who are 'amusing themselves to death.'
This might be a slight hyperbole but it contains enough truth to send us to our knees and our bibles in search of a genuinely culture-transforming expression of faith.