Following on from my last post, another former work of mine I’ve been revisiting (while thesis writing) is my MSc dissertation on ‘The involvement of new forms of church in the regeneration of deprived communities‘. Its available online (see link above) via the Church Army Research Centre’s online library.
Reading it again with the benefits of hindsight, there’s a few thoughts that strike me:
- Its interesting that the language of ‘new forms of church’, which was quite prevalent in the church circles I was knocking around in ten years ago, seems to have virtually disappeared and (within an Anglican context at least) been replaced or subsumed by a new set of jargon – that of ‘Fresh Expressions’.
- At the time of writing it (for a MSc in Urban Regeneration), I’d done no formal theological training (unless A-Level RE counts) and some of what I wrote now seems theologically quite crude. Yet I think the distinction I highlighted between ‘evangelical’ and ‘liberal’ approaches to Christian urban engagement (p.57) continues to be significant. Indeed it forms part of the foundation for my current research. But that said, I’m also increasingly concious of the limitations and risks associated with the use of words ‘liberal and ‘evangelical’ as theological labels. Jon Kuhrt puts this well when, in a chapter on “Resisting Tribal Theology“, he talks about the use of such terms “not for self-identification but as expressions of contempt in order to write off the perspectives of fellow Christians” (p.18).
- In the years since I wrote my dissertation, there’s been a number of other interesting pieces of research on the involvement of new forms of church, fresh expressions, or what ever you want to call them in disadvantaged urban contexts. Examples that come to mind are ‘Fresh Expressions in an Urban Context’ by Eleanor Williams (2007) and the recent Church Urban Fund Study ‘Poverty and Fresh Expressions – Emerging Forms of Church in Deprived Communities‘ (2012). Both are worth a read.