Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Darkest England & The Way Back In

Salvation Army legend William Booth wrote a famous book called, In Darkest England and the Way Out. It chronicled Booth's vision and ambition for a movement that would take issues of urban poverty seriously, that would change lives through the proclamation and application of the Gospel. They had great success.

Such success that Gary Bishop believes Darkest England has been abandoned and we now need to find a way back in. I think he's right. I don't live on an estate that would count as darkest England as Bishop does but I get frustrated that we're not quite making the impact and connecting with the community as perhaps we might. That's why I bought this book.

This is a punchy book, it's Shane Claiborne UK style and without the hippie edge and dreadlocks. I admire anyone that moves his family into a tough estate to plant a church and tell the people no one else wants to meet about Jesus. He calls for the church to make planting amongst the poor and not just the suburbs a priority and I think he's right.

There's no pulling of the punches, sin is evident and all around, broken families, drug addiction, prostitution, broken, broken, brokenness. It's sounds hard and it is. But Jesus loves the poor and the Eden Project in Manchester has led the way in recent times in getting Christians to re-engage with darkest England.

Interestingly, Bishop sees consumerism as part of the problem, not only for the poor but for the church. He writes,
"Over the last 50 years we have expended endless amounts of energy battling on all kinds of other fronts in order to maintain our moral distinctive; meanwhile materialism and consumerism have slipped unannounced into the Christian community and without warning taken a foothold in the lives of many a disciple who, unstirred even by their own conscience, has dethroned the God of the universe to make way for our cultural deity of materialism. No longer are their lives directed by the heartfelt leading of the Spirit or by their reading of scripture or by the needs of the poor in their own neighbourhood, instead they are now slaves to the desire to maximise spending power. Mammon is, as Ambrose Bierce has put it, 'the god of the world's leading religion'."
Well said, Mr Bishop.

As I live in one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Shrewsbury and as this is where we have planted a church, and chosen to build a community this book was a huge encouragement and motivation. I'm glad I read it. The stories are powerful, the challenge unmistakeable but the response I guess is questionable? Who will be brave enough to say, 'here I am send me?'


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