Friday, September 17, 2004


Paul Avis (ed.), Public Faith? The State of Religious Belief and Practice in Britain (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), ISBN 0-281-05531-9 (pbk), 145 pp.

'The remit of this important collection of essays is both appropriately ambitious and necessarily modest. Ambitious in that it seeks, in the context of renewed public policy interest in matters religious and spiritual, to provide an overview of issues surrounding belief and practice in Britain today; one that focuses both on the statistical, methodological and hermeneutical issues, and on the implications for mission and ministry in today’s churches. Modest because, in the compass of a relatively short book, the detailed contours of such a vast field of interactive enquiry cannot be mapped fully.

'What is attempted instead is a set of vivid, engaged snapshots, backed by thorough investigation, from nine authors who each possess acknowledged expertise in their overlapping disciplines. These include sociology, psychology, ecclesiology, census and survey research, theology, statistics and education. The overall impact is to highlight fresh perspectives, challenges and contentions in the ‘state of belief’ debate. This is achieved for those seeking an intelligent introduction to the subject by pointing them to some horizons and pitfalls, and for existing researchers and commentators by stimulating them towards the pursuit of greater investigative depth. A tricky combination, but one realised well overall. ...

'Anne Richards is especially stimulating. In engaging with the multi-faceted worlds of contemporary spirituality beyond the church, she offers careful but imaginative frameworks for encouraging risky Christian endeavour. She also manages to take human experience seriously, and to combine this with interpretative flair.

'Neither baptising nor dismissing belief beyond the realms of institutional belonging, Richards draws both upon the ground-breaking work of David Hay and Kate Hunt in ‘understanding the spirituality of people who don’t go to church’ and upon the investigations of the ecumenical Mission Theological Advisory Group in which she has played a key role.'

Excerpt from a longer review by Simon Barrow for the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, September 2004. More here.

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