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Cherie Blair on Willow Creek as the future of Christianity

The final episode of Christianity: a history was presented by Cherie Blair.  She argued that the future of Christianity may lay in the kind of Christianity that is represented by Willow Creek. She interviewed Bill Hybels and showed clips from the service. I was amused by the words 'SERVICE STARTING IN THREE MINUTES' and 'YOU ARE LOVED' which appeared on the screen in the auditorium. Blair failed to understand the differences between Christianity in the States and in the UK and the rest of Europe. There are huge differences in why Europe has a falling church attendance ('Europe is the exceptional case' according to Grace Davie) and the States doesn't (yet?).  Where the United States was viewed as the future, Blair also failed to present the many hundreds and thousands of vibrant church projects in the UK which are making a more positive contribution to society. She focused entirely on the downward trend, specifically within the Roman Catholic church. The programme along with Ann Widdecombe's (another practicing Roman Catholic) on the Reformation failed to make any reference to non-conformist churches and the contribution they have made to the life and faith of Britain. Willow Creek will never be the future of the church in this country and I for one am thankful. Hybels in the interview suggested that with Willow Creek they had returned to a New Testament church (the claim that all new church movements, including Baptists in the 17th century claim) - although what you saw - a slick, business-model, entertainment-orientated style operation, didn't match my reading of the NT. The programme failed to level any critical comment on these megachurches. So all in all, a programme which generated a response, but a not very positive one from me. 



Mmm, not sure this is entirely fair. Seemed to me Blair wasn't quite saying that mega churches were the future.

Wasn't her main point that Xnty needs to adapt and engage? Political/social significance and cultural relevance are the key. She made much, for example, of the need for the role of women in the church to be (at least) in tune with their growing significance in wider society. She also hilighted the part played by the church in the States in the civil rights revolution since the sixties. Contrast the manifest failure of the British church to side with the working classes during the first half of the 20C.

She also touched on the supply side theory of American resistance secularisation which might explain why the recent decline in mainline churches has been offset by growth in independant, evangelical and charismatic churches.

I agree with you that Willow Creek style mega churches won't be THE answer for the UK but Blair (and Harvey Cox) do have a point they may well be PART of the answer. One of our problems, it seems to me, is that we tend to look for the one key to the restoration of the church's fortunes. In such a diverse society it is much more likely that the future will be ever more pluriform.

andy goodliff


I didn't see much questioning of Willow Creek - perhaps the viewer was meant to do that themselves, by the choice of camera shots ...

OK, the British churches have perhaps failed, but i constantly here good stories of churches engaging with society and we didn't get one example of that ...

i'm deeply concerned about the growth of independent churches that grow up around one particular figure.

yes Xnty needs to engage, if hauerwas and others are right, the problem in the states is that the churches have adapted too much and produced a distorted christianity far removed from the jesus of the gospels.

i still remain unconvinced about megachurches - just the word itself i find deeply disturbing. although i quite agree that we need a pluriform of styles of church. i guess then deep questions need to be asked about what holds the diversity together and what constitutes church?


Yes definitely more room for critique of Willow and more room for a nuanced look at the British scene but that's one hour opinion piece TV for you.

There are of course risks with unbridled entrepreneurialism and charismatic authority. But now is absolutely a time for taking risks. While at the same time working to set up reasonable but not stifling safeguards. A la Paul's mission and the Jerusalem elders.

I am instinctively and intellectually right with Stan, Walt and the gang but I do worry that as we seek to be faithfully imaginative and radically Xn we pooh pooh populism. Is it possible to be radical, distinctive and true to our own story and practices while at the same time remaining attractive to and seeking to reach the masses. I'd hate to see an unthinking pendulum swing away from consumerist and translationist models of mission. I do want to swing away but not in a reactionary or dismissive manner.

Combining diversity and incarnational contextuality on the one hand with barrier breaking catholicity on the other is a HUGE HUGE HUGE issue. "All things to all people that by all means .." and "Neither/nor but all one in Christ": can we stay faithful to both these biblical trajectories? There can't be many more important mission questions for the church in Britain.


Nice assessment, Andy.

I'd want to argue that the kind of Church scene we see in the States is closer to the history of Christianity here, not its future.

Nevertheless, if Jenkins is to be taken seriously in The Next Christendom, then who knows? We may end up with something similar. Yikes!

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