I took the opportunity to read this book over Christmas and the New Year. I was taking some time off after the busy Christmas period and went away for a few days with family and friends. On New Year’s Day, we visited a small Anglican church in a Dartmoor village in the middle of Devon. It was freezing cold and there were about eight people, all in their seventies and eighties, in attendance. We doubled the congregation.
I felt a couple of emotions as I participated in this choral evensong. One was admiration for these old Christians, worshipping in their tradition, their breath billowing through the cold air of this ancient chapel. Another emotion was melancholy or sadness. This once thriving church and community appeared now to be dying, reduced to a rump of Octogenarians. In a few years, churches like this will be no more. Many have disappeared, or been converted into homes or carpet warehouses over recent decades.
What I enjoyed about the book was the sense of the big picture; the major movements of Christianity over the past 300 years in Britain. It is interesting to see just how much of British culture and history has been affected and influenced and shaped by Christianity, and in particular the golden century of evangelicalism leading up to the First World War.
I have lived through the latter sections of the book, the Restoration movement, the house churches, charismatic renewals, the third wave of Pentecostalism, the new churches and so on. It is interesting and helpful to step back and to see the bigger picture, the different streams and the overall direction of travel.
Part of my research work is considering the role of Pentecostalism, and my own particular denomination, which is 100 years old, in this bigger evangelical picture. It is helpful to see it through this framework and to consider the cultural, social and historical waters in which we have, and continue to swim.
This past weekend I spoke about Jesus’ parable about new wine and new wineskins. It is an interesting time to be an evangelical Christian. There is much change and uncertainty. Within this cohort, even, we have diametrically opposed views on several areas of doctrine and belief.
What is encouraging, as I think back to that dying Dartmoor chapel and the changing nature of Christianity within Britain, and the world, is that God continues to build his church and fulfil his purposes on earth. I am not sure what the new wineskins will look like, but they will come – as will God’s kingdom.