One of the perks of a being an evangelical in the UK is that you are most likely to be represented by, or have some contact with, the thoughtful and ever-present Evangelicali Alliance. Around since 1846, this is an umbrella body representing the interests and mission of the UK’s evangelical Christians to Government, major denominations, and other religions. Occasionally, the EA publishes reports and books, alongside its existing roster of periodicals (Both print and digital), social media output, and government engagement. Today’s book review is of one of the former, a little book titled The World on Our Doorstep: Evangelical Mission and Other Faiths. This is a readable, thorough and practical look at the shifting realities of inter-cultural and inter-religious mission, a call to action for evangelicals to note and engage with the fact that, at present, the world is quite literally on our doorstep.
Following a foreword by Steve Clifford, presently the General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, Dewi Hughes gets stuck in to the topic at hand. This is a book rooted in relevant research, engagement with and theological reflection on the substantive issues, and a meaty but practical read for church leaders wondering about mission in the bewildering context of the UK. Dewi sets out the purpose of this book, the changes that have happened since the last time the EA did substantial research and publication on this issue, and outlines what the reader will find in the book. This book, echoing the orderly nature of the introduction, is a treasure-trove of statistics and anecdotes, rooted in the real world. Personally, I’ll keep my copy close by in order to have reams of statistics about religion in the UK close at hand, as well as superb summaries of what different religious traditions believe. Throughout, this is a work of genuinely useful comparative religious study, taking seriously what religious people say about themselves, alongside real missional urgency.
The opening chapter sets the scene with an overview of the religions in the UK. Each religion will pop up later in the book, in various ways, but in order to make significant progress with a harvest, one must understand the ground into which the farmers sow the seeds. Dewi moves quickly on, and rightly so in this reviewer’s opinion, to ‘The evangelistic imperative’, which is articulated with genuine sensitivity to cultural and religious diversity, a serious commitment to humility, and a vitally evangelical emphasis on the exclusive supremacy of Christ. With these building blocks in place – a reasonable and informed understanding of the context, and a biblically rooted articulation of the commission – the author moves on to examine various key issues.
Chapters 3 through 7 engage with one personal and four more cultural questions. Chapter 3 is perhaps the most useful – and the one most needed by many local churches – as it deals with ways of doing evangelism with and to people of other religions. Here, perhaps, is the most counter-cultural and thought-through section of the book. Dewi works through the various ways that evangelicals have brought the Gospel to their neighbours, with suggestions and corrections as appropriate. The subsequent chapters deal more generally with some of the key policy/public questions. ‘Pastoral Issues’, ‘Dialogue’, ‘Education’ and ‘Religion and Politics’ are covered, with the conversation on Dialogue being particularly provocative. The way that evangelicals can and should engage with other religions in the public square and in political discourse is well-covered, both in general terms as well as in particularly pertinent explorations of some of the most controversial cases in recent law/culture/news where religion has been a factor. Mission, bluntly, is not done in a vacuum, but in a context with a myriad of influences and the lives of real people at stake. This book, though, is a genuinely useful tool for pastors and other church leaders to thoughtfully and prayerfully engage with these sorts of questions.
As Steve closes his introduction, so I want to close this review; ‘It is time to reach the world on our doorstep‘. This is a book about world mission – but it echoes the wider cultural trends of globalisation, immigration, and pluralisation. It is (as I’ve hopefully made clear throughout my review) both evangelically rooted in the Gospel and appropriately engaged with culture and research. This book will of course be of interest to those interested in missiology and evangelicalism, but also of genuine use as prayer fuel and directive-information for local church leaders exploring how they and their churches can be engaged in world mission. As one of the smaller books in my 2017 Reading Challenge, this is one that I hope and pray will have a real impact.