Interesting piece about Big Society here by Luke Bretherton (HT Andy) and the opportunity it presents for churches, which covers similar ground as a talk by Malcolm Duncan to BUGB Council earlier this week. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out. In principle I like the idea of small government and communities being places where people help each and support each other. My fear is that the government is not going to provide the resources to back their grand claims or to enable groups to flourish and take up roles previously done by the state.
I confess that I’m also anxious that the church doesn’t loose its moorings in an over eager attempt to engage. Personally I think Hauerwas is right that the prime call of the church is to be the church not to transform society and I'm still evangelical enough to believe the call to discipleship is a call to rebirth rather than improvement. Thus our engagement should flow out of the fact that as we grow more holy we will become a community who loves the other, whose life demonstrates grace to all and whose words cry justice. All of which will impact the world around us, enabling the world to see itself as it truly is and in relationship to God.
Yet I’m also aware that for all the dangers there are significant opportunities. It is disputable but one of the reasons for Constantine’s ‘conversion’ may well have been the way the church had means of communicating across the empire and reaching people that the state could no longer rely on. Given the challenges society in the UK faces (which include the demise of a constantinian view of church and state) perhaps the church has a chance to incarnate the gospel in ways which benefit wider society without repeating the mistakes of the past.
The stakes are probably higher than we realise but this is no time to pull up the drawbridge. Rather we need to seize the opportunities and find new ways of being Christ centred communities, a process which will require not just action but a renewed understanding of what it means to be the church in the world.