By Andrew Brown
“You don’t have to go to church and feel worse about Christianity’s future prospects by the end of the service than you did before. It seems a modest target.” This is the news that Christopher Landau is trying to bring to dispirited Anglican parishes.
Dr Landau has an unusually varied CV. He was for two years the religious affairs correspondent of the BBC World Service, a promotion he earnt from a previous role as a reporter for Radio 4’s World at One, where he got one of the best stories of the year , when Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, told him that the advent of Sharia — Islamic law — was inevitable in this country.
After that, he trained for ordination at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, just outside Oxford, and then after a curacy in London spent four years at the charismatic evangelical church St Aldate’s in Oxford. His doctorate, in Christian Ethics, was published earlier this year by SCM Press as ‘A Theology of Disagreement’.
Now he is attempting to bring the fruits of the charismatic revival to churches for whom the term “charismatic evangelical” is distinctly off-putting.
The charismatic renewal that started in the 1960s, he says, “has largely morphed into a church tradition called charismatic evangelical”. This often involves large congregations, loud modern music, a distaste for liturgy, and uplifting PowerPoints.
“I’m trying to foster renewal in a way that is accessible and approachable for those who do value liturgy or tradition and see that as part of the absolute bedrock of their expression of faith.
“It’s possible to talk about these things in the shorthand of a New Wine festival, and it be heard as pretty alienating by a significant proportion of the church which just doesn’t use that terminology and language. And of course, as we well know, there is plenty of mutual mistrust and suspicion between the different parts of the church.”
So, he says, he is “trying to look for the stuff which is inherently and intrinsically of God, and try not to let the cultural stuff get in the way”.
“We’re trying to work with the absolute reality of where the church currently is at, and say that that’s an adequate starting point, rather than making a church of 30 or 40 people on a Sunday feel inadequate because it’s not 120 people, or even 220.”
Dr Landau, a trustee of the Religion Media Centre, is now director of “ReSource”, an organisation that descends from the Fountain Trust, the first Anglican charismatic organisation, which was founded in 1964. Most of the time, he says, he is responding to invitations from parishes or priests. He believes that without the kind of conviction of God’s presence he is trying to open people to, the Church of England will simply continue to shrink.
“The question often that contemporary, British Christians have to ask is do they believe that their faith opens a window onto something profound and even life-changing for them? The Christian who’s been filled with the spirit has this deposit of living water within them.”
When that is true, he says, “mission isn’t something that you’re constantly striving at through gritted teeth and human effort. Rather, it overflows from within as something that is inherently attractive — something which I — rightly or wrongly — would associate with the work of the Holy Spirit.”