"After McDonaldization" - Book Review

"After McDonaldization"

by John Drane

For those who attended the 2013 Sheffield Diocesan Development Day, John Drane will be a name with a face. After McDonalidization captures something of what he was sharing and drills down more deeply into themes which he raised. It develops his earlier book The McDonaldization of the Church which was an attempt to suggest ways for the Church to engage with contemporary cultures characterised by rationalisation and standardisation (using George Ritzer’s language of McDonaldization). In this book Drane explores these cultures further and faces up to the numerical decline of committed Christian practice in the last century. He argues that rapid change, globalisation, plurality of faith, privatising of faith into spirituality and a deep anxiety about the future are shaping all of us in ways that make traditional religious approaches more tenuous as communal or collective bonds give way to individualism and segregation. He also detects a credibility gap between the talk and walk of the church, a resistance to packaged faith, confusion between relevance and incarnation in new churches and a loss of moorings in many of their initiatives. In a society of liquid identities, he argues that the church will need to incarnate the Gospel in diverse rather than standard ways. He therefore maps a way forward using three key categories; lifestyle, discipline and enthusiasm within which differing, spiritualities can nourish their faith and communities and argues for a transformative understanding of ministry and discipleship. He also charges the church for not being spiritual enough and suggests that practical theology as a communal and rooted reflection on our life with God is vital to the growth and learning of the church as it faces these challenges like David facing Goliath.

This is a book which challenges both poles of the debate about faithful witness today. It rejects a retreat into a fantasy past characterised by a singular tradition and agreed set of practices. It also rejects a reaction into a future which, in the name of relevance, capitulates to contemporary culture and offers gruel rather than a rich spiritual diet and discipline. Drane is right to focus on a deepening and exploring faith whose character embodies its message and which can converse with contemporary culture in ways that keep faith with God’s mission. To do so, however, will mean no longer working in isolated parishes which each seek to represent the ideal church, but working together within a Diocese in ways which enable a variety of expressions of the catholicity of the church to engage with much more diverse host societies. Mission Partnerships are one way of doing this and a more actively collaborative ministry is needed to facilitate this.

The Rt Revd Dr John Thomson
Bishop of Selby

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