We’re delighted to announce that John Drane has agreed to take on the job of teaching the Christian Mission class next semester. We’re excited to have John on board at SBC, who brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge in the area. John is well-known for his work in Biblical Studies, as well as, in the field of Missions – particularly for the McDonaldization series of books.
(If you are interested in registering for the Christian Missions class as a one-off modular study or as part of a longer course of study, please email us here).
We asked John a few questions to get to know him a little better – here’s what John had to share…
John, tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in north-east England, in Hartlepool, whose Christian story goes way back to the days of the Celtic saints when it was a significant centre for mission, led by one of the few female leaders of the time (Hild, or Hilda). Those two realities – mission among pagans and female leadership – probably explain a lot about me, though I never made the connection until much later in life. As a teenager I left there to be a student in Aberdeen where I specialized in all things Biblical.
You started out as a biblical scholar, producing introductions to the Old Testament and New Testament, how has this interest shaped your thinking?
Not long ago I was a guest preacher at a Baptist church in Scotland and the minister introduced me by saying that I used to be interested in the Bible but had now moved on to social sciences, cultural studies, and missiology – which he clearly thought was a backward step! Actually, they all emerged naturally in the course of my life. At the time I was a student in Aberdeen, my head of department had spent most of his life as a missionary in India, and he brought those missional insights to the way we studied the Bible. After Aberdeen, I did a PhD in Manchester on Gnosticism in the New Testament, which was also about how faith might relate to the wider culture, and I soon discovered that nothing much had changed and the spiritual search of the late 20th century had much in common with the world of the earliest Christians. Not long after I completed my PhD I was invited to lead a seminar at the Findhorn Foundation (a major “new age” centre on the Moray Firth), to tell them what I thought I knew about Gnostic gospels. I will never forget arriving one Saturday morning to find a group of about forty eager people, all sitting there with the Gospel of Thomas in front of them – in Coptic! – and asking serious questions about what it might mean to follow Jesus. I remember driving home at the end of the day, reflecting that none of the Christians I knew seemed to be half so interested in their own faith, and that this was one of the key mission frontiers of today’s culture – a realization that later led me into all sorts of creative missional engagements, some of which got me into hot water with more traditional churches and Christians! But for me there has always been a direct connection between my interest in the Bible and my passion for mission.
We’re excited to have you teaching at SBC next trimester, where have you taught before?
When I had that encounter at Findhorn, I was teaching at Stirling University. I was one of the first two lecturers appointed there to establish a new programme in religious studies. That also heightened my missional awareness as I had to work out how to teach Christianity in an avowedly secular (and at times anti-Christian) context, and stood me in good stead for then going on to teach practical theology to divinity students in Aberdeen university. I had expected to remain in Aberdeen till I retired, but God had different ideas and when I found myself being stretched in too many directions with invitations from all over the world, I resigned from Aberdeen which freed me up to work with churches as well as colleges and seminaries. In parallel with all this, my wife’s research and publications in theology and arts was also receiving worldwide attention, so the opportunity for us to work together at this point in life also had a strong attraction. Today the two of us are teaching for Fuller Seminary as well as being fellows of St John’s College, Durham, and working with numerous church groups, at the same time.
Some of the books that people associate with you are the McDonaldization books – can you tell us what motivated you to write these books?
That’s easy – a realization that we had ended up with a “one size fits all” way of being church that increasingly people (even those in churches) found at best to be boring and repetitive, and not at all reflecting the diversity and vitality of worship and mission in the Bible (Old Testament as well as New). A key factor in identifying that had been my wife’s exploration of clown ministry as a result of the death of one of our children, and the simple fact that this was speaking far more profoundly to the needs of people than any number of finely crafted traditional sermons. When I came across the work of George Ritzer, the American sociologist who used the term ‘McDonaldization’ to describe some of the ailments of life more generally, I had the tools to reflect on that in relation to faith – and the two of us subsequently met in formal conversation at Fuller Seminary and he included some of my writing in his McDonaldization Reader.
We’ve heard there are plans for another in this series – can you summarise the direction of this next book?
Yes, so far we’ve had the original McDonaldization of the Church, followed by After McDonaldization, and next will be Beyond McDonaldization. This one will pick up on some things that have changed since the first one appeared – and in many respects that’s just about everything, whether you’re looking at culture or church. So far the chapter titles are: Changing culture – again; What really is the church?; Worship and Mission; The digital revolution; Reinventing Theology; and Redefining the Tradition. But like all works in progress, the final product could look quite different!
Outside of teaching and writing, what do you like to do to relax?
DIY – believe it or not, I find this therapeutic and relaxing! I’ve never lived in a house that I haven’t substantially rebuilt in some way. Then there’s cycling, walking, and travel to far-flung places, balanced by caravanning nearer home. And gardening. And I am pretty good at just doing nothing or watching TV.