Peter Graystone, who works developing Church Army’s fresh expressions projects, is also a prolific writer. We asked him about his new book Need to Know: Christianity (Collins)
Why did you choose the title Need to Know?
I didn’t! It is the name of a very good series that Collins publishes. It’s a Teach Yourself series that covers everything from pensions to flower arranging. They asked me to contribute a basic book about Christianity to the series. But ‘Need to Know’ is a good name, because the truth is that this generation knows less and less about the faith, but needs it more and more.
So how basic is it?
The idea is that if you are an enquirer, a teacher or journalist and you need to get on top of the subject very quickly, you can pick up the book in confidence that you can find out everything that is important in one evening. It’s a short book, so it was a challenge to fit in a chapter on Jesus, one on the Bible, what Christians believe, what Christians do, and the story of the 2,000 years of what God has done since Jesus’ life.
Which chapter did you enjoy writing most?
This time last year I stupidly thought, “I know all about Christianity – I can rattle it off”. Oh boy, was I wrong! A million hours of research later I have learnt more than I ever thought possible.
And my happiest chapter was the one about Jesus, because rediscovering what was at the heart of his Good News, I fell in love with him all over again. An immaculate life, a compelling vision, and a timeless message of salvation from oppression and meaninglessness. I just hope I have managed to convey the excitement I feel about his call.
You are passionate about the Good News reaching people who won’t go to church, aren’t you?
I certainly am. That’s what the ‘fresh expressions’ agenda is all about – and that is not only my job; it’s my fervour.
Every church has got an informal fringe of vaguely religious people, and it is a fine thing to take the Good News to them. But lots of Christians do that, faithfully inviting their friends to church. Beyond the church fringe is a vast number of people who never have and never will go near a church. Their parents and grandparents never did, so it will never occur to them that there is any point. That might be as many as three-quarters of the population. But these people are dearly loved by God, and someone has to tell them so.
That is where you will find Church Army Evangelists. In places where people have no inclination at all to go to a church, Church Army is committed to going to them.
Instead of dragging people to a place to which they have no interest in going, the evangelists start something new in locations and styles that people are interested in. That is what a fresh expression of Christian community is. Just like my book, it isn’t wacky and it isn’t gimmicky – it’s just happening in a place that church hasn’t managed to reach.
What is your biggest ambition for the book?
Well, at the moment the bestselling title in the Need to Know series is a book about the zodiac. I would love to honour Jesus by seeing the book on Christianity outsell it!
Peter Graystone’s book Need to Know: Christianity is published by Collins and costs £8.99.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Here are five facts that you may not know – but which you can find in Peter’s book:
1 The world’s largest congregation is the 800,000 strong Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea.
2 The date of Jesus’ birth has always been a matter of speculation because the evidence is contradictory. Most historians suggest it was about 4BC. In the 6th century a Russian monk named Dionysius attempted to calculate the date, and decided on the year we now know as 0AD. But he probably got it wrong.
3 One of the names the Old Testament uses for God is ‘Yahweh’. It means something like: ‘I am who I am (and always have been and always will be)’. In English Bibles it is sometimes given as LORD (using capitals).
4 Everyone in the UK lives in a particular parish, and someone has been charged by a bishop with the pastoral care of its residents. This means that every man, woman and child in the UK has someone praying for them.
5 Wilson Carlile founded Church Army in 1882 to train lay people to take the Good News to challenging places beyond the walls of a church where clergy dared not go.
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