Film and Book Reviews

Managerialism not the way

BOOK"The Future Shapes of Anglicanism: Currents, contours, charts" reviewed

By Don Saines

October 25 2017The Future Shapes of Anglicanism: Currents, contours, charts, by Martyn Percy, (London and New York: Routledge, 2017 $40.81)

The Future Shapes of Anglicanism is strident, polemical and critical of current episcopal leadership in the Church of England, and by inference other parts of the Anglican Communion. Not all readers will agree with Percy nor take kindly to his argument. But while this book may not be popular, the ideas, scholarship and the resources he draws upon for his argument are cause for further reflection.

Currently Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, Percy writes as a theologian and social theorist. The lens of social theory gives Percy a critical but constructive perspective on the Church’s life and mission.

Two key themes shape the argument of this book. First, Percy argues that our Church and its leadership are under the sway of “uncritical enculturation”. Enculturation comes in various guises, but the focus here is “the ever-thickening culture of management”. Managerialism and current shallow approaches to ecclesiology lead to a “narrowly” conceived “missional activism”. Recent Church of England reports reflect “high-levels of anxiety-inspired activism,” that largely depend on “functionalist, corporate-business language for describing church and ministry,” and make “uncritical use of executive management speak”.

Current ecclesiology, argues Percy, is for example, too often influenced by “fiscal narratives” rather than the deeper theological framework of the Christian Gospel. The way we use money “is value-laden” and, Percy asks rhetorically: if we correlate our superabundance as a sign of spiritual abundance, then does our lack of funds correlate with the loss of power and membership?

Episcopal leadership, and here Percy also names Archbishop Justin Welby, lacks “deeper ecclesial comprehension”. Concern with “fresh expressions” or “emerging church” tends to “manoeuvre faithful Christians into lighter forms of spiritual organisation that do not carry broader based ministerial burdens”. Consequently, our Church’s ability to engage critically and reflectively with social issues is diminishing and we are increasingly a bearer of socially conservative attitudes and shallow senses of mission. A loss of “theological prescience and perceptiveness” has led to demoralisation and alienation among some clergy.

In sum, Percy argues that Anglican theology and ecclesiology are being high-jacked by shallower models of church and mission that “eschew the poetic, pastoral and prophetic in favour of numbers and apparent results”. We need episcopal leaders that can help our membership to “be aware of the far from innocent forces which can shape lives and institutions”.

Here Percy’s second key theme comes to the fore. Episcopal leadership needs to help church membership re-imagine and integrate the theological narrative of grace with a confidence that invites and enables human community to live out God’s plan of salvation in the face of funding shortfalls and growing diversity. The Church is not primarily an organisation to be managed, but a theological institution, wherein its leaders promote and protect its values, and give “moral leadership”.

Percy suggests a “re-charting” of present Anglican ecclesiology with a more effective theological, pastoral, spiritual and prophetic visionary leadership. Ecclesial repair, Percy argues, will be found through our attention to the riches of the “broad” Anglican tradition that is most true to itself as a “generous incarnational ecclesiology that is theologically orthodox”. This ecclesiology holds the strength of Anglican thought and polity, in ways that will help us understand and engage with the deeper currents of the culture that shapes our lives.

Here I think lies a key issue for ecclesiology, faith formation and mission. It has to do with the way Christians view God’s presence and activity in world and Church. Which horizon ought we to focus on for our formation as faithful disciples of Jesus and for the mission of God – the horizon of the Church or of the world? To what extent do we believe God to be present to and speaking from the wider world or does life within the Church map the primary setting for the faithful life?

The deeper ecclesiology to which Percy refers, is one that can encompass the complexity and diversity of today’s Church by seeking to engage with the world. It does not so much seek agreement or purity but embraces complexity. Diversity and dynamic tension are creative, valued and cherished. By way of comparison much of the talk about “Pioneer Ministries, Fresh Expressions, Missional Congregations,” though not without their place, tend to reflect “a niche-based tribal proclivity,” and “increase the gap between Church and world”. For Percy “narrow Anglicanism is also a contradiction in terms. It is the breadth that defines Anglican polity and it is its breadth that will save it.” As Percy argues, we as a Church need to ask questions such as, “Which narratives are shaping our congregations, dioceses or national Churches”? Are we offering the space to develop deep theological vision and ecclesiology? Where have we too easily given in to the culture(s) of our day?

The Revd Dr Don Saines is Farnham Maynard Senior Lecturer in Theology and Director of the Ministry Education Centre at Trinity College Theological School and the University of Divinity