Clergy: The origin of species
Continuum £15.99 (978-0-8264-8280-8)
Church Times Bookshop £14.40
THIS IS an important and timely book, which analyses the development of the office and work of the clergy, and offers a wide range of insights into many of the problems and issues that face the Church today.
Professor Martyn Percy seeks to tell the story in a different way, by using the analogy of Darwin’s work on The Origin of Species as a framework within which to recount the long history of the Church’s constant adaptation and change.
With this approach, he brings the resources of theology and anthropology to chart the way in which the Church has responded to changes in its self-understanding, and changes in the context in which it has sought to offer its ministry.
Much church history is self-referential; and such an approach opens new windows on our understanding of the development of the Church and its ministry. While such an approach had its advocates in the 1970s, and Percy draws on their work, it has had few who have continued to work in this area.
This book seeks to confront a static view of the Church and its ministry, which is characterised as the equivalent of a creationist view in biology. From the earliest times, the Church has been, and has been conscious of being, both a witness to the unchanging nature of God, and also a community shaped by its interaction with society.
It is particularly encouraging that a book such as this should have been written by the principal of a theological college. It may be recalled that, for a period in the 1980s, church history disappeared from the curriculum of theological colleges. It is impossible, however, to understand many of the dilemmas and difficulties of contemporary ministry without some reference to the process of development and change. This is an important book, for this matter alone.
Professor Percy provides an informative and serious treatment of the development of the part the clergy play, with much interesting illustrative material. Several of the chapters have appeared (in earlier drafts) in other publications, but many will be grateful to have such a well researched and interesting analysis available in a single volume.
As the Church struggles with its ministry in general, and particularly with ordained ministry, it is important to be reminded of the way in which this has developed; and this book provides a full, comprehensive, and very interesting account of that process.
It has the added advantage of an extensive and useful bibliography.
Dr Anthony Russell is the Bishop of Ely.
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