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Learning to live in an imperfect Church

03 January 2014

Robert Jeffery on ideas from Cuddesdon

Thirty Nine New Articles: An Anglican landscape of faith
Martyn Percy
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code CT440 )

A FIRST glance at the title might lead the reader to expect an update of E. J. Bicknell's book on the Thirty-Nine Articles from which earlier generations of ordinands learned Anglican doctrine. But Martyn Percy likes playing with words, and this is a collection of articles and sermons written by him as Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon. It thus reveals the mind of someone who has trained many Anglican clergy.

Percy is widely read and a prolific author. Many of his books have a sociological slant, and have helped many Anglicans to understand themselves. This book reveals the more pastoral side of his ministry, emerging out of an open and liberal understanding of Anglicanism, from which many will benefit. The subject-matter is varied, from doctrinal matters to very pastoral ones; and the book ends with some sermons preached about some of his colleagues, including the funeral sermon preached for Professor Christopher Evans.

If there is a dominant theme, it is where he turns to the problems facing the Anglican Communion. Here he urges us not to be afraid of divergence and conflict, but to live in and through it to a deeper understanding of faith. Percy is excellent at drawing on apposite illustrations from films, poetry, and daily living to make his points. So the book helps us to learn how to use such illustrations.

That great trainer of ordinands Dean Sydney Evans once remarked that the great dilemma facing theological-college principals was whether to train people for the Church as it was in reality or as it ought to be. The former leads to mediocrity, and the latter to frustration. Percy seems to cut through this dilemma by putting the Church in the wider context of human behaviour. He calls his students to trust more in God, who will never let us down, but will demand everything from us.

Many of the articles are short; so this would be a good book for reflection or meditation. We also get insights into college life and the changes taking place there, not least in the sermon preached on Edward King, marking the arrival of the Clewer Sisters at the college. Under Percy's leadership, the college has evolved steadily, and is now a significant resource for the Church. But, with its contemporary reflections, this book might equally well have been called Tracts for our Times. A good, serious, but easy read.

The Very Revd Robert Jeffery is Dean Emeritus of Worcester Cathedral.

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