Deep Church Rising: Rediscovering the roots of Christian orthodoxy
Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, editors
Church Times Bookshop £15.30
THIS is a remarkable book, thoughtful and, I hope, prophetic. One of the authors, Andrew Walker, is a noted Orthodox theologian, and the other, Robin Parry, a leading Charismatic Evangelical. The ideas and themes arose from regular conversations of a network of diverse Christians.
To represent the content, they took the phrase from C. S. Lewis “deep church”, which they understood to be a defence of historical and Trinitarian orthodoxy. They are deeply concerned that in the face of modernity, marginalisation, and society’s relentless march to secularism, many churches and clergy have thrown in the towel. They maintain that liberals have evacuated the faith of its basic core understandings and commitments to the historic biblical and traditional Christian beliefs.
Deep Church Rising asserts that this division between traditionalists and liberals is so serious that it is a Third Schism as important as the First Schism, which was the divide between Western and Eastern Churches, and the Second Schism, which was the Reformation.
Deep Church Rising is a polemic, but it is not a shrill polemic. Compared with other polemics I have read, this book is gracious, respectful to those from whom the authors differ, profoundly scholarly, well written, delightfully witty, and quite winsome. For example, in a section on technology, there is the wonderful sentence: “Man does not live by web alone.”
I suppose that one can understand deep church as a directional adjective in contrast to high, low, or broad church. But I do not think that the word “deep” captures the wisdom and excitement of Walker and Parry’s call to recover the traditional values and core insights of Christianity.
The second chapter is a brilliant summary of the development of modernity, post-modernity, and ultra-modernity, which have pushed the Church to the edges of Western society. Rationalism, science, and multiculturalism have stripped the Christian view of the plausibility structures that reinforced traditional beliefs. No longer do politics, education, and community work, or art, television, cinema, or social life, reinforce — even know about — the great Christian story.
The power of Deep Church Rising is that it does not see this as a defeat, but as an opportunity: the opportunity to reclaim the faith by a recall to the force of a strong biblical belief and the recovery of tradition as a living, vibrant resource, not a dead dogmatic, authoritarian oppression.
In Part Two, the main portion of the book, the authors make a coherent, detailed, and attractive case for recovering the gospel by showing why and how individuals can make their own personal stories part of the great story of Jesus Christ. And, by so doing, they can be healed, forgiven, and redeemed — in other words, be given what so many in the 21st century long for: meaning for their lives.
It is encouraging that that the authors’ critique of fundamentalists is much fiercer than their words about liberals.
In some excellent chapters, the authors show in detail how right believing, right worship, and right practice all co-inhere and mutually support each other. Believing, belonging, and behaving are not a progression, but a unitary package.
I was quite moved by the section where the authors used Michael Gorman’s concept of cruciformity to show that Christian living and worship was controlled by the belief in the story of the crucified and risen Messiah, and that the pattern of self-emptying and sacrifice was also our route to life and glory. We see, therefore, the reason for Walker and Parry’s commitment to tradition safeguarding the truth, the reality of the core biblical story that God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, that he taught us, suffered and died for us, was resurrected, and will come again in glory.
That core story will be our story if we mould ourselves not to the world of consumerism and power, but to the pattern of Jesus Christ. Towards the end of Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, speaking of the Church, Aunt Dot says to Laurie: “One mustn’t lose sight of the hard core . . . that seems to me to be the pattern, so far as we can make it out here. So come in again with your eyes open, when you feel you can.”
The Revd Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney, in the diocese of London.