SAM WELLS continues his prolific output of significant books on the theology, life, and witness of the Church with a stimulating reimagining of what a Kingdom-centred Church might look like.
The book is based on the theology and methods of an emerging network of HeartEdge churches centred on St Martin-in-the-Fields. Wells picks up and develops one of his most characteristic and resonant themes: an encouragement to move from a narrative of scarcity to one of abundance.
Christianity, Wells proposes, is not fundamentally about escaping sin, death, and hell, but about sharing God’s gift in Christ of abundant life. The purpose of the Church is not to help people evade judgement, but to enjoy God, and to reflect that in its practice.
Wells offers seven characteristics of a reimagined Church. Churches are called to be communities of hope with a liberating story of reconciliation and grace; they’re shaped and renewed by those on the edge; they walk with the dispossessed because they have discovered God in adversity; they’re inspired by the skills and enterprise of those around them, even if they don’t share their faith; they’re fertile centres of creativity and artistic activity; they seek new forms of relationship, being humbled by past misuses of power; and they seek, above all, to be a blessing to the communities that they serve.
The four “Cs” of HeartEdge are commerce, compassion, culture, and congregation; and so four of the author’s chapters expand on the importance of these elements in a church’s life. In the first of these, Wells demonstrates how the benefactor and steward models of financial management are finally expiring and need to be replaced by more adventurous partnerships and enterprises, which this reviewer at least needed to see spelled out and illustrated much more fully.
The chapter on compassion makes use of Oscar Wilde’s excoriating critique — whose force is undeniable — of conventional top-down charity. Wells proposes a much healthier model, although it must surely remain important that we don’t undermine the ordinary acts of kindness and care which forever punctuate the life of church and community.
There is a vividly illustrated chapter on the local church’s part in nurturing cultural creativity, and in harmonising culture as both social construct and artistic activity. More than that, the church has to be “a public parable, singing a different song”.
Finally, the congregation, the fourth “C”, seeks to exhibit the seven characteristics of a Kingdom church and so realise God’s presence in the community. As it enjoys and deploys its diversity, so it becomes a sign of blessing to others.
This is a bold vision for a renewed Church, and calls for continued reflection and practice. It joins a long bookshelf of such titles, but it has the great benefit of coming from one of the Church’s most innovative theological voices, and from a network of churches committed to faithful and thoughtful practice.
Long may this author stir up and stimulate the Church.
The Rt Revd John Pritchard is a former Bishop of Oxford.
A Future that’s Bigger than the Past: Catalysing Kingdom communities
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £11.99