FLEXIBLE CHURCH is a big, helpful, informative, generous and theologically rooted addition to the growing genre of books on new forms of church. I say “new forms of church” because it is increasingly difficult to know quite what term to use to describe the creative variety of the new Christian communities that are being energetically promoted and planted in Britain today.
Helen Morris adds a new term to the lexicon: re-contextual church. She describes the church in transition as we wrestle with the ecclesiological and missiological questions that accompany all this church-planting. She argues for deep change: churches that rethink their form and rule in the light of profound cultural change. She insists on a deep rootedness in a Trinitarian ecclesiology, based on Paul’s insights (born of his own hard-pressed experience) that the church is the body of Christ.
So this is a book about ecclesiology, community, stability, and flexibility. It concludes with a rather complicated model of a suspension bridge. This all made sense while I read it, but I found it hard to recall afterwards. The foregoing theological discussion was much more helpful.
Who is the intended readership? Impressively referenced, scholarly in tone, and precise in its integration of ideas, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a book written mainly for other people who write books like this. It will also be an important text for theological students, however; and some clergy may add it to the pile. But, since research has shown that many of the people who actually start these re-contextual churches (or whatever we call them) have had little or no training in church-planting, let alone in Trinitarian models of ecclesiology, I wonder what they will make of it. Moreover, where’s the book that will help them to reflect on their own servant-hearted pragmatism?
But I’m being too harsh. This is to criticise the book for what it isn’t rather than what it is. And what we have here is a big, helpful, informative, generous, and theologically rooted explanation and exhortation concerning what being the body of Christ in our shifting culture might be like.
With finance from the Strategic Development Fund, at the moment the Church of England is experimenting with new forms of church more intentionally than has been the case for a very long time. Proper theological reflection on this is needed. This book is a part of that. Holding fast to what has gone before, we also reach for what is new.
The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford.
Flexible Church: Being the Church in the contemporary world
Helen D. Morris
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop special price £20