THIS is a useful and intriguing little book, which speaks to one of the greatest dilemmas facing the contemporary Church: how is the Church to grow while retaining its increasingly elderly core?
Boil this down to its scriptural sources, and we encounter the paradox of the title. Jesus speaks of the importance of our becoming as little children if we are to enter the Kingdom. We need to become children to recognise our need for God, to come to faith with wonder and delight, to be learners and enthusiasts. Yet, at the same time, scripture suggests that faith develops; that maturity matters; and that a growth in wisdom and understanding is the fruit of faithfulness.
Superficially, there seems little holding today’s Church together. There is a conflict between contemporary and traditional worship. There are churches that attract the young(-ish), and others that sustain the more elderly. Yet, in its essence, the Church is a household. It needs, like any family, to find ways of providing both enthusiasm and reflection, youth and maturity.
The author’s experience of family and fatherhood helps him to understand how, with luck and patience, old and young can become gifts to one another. In a reflection on the significance of the sabbath, he ponders on whether it is possible to be a “grown-up child”, one who is able to live playfully besides managing the self-disciplines that are necessary for adult life.
Newman comes from a certain kind of Evangelical background, and this shows itself in what I sometimes found a gratingly wooden approach to scripture. But, if that can be tolerated or overlooked, there are useful insights here, not least that a genuine interdependence between youth and experience is not only possible, but also necessary and creative.
Life and death are interconnected. One spur to this central insight was the death from cancer of the Charismatic leader David Watson. This made a deep impact on a whole generation. It questioned the triumphalism of the Evangelical Charismatic tradition and spurred many into growing up into a faith less driven by exciting, but ultimately passing, emotions.
This would be a good volume for informal study, especially in church communities that are seeking a new way to handle challenges from the past and future. Each chapter ends with probing questions for further thought and discussion.
The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.
Growing Up into the Children of God: Exploring the paradoxes of Christian maturity
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70