PAUL BRADBURY has a vision for the future of the Church. His account recognises and accepts the reality of the chaotic, fluid culture of the West. In such a context, he says, “Perhaps . . . the most fruitful way to explore our place as the Church in the maelstrom of the world is to play with story.”
The Bible is a good resource for playing with story — this complicated library of books which, certainly in the case of the Hebrew scriptures, has nothing direct to say about the preferred shape of the Christian Church. In its stories it is possible to find many echoes and pre-echoes of the way we might want to do things today.
For example, similar reflections have found their home in the Book of Nehemiah, which can be read as a series of helpful hints on building a Church as well as building a wall. Managerial and devotional lessons — vision, perseverance, prayer, teamwork — can be found in Nehemiah for the Churches and their leaders, if you can skate over some of the less politically correct stories in that interesting book.
Bradbury, on the other hand, draws on bleaker stories — in particular, the image of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. He seeks to discern the Spirit moving among the bones today. As he does so, he shapes an attractive vision of the Church — a light, innovative, relational community, counter-cultural in its radical sharing, critical of consumerism and of an instrumental obsession with growth and prosperity. He finds in Ezekiel both the motivation for his own preferred way of being the Church, and the reassurance that God’s inspired word prefigures the choices that he and his community have made.
Bradbury’s approach rhymes interestingly with that of more conservative defenders of the inherited parish system, those who ask us simply to hold our nerve in hope, faithful to that which we have received, not changing a thing, waiting for the bones to reconnect. Like them, Bradbury is critical of an anxious Church that simply wants to find a winning formula and clone it. Unlike them, he sees the need to explore a radical “reimagination” of the ways things are, and could be, when Christians gather.
His book will therefore rattle many bones among those of us who explore and debate the renewing and reforming of the Church. For this reason, I recommend it gladly.
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes is the Bishop of Liverpool.
Home by Another Route: Re-imagining today’s Church
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