Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Real Church

Written by: on June 6, 2019

It took me a while to think of what I was going to write this time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had not heard, much less know about Martyn Percy when I have been an ardent admirer of the University of Oxford and the stellar alumni and faculty it produces, some of whom have become friends. So why haven’t I heard of him? As I read more about his views on theology and his ecumenical leanings it became clearer. Now it shouldn’t be a surprise that we all do not agree 100% on everything. I can think of a couple of views I do not share with Percy. But what is troubling in the academic community I am accustomed to is an unacknowledged fact that honest intellectuals always have something valuable to teach and for the rest of us to learn.

There are a couple of emphases that impressed me about Martyn Percy’s understanding of the function and role of the Church universal and how it impacts our daily lives. The first is his insistence that the church ought to be literate in both theology and social sciences.1 Seminaries focus on the former and ignore that latter. This has a ring of truth but regrettably most pastors ignore the vast knowledge the social sciences provide. One would think an interest in these subjects, such as history, sociology and anthropology, etc. would seem natural for church leaders to care about since much of human experience is related through these disciplines. 

I understand the apprehension on one level since much of the social sciences these days have been saddled with revisionist and reductionist thinking. However, this is no reason to abandon the project of continually pursuing truth wherever it is to be found.2 Moreover, it is precisely this reason we must engage the social sciences more vigorously to counter the vogue ideologies of relativism.

The second thought-provoking idea I consider worth exploring is Percy’s concept of the importance for having a national church. In his case, it’s the Anglican Church. This idea of combining church and state would strike many American evangelical (conservative and liberal) scholars as odd as no one would want to see another Constantine. However, Percy’s thinking on this is different. He’s not suggesting that the state dictates its wishes on the church or vice versa. On this particular view he borrows from his mentor Daniel Hardy. He writes “The church is called as an apostle and witness to society as a whole on behalf of One whose works was for the whole of society, its witness being determined by Christ’s achievement in securing the Kingdom of God through an ethical and spiritual victory.”3 The idea of the church being a “witness to society as a whole” would indeed transform society to the point of imbibing biblical values indistinguishable from the state. Isn’t this what we yearn for when pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches transformed their communities in which Shalom was restored? Not just an absence of war, but in a Hebrew sense bringing peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility.4 And do it all in ways that are not easily identified as specifically “Christian.”5 For it would be so because Christians will have acted as salt and light, bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is grounded ecclesiology;6 this is “real church.”7

          1 Ian S. Markham and Joshue Daniel, Reasonable Radical?: Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2018), Loc 361, Kindle.
          2 Ibid., Loc. 1841, Kindle.
          3 Ibid., Loc. 263, Kindle.
          4 Shalom, Wikipedia, June 03, 2019, , accessed June 07, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom.
          5 Markham and Daniel, Loc. 5573, Kindle.
          6 Ibid., Loc. 1891, Kindle.
          7 Ibid., Loc. 3797, Kindle.

About the Author

Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

10 responses to “Real Church”

  1. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I agree, Harry. If all truth is God’s truth then why is the Church adverse to the social sciences? Why the fear of knowledge? My tradition of Pentecostalism has certainly been at the forefront of a non-academic approach. Gratefully Pentecostal theologians have risen in recent decades.

    Your second point is also a longing for many of us. It will take a complete reorientation of the evangelical mindset to get there, and that is a monumental shift, although I have hope in younger generations. It will be interesting to see if they remain evangelical.

    • Thanks Tammy for this. I was listening to a prominent Evangelical Indian scholar, Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, who has a keen sense of what’s going on culturally in the U.S.. He sees US education in shambles and advocates for the church to take it back. He’s developed plans for this and there are some influential people who are taking him seriously. I think he’s definitely on to something. The church historically has been the providers of education as we’ve learned in one of our readings. Let’s have the church take it back and then be open to competition. Let the best system win.

      If the church is seen once again as the place to acquire knowledge in a wide variety of disciplines, seekers might be attracted and get to know the source of all knowledge and wisdom.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I always appreciate your passion for scholarship and the local church. Focusing on your first point, I think I have learned to be more open to and appreciative of the social sciences. Honestly, much of this has transpired as a result of Dr. Clark’s required readings and the compelling responses of our cohort members. What would it look like for the local church to become literate in both theology and the social sciences? What do you think? Thanks again for another thought provoking post!

    • Hey Harry, you asked what would it look like for the church to become more literate in both theology and sociology? Good question. As my professor would say, “I may have a sure word, but I certainly don’t have the last word.” I’m employing the same thing. I’m not sure, but for starters, we need to preach this from the pulpit and then make sure our educational programs (Sunday School) at churches include lessons on sociology. Os Guinness and others can supply the content.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Thank you for this, Harry. I appreciate your thoughts on the social sciences. My anthropology class was probably my favorite in undergrad. Since I have observed the different approaches church leaders take with these “secular” subjects. Your approach and sentiments makes much sense to me.

  4. Jenn Burnett says:

    I also appreciated Percy’s insistence on the place of the social sciences, though I can’t resist offering the value of the arts as well. If the social sciences help us understand the church, then the arts should be required for biblical literacy. In my English degree I learned so much about genre and how truth is communicated through story and poems. I wonder how differently we would receive the Psalms if we could hear them sung—even more if it were in the original Hebrew. My university roommate would share how influential fine art has been in reflecting and directing biblical understanding. (For example Moses was painted with horns through the Middle Ages because of an early mistranslation.) Have we isolated Christian studies to such a degree that we have lost significant understandings from other fields as well? How might we reclaim some of these illuminating dialogues without becoming overwhelmed?

    • Hey Jenn. I’m totally with you on that. I was talking to a parent who I’ve had in my small group Bible study. As is my custom I always assign a book for study (in addition to the Bible), and one of those books ends up being one they thought was good to get their teenage daughter to read over the summer. The book was on culture (sociology/anthropology) and their daughter ends up reading and liking the material. Since she’s an artist, she ends up envisioning each chapter’s theme and creates a series of drawings. It was really moving and done well.

      I told the parents they need to show these to the youth pastor and have them discuss the book and her drawings. It’s stuff like this that we need more of.

  5. Digby Wilkinson says:

    The nice thing Harry, is that when you get to meet him he will recognise the need to disagree and do so in a very friendly way. However he will also push to understand how any one of our views can be grounded in practice. I guess it’s worth remembering that he writes from a very different context to the US. The Anglican Church is constitutionally bound to the State and the Queen is the head of the church. He also writes at a time when only 2percent of the population attend the state church and there is a need to rethink their being in the world. I enjoyed the book partly because I enjoy Percy as a person. However I am looking forward to talking – with him with everyone else. You’ve left me wondering what an ‘American state church’ would look like?

  6. John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Harry, for your sharing. I was in the same class of not having heard about Percy at all but was amazed by the volume of theology he brings out of his experience and research. I equally got impressed when he connected theology and social sciences. This is where we connected with him from the African perspectives and this makes sense to the Africans rather than theology alone, but with the combination of social science, it was complete from an African perspective. African believes that Jesus Christ was more of social science and less of theology. Interesting.

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