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

Shaping the church by Martyn Percy

Written by: on May 18, 2017

In examining the “basic-but-nascent theological habits (e.g. language, culture, worship, practice etc.) that more properly account for the daily life of churches, congregations and denominations”[1], Dr Martyn Percy examines what he calls “implicit theology”, which is where theology and sociology, or Christian and contemporary cultures, meet. Implicit theology “notices and gives due attention to the theological and ecclesial significance of details that can appear to be trivial or inconsequential, recognizing that they are in fact indicators of deeply held convictions, contested theologies and changing ecclesial structures.”[2] It recognises that the beliefs of churches cannot only be construed from their creedal statements, but also from their practices on the ground – their practical theology – which is formed from the ground up.


The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 considers the sacraments, considering different approaches to baptism, confirmation and conversion and the Eucharist. Part 2 considers the church, with a critique of “Fresh Expressions” within the Anglican church, and a consideration of church growth across the liberal-conservative spectrum. Part 3 considers ministry within the church, the training of clergy and dealing with contention and conflict within the Anglican communion around some of the major issues of the day.


Percy traces the apparent decline in organised and institutional religion in the British context in the past 200 years. He remains fairly sanguine in his appraisal, however, arguing that we should relax, that things are not as bad as they seem, and that people are still very much open to faith and religion, even if they are not attending church.


He critiques the Fresh Expressions movement within the Anglican church, arguing that this is a reflection of the wider consumerism within society, a chasing after the “fresh” and the “new” and the “novel” at the expense of the established, the institutional, and the core of the church off which these new branches feed. The Fresh Expressions movement “is a form of collusion with a contemporary cultural obsession with newness, alternatives and novelty”.[3]

For Percy, with the Fresh Expressions emphasis, “religion and faith have become consumable commodities, that constantly require updating”[4] however “new is not necessarily better than old; fresh is not necessarily superior to established; and effervescence is not a substitute for substance.”[5]

The challenge for the church in Percy’s mind is how to marry the old and the new, the extensive current forms of parochial mission and the effervescence of the new. While I share Dr Percy’s considerable scepticism concerning a constant chasing after the new and the novel, for me, he errs a little too strongly on the side of the old, the established and the liberal, and fails to give sufficient credence to the growth and life and effervescence of the new things that God is doing, whether it be the worldwide success of the Alpha course, or the various renewal movements throughout the established church.

Finally, in dealing with the various contentious issues that the Church of England is facing currently, Percy argues: “if you have the choice between heresy and schism, choose heresy.”[6] I am not sure I can agree with that.



[1] Martyn, Very Revd Prof Percy. Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology. Ashgate, 2013, Kindle Edition, loc. 118.

[2] Percy (2013), loc. 370.

[3] Percy (2013), loc. 1578.

[4] Percy (2013), loc. 1598.

[5] Percy (2013), loc. 1707.

[6] Percy (2013), loc. 3461.

About the Author

Geoff Lee

8 responses to “Shaping the church by Martyn Percy”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Thanks, Geoff. I agree – people are unified in truth, not in feeling good about themselves.
    I have studied a lot of church history and you are right – there have been many renewal movements. Pentecostalism has resulted in the formation of new churches, but the charismatic movement crossed denominational lines, even Roman Catholic. As some of our cohort have pointed out – God works in many ways.

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “if you have the choice between heresy and schism, choose heresy.”[6] I am not sure I can agree with that.

    Yes, Geoff. Church history has shown that schism’s often give birth to forms of church that are better equipped to reach new people. Heresy, though, is what gives us Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarian Universalists.

  3. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Geoff- good point on Percy giving much attention to the old and not the new. You are so right and I’m glad you pointed this out. I so appreciated his relaxed, nurturing tone that I find often missing with experienced theologians, I missed the lack of emphasis he placed on new transforming teachings and programs like Alpha. What’s your favorite new and impacting programs/teachings? I have really enjoyed Celebrate Recovery program out of Saddleback because they compliment the work I do with clients well.

  4. Katy Drage Lines says:

    I was curious, Geoff, what you, as a non-Anglican, would reflect on in Percy’s work. So much of the text, while valuable for all of us, is crafted for a particular context (British Anglicanism). For those of us not in the British context, it’s perhaps more challenging to evaluate it in light of the broader cultural context. It sounds, though, as if your critique is very valid.

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Geoff-you make a good point about the old and the new. It’s interesting how I interpreted many of his points as moving away from the old toward the new. As I said in my post, some of his positions seem almost Pentecostal in nature. Maybe it fits the saying: “everything old is new again!” Thanks for your post.

  6. Lynda Gittens says:

    HI Geoff,

    I treasure your transparency on Percy’s views as he addresses the Fresh Expressions movement. You are able to share with us the tone or atmosphere of the church communities regarding the history, presence, and future.
    I agree with your last statement on whether one should choose heresy or schism. It reflects the fear of the traditionalist towards the future (change). Some are unable to move from the Old covenant to the New covenant.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Geoff, enjoyed your post. Yes I do agree that credence was overlooked but in order to do that he would have to back off a little on his point about the importance and sacredness of the old.

    I would affirm that the renewal movements can be an example of how the old and new are attempting to blend together.

    Just my thoughts… great reflections Geoff.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I’m so glad for your input here, Geoff. I do agree with you that we must allow room for the new and fresh movements of God. It’s easy to retreat into the familiar and ignore new possibilities. On the other hand, we can’t completely let go of the traditions that are nourishing and nurturing. It can be a fine line.
    I do understand what Percy was saying about heresy and schism, but I’m also not sure I can get there.

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