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

The Promise and Primacy of Implicit Theology

Written by: on May 18, 2017

Martyn Percy –Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology

In this monograph, The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy acknowledges that, “There is no doubt that ecclesial communities look to formal theological propositions, creeds, articles of faith, and the like to order their inner life, establish their identity and maintain their distinctiveness in the world. Yet, it is also true that moods and manners, informal beliefs, learned behavior, patterns of polity, together with aesthetics and applied theological thinking constitute the shape of the church no less. Attention to the role and vitality of the implicit is therefore, vital if one seeks to comprehend the depth, density, identity and shape of the church.” [1]

His hypothesis is that “much of ecclesial life is implied and that numerous examples of implicit theology guide and direct ecclesiology in ways that are deeper than the formal propositions of explicit theology.” [2] However, Percy contends, “the dynamics of ecclesial life are often shaped and delimited by operant, grounded, unarticulated and habitual processes which while laced with theological significance, do not of themselves usually count as explicit religious discourse or are valued as official practice.” [3] For Percy, the concept of implicit theology can be appreciated when it is understood as a Christian heritage that is commonplace in everyday life performances and practices expressing faith and belief.  He emphasizes paying attention to the sensed and experienced dimensions of day to day ecclesial life in order to conceptualize how style might have just as much importance as substance, and behavior as much relevance as beliefs.  “This is because the shape of the church is partly brought about by the subliminal as much as by the liminal; and by the implicit as much as the explicit.”  [4]

Initially, I was skeptical of Percy’s hypothesis. But, after some pondering, I understood the truth of his conclusions.  I recalled the content of his message in Oxford to intentionally utilize all our sensory apparatus to discern, evaluate, appreciate, and experience any environment we find ourselves in. He exhorted us to be objective, empathetic and not be judgmental. I took that counsel with me to Rwanda and upon arriving there I experienced the dynamic pulse of the land—its pain, history, challenges and aspirations, but also its hope, joy, and love in Jesus Christ. The children our team interfaced with were so amazing; they established an immediate bond with us.  Our hearts were knit together with theirs in genuine Christian love and fellowship, while experiencing the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.

In this Dminlgp program we are continually learning how to perform at an elite level as leaders and enhancing our cognitive, socio-cultural, emotional, and critical thinking skills.  Manfred Kets de Vries (The Leadership Mystique), explains that “emotional intelligence is getting to know our own emotions, learning to manage our emotions, and learning to recognize and deal with the emotions of others.” [5] David Livermore (Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success) describes cultural intelligence as “the capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures that entails drive, knowledge, strategy, and action.” [6] Percy argues for the development of a “fusion of emotional and ecclesial/spiritual intelligence for congregations and denominations that are struggling with strong feelings and intense, hostile expressions of anger.  For leaders, he sees this as one of the most demanding aspects of oversight, namely having the emotional and ecclesial intelligence of patience and empathy to hold feelings, anger, disappointment and frustrations—other people’s as well as your own.” [7] Change is usually only possible when there are no competing convictions while simultaneously trying to resolve deep conflict.

Percy suggests the need to look at patterns of power and motivations behind anger. The task for the Church is to find ways that do not suppress or block out strong feelings of anger, or the pain and the aggression it arouses, but rather, to discern how to channel the energy they bring into the work of the gospel.  For Percy, the Church in its entirety needs emotional intelligence if it is to achieve ecclesial  intelligence. We need to be able to cope with deeply held convictions, and the feelings they evoke. This could mean listening to the experiences that lead to aggression and anger, and striving to understand them from the perspective of those with less power. Individuals in a position of power will need to acknowledge the fear of losing power and control. It necessitates getting in touch with our feelings, and developing an emotional intelligence, that can lead to a new kind of ecclesial intelligence. Percy feels leaders are needed who can especially receive and handle strong feelings, and sometimes communicate the same to others when necessary.  In other words, it is necessary to have leaders who will be adaptable to the climate they find themselves in. Percy goes on to state that since the church is a community of peace, listening to God is paramount to its existence. The anticipated peace that is representative of God’s kingdom will be characterized by the ushering in of a community of blessing and consensus that can succeed for everyone who sincerely seeks peace and unity in any context.  Developing ecclesial intelligence is yet another skill-set that Dminlgp students are adding to their arsenal in spiritual warfare and successful outcomes. Learning to stay calm and at peace with God and having the peace of God should hold us in good stead throughout life’s storms.  We need emotional, cultural, and ecclesial/spiritual intelligence to help make this happen.


  1. Martyn Percy, Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology (Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010), 175.
  2. Ibid., 12.
  3. Ibid., 159.
  4. Ibid., 173.
  5. Manfred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise (Harwlow, England: Prentice Hal, 2006), 25.
  6. David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success (New York: AMACOM, 2010), 24.
  7. Percy, Shaping the Church, 156.


About the Author

Claire Appiah

8 responses to “The Promise and Primacy of Implicit Theology”

  1. I agree with you here Claire. I like Percy’s writing on emotional and ecclesial intelligences. So important! I think today’s leaders are required to be even more adaptable than the generation before us. What do you think?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      It is true, today’s leaders are forced to be more adaptable than the previous generation whether they want to or not. I think there is so much more to contend with and consider on so many levels. For instance, matters such as legalized same-sex marriage, GLBT agenda, religious/philosophical pluralism, new technologies, racial/ethnic biases, globalism, consumerism, and the list just goes on and on. And in the midst of all of this, you are a bi-vocational leader. May God give you the strength and wisdom you need to serve him in these capacities.

  2. Phil Goldsberry says:

    Again, a superb post. My question, how do we clarify and create boundaries to ecclesial intelligence? Is there not a place where it can mesh with “implicit theology” and become acceptable, even if it not the truth?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      You ask very challenging questions, “How do we clarify and create boundaries to “ecclesial intelligence.?” Is there not a place where it can mesh with implicit theology and become acceptable, even if not the truth?”

      I’m not sure I can answer these questions adequately. Boundaries for ecclesial intelligence—very profound. Percy emphasizes the interplay between emotional intelligence and ecclesial intelligence for congregations and denominations. For him, ecclesial intelligence is fueled by emotional intelligence and the whole church needs both. The church needs to “find ways not to suppress strong feelings of anger, but to channel the energy they bring into the work of the gospel.” (p. 154). “So, in any kind of aggression and anger we need to be clear whether or not it constitutes a move toward a vision of the kingdom and is motivated by the radical mutuality of love. The command to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves ultimately defines the place of our aggression and anger.” (pp. 153-154).

      The answer to your second question is, absolutely! One of the dangers of implicit theology is that it is subliminal, often unnoticed and undetected. It is something that is experienced without conscious thought. So, the bottom line is, now that we are aware of implicit theology we must be on guard for its potential influence and impact in our lives, positively and negatively.

  3. Marc Andresen says:


    “Change is usually only possible when there are no competing convictions while simultaneously trying to resolve deep conflict.”

    Is this a function within and individual or a group? Is this a conflict between implicit and explicit theologies (or conscious and unconscious cultural values)?

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    In this discussion Percy is simply laying out a conflict-resolution “paradigm of emotional and ecclesial intelligence” for congregations and denominations struggling with conflict and hostility regarding any matter. Implicit and explicit theologies have nothing to do with the point he is making here.

  5. Garfield Harvey says:

    You stated that “We need to be able to cope with deeply held convictions, and the feelings they evoke.” Unfortunately, the church lack leading voices that can challenge us to think differently. I believe we have great influences but nothing like the respected theologians of yesteryears. The recent signing of the bill which allows ministry leaders to voice their political thesis is a great example. Ministry leaders never felt free regarding their convictions so there was always inconsistency in managing the tension of cultural and biblical values. Percy’s work is a great reminder for us to allow emotional intelligence to help us process our convictions.


  6. Claire Appiah says:

    Remember, Percy advocates the fusion of emotional and ecclesial/spiritual intelligence for leaders processing their strong convictions among one another.

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