Ian Markham and Joshua Daniel’s Reasonable Radical is a book about Martyn Percy and his lived theology and experiences as the Dean for the Christ Church Oxford. Divided into two main parts, Markham and Daniel’s reflective work offers articles from academics and church leaders in the first half and writings from Percy in the second half. I am very interested in exploring Percy’s ecclesiological positions on why the Anglican church, and for my dissertation, why the Evangelical church, continues to struggle in preparing their congregants to both understand and withstand the problem of spiritual warfare. This post will seek mine for the ideas from the editorialists and Percy about how to “do church” and see where they might add valuable insights and depth to my research into why nefarious principalities and powers have so much influence over the evangelical church and its members.
First, I deeply connected with the Markham and Daniel’s reflections on Percy because he is a “it depends” type of ministry leader that I would call a situational theologist. In other words, from my lived experiences, I see Percy as someone who looks at the challenge before him, considers the context, envisions the maze of possible solutions, and then sees the end state. Whether it is spiritual gift or learned skill, he sees through the chaos and applies the right mix of theological-secular insights to provide God honoring solutions to the leadership problem at hand. Percy clarifies and expands on my situational idea and calls it a vocation of the “Contextual Theologian.” He says contextual theology, like grounded ecclesiology, studies the “real church as it is encountered” rather than the ideal church as it is constructed. He describes contextual theologians as sympathetic, realist, practical, adaptive, and receptive. These characteristics sound a lot like the LGP8 leadership traits we have been learning and integrating into our PLDPs over the past two years.
Second, how does Reasonable Radical connect to my dissertation research? The name alone connects to some degree because anytime someone begins talking about the devil, warfare, principalities, and powers most people think they are radical. The reasonable side of a radical topic is realized when the other person(s) connects, discerns, and understands the threat to them personally and their church members corporately. For me, a reasoned radical is willing to look past their conditioned responses of denial, marginalization, normalizing of mayhem, and the feelings of “that’s just the way it is.” Percy is not afraid to recognize that the church continues to evolve and is being shaped by forces, “some good, some not so good” that contribute to today’s version of doing church.
Third, I like Percy’s “confessions” because he promotes the idea of using a “binocular” approach when applying critical thinking. I have used binoculars in one form or another since I was a young boy. I remember the toy store type that magnified what I was trying to look at, but it was still blurry. I bought some cheap binoculars to view wildlife on the hills of the Air Force Academy where my Dad was stationed but I could only make out forms without detail. And then one day, my Dad gave me his pair of high-quality binoculars. The difference was amazing! The clarity, focus, and field of vision with the new magnifying lens helped me see, identify, and discriminate between the real and imagined. I think this is the analogy Percy is employing when he talks about using a binocular perspective on how one tries to “read and interpret ecclesial life.” I pray for bino-vision as I look deeper into the problem of spiritual warfare.
There are not a lot of reviews on this book yet since it was published in 2018. Nevertheless, what I did find was very positive towards the Markham-Daniel theological interpretations of Percy’s contribution to a theo-socio type of lived spirituality. For example, Robert Banks, an Australian theologian and Adjunct Professor for Fuller Theological Seminary says that Percy is “wise in recognizing the varieties of spiritual experience” in church and he is someone who is “not afraid to engage with what some would regard as ‘secular’ learning.” I appreciate how Percy connects science and theology while remaining faithful to his personal convictions. Another reviewer from Amazon, Gareth Jones is a professor at HKSKH Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong. He said this about Percy’s work, “If the church is permanently in crisis, necessarily so in light of its eschatological character, then it requires lucid and shrewd interpreters like Martyn Percy to mediate its critical engagement with society.” Wow! I love that statement. Like Dr. Jason Clark says, dig deep, read around, search for how these books connect to other books and to other authors and you will discover the “wonder” of why he helped create and lead the LGP program. I also was drawn to Percy’s 5-fold leadership process of noticing, reading, interpreting, reframing, and returning. His 5-point checklist fits my idea of him as a situational theologist who is always watching and balancing the needs of the people and the organization he serves.
In summary, this is quite a deep book that I will spend more time digging into as I work on my dissertation this fall. His work on contextual theology, binocular interpretations, ideas on spiritual inclusiveness, and how he creates a safe and open space to explore a theological-social science approach to doing church is very inspiring and encouraging.