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.