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”, 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.” 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”.
For Percy, with the Fresh Expressions emphasis, “religion and faith have become consumable commodities, that constantly require updating” however “new is not necessarily better than old; fresh is not necessarily superior to established; and effervescence is not a substitute for substance.”
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.” I am not sure I can agree with that.
 Martyn, Very Revd Prof Percy. Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology. Ashgate, 2013, Kindle Edition, loc. 118.
 Percy (2013), loc. 370.
 Percy (2013), loc. 1578.
 Percy (2013), loc. 1598.
 Percy (2013), loc. 1707.
 Percy (2013), loc. 3461.