Shaping The Church, The Promise of Implicit Theology by Martyn Percy is an academic and yet simple view of the status of the church in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the United Kingdom. Percy gives an overview both statistically and ideologically of how the church is working in England, especially with conversion, confirmation, and baptism. He presents both sides of the equation with balance and simplicity, not taking a side or deeming one right or wrong. He investigates how the church is doing numerically, spiritually, contextually, and historically. He also looks at the “ why” the church is doing pragmatically and programmatically. Again Percy really gives both sides of the story and challenges the “small” church to not settle for just being faithful, but to grow and expand in spiritual maturity. To the “large” numerically growing church he challenges the temptation to chase more or cool. It is a challenging insight to church.
For me, the take home was found on page 106 when he presents the subject of tension (which happens to be the subject matter for my dissertation): “Accommodation and resistance are, of course, closely related. What they share in character, is resilience. We might say that accommodation is a ‘soft’ form o f resilience: flexible, pliable, adaptable and so forth. Whilst resistance is a ‘hard’ form of resilience: concrete, unyielding and defiant. The true character of ecclesial resilience – construed in almost any local church context – will show that most congregations will simultaneously resist and accommodate culture. The church albeit unconsciously for the most part, understands that it lives between two cultures.” (Percy, 106). Percy looks at the differences of churches and culture not as something to shun but to embrace. The embrace of the inevitable present tension, both soft and hard, is the sweet spot where the Church becomes the Church that God intends.
The subject of tension is evident throughout the book. The conversation begins with implicit verses explicit theology; then it develops to traditional verses “fresh expressions”; ending with conservative verses liberal. All of these are internal tensions that produce and resilient church that can engage and impact a lost world. The expressions of the tension is found in leadership styles, ministerial training, and differing church polity. Again, not a right or wrong way to do any of the aforementioned, but rather the management and not the eradication of tension produces a God honoring church.
This is brilliant on Percy’s part not to side with one style or approach, but rather to let the differing tension produce a resilient church. To choose a side or perspective as correct or incorrect only relieves the tension, therefore diminishing the staying power resulting a resilient church. This is what I find beautiful about the Body of Christ, we are not all the same but different. In the difference of traditional verses non-traditional, conservative verses liberal, and implicit verses explicit theology is where the blessing of the Church is found. It is in the the tension producing resilience that the Church grows and prospers.