For 10 years I was the chaplain and counselor of an Anglican boys’ school in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand is a nation much like other parts of Western Europe where less than 4% of the population have any meaningful connection to a church community and most young people are more than two generations away from any family connections. Yet, the Anglican tradition was the perfect platform to encourage students and families to consider again the importance of one’s spirituality. It offered a middle way through its simple liturgy, openness, adaptability, acceptance of diversity, and strong foundation in orthodoxy. “The idea that many differences and alternatives can exist within one system of belief is, perhaps, the most Anglican idea there has ever been.”  This remained true even with an Evangelical American as the chaplain.
(In fact, I still sneak aspects of the Anglican prayer book into services that I conduct. Just don’t let the Presbyterians know.)
Yet, even after 10 years in Anglican ministry of sorts I was unfamiliar with Martyn Percy. Thankfully those days are over! His thinking and writing have much to offer the contemporary church in the West as it grapples with the unique generational issues that have confronted the Church from its inception. He communicates in a manner that permits individuals and communities to come to their own conclusions that fit with their context and culture, unlike many contemporary Christian writers who often convey aspects of foundationalism or attempt to utilize maxims to represent their ideas of truth.
What Percy and the Anglican way have to offer is encouragement to take theology and apply it to “the real church as it is encountered, rather than the ‘ideal’ constructions of its reality.” This opens the door for meaningful application to contextualization and permits opportunity for greater connection to emerging generations as a result. The greatest gift that the Church has to offer young people is opportunity to engage with a community that is more interested in caring for them as they are than in converting them to something we would rather them be. Even in my time in New Zealand, with students who had very little God-frame, it was clear that the community of the school helped them recognize God who already in the midst of their lives. Percy explains why that is; “We can see God on our own yet discover him only when we are together.”
Although I found the entire book engaging, particularly the excerpts from Percy’s writing, it was his chapter on the generation gap that most readily connects with my area of interest. There has been significant discussion and research conducted over the past ten years or so regarding emerging generations and the increasing prevalence of ‘the Nones’, those who lack any meaningful connection to a faith community and who allegedly espouse minimal interest in other Christian beliefs and practices. Percy suggests that the alarm bells may be premature, and I tend to agree. He eruditely states; “No one can convincingly prove that this situation for society is new, namely a morass of competing convictions, and that pluralism is particular to late modernity. It isn’t. From earliest times, Christians have carved out their faith in a pluralist world, settled churches in alien cultures, and adopted their practices and customs that have eventually become tradition.” Our role as current leaders in churches and ministries is not to force feed young people with the practices and customs with which we are comfortable. Simply, I believe our role is to introduce them to the living and risen Christ, disciple them in their Christian journey, and equip them to be the church that will be most meaningful and relevant for their generation.
Again, Percy is ready to explain; “Religion is that material which generations will attempt to fashion and shape around their needs and desires.” As we finish up our course work and focus in earnest on completing that dang dissertation I am excited about the possibility that the local church of the future, in the U.S. and abroad, is likely to become more ethnically and theologically diverse reflecting the true nature of the surrounding demographic. This will not happen because I am passionate about it and write my dissertation encouraging it. If it happens it will be because that is the church that God ordains and because it fits with the needs and desires of the emerging generations. If it doesn’t then perhaps it will be for the same reason. While that does not let any of us off the hook in terms of continuing to promote the reign of God and promote the love, justice and peace of God’s kingdom, it does encourage a different perspective and eliminate the penchant for panic and fear as we consider the future of the church in the world.
Markham, Ian S.. Reasonable Radical?: Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy . Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.