God’s Church for God’s World
Faithful perspectives on mission and ministry
Tom Woolford and Adam Young (eds.)
IVP, 2022 (ISBN: 9781789742244, 218pp, £19.99)
Part One of this review introduced God’s Church for God’s World, a significant new multi-authored volume from a range of British mainstream evangelicals.
Dr Ros Clarke, the only lay contributor to the volume, helpfully explores the changing role of laity in church governance in the past century and a half. Institutional tussles between clerical and lay interests have long featured at the top level of English church life, from the Investiture Controversy to King John’s submission to the Acts of Supremacy. Likewise at the parochial level, lay magnates have vied with Bishops over the appointment of local clergy. It was a key concern of the Oxford Movement that the English church was too in hock to the laity, being governed by the overwhelmingly non-clerical (and increasingly non-Christian) Parliament. The introduction of the Church Assembly and, later, the modern architecture of Synods, has distanced the English church from the English nation and given it, in some respects, the aspect of a mere denomination (a term which the author, unfortunately, adopts). More positively however, such changes have introduced lay governance at almost every level of church life. Such influence is no longer restricted to monarchs, parliamentarians, and patrons! Clarke’s healthful invitation and challenge is for all laity to take interest in the operations of both parish and diocese, and to play their part for the good of the church and the nation.
Part 2 of the book puts flesh on the bones set out by Goddard, Woolford, and Clarke, with six delightful first-hand testimonies from clergy of their own vocational journeys and ministries. Adam Young’s opening warning that ‘we won’t necessarily agree with all that we read or like it’ is salutary – this reviewer was left, at turns, choking on his crumpets with exasperation and thanking the Lord for His work in others’ lives. The overall impression however is indeed of a fundamental unity in the gospel.
Most of the writers have imbibed living water from various places on the evangelical spectrum; cross-tribal pollination is not unusual. The Rector of Preston recounts his ‘lightbulb moment’ apprehension of biblical authorial intent in a ‘fairly conservative’ church, before ‘stepping out into a more charismatic context’. The HTB network then afforded him opportunity for revitalisation ministry in the North. The unhistoricised reading of Acts, emphasis on the divine unexpected, and notion of the separability of word and spirit ministry (contra John 6:63b) are classic wince moments, but ones overshadowed by the happy testimony of active evangelism and a hearty affirmation of the ‘primary issues’ of Bible, Christ, cross, and conversion.
Like both Young and Haigh, Charles Lamont was ordained at an early stage of life. His story is direct and powerful. From being ‘deeply entrenched in progressive liberalism’, he enjoyed ‘robust discussion’ over the Bible and came to see we ‘aren’t called to be people, we are called to be Godly’. An ambitious vicar (thank the Lord that there are still some in the church) urged Lamont on to ordination. With convictions still developing, he was not ‘willing to be bracketed as being from a particular wing of the church’ and ‘discerned that the best route was to go to a broad college’ and a ‘broad curacy’. His desire for revitalisation undimmed, he has found himself at St Andrew’s Wimbledon, within the Co-Mission family, where encounters have been very colourful.
The Vicar of Egham bares her mind on women in ordained ministry at length, setting this subject out in the context of her own path from youth in Zimbabwe through to ministry in England. She also reflects on her time at GAFCON III in Jerusalem and the memorable conclaves at the Prima Park hotel, made more so for her thanks to a rocky reconciliation with aggrieved patrons. This encounter has left undimmed her desire to see mutual flourishing in operation across the church.
Sophie Bannister, one of the few female clergy trained at Oak Hill College, extols the work of the Junia Network (formerly AWESOME), curating the testimonies of several lightly-disguised members. The chairwoman’s observation on modern narcissistic youth culture is very worthwhile, as are those reflecting on the challenges and questions of combining family with vocation.
Rachel Marszalek concludes the section with her own revealing account of conversion, ministry, ordination, and turnaround. Her love of God’s word and appreciation of many evangelical thinkers pulsates through the quotation-strewn pages. A breathless, dramatic quality is leant by strict adherence to that most trying of tenses, the historic present. The stresses of transition which she has overseen from ‘mini and monochrome cathedral-style’ to ‘joy-filled parish church’ thanks to new Bibles, Bible stories, toddler church, floor cushions, participatory worship, lay leaders, and nave communion are ones with which many readers will identify.
As previously noted, a published collection of snapshots such as these provides much encouragement and food for thought. A future edition will carry the third and final part of this review.
Edward Keene, Little Shelford