Sunday, 9 August 2015

Deep Church Rising, by Andrew Walker and Robin Parry

Robin A. Parry and Andrew G. Walker, Deep Church Rising: Rediscovering the roots of Christian orthodoxy, 2014 SPCK

As I mentioned in my review of The Biblical Cosmos, I had the privilege of studying for Religious Studies A-Level Under Robin Parry many years ago. In this book, co-written with Andrew Walker, he urges the Christian church to recover the strength of its traditions in response to Modernity. This book brings back a memory from those days; in reference to Postmodernity, our authors quote the title of the Manic Street Preachers album 'This is my Truth, tell me yours.' Robin Parry borrowed my copy of that CD back in 1999. This title was a quotation by a Labour politician. I think Parry read it as a statement of relativism. I have never taken it that way; I have always thought it was about the truth of experience. We all have a truth that we can share with others.

I found myself getting weary of how long Parry and Walker spent talking about modern culture. I must have read dozens of books by intellectual evangelicals critiquing modernity and postmodernity in the past. I suspect young readers may feel that the authors come across as grumpy old men who just don't like the modern world. What is different here is Parry's willingness to acknowledge that the Protestant Reformation has contributed to the problems of modernity.

After Parry and Walker are finished painting the sorry picture of the modern world, the book gets more interesting. They defend the value of creeds, liturgy and the centrality of the sacraments in the life of the church. I have reservations with the handling of the subject of the Eucharist. They express unease with the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. On the Protestant front, Parry criticises Evangelicals for opting for the Zwinglian view of the Eucharist and praises the Calvinist view. This is an issue he has had for a long time. I remember my parents coming home and telling me about one of his sermons on the subject of the Lord's Supper. They told me that he had explained that the Zwinglian view was wrong and the Calvinist view was right. I tried to explain why I held the Zwinglian view and rejected the Calvinist view, but I don't think they had come away understanding the difference between either view. It's easy to caricature Zwinglianism as a dead memorialism. When I was a Zwinglian evangelical, I challenged Parry on his presentation of the view on his blog. As a Catholic I now reject the Zwinglian view, but I think it is a more coherent view than the Calivnist view. The Calvinist view of the Eucharist suffers from a vagueness and I think Evangelicals are inclined to accept it out of a certain intellectual laziness. While Parry and Walker do not equate the Calvinist and the Eastern Orthodox view, they do seem to imply that it has a certain similarity. I think most Eastern Orthodox theologians would feel this is mislaeding. They would reject the Calvinist view as heresy and aargue for a view that is not substantially different to Transubstantiation.

I think there is some great material in this book, but there are some things I would have liked to have seen. I would have liked to have seen the authors engage a little more with the negative trends and to also think about what options Evangelicals have in terms of reconciling with ancient tradition. Should they try to incorporate more ancient features in their ecclesiological practices or should they be ready to consider the ancient church traditions? I would have also liked to have seen more on sexuality, which is probably the biggest challenge Christians are faced with today.

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