Exploring Deep Church

Andrew Walker & Luke Bretherton (Eds.): Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church, Milton Keynes, Paternoster, 2007
Reviewed by Stuart Murray Williams

The Anabaptist Network’s ‘After Christendom’ series is not the only series of books by different authors being published by Paternoster at present. Another significant project is the ‘Deep Church’ series; Remembering our Future is the latest instalment. ‘Deep Church’ is a response to what series editor, Andrew Walker, describes as exasperation with the ‘fad-driven one-dimensional spirituality of modern evangelicalism’ and the desire to ‘reconnect with and be deeply rooted in the common historical Christian tradition as well as the evangelical heritage.’

The phrase ‘deep church’ was first used by C S Lewis in a letter to The Times in 1952, in which he urged the Catholic and Evangelical wings of the Church of England to make common cause against the pretensions of modernity and recover the historic foundations and practices of the Christian church. The authors of the ‘Deep Church’ series share his yearning for this recovery and its ecumenical implications. Their writings are an attempt to update his proposal, calling evangelicals (and others) to value afresh the convictions, spirituality and ecclesial practices of historic Christianity.

Remembering our Future is a collection of essays by various authors, setting out the basis of the ‘Deep Church’ initiative and exploring the implications for hermeneutics, worship, making disciples and spirituality. As so often with collections of essays, some seem more rewarding than others (although other readers may differ in their response to each essay), but all are pitched at a fairly demanding academic level – which may limit their appeal and the impact of this initiative. Two of the most accessible are Luke Bretherton’s critical appraisal of the emerging church in ‘Beyond the Emerging Church?’ and Alan Kreider’s ‘Baptism and Catechesis as Spiritual Formation’, proposing that we should take careful note of the ways in which the early church inducted new Christians.

This is the third book in the series, after Ian Stackhouse’s The Gospel-Driven Church and D H Williams’ Evangelicals and Tradition: the Formative Influence of the Early Church. The overall thrust of the series is clear: we need to drink deeply and draw gratefully on the historic resources of the church, paying particular attention to the documents and practices of the early church, and refusing to remain bound by narrower traditions that deprive us of a broader and richer heritage. However, after reading two of these books and being broadly supportive of their thesis, I remain unclear as to what criteria are being used to discriminate between those aspects of the church’s history and heritage which we should appropriate and which we should not.

In particular, inadequate attention seems to be given to an issue that is central to our own ‘After Christendom’ series – the corrupting and distorting influence of the Christendom shift on the traditions of the church. This is not, of course, to suggest that we should draw only on pre-Christendom resources (though both series are particularly interested in the early church) or reject every development since the fourth century. But it is to warn that the malign influence of status, wealth and power may have caused more damage to the theology, spirituality and ecclesiology of the church than Deep Church advocates seem to recognise. It will be interesting to see whether future books in the series address this issue and help us distinguish the resources that we need for contemporary faithfulness and witness from baggage that will weigh us down.

Maybe a conversation between the ‘After Christendom’ and ‘Deep Church’ series could be enlightening and mutually enriching?

Exploring Deep Church is available from Metanoia Books