Thinking Out Loud

March 29, 2009

After the Church in the UK has Disappeared

Several months ago, I wrote about alternating between contemporary Christian books and classic Christian titles.   This time around, I’m writing about a 2004 book that’s already out of print.   Not sure where that fits in…

For reasons I won’t attempt to list, I think Christian Canadians resonate to a greater degree with British Christian writers.    That’s if they can find them.   We have no true marketing machine here, so we simply have the spillover affects of American marketing and promotion, which means that we end up with U.S. titles accounting for around 95% (or more) of Christian book sales.

But given the opportunity to hear of a UK title, most Canadians will say they enjoyed it.   Some of my favorites include apologist Michael Green, humorist Adrian Plass, songwriter Graham Kendrick; not to mention a rather obscure chap who simply goes by C. S. Lewis.   And then there’s Nick Page, author of over 20 books, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to read four.

nick-pageNick’s prime visibility in North America is owed to a book called The Map; a Bible handbook published by Zondervan,  built around a graphic theme which resembles most European train or subway maps.    (His harmonization of the gospels is thereby most interesting, with the story running on four parallel tracks.)

church-invisibleSo several months ago, I spotted The Church Invisible in a pile of remainder books; two weeks ago I took it to Atlanta with me; and after returning home not having cracked the cover, I finally finished reading it over the weekend.

In it, Page, writing a story in which he plays himself, is transported forward to the year 2040 where he meets Lydia, who takes him on a quest to see what has become of the Church in England as he knew it.      Lydia provides commentary on the before/after relationship between what Page is seeing versus what he remembers:

“The church of your time rightly rejected the nominalism, the archaism, the general lack of understanding.   What it didn’t do was incorporate the depth, the richness, the artistry.   It didn’t become a regular part of people’s lives.  And it too assumed that people understood the language and the forms it was using.”


“Leadership…That’s what you need to lead a church.   That’s what you need to take people forward, you need to be a leader.  You need leadership skills.   And what did we teach them?  Theology.   …The assumption is that those who teach are always going to be the ones who lead.   We so combined the teaching and preaching role with the leadership role that we couldn’t imagine one without the other.   Those who lead the churches had to be the ones who preach…”


“So often what we wanted to do was to talk rather than act.   We were too busy telling people what was wrong with them, telling them what to think…  We had so much doctrine and dogma to stuff them with, we never noticed they were scared and desperate and lonely.”


“…So many people were put off church because there was simply no variety in how it was done.    …That’s not how Jesus taught.  Sometimes he preached.   Sometimes he led discussion groups.   Sometimes he just told stories.   Sometimes he just did things and left people to draw their own conclusions.   So why did we assume that one person talking to a room full of other people was the best way to teach?”


“You couldn’t have a worship song unless it was filled with sheep and swords and banners and people being ‘refined by fire.’   I mean, what was with all that refining fire bit?   How many people understood the image?  Did I miss something?   Was the 21st century church filled to the brim with an in-depth knowledge of smelting?  …What we really needed were new metaphors; new images to convey God’s love.  …We should have kept checking that the words were working.   Instead we were sloppy and lazy.   It was far easier to fill our sermons with antiquated images that meant nothing.   Thinking up new metaphors is hard work.”

…and from another character who appears near the end describing the change that has taken place:

“You keep thinking of the church like a warship, with a captain on the bridge and the crew obeying orders.   But we’re not an aircraft carrier anymore; we’re a fleet.   We’re hundreds of little boats, going where they will, doing what they think is right.   We’re not the navy, you know.  We’re pirates.

There are so many more great sections.   The book also deals with the practical matter of municipal councils listing buildings (i.e. designating them as historical) eventually forcing their owners to maintain them.   Something already problematic both in the UK and North America due to dwindling attendance.

In addition to the fictional fast-forward narrative; each chapter also contains a lengthy critique of the manuscript in the form of letters between two other parties.

In North America, the end of mainline denominations is equally predictable, even as the megachurches appear to continue to blossom in the suburbs.  In the UK, where the Church of England (i.e. Anglican for my Canadian friends; Episcopalian for my U.S. friends) so greatly dominates, the impact is more critical.

It’s too bad this book went, as booksellers say, OP.   It was a slight bit ahead of its time.   If you’re ever in England and you see remainder copies, bring me back a half dozen, okay?

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