The Third Schism

Robin Parry, an editor in the theological publishing house, Wipf & Stock, and Andrew G. Walker, Canon Professor of Culture, Theology, and Education at King's College in London, have this year published a highly important book entitled Deep Church Rising. Whilst aimed primarily at an Evangelical audience, the book should be of great importance for the universal Church for a number of reasons.

In the first instance, Deep Church Rising is important for being one of the few theological texts to have its own promotional video

Deep Church Rising is also important, for putting into words an intuition that many theologians have but have so far not yet articulated as baldly as Parry and Walker. The first claim that Parry and Walker make is twofold. The first element of this claim is one that has been traversed by authors such as John Milbank and Tracey Rowland. It is the claim that the Christian tradition, in its theology and ecclesial life, has given way to a lot of the philosophical pressure of the Enlightenment and the cultural pressure of its institutional bastard child, Post/Modernity. This familiar claim is taken further by Parry and Walker, for this trend towards bending the Gospel to the shape of Post/Modernity, even if it were done in the name of advancing the Gospel, is a trend that is cutting across denominational divides. From Anglicanism to Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism, one finds peppered through their evangelical work calls for greater freedom defined as autonomy, the reduction of faith to ideas, a shift towards a purely social Gospel, greater bureaucratisation of the works of mercy, and so on. All these subtle moves, if analysed correctly, find their root not in Jesus of Nazareth, but in Locke and Descartes. 

What is more, argue Parry and Walker, these trends are more than a Modern adaptation of the Gospel. This new form of adaptation is one so severely inimical to the Gospel that it deserves the label of a "third schism". For Parry and Walker, this schism is more severe than the Protestant Reformation and the Eastern Schism of 1054 because, whilst these two schisms were brought about by differences on how the Word of God is constituted, interpreted and lived both individually and ecclesially, this third schism operates on the basis of a denial of the Word of God altogether. In the words of Parry and Walker, the Post/Modern adaptation of the Gospel operates in such a way that it  "undermines the very basis of Christian faith in its denial of the Trinity, incarnation and the resurrection, and in its treating Scripture as an object of scientific inquiry rather than as a sacred text" (8). If one were to read this correctly, one is not seeing in this emerging schism the creation of a new denomination of Christianity, but a split within all Churches between those that continue to affirm the continuing salience for contemporary life of the Gospel's primary sources and those that will opt to excise those sources in favour of the injunctions of contemporary life as a new Gospel. Because of the ubiquity of Post/Modernity's influence within all Churches and the seriousness of the results of that influence, Parry and Walker have done the Church a service in demonstrating the gravity of an emerging problem within the universal Church.

Parry and Walker have also a service to the universal Church in not confining its response to a mere rejection of Post/Modernity and reassertion of "the Gospel" and sloganistic posturing, a trend that is all too common, and also more in keeping with the culture of Post/Modernity than the Gospel, and thus a trend that threatens to exacerbate the third schism. The response proposed by Parry and Walker is a return to what CS Lewis called the "Deep Church" in a letter to The Church Times in 1952. The contours of what Parry and Walker defend as the Deep Church will need to be outlined in later posts, but suffice to say it is a vision of Christianity and the Church that is post-secular, and one that Christians of all stripes can and arguably should take seriously, and reviews in major Christian outlets like First Things and Randal Rauser show that this book is one that is being taken seriously.

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