‘From Gawping to Goodreads’ (Part 5)

Have you ever read the ‘Communist Manifesto’ By Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels? You should, just for the sheer pleasure of reading it. It is short, fast paced, passionate and utterly committed to the possibility of a brave new world. This is what ‘Liquid Church’ by Pete Ward is like too.

In its blurb it says: “This book is a vision for how the church can embrace the liquid nature of culture rather than just scrambling to keep afloat while sailing over it. Ward urges us to move away from the traditional notion of church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time to the dynamic notion of the emergent church as a series of relationships and communications. In the Liquid Church, membership is determined by participation and involvement. Liquid Church is continually on the move, flowing in response to the Spirit and the gospel of Jesus, the imagination and creativity of its leaders, and the choices and experiences of it worshippers.”

This blurb is why I bought it over 15 years ago and I decided to re-read it during lockdown. It wasn’t because I thought I’d be able to cut lots of corners and get a quick fit solution but I hoped it would give me some signposts to point out a possible way to go. However, I’d forgotten that though the book is short, fast paced, passionate and utterly committed to the possibility of a brave new church the signposts seem to be pointing in meaningless directions.

The positive thing about this book is that it makes the case for realising the world we live in has changed, and even more so in this current covid-19 world. However, the tools Ward gives for engaging with this changed world to me are inadequate. He rightly engages with questions of sociology, as we all should, but rather than engaging with the New Testament in the light of these questions he refers to a variety of theologians. It’s not that these theologians are wrong as such but I would have found it far more fruitful to have a real face-to-face conversation with Scripture.

Ward rightly challenges us as a church to embrace the language of liquidity. This means that doing things differently is not an occasional act but one we do continuously as we listen to and wrestle with Scripture, as we fix our eyes on Jesus and as we are open to the guidance of the Spirit. Ward freely admits his book is not a blueprint to what a ‘Liquid Church’ may look like, instead he points us to a landscape set before us and a compass to guide us on our way. May we, in this strange new world of covid-19, be a church who are not afraid to use new wineskins for this new time as we follow Jesus.

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