Stuart Murray is an Anabaptist theologian, Chair of the UK Anabaptist Network and editor of Anabaptism Today. In the preface to this book he writes: ‘The transition from modernity to post-modernity has received a huge amount of attention. The shift from Christendom to post-Christendom is at least as significant for church and society, but the implications have not yet been explored to anything like the same extent’. Distinguishing between ‘post-Christian’ and ‘post-Christendom’ he explores in a thought-provoking way the challenging question of what following Jesus might mean in this post-Christendom world.
Against the background question ‘How Christian was Christendom?’ he welcomes the fading of Christendom, which he argues has been imperialistic, and suggests that its demise will be the opportunity for the church to become much more like the church of the New Testament and the pre-Constantinian era, being free to operate as a movement rather than an institution.
He traces the church’s historical and doctrinal development from New Testament times to today, telling the story simply, and as he does so he seeks to rehabilitate some whom the church wrote off as heretics centuries ago. In doing this he summarises the stages of his argument with the use of bullet points at regular intervals.
He has some interesting sentences like, ‘If baptism in Christendom symbolised entrance into normal society, in post-Christendom it means entrance into a deviant community’; or how about this: ‘Might a decade of repentance for the legacy of past centuries be more helpful than another decade of evangelism?’. The book is spiced with provocative sentences which at times irritate, even making this reader slam it down on the desk, only to pick it up and continue.
Murray plainly has his own agenda, and argues strongly for the Anabaptist position both historically and today, seeing it as the answer to the questions posed by our task in this post-Christendom era. He wants the church to be congregationalist in government, pacifist, lay led, emphasising friendship rather than fellowship; he sees preaching sermons as inappropriate for today and seeks a new approach to the Bible; he argues for a less imperialistic theology than was produced by the great councils of the church and is set down in the creeds.
This book will interest, inform, irritate and may even push up your blood pressure at times, but it is worth reading and I commend it.