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Rebuilding Jerusalem - The Church

Author: Stephen Platten
Published By: SPCK (London)
Pages: 199
Price: £14.99
ISBN: 978 0281 05697

Reviewed by Alun Brookfield.

Stephen Platten is Bishop of (what was at one time known as the Missionary Diocese of) Wakefield and a former teacher of theology at LincolnTheologicalCollege.

Perhaps someone from the Church of England should have reviewed this book, but, much as I enjoyed reading it, as someone who lives and ministers in the Church in Wales, I found this book, for all that it contains some useful material, to have an overall slightly patronising tone which failed to notice that failures of the Church of England have also affected the Church in Wales. He might find it helpful to know that, here in the Celtic fringe, we interpret Blake’s words about building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land somewhat differently!

The issue at stake is the relationship between church, faith and everyday life. Once upon a time, it was reasonable to believe that most residents in a parish were, in some sense, Christian and therefore supported, often in slightly eccentric ways (e.g. bequeathing a bee hive to provide wax for church candles!), even if they rarely attended the local church. That connection has now largely been lost throughout Britain, even though, in some European countries with lower church attendance, it is still much stronger. Stephen Platten’s book is about how that connection might be re-established in England.

He draws some very effective and evocative word-pictures in the first half of the book to describe how things used to be and how the present situation came about. Along the way, he reminds readers that the Church of England has at times been in a much worse state than it is today!

At chapter 7, Platten begins to move from an exploration of the past to a plan for the future, but even, now, he seems to be much more comfortable identifying the process of decline than that of recovery. Finally, on page 165, he begins to actually set out the issues which must be addressed. First, he says, the Christian church (is he still only referring to the Church of England?) must “reclaim an appropriate confidence in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He then goes on to argue that we need to rediscover the poor, in the sense of making them the priority in our distribution of resources, then rediscover the mystery, in the sense of using symbol, story and image to re-introduce our parishioners to God’s activity in their private and domestic lives.

I’m really not sure at whom this book is aimed, but many of us are way ahead of the Bishop in this regard. But I wouldn’t mind giving this book to other colleagues who are still trying to pretend, because they can’t face the evangelical answers, that there isn’t a problem. They need to know that there are other ways of bringing God and people together, rooted in other traditions and equally effective.

A thought-provoking read, although perhaps not for the reasons the Bishop thought he was writing.

Alun Brookfield

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You are reading Issue 42 of Ministry Today, published in March 2008.

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