God’s Next Big Thing: Discovering the Future Church by Scott Cowdell

(John Garrett Publishing; Melbourne, 2004)

Scott Cowdell will supervise my guided reading project, starting next week, which was the original motivation for reading this book -what a blessing!  Great writing, sharp intellect and deeply spiritual reflections engaging both head and heart – I am so excited about the academic year which is about to start!!!

God’s Next Big Thing is divided into two parts.  The first global/Australian cultural analysis is locating the church in the post-modern era and was particularly exciting for me with it’s strong critique of capitalist modes of being as a core driver of western culture’s evolution.  Cowdell favours a definition of post-modernity as an hyper-extension of the modern era which draws this out more clearly.  I still think postmodernism is a new epoch of western culture, but I valued being able to chart it’s economic heritage.

Included in part one is a fabulous chapter on the emerging church where, as a high-churchman, Cowdell argues for an emerging church that is mystical, mature and militant (by which he means prophetic engagement with the wider world).  I particularly appreciated his depiction of the immature church that is so prevalent today – insecure, defensive with an addictive & co-dependent personality.  It reinforced my own image of the Western Church being in denial about it’s midlife crisis.  Mostly however, it was just so exciting to read a Christian from a different ‘tradition’ to my own, reaching the same conclusions by a different path.  Surely a sign that God is in this ‘next big thing’.

The second part of the book is devoted to suggestions for the way forward in which he addresses liturgy; the lay vocation of the Church; and organised religion (rejecting institutionalism and managerialism in the Church).  Whilst I don’t share Cowdell’s passion for the defined Liturgical Movement tradition from which he comes, I do share his conclusions on the need for depth, mystery and beauty in our worship as a balm to the postmodern soul.  I also agree with his theology of the laity as having a ‘vocation’ that is ‘serving at an alter in the world’ – called to be disciples  in whatever life situation they find themselves, as opposed to devoting their service to the maintenance of religion.  His discussion of lay presidency is insightful in this regard.  His discussion on sexuality is really interesting!

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