"Suburban mediocrity to passionate Christianity"
Primitive Piety: an argument for a gritty Christianity which exposes the cultural packaging of so much modern evangelicalism
By Ian Stackhouse
Reviewer: Paul Goodliff
Once again, Ian Stackhouse, Pastoral Leader at Milmead, Guildford Baptist Church, has written a challenging and winsome argument for authentic Christianity. In confronting ‘suburban mediocrity’ (the phrase found in the book’s subtitle) one wonders, since he had his own congregation in affluent Surrey in mind, how welcoming they are to such a message, partly delivered at a retreat in Ashburnham. And if they do welcome this, how they are blessed indeed with a pastor who will not pull his punches when it comes to exposing the cultural packaging of so much modern evangelicalism, and how much that robs the message of the gospel of its power to transform.
PT Forsyth has long been a conversation-partner for Stackhouse (at least as long as I have counted Ian my friend, which is quite a while now...) and he identifies how this book is attempting to do what Forsythe did a century ago: challenge a peculiarly effete form of Christianity.
He challenges the way in which this ‘nice’ Christianity (and he explores why he uses that word specifically) requires it participants to put on their Sunday-best smiling face. He argues that altogether something more real and gritty is called for, ‘where suburbanites overcome their very real timidity about being found out, see through the veneer.... and foster... that eschews sentimentality with its soft hues – as much as it eschews legalism with its harsh commands – and has the courage, instead, to live in the vortex of a faith that is dangerous even as it is compelling.’ (p.32) This calls for a renewal of worship that embraces the fear of the Lord and honest prayer.
He continues to explore those scary areas of anger, desire, sex and joy. The kind of church Stackhouse pleas for is one that is real, is led by those who reject ‘conference Christianity’ and who are real pastors instead, and is characterised by untamed hospitality.
Pastors will warm to this theme, in an age when one feels one almost needs to apologise for being a pastor (instead of a missional leader) and I challenge anyone to read this account of Christianity and come away unmoved and passionate about doing church differently. Stackhouse reveals that the book has long been in its gestation, but may its fruit exceed it in its longevity.
The Revd Dr Paul Goodliff is a Baptist minister and the former head of the Ministries Team