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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Apostolic Networks in Britain by William Kay - book review

Apostolic Networks in Britain
New ways of Being Church
William K. Kay
Paternoster: Milton Keynes, 2007
ISBN 978-1-84227-409-5
£29.99; pbk; xxii + 377 pp.

William Kay, Director of the centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at Bangor, is a prolific author, editor of Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association and an ordained minister in the Assemblies Of God. He has written widely in the area of faith development of young people, religious education and on the Pentecostal movement. Here he turns his attention to a movement parallel to the Pentecostal movement: apostolic networks. He combines his extensive knowledge of the charismatic movement with empirical studies and has provided an almost exhaustive study of the contemporary so-called 'new church' scene.

When I was involved with the charismatic movement in the early eighties to mid nineties, these churches were called house churches - the name was indicative of its origins rather than descriptive, as most met in school halls, cinemas or sports centres. Now it seems they are calling themselves new churches. This too is a misnomer, the newer churches are those of the emergent movement. Kay uses the better description 'apostolic networks'.

Usually the last move of God is the worst enemy of the next. Pentecostals usually don't get on with charismatics - and here we have a Pentecostal putting the new churches under the theological and sociological magnifying glass, and it is done in a sympathetic and understanding way. No one can say that Kay has not done his homework, I would also find it hard to believe that any of those networks or apostles examined here would say that Kay has misrepresented them or misunderstood them - all of it resonates with my experience of apostolic networks.

First he traces their history (chs 1-2). Starting, as most histories of the charismatic movement do, with Smith Wigglesworth's prophecy to David Du Plessis, through Arthur Wallis and then the Fountain Trust to the streams associated with Restoration magazine (R1) and Fullness magazine (R2). Now we have a whole range of Rs!

Kay examines 12 apostolic networks in detail (chs 3-14); the 'apostles' are: Bryn Jones, Terry Virgo, Barney Coombs, Tony Morton, Roger Forster, Gerald Coates, Stuart Bell, Colin Dye, Noel Stanton, John Wimber, Colin Urquhart and Hugh Osgood. Here he provides a brief biography of the apostle some observations on the network and then some concluding remarks. Most of this section is drawn form interviews with the apostle and members of their churches. Kay isn't over-critical and is generally positive and I would have liked to have seen a little more constructive criticism and critique.

Several key themes are then explored in the 'Crossflows' section (chs 15-17), including the cell movement and the Toronto blessing. Most of the networks have cells but are not cell churches and all have to a greater or lesser extent experienced the Toronto blessing, that came out of the Toronto Airport Church in the nineties. Part IV (chs 18-20) contains a qualitative analysis. this includes a look at the theology, mission and sociology. With the exception of perhaps Terry Virgo's network the majority are arminian in outlook. There is a brief discussion on what is an apostle. The main emphasis is on being a church planter. The discussion is unlikely to persuade those who believe that Apostles disappeared with the early church. Is there a difference between NT Apostles and contemporary apostles? In Part V (ch 21- 24) is a summary of the results of an extensive qualitative analysis. This is based on a questionnaire sent to 647 leaders in the networks. There was a 48.8% response rate. The questionnaire was based on one Kay sent to Pentecostal pastors in the late 1990s.

Interestingly, Kay believes that the number of apostolic network churches are far fewer that have previously been estimated (around 2,000 according to Religious Trends no 3). The 12 networks Kay examines comprise 647 congregations. Obviously, there are a larger number than these, for example independent new churches such as those very loosely associated with South Chard (Sid Purse, Harry Greenwood, Ian Andrews, Roger Price) and with Brother North's (GWN) 'circuit' (eg, those in Liverpool, Lanark, Exeter, Reading and Rora House, Devon). North is an interesting and influential character - Kay describes his as a proto-apostle. Those who were originally associated with him were Dave Tomlinson, Alan Vincent, Peter Parris and Bryn Jones.

The questionnaires reveal some interesting results. The mean age of congregational leaders is 47, and the range of ages is 25-72. The vast majority are male (85%) and most do not hold with women elders. Most of the leaders had some Christian background and upbringing but had very little full-time or part-time residential training. 75% spoke in tongues everyday and 86% read their Bibles daily. Only five of the networks had more baptisms than funerals. One-fifth of the congregations contain more than 50 adults and 5.1% of the congregations are over 350 adults. Kay summarises: "The networks are more alike than different..." (p. 312). Church growth and charismata is the subject of ch 22. Here Kay concludes that Charismatic activity both from the leaders and the congregation is associated with church growth and that ministerial evangelism is important but is not associated with church growth.

There is an extensive (15 page) bibliography which is an invaluable resource - as is the whole book - for future researchers. Few other book length studies of his aspect of the contemporary scene have been published.

Kay has provided a comprehensive and extensive - if not exhaustive - study of apostolic networks and it is a must read for anyone involved in the networks and those researching the movement. It also has the added advantage of being very readable and accessible. I throughly enjoyed reading it. It forms part of Paternoster's excellent Studies in Evangelical History and Thought series.

Publisher's site here.
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