Learning from the Past, Facing the Future – Neil Summerton

Paperback, 182 pp, Published by Partnership Publications, 2 Blenheim Close, Cambridge, CB1 8DU, UK. ISBN 978-1-907098-05-5.

This has been a difficult book to review. Firstly, it is couched in language which is not easily accessible to a general readership, and, secondly, it is written from a perspective that many will not share – I doubt whether some readers may persevere beyond the first chapter!

It is clear from the outset that the author has a particularly dismissive view of the more ‘traditional’ assembly practices and this permeates the book. It is for this reason that Summerton’s challenges, though often valid, might be rejected, because of the bias of the solutions he offers. For example, who would challenge the lack of spiritual power and divine blessing amongst assemblies? However, is the solution the development of international networking and more para-church organizations?

In the chapter on ‘Unity, Independence, and Brethren Identity’ the author speaks of the ‘strengths of para-church Evangelicalism’ that has expressed ‘Evangelical unity in a way which transcends ecclesiological differences’. Indeed, he writes most favourably of ‘expressions of supra-congregational unity’. One wonders whether this key issue of compromise on ecclesiological and eschatological differences does not engender an abandonment of ‘distinctives’ that some regard as crucial and biblical. Although Summerton stresses that he is not arguing for ‘the abandonment of biblical principle’, his assertions about ‘culturally-relevant evangelism’, ‘culturally-relevant forms of worship’, and ‘releasing the resources of women’ will be seen by many as exactly that – an abandonment of biblical principle.

Summerton’s book is well researched, thorough in its analysis, and cogently argued. It offers many serious solutions to the problems perplexing evangelicals, but very few that are explored or supported from the substantial use of the scriptures. Sadly, for this reason it will contribute only to a polarization of views.


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