21/03/2014

Cinderella with Amnesia (by Michael Griffiths)


I'm sure I knew of Michael Griffiths many years ago, but he doesn't seem to have any kind of online presence, although he's mentioned as the author of a few books. Apparently he was a minister, the General Director of a large mission agency, and then the Director of London Bible College.

'Cinderella with Amnesia' is one of those classic 1970s Christian books that we probably picked up from a church bookstall years ago. Our edition says '10p' in pencil on the inside. I'm sure I read it in the 1980s, and vaguely recall that I found it quite inspiring. Re-reading it in the last couple of weeks, it feels a bit ponderous, and inevitably somewhat dated; yet at the same time, much of it was surprisingly relevant to the 21st century.

The premise of the book is that the Church is like Cinderella, sitting sadly in the ashes, not remembering who she was and with little idea of who she might become. The author had noted that young people in their droves were getting fed up with organised church. As a teenager myself in the 1970s, I could see that happening, although equally there were very active youth groups, school and university Christian Unions, and various lively organisations for young Christians.

The book is an attempt to show that the Church is a lot more than Sunday morning services. Michael Griffiths explains the origin of the Greek word 'ekklesia', and the confusion that arises when, in English, we use the same word to refer to either a Sunday morning event, a building, a worldwide group of believers, a local body of believers, or an individual congregation. None of this was new to me, but it was clearly expressed.

Ignoring (at first) the building or Sunday service definitions, he then looks at the original purpose of the church, both universal and local. He sees it in terms of telling other people about Jesus, helping each other grow, building each other up, encouraging each others' gifts, and generally being an extended family. All of which I agree with whole-heartedly. Apparently these aspects of church life were somewhat neglected in the 1970s.

However, I am not sure that much has changed, other than the age of those for whom this is relevant. Many of us who were teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s are the ones who, decades later, still look for a broad understanding of church life, encompassing all these positive features, while being somewhat cynical about the importance of a structured Sunday gathering.

However, Michael Griffiths somehow makes the assumption that Sunday morning services are vital, and that everything else grows from them. He even criticises students who get involved in CUs and outreaches, but who neglect to attend a local congregation. He makes the point that many people in the '70s found the services irrelevant and boring, but seems to assume that without these gatherings, one cannot really live as a Christian. I didn't see any logic to this; nowadays many popular Christian writers would disagree with him. I tried to be open-minded and was willing to be convinced, but it didn't happen.

Still, it was an interesting book, if a bit heavy in places, and one which I think is worth reading by anyone wondering what the church is, what it might be, and what it theoretically could be. It makes an interesting contrast to more recent books such as 'Liquid Church' by Pete Ward, or 'When the Church leaves the Building' by David Fredrickson.

Long out of print, 'Cinderella with Amnesia' can often be found inexpensively second-hand. Sometimes for even less than 10p...

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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