Book Review: The Death of the Church and Spirituality Reborn

In The Death of the Church and Spirituality Reborn, Rev. John Littlewood, a former parish priest who now works as the administrator of a counseling agency, argues for incorporating New Age spirituality into the life of the Church of England. He sees the New Age movement as a revival of the old Celtic church that was defeated by the church of the Roman Empire. He points out that the problem with New Age spirituality is that it has no collective authority but rather is a free-for-all with too many self-proclaimed masters. The problem with the Church of England, in contrast, is that it has lost sight of the answer to the question: What is the point of religion — any religion? Rev. Littlewood says the answer is that spiritual growth is the point. This is the part of the book that I found most compelling. He states unequivocally, “If that [spiritual growth] is not foremost then the religion has lost its way! No matter how high sounding or important a cause or issue may be it must still be secondary to matters spiritual for that religion.”

As an American, unfamiliar with the administrative jargon of the Church of England, and lacking the historical and geographical links with the sacred sites and legends of the British Isles, I felt at times that I was not a member of the intended audience of this book. However, the question about the point of a religion is universally important, and it gladdened my heart to see it treated with the emphasis it deserves. Rev. Littlewood wrote about being shocked to read in the UK press that the Church of England “was preparing a guide on what the church members should consider before voting in a General Election,” and I recalled similar discouragement on viewing the website of the United Church of Christ, which reads like the platform of a political party with a position on every controversial social and political question of the day, and very little about one’s relationship with God.

Rev. Littlewood discusses the advantages and the disadvantages of belonging to a church. He gives a clarion warning about the dangers of peer pressure and of using particular verbal formulations as shibboleths to identify those who truly belong. He discusses the differences between prayer, meditation, and magic. He offers detailed suggestions for incorporating New Age spirituality into the Church of England. His book will be of most interest to those who care about religion and spirituality in the context of British life and culture, but it also contains a message that is relevant everywhere: The point of any religion is being in the right relationship with God, and taking stands on political and social issues is of secondary importance.