Tuesday, January 25, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish. A Critique of Fresh Expressions, chapter 2

For the Parish, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so I am engaging the book, chapter by chapter. The Introduction is here, Chapter one is here

Chapter two – Theology and mediation

This chapter introduces a second theological concept, that of “mediation.” This is (dictionary) defined by Davison and Milbank as actions that bring about a gift. They chart a number of implications for Christian faith

  • “the messenger becomes the message; we receive the gift of being gifts to ourselves” (30)
  • the priority of the sacraments as “the chief material means by which we are united to Christ (31)
  • “God works through our actions, words and communities because he is the active, speaking, communal God, whose image we bear.” (33)
  • God is “revealing himself in [human] language” (36)
  • the goal is the divine redemption of human culture

Having dedicated 11 pages to defining mediation, the chapter then finishes with three paragraphs in relation to Fresh expressions, which are accused of lacking this theology. However, no concrete evidence (eg quotes or examples) is provided to back up such accusations.

One way to examine a work is to look at the sources being used. So this chapter affirms culture, as it needs to by advocating a theology of mediation. So does it practice what it preaches ie use cultural sources? If so, what? This chapter does draw on culture, citing poet David Jones (35), Elizabeth Bishop (36), and an opera by Rossini (38). I will be keeping an eye on this as the book develops, but my initial observation is that this book is privileging certain forms of culture – it is quoting poetry but not pop music, opera but not film. In doing so, it might well reveal an exclusive, limiting understanding of what it is to be human and of what cultures can be part of mediation.

As with chapter one, I am again left confused with the fact that the themes being argued here are also being used in the Fresh Expressions discussion. When I teach on “alternative/emerging worship, I use themes of Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, Ascension to argue for the priority of embodiment and thus the use of culture in worship. Pete Ward has written an book titled Participation And Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church in attempting to articulate a theology of pop culture emerging from his experiences in youth ministry. What is going on when a theology of mediation is being used in Fresh Expressions, yet this book is accusing it of lacking such a theology?

Posted by steve at 09:51 AM

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