Tuesday, February 15, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 4 – segregation

“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 is here. Chapter 3 is here.

There is much that I applaud in this chapter (The Flight to Segregation). This includes the call for conversion to be radical, the call for reconciliation to be made present in local faith communities, the call for a faith that challenges politics and ethics. There is an even-handed and thorough discussion of the Homogenous Unit Principle (that people are more likely to find faith if they don’t have to cross cultural boundaries).

I think that Fresh expressions would do well to keep some of the quotes from this chapter for ongoing evaluation. For example

  • Bad examples of church practice need “not doom everyone to reproduce these patterns.” (80).
  • “Expressions of the Fall in late modernity are particularly nasty.” (page 84, footnote 29)
  • “There is almost no sense (in Fresh Expressions) that the Church might take a political stand against the errors and tragedies of contemporary society, not least in offering practical resistance through its forms of life.” (91)

It is easy to take the best of what you fancy and the worst of what you dislike. I’ve seen it done often in emerging/fresh expressions circles. However I suspect it’s also being done in this book. This chapter suggests that one particular facet of the parish church is that it is a “mixed economy ” (64) For Davison and Milbank, this is linked theology, linked to “a message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.” (64) Apparently, “The parishes of the inherited church are heterogenous communities.” (64)

Well, try telling that to my kids, for whom their experience of a mixed economy means continuing to do church the way another generation likes it done. Or tell that to a migrant struggling with English, for whom their experience of a mixed economy means doing church in English.

I remember once a 90 year old churchgoer telling me that the kids were being too noisy in church. Their turn (to sit quietly like the adults), would come later. For now, they should be somewhere else.

This simply assumes the church does not yet belong to “the little ones.” It’s about privilege fused with power. For Davison and Milbank, “the cultural interests of church members [in a parish] can be valued without having to structure an entire church around them.” (77)

So let’s reverse this. Imagine the “parish” offers messy worship. Or sings to drum and bass. Now imagine telling a visiting baby boomer that their cultural interests can be valued without having the drum and base music and chatter of kids needing to change! Because this is a “heterogenous” church.

So what to do with church next Sunday? Establish something new for the visiting aging babyboomer. Which Davison and Milbank consider “a recipe for segregated congregations.” (65) Or continue the status quo (in which the boomers like it or lump it, because in essence this church is in fact already segregated)?

Or does not Acts 15 give us some way forward? A dominant power group lays down it’s need for assimilation, and instead sends some pioneers to encourage what is new, requesting only a willingness to grow in a shared commitment to mission and justice.

Davison and Milbank might charge that this runs the danger of being seen as choice, a bowing to consumer culture. But isn’t it surely part of the Spirit’s work in the early church? Consider these two verses from the same Bible book In 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. Place it against 1 Corinthians 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.

Do you start with mission-as-contextualisation ie 1 Corinthians 9? Or mission-as-reconciliation ie 1 Corinthians 1? If you start with either, it seems to me that you need to see them not as the endpoint, but as the start of a life-long spiral toward justice and transformation.

(I have written elsewhere about the place of social justice and the poor in Fresh Expressions)

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM


  1. Just out of idle curiosity, do the authors of For The Parish have a particular denominational axe to grind?

    Comment by Ryan — February 15, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  2. Ryan, in my review of chapter one, I noted the following quote from page 3 ““It is already to yield a great deal of ground to think of the Church of England as simply one denomination among many in this country. Historically this is not how we have seen ourselves, nor does it reflect our legal position.”

    They are Anglican


    Comment by steve — February 15, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  3. Hey, I’ve never commented here before and really only just started reading when I heard elsewhere that you were running through the book. I’ve got a fair amount of interest in it so it’s interesting and rewarding to hear what you’re saying.

    On this chapter though, it seems like in your reaction you’re only validating the criticism. Churches should be planted according to tastes in music?

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 16, 2011 @ 3:08 am

  4. …may have misread you there. apologies. But, if I’ve not already embarrassed myself enough yet, the “way forward” from Acts 15 seems sufficiently vague to have provided anything like a substantive answer to the charge. Could not, or rather ought not your own suggestion be doable in the parish system?

    I really am trying to engage in conversation here, I always tend to have difficulties with internet tone.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 16, 2011 @ 7:13 am

  5. Thanks Tony. Ta.

    Fair call,

    I think my initial response is that is only an eg. Perhaps messy church would have been better.

    But as I reflected on your comment a bit more, I began to wonder if music is only a “taste.” Using the eg of drum and bass, you can then go to Thornton’s ethnography of DJ world in book, Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital; along with Paul Willis Common Cultures, in which they provide an indepth analysis of how subcultures form themselves in resistance to mainstream culture and music is only 1 part of a web of signs and symbols.

    (This is actually, consistent with what Milbank and Davison argue in chapter 1, you can’t separate form from content.)

    So to the dominant culture it is taste, and by using that word, does it perpetuate exactly the power/privilege nexus which the Acts 6 and Acts 15 church sought to avoid?

    That then leaves the tension that I name between 1 Cor 1 (unity) and 1 Cor 9 (contextualisation) and whether church can be a contextual instrument in God’s mission.

    I’m thinking aloud here and would value your ongoing feedback


    Comment by steve — February 16, 2011 @ 7:21 am

  6. Tony
    thanks for the 2nd comment. I hope my response indicates I welcome the engagement – I’m also at bit internet tone deaf at times.

    Just to place myself I have planted a fresh expression independently and then moved to a 96 year old church and helped transition that to multi-congregational.

    So yes, the parish can do this, but I was trying here to treat the issues raises by this chapter, which is the theology around church, culture and mission. As I said at the start, this so far is the chapter that IMHO needs the most discussion by fresh exp cos it is asking some pretty significant challenges about method and theology.


    Comment by steve — February 16, 2011 @ 7:28 am

  7. The issue of music, a classic divisive issue btw, does form a nice test case doesn’t it? I’d say that if said Boomer wasn’t too interested in the music she should realize that 1) It’s not really about her, she’s now a part of something larger than her, 2) She would always be welcome, having spent time offering her gifts and time at the parish, to make requests to the music director or join the music team. There’s also the possibility that perhaps a new Evensong or whatever might be begun where newer expressions of music could help shape the ethos differently than Mass.

    And that’s just off the top of my head.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 16, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  8. Thanks Tony.

    Your first suggestion is great. But it does suggest a fairly unselfish disposition.

    Regarding your second, (which is what we did in the congregation I was part of), would I suspect For the Parish be seen as segregation surely?


    Comment by steve — February 16, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  9. I’m not so sure. Now, I’ve not read the book yet, but I’ve spent more than a fair bit of time in the work of Milbank’s husband John and if they are anything alike then the revival of a regular Evensong according to the Rubrics (and Common Worship has generous rubrics, yes?) would be welcomed regardless of ‘style’ I imagine. And if they did object it’s probably because they’re not being consistant. Even so rigid a conservative as Catherine Pickstock understands that liturgical expression can vary widely and still be found within the larger Western tradition.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 16, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

  10. Hi Tony,

    This is getting interesting – I’m commenting on a book I don’t agree with in a way that tries to preserve the integrity of the book yet offer my opinion, and your commenting having heard the authors yet not read the book. What fun.

    My response is to say – surely your comment opens up a major inconsistency. Surely once you offer more than 1 liturgical offering and once you acknowledge that liturgical expression can vary, then you have no basis to argue for the need to preserve form and content. And you must allow space for ongoing liturgical expression.

    PS I’ve read Pickstock – and she does seem quite keen on the Tridentine mass! So perhaps we can put some drum and bass under that, or have the words as a rap? 🙂 I’m being silly – this is not just about worship styles but about mission and where you place discipleship in the process of conversion. Do you need to be converted to the liturgical form of another to have faith? Or is a change a pandering to consumerism?


    Comment by steve — February 16, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  11. Yeah, Pickstock is an enigma, on the one hand she can situate almost all human creative activity vis a vis the ‘liturgy’ – which seems a rather expansive, even ‘liberal’ (in the best sense of that word) project – and yet she has a queer fetish with the Tridentine rite. Nevertheless I stand by my first assertion, that (John) Milbank and Pickstock have a christological poetics thing going that is totally supportive of ‘new’ expressions of the liturgy. The thing is to understand new expressions of the liturgy as analagous to the way that art is always new yet revealing also the ‘truth’ about things, and just as art can be twisted to capitalist ends, so instrumentalizing the liturgy in order to ‘make people comfortable’ or ‘evangelize’ or anything other than what it is, the making of the Church as it glorifies God, is anathema.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 18, 2011 @ 1:53 am

  12. Mate, that is great.

    So let’s push this a bit. Using your thesis – which if I get it correct is this:

    that liturgy is as art – that it has an author, that it needs to be open to multiplicity in interpretation, that it can thus be a “fresh expression” but such multiplicity can be a corruption – both by holding it in statis (eg Tridentine forms) and by instrumentalism of late modernity ….

    the question is then:
    Who, and what defines “instrumentality”?

    I would plead for a missiological response to this – that the Spirit of God is at work so that all might hear in their own language (Acts 2:6); at work for justice for those marginalised (Acts 6 and Acts 15; and in the pursuit of discipleship, which includes reconciliation and thus opening up to the other that is not yet in the Fresh Ex.

    So F ex can be a corruption. But can also be a sign of the Spirit’s activity – for translatability (to use the work of Lamin Sanneh) and justice-making and hospitality.



    Comment by steve — February 18, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  13. Hhhhmmm…There’s an ole’ Stanley Hauerwas quote to the effect of saying that the Church will inevitably change at it tries to do the same thing. That the faith is always something situated and therefore ‘interpreted’ I take as beyond dispute, but when phrased like ‘it needs to be open to multiplicity,’ I’m not sure I can fully stand behind that. This is the fine line I find in much Emergent stuff, and though as an American I’m going to miss things unique to Britain and the F Ex movement I’m going to take a risk and assert that a fair amount of F Ex is analogous to Emergent – but this is where my Radical Orthodoxy sympathies kick in; seeking to affirm and encourage novelty as normative for Church life is not what I’m trying to advocate, rather we should understand that the Church tells us what to believe and we cannot but ‘interpet’ that as we live it as Church.

    So let’s try and push back on what your saying about justice. My first parish has incorporated a hundred or so Karen refugees into their life. Rather than start up a Karen service as ‘openness to the other’ the parish printed bilingual worship programs and even learned a bit of their language and put it in the service, but they’ve always worshiped together so that the Karen are seen as just as much a part of that parish as any American.

    So there’s a way in which creating services ‘to order’ underlies not justice but discrimination, not openness to the other but segregation of the other by portioning off people according to taste, race and culture.

    For the record you’ll not find me arguing against F Ex or Emergent, I see myself as in many ways a part of that movement, but that movement is in desperate need of a theological makeover and I find there is, despite all comments to the contrary, by both sides!, that RO has a lot to contribute to F Ex.

    What do you think?


    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 20, 2011 @ 2:05 am

  14. Tony, I’m really finding this helpful. I reckon we should “bundle” these up as a blogpost in themselves.

    I’d like to respond with three comments – first the emerging church I planted had an influx of Koreans and in response, we changed our service to offer a monthly “simple english” option, in which we sought to worship at the pace of another. So lets not caricature F ex as always starting something new.

    Second, the more I reflect on US emerging church cf F Ex, the more I think they are quite different animals. The first seems more about theology, the second about missiology. The first emerges most often from outside denominations, part of the US free spirited capitalism, the second from within very longlasting tradition.

    Third, here’s an excerpt I preached from a Pentecost Sunday sermon a few years ago. I place it here in terms of sourcing “novelty” not in human initative/disatisfaction, but in terms of how we see God. What if the God who makes all things new, the God who brings change in human life, is doing that in the church also? (This still requires discernment – not all novelty is “Your Kingdom come”).

    Here’s the excerpt: “Here’s a quote from Joe Fison in a book about the Spirit and the church.
    “The story of Acts is the story of a community inspired to make a continual series of creative experiments by the Pentecost Spirit.” (Fire Upon the Earth, 79.)

    The book was written in 1958. A few years after, Joe was appointed Bishop of Salisbury in England. Most people thought it would be a disaster. Said it was like “harnessing a racehorse to a farm cart”. Wouldn’t work. Joe had been educated at Oxford University, while Salisbury was a rural township.

    But God surprised. So did God’s church in Salisbury. Accepted the Bishop and his leadership. Accepted that the church really can be a community inspired to make a continual series of creative experiments by the Pentecostal Spirit.

    Wouldn’t it be great if people said that about Opawa. They really should have been called “Surprise Baptist Church.”

    So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”


    Comment by steve — February 20, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  15. If you wanted to “bundle” these that’d be just fine. Although perhaps you could delete my first comment and improve my syntax in general? 🙂

    Re: “first the emerging church I planted had an influx of Koreans and in response, we changed our service to offer a monthly “simple english” option, in which we sought to worship at the pace of another. So lets not caricature F ex as always starting something new” – I was trying to keep my comment to the thread as it had developed only which had focused so far on “new services;” it wasn’t meant to be a meta-comment on F Ex…I don’t have enough knowledge to make such judgments!

    Re: Whether F Ex = Emergent – Again, being American I don’t have access to the ins and outs of F Ex but what you said strikes me as too restricted. There are plenty of Emergents who come from tradtions (Presby/Luther/Angli/Metho-mergent) and there are plenty who focus a lot on missiology. But you may have unearthed something of significance by your statement. Namely, the idea that “missiology” is ever separable from theology. Even if F Ex hasn’t done much creative theology there is always theology implicit in praxis, and to the extent that this is not realized and reflected on critically, is it any wonder that F Ex is being criticized for the ecclesiology implicit in their practice?

    On your last point, I can mostly get behind that. The Faith is always “non-identically repeated” as John Milbank might put it, and sometimes in order for the Gospel to be heard in “fresh” ways it needs to be “made strange.”

    The question remains…if you appear on the surface to be agreeing with me, at least to a certain extent, then perhaps you’re accepting this particular critique of “For The Parish?” If not, I’d still want to see how F Ex doesn’t depoliticize the Church by keeping the social separate from the ecclesiastical.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 22, 2011 @ 3:39 am

  16. p.s. – You might want to check out this essay on F Ex that was just published – http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/02/21/3144358.htm?topic1=&topic2=

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 22, 2011 @ 3:39 am

  17. Tony

    It occurred to me that both our examples – Korean and Karen – are relying on the assumption that people are coming to us. We are invited to show hospitality. The challenge asked by Fresh expressions is what the body of Christ looks like for it to go them? As Jesus was guest, what might it look like for the body of Christ to become guest cf host?

    In terms of the relationship between the social separate from the ecclesiastical, I’d turn to Graham Ward in his book Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice. He argues that “what transformative practices of hope and desire produce is embodiment; they fashion the body of Christ.” I’d place the Fresh Expression as a search for transformative practices of hope. They are a space in which the experiment.

    This does not mean a jettisoning of history, but rather the acknowledging that history has been formed by the work of the Spirit in a particular (historical) context and the wondering what that Spirit-ed work will look like in this post/hyper modern context.

    Ward notes that “”There is then a twofold work for those projects involved in developing transformative practices of hope: the work of generating new imaginary significations and the work of forming institutions that mark such significations.” In that I see a relationship between practices, experiments and institution. Both can be depolitical. Equally, both can be political.

    I’m not sure whether my use of Ward makes me into radical orthodoxy groupie or not 🙂


    Comment by steve — February 22, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  18. Thanks for the link. I’ll need some time to process it. What I find immediately intriguing is the notion that the parish in UK has a uniquely contextual outworking. Again, we see that the For the parish argument about form and content being inseparable breaks down – and the global world offering diversity cf the UK-centric.


    Comment by steve — February 22, 2011 @ 9:22 am

  19. I’m soon to bed but could you cite those Ward quotes for me? I’m a big Ward-head so I wanna check your use of the sources (wink) before I make another go at a reply. I think it’s fair to say that Ward is now a bit of an outsider to what RO has become in the hands of the Nottingham magisterium, but I still like to situate him in the movement when it was considered a bit more broad.

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 22, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

  20. Hi,

    page 170 and 146.

    I do have a 3,200 word essay on the possibilities of Ward’s Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice for missional church/emerging church research, a lecture which I hope at some point to turn into an academic paper.

    Here’s my conclusion: Lesslie Newbigin ceaselessly called the church to the task of Western re-missionalisation. He refused a privatized faith and sought a public place to stand based not on the epistemology of the Enlightenment project, but upon the embodied gospel. The work of Ward in Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, answers Newbigins’ call. Ward engages with the leading edges of contemporary cultural hermeneutics, in order to articulate theology’s place in our world today. His work resonates with the classical Christian themes of Incarnation, pneumatology, ecclesiology and eschatology.

    In the process, Ward offers us a constructive methodology for research, by inviting us to pay attention to lex orandi, lex credendi, the practices of local communities. It invites us to Incarnationally embody these practices ourselves, given that “what transformative practices of hope and desire produce is embodiment; they fashion the body of Christ.”


    Comment by steve — February 22, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

  21. Steve, from what you’re saying it sounds like they don’t actually know anything about Fresh Expressions, even in the UK context. They sound like old establishment folks raging at the dying of the light. Is the book really that bad? 🙂

    Also, I posed this question over on the ABC Religion website article about the book by Bruce Kaye, but aren’t all their arguments about catholicity and ‘teh parish’ equally applicable to us all ‘returning’ to the ‘one true’ Roman Catholic Church?

    Comment by Justin — February 24, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  22. Thanks Justin,

    To be fair, they have read Mission shaped church fairly closely. While books are a lot different than real church life, the book has sold over 20,000 copies and thus does stand as fairly emblematic of something in relation to Fresh expressions.

    Re catholicity – yes, they are certainly operating from a Christendom model that does seem pretty to find little to celebrate in other religious traditions,


    Comment by steve — February 24, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  23. I’m not sure I know where to take my comments at this point. Which is fine, comment threads do sometimes come to an end! I’ll be excited to keep up with your continuing interaction with the book. Perhaps a Baptist ecclesiology is in the end inimical to an Anglican-catholic one…? And maybe For The Parish has more bite for the episcopally governed?

    Comment by Tony Hunt — February 25, 2011 @ 3:23 am

  24. Thanks Tony. While I’m not sure that my use of Graham Ward would be considered “Baptist ecclesiology”, I’ll certainly continue to post and look forward to the interaction.

    At some point I would like to bundle this all up and see what we might want to add to it. But not this week


    Comment by steve — February 25, 2011 @ 9:51 am

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