Wednesday, March 09, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 5 – flight from tradition

“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. Chapter four is here, including a lengthy and very helpful set of comments

These posts seem to be getting longer and longer. My excuse is that I do want to take seriously the questions being raised!

This chapter offers an extended reflection on the relationship between faith and tradition. It begins with the assertion that the Anglican church originates with an priority of common prayer. Thomas Cramner “producing a prayer book for all to use, not through a common confession.” (98) So For the Parish take issue with Fresh expressions practically, ethically, theologically and grammatically.

Practically, if you have diversity as encouraged by Fresh Expressions, does this not make it hard when people shift.

“The person who has come to faith through a ‘skateboarding church’ or a ‘greetings-card-making church’ is very unlikely to find anything on offer in a new locality that even approaches what will have been his or her only experience of church life up to now.” (99-100)

Ethically, Fresh Expressions seems to value novelty, and to value novelty is simply a middle-class luxury.

“Only those who are rich in this world’s goods are likely to side with ….[the] … postmodern thinker, who looks forward to a future that is like the present ‘only with more options’.” (102)

Theologically, faith is a given gift. “It is notable that every Fresh Expression starts with what is chosen, wheras the inherited church is more likely to start with what is given.” (102-3) Thus For the Parish frames tradition as something that comes to us “from beyond ourselves.” (103) In so doing, the the tradition gives us an “exteriority” (103) with which to judge ourselves, a breadth and depth that is both “wide-ranging and specific.” (105)

Grammatically, For the Parish is concerned about the loss of “the” in the language of Fresh Expressions. They offer examples including phrases like “faith” rather than “the Faith” and “Fresh expressions of church” rather than “Fresh expressions of the Church.” Apparently this makes the church into an abstracted idea, rather than the inheritance of the past. This is a “flight from locality, temporality and particularity.” (117).

The chapter offers one extended example – the use of compline. It is worth pondering in relation to tradition. (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:04 AM

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 3 – mission and church

“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.

Before we plunge into round (chapter) 3 of For the Parish vs Fresh Expressions it is worth gaining an overview. Chapter 3 is a crucial chapter, which in a nutshell, battles over the relationship between church, worship and mission. Did Christus propter ecclesiam venit (Christ come for the sake of the Church)? Or the world?

Before I explore this chapter, I wanted to gain an overview of current debates on the relationship between church and mission. I turned to the The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. Nearly 700 pages, of which chapter 36 is on the theme of church and mission (Ecclesiology and World Mission/Missio Dei, by Paul Collins, 623-636.)

Collins offers some history. First a history in which mission has been understood, based on Matthew 28:19-20, as going. By implication, mission becomes a task performed elsewhere. Second, a history in which the context of Christendom, which meant that “conversion and salvation, church and mission became inextricably bound together.” (624).

Collins urges the “understanding of the world church today [be] rooted in the experiences of the colonial and post-colonial periods of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (623). He then links six themes – salvation, partnership, missio Dei, relationality, inculturation and pluralism – in dialogue with major church councils like Vatican 2 and World Council of Churches. His conclusion is that to be church is to be sent, to participate in God’s mission in the world. “Ideas of ‘mission’ in terms of conversion and recruitment to church membership need to be re-evaluated in the light of God’s cosmic mission: ‘that God may be all in all.” (633, drawing on 1 Cor 15:28)

This overview of global trends in thinking about church and mission, gives us some way to understand For the Parish. The book makes no reference to trends in world Christianity, nor to the conciliar councils. Instead the authors draw on European theologians like John Robinson, Sergei Bulgakov, Henri Lubac. They acknowledge the place of the Kingdom in the Gospels, but choose to place priority on the Pauline epistles to argue that “the goal of salvation … might even be said to be all church.” (48) They conclude that to suggest mission is a proper ultimate goal is “the ultimate heresy within the contemporary Church of England.” (54)

Heresy. A strong word indeed.

They critique Fresh Expressions for having

the fervour of devotees casting around for increasingly precious things to offer up to mission. The favoured sacrifices are the practices and traditions of the inherited church. To mission, every and any treasure must be sacrificed. (For the Parish, 54)

This chapter opens up a crucial, crucial debate. What is the relationship between church and mission? Does church exist for mission? Or for worship? It seems to me, given the overview provided in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church that For the Parish is urging is simply continuing a Christendom, European understanding of church and mission.

Whether Fresh Expressions is doing any better is an equally valid question, which will occupy us in Chapter Four. But first, back to the piles of paper on my desk.

Posted by steve at 10:44 AM

Thursday, October 07, 2010

evaluating fresh expressions september 2010 UK trip report

I spent a very rich 7 days in the UK – London and Durham – in September, speaking, networking, participating in the Evaluating Fresh Expressions Research consultation (papers planned to be published to celebrate the re-launch of Anvil)

For any interested, here is my report, which does include a page of my reflections on the UK Fresh Expressions scene as I heard/experienced it.

Posted by steve at 06:09 PM

Monday, September 13, 2010

UK September 2010 trip

Here’s my UK itinerary – it’s a nice mix of my interests – theology in contemporary culture, fresh expressions and missional leadership at a congregational level. (Graphic courtesy of a fiddle with this DIY “ancient comic” site 🙂 and with a nod to Brendan the Navigator)

WEDNESDAY: Spurgeons College, D.Min and M. Theol students, presenting some of my work around theology in contemporary culture.

Session 1: “A Pneumatology for an Everyday Theology?” An exploration of what it might mean to name the Spirit as active in the world, with specific reference to popular culture.

Session 2: “Reading “pop-wise”: An example of ‘reading’ popular culture, using animated TV cartoons.

Session 3: Preaching in a changing culture – lessons from U2?

FRIDAY: head to Durham to present on Evaluating Birth narratives:a missiological conversation with fresh expressions

Abstract: This paper will explore the “birthing narratives” of a number of United Kingdom fresh expressions, specifically five alternative worship communities. It will bring this into conversation with the notion of “fresh expressions of church” to explore whether the very term “fresh expressions of church” is in fact missiologically problematic. Resources for this exploration will include the “resurrection” ecclesiology suggested by Archbishop Rowan Williams in Mission-shaped Church, interpreted in light of the pictures of Christian witness embedded in the New Testament narratives.

SATURDAY: “Dry bones live! Mission and leadership in times of change”?’ a conversation at St Johns, Durham on mission and change

TUESDAY: catching the big plane back. At least it goes faster than the boat!

Posted by steve at 04:57 PM

Monday, August 30, 2010

evaluating fresh expression birth narratives

In a few weeks I’m due to head to the UK, to take part in the Evaluating fresh expressions research consultation in Durham.

Which means some preparation! Back in 2001, as part of my PhD study, I interviewed various UK folk in regard to the alt.worship movement. Questions like

  • outline your involvement
  • in what ways do you see contemporary culture influencing you
  • how accessible is (should) worship be
  • how would you describe the place of mission and faith contextualisation

I ended up attending 10 UK alt.worship services, interviewing 17 people/groups (early pioneers like Late, Late Service, Visions, Dave Tomlinson) and talking to 9 more. It was fascinating stuff, but in the end my PhD simply got too big, and so I had to leave all of this research behind.

Now some 10 years later, I’m wondering if this stuff might be useful.  So I have begun to dig out the tapes.  I’ve heard the scrape of coffee machines in London cafes,  footsteps echoing through church halls in Hackney and tea being poured in Northern England.  Sure, 2001 is so last century. But I’ve found some great quotes:

“One of the things we learnt was that you need quite a lot of determination and quite a lot of encouragement if you want to be given the space to do something new within the church.”

“The very fact [evangelicalism] has been formed by the book speaks volumes about the kind of cultural baggage evanglicalism has.”

And some great questions being raised: What does sustainability look like and who’se responsibility is it? Does it matter if new forms are not longer with us? Is “surviving as Christians and living faith authentically within late-twentieth century London” less missional than “being a compassionate local presence working for peace and justice within the community”?

Whether I have the time to turn all this primary data into a research presentation I’m not sure.  Whether I have the time to construct a thesis that can honour these voices, connect with the Fresh Expressions literature that began to emerge 5 years later and still say something helpful remains to be seen.

But today I feel like I’ve been at table with some real heroes, some outstandingly creative, missional pioneers.

Posted by steve at 03:41 PM