I have just put up a blog on the Moot Community’s Website about the link between what happened in the UKs first shopping riots and the bleak side of our emerging post-secular culture. I think in the UK we face serious issues – and these have an impact on how we the Church respond in mission to this increasingly unhealthy and unjust situation. To see the blog – please click here
Category Archives: Culture
Now that I am again in the South Pacific amongst some of the most post-colonial and post-secular people, I am reminded how anachronistic is the language we use for God. When speaking of God, we tend to use majestic language – of monarchy – of Kingship and of Lord. In a world that is increasingly discovering a more mystical and spiritual sense, this majestic language creates negative connotations around power, hierarchy and outdated forms of governance.
So what language should we use for God? How can we be authentically Christian yet contextual? This is the argument that Sallie MacFague uses in her writings and I don’t think we have been able to make much progress. She suggests the importance of metaphorical theology – the use of metaphorical language in our pursuit of using affirming and accessible words for God.
In the Moot Community we have used words such as Creator, Redeemer and Companion as functional metaphorical language instead of Father, Son and SPirit. But we still have a long way to go.
In countries like Australia, I am reminded that contemporary culture is much more interested in premodern modes of expressing spirituality. There is great interest for example in the pantheism of Australian Aboriginal culture oppressed by colonisation in the modern period. So in our now post-secular culture, premodern language finds new resonance.
So how do we express the deep mysticism of Christianity in a language that is accessible to post-secular seekers. Well for me it starts with a re appreciation of how the Hebrews developed a language for God coming from experience. This is the judeo-christian tradition at the heart of the faith that finds its fulfillment in the Holy Trinity. So we need to increasingly find post-patriarchical and non-power language for naming God.
Just read a really interesting Article in the Australian Newspaper which interviews Tony Blair about politics and religion. It is an interesting reading about the rise of a global post-secular culture, and the dangers of religious radicalisation. Although I don’t agree with Tony Blair about a few things, I think he is right to point out these issues. To read the article see here.
This week, I have had the wonderful good fortune and opportunity to be able to teach at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge MA USA, with a finale of giving the keynote speech at this years Episcopal Village Day Event at the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston.
From the discussions, I have been struck by something I had missed before. Many of my pioneering and missioner orientated colleagues in the UK have been frustrated, that the projects they have incarnated out of hopes and dreams, seem to have started with not being able to make an impact on the totally unchurched – the primary focus, and instead have started with a ministry that began with the dechurched.
Now, it has struck me that this is my experience too in the Moot Community, something that we have faced some criticism for in the early days. But – it has struck me, may be this is the intentions of the God outside of our own needs and desires. Jesus himself in the Gospel, very rarely goes directly to the unchurched from a Jewish perspective – I can think of the Samaritan Woman at the well and a few others. No, instead Jesus associated with those who were Jewish who were outside of the powerful temple system to build up a new community of disciples with jews who were very similar to the dechurched. It seems that Jesus was intentional about gathering around him a community of the dechurched, who through God’s death and resurrection are empowered to become the Apostles, and the beginning of the Church through mission to the Gentile unchurched. May it just be that ecclesia, and the building of ecclesial communities begins with pioneer missioners building small communities of the dechurched to create deep and radical Christian community that then has the maturity to start and sustain mission and evangelism to the unchurched.
In the Moot Community we have spent 7 years building up a community of the dechurched, which now is intentionally starting out to seek to service God by reaching out missionally to the unchurched. Maybe – focusing on the dechurched first is right strategically, as long as this then is matched by a commitment for the previously unchurched to mature into the call of seeking to serve the unchurched.
So pioneering missioners, don’t be disappointed that what you are doing seems to attract the dechurched and not the unchurched, just maybe this is the starting place to build community to be able to reach out to the unchurched effectively. I think this is true…..
From the 1st of Feb we are entering the launching of the new book of which I am the Co-Editor ‘New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church’ part of the Ancient Faith Future Mission Series. So there are launch events on Tuesday (1st) in London UK and Thursday (3rd) in Manchester UK, and then 17th Canberra AUS. This will be followed by launches on 17th March in Newcastle AUS and Melbourne 25th March in AUS.
It’s a great book, with chapters by: Shane Claiborne (Simple Way Community), Andy Freeman (Reconcile Community Reading & 24-7 Prayer Community), Mark Berry (Safe Space Community), Diane Kershaw (Order of Mission), Ian Adams (CMS Small Missional Communities), Tessa Holland (Contemplative Fire), Tom SIne (Mustard Seeds), Bp Graham Cray (Archbishop’s Mission and Leader of Fresh Expressions Team (UK), Philip Roderick (Contemplative Fire), Pete Askew (Northumbria Community), Abbot Stuart Burns (Mucknell Abbey).
I think it makes a great second book in this important series. We have started working on a third book in the series, which Aaron Kennedy (from the Moot Community) and I are editing with Graham Cray on the whole issue of Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God.
Letter I sent to the Church Times referring to Bp Stephen Cottrell’s review of the Milbank and Davison’s book “For the Parish” which was not published
Sir, – I was really pleased to read Bp Stephen Cottrell’s informed and measured review in Issue 7706 of the Church Times concerning the recent Milbank and Davison book “For the Parish” entitled “The baby and the parochial bathwater”.
Whilst I also endorse the view that the Mission Shaped Report was not a full theological exploration, it should be remembered that it was never intended to be a full ecclesiological exposition – it is a church report!
I was also pleased to see that Bp Stephen mentioned New Monasticism as an example of good practice arising out of the Fresh Expressions initiative, which seeks to be ‘ancient future’ in vision. New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of Church, (the subject of a new multi-authored book to be published shortly by Canterbury Press) has a comprehensive theological self-understanding and connection with the ongoing tradition and calling of monastic and apostolic mission.
Many of us involved in Fresh Expressions of Church were dismayed by the position of “For the Parish” which seemed to compare the most romanticised and perfect expression of the Parish Church with the worst ‘dumbed down’ forms of Fresh Expressions. As Bp Stephen states, this impoverishes the argument of “For the Parish”.
As well as the examples the Bishop of Chelmsford gives for what is not said in the book – I would take this argument further. Where is the missiological engagement? I read much on ecclesiology and the importance of the Church but little on missiology and the importance of the Kingdom? Too much focus on the Church and too little exploration of the Kingdom creates the danger of idolatry – ‘Seek you first the Kingdom of God’, (Matt 6:33). Where is the theological engagement with Models of Church and the work of Avery Dulles or contextual theology and the work of S B Bevans and Niebuhr and other theological disciplines? There is a conspicuous absence of a wider theological engagement. It is a great arrogance to believe that the discipline of Ecclesiology is the only real form of theological discourse, and it is disappointing that a more systematic approach has not been taken holding ecclesiology and missiology in tension.
There is a deep paradox in this book that talks up dialogue and mediation as a model but then continues to set up a dualism – parish good, fresh expressions bad, typical of a polemic that is not particularly helpful for a comprehensive theological reflection. The truth is we need a more ‘both-and’ position, both traditional and experimental, conservative and progressive.
The danger of this book is that it seems to propose a return to a specifically Christendom theological mindset, where salvation and authentic mission can only be found within parish forms of Church, with a translation model of contextual theology which arrogantly downplays the contextualisation of the gospel and the church. No one expression of church can fully be a vessel of the gospel, hence why there has been a diversity of form of church in the Church of England for sometime – parish alongside monastic and friar orders, chaplaincies and missions. This is not new. The Missio Dei is at its heart the mission of God in God’s Kingdom. It is not about maintaining ‘unity in conformity’ as a particularly institutional expression of church. This is the weakness of the model of ‘Church as political society’ or Christendom which the authors suggest we should return to in our post-liberal times.
We remember that mission and evangelism in this country in the Romano-Celtic, Saxon and Norman times was not completed largely by Priests and Deacons, but rather by evangelistic Monks, Nuns, Friars and Bishops. In more recent times, in the Oxford Movement we see a Church renewed through the resurgence of the religious life in response to cultural change and the calling of the Holy Spirit. May be fresh expressions and New Monasticism are such a resurgence of non-parish forms of the Church led by the Holy Spirit in response to our increasingly post-secular context.
Surely the way forward for the wider Church is a renewed partnership of the best of Parish and the best of Fresh Expressions in ‘mission-informed’ engagement to a culture which is increasingly post-church and post-Christian. Mission and Evangelism are part of our apostolic calling. We need to avoid setting up false-dichotomies.
Revd Ian Mobsby
Moot Priest Missioner, Associate Missioner to the Archbishop’s Fresh Expressions Team and member of the Church of England’s College of Evangelists.
The Moot Community
St Edmund the King Church
London EC3V 9EA
Last month, the new book “For the Parish, a critique of Fresh Expressions” was published by Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison from a catholic Radical Orthodoxy perspective by Canterbury Press.
Although I found the forward and introductory chapters infuriatingly irritating in its tone and a tad polemical with the real danger of making far-reaching statements about all fresh expressions coming from the same stable (which is completely dualistic and somewhat untrue), there is much in this book that I welcome as a first real critique that questions the theology and practice of fresh expressions of church. They are right to point out a number of weaknesses concerning ecclesiology and practice, something I first looked at some time ago in my research and book “Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church” which also looked at what it meant to be authenticially church and Anglican. Some of these concerns have been the reflections of the Fresh Expressions Roundtable Number 5, which involves Theologians, Ordinands, Priest and others coming from a Catholic and Contemplative perspective.
They are right to question whether some of the experiments in being fresh expressions of church are sufficiently asking the right questions how to be ‘in culture but not of culture’. It has been a frustration of mine for sometime that somethings called ‘fresh expressions’ are really not fresh expressions of the church. They raise big issues in Missiology but I have to say with very little engagement of missiology, this book is very much saying that modern Anglican post-liberal theology is about ‘going back to the church’ and therefore puts the Church at the top, so that Ecclesiology as a theological discipline becomes more important than missiology and pastoral theology, as everything is about the Church. Unfortunately there is no real engagement with contextual theology or models of church, this is the classic combination of Church as Political Society (Christendom) using Dulles’ terminology modelled with a translation model of contextual theology using S B Bevans terminology and a thoroughly attractional model of church.
I will respond to some of the key elements of theology in this book when I have had time to think about things which I summarise as: The Kingdom and the Church, Salvation and the Church, Mission and the Church, the apophatic understandings of belief, Anglican identity, and the balance of belief with spiritual practices.
Like I say, at times I think this book will be known as “the book you throw across the room in irritation” but saying that, I completely welcome the need to sharpen up mission and ecclesiological thinking and practice. At best some of the things I see done in the name of fresh expressions are clumsy and ill-thought-through, and bordering on syncretistic with culture. So I welcome the critique even if I find some of its understandings and assumptions of fresh expressions to be ill-informed and over-stated. It is never a good idea just critique a whole initiative based on a somewhat out of date church report, much further research could have been included, but that would have meant less of a polemical and non-dualistic engagement. This is a critique mixed in with a rant.
As I said, I will be blogging about some of the areas the book addresses above.
I have just been to a book launch of Jonny Baker’s new book – Curating Worship. This book is well overdue, and draws on the expertise of a number of practitioners of those who were involved in Alternative Worship, including Ana Draper, Sue Wallace, Steve Collins, Laura Drane, Nic Hughes and Kester Brewin, Pete Rollins and Jonny McEwen in the UK, Cheryl Lawrie from Australia, Dave White and Steve Taylor from New Zealand and others.
Why is this book important? Well – for me, it is because quality in contextual and creative worship is important. Alternative or creative worship has become synonymous in some places as just putting up a white sheet or getting out the crayons and sometimes with very little content. What this book emphasises, is that this form of worship is a skill, and needs much thinking and engagement with theological thinking, engagement with metaphorical meaning, liturgy and ritual.
When Curation is done well, its potential is world changing and can aid mission. When it is done badly (my contention) it just gets patronising and overly conceptual that may help some dechurched people get stuff off their chest, but doesn’t often enable wonder and encounter of the divine. We have experienced this in Moot, and so have stopped doing alternative worship for a bit, exploring more participative and contemplative forms of worship for a season.
The work of groups like Grace, Vaux, L8r, Visions were important in my own Christian formation through a dechurched root. I have been holding onto the question whilst reading this book “Alt worship and curation are important for reaching and enabling dechurched people to request with Christian Spirituality – but what does curation of worship look like for those who are completely never churched, with no baggage or previous understandings?” This I think is the very real challenge of where we go next. How do we curate worship, in fact how do we curate church as a creative event of worship, mission and community in an increasingly post-secular culture where we can expect the numbers of the dechurched to reduce as ‘being churched’ increasingly becomes a minority sport.
This book is a great start to exploring this question, and an important resource for all those who want to develop creative and artistic and cultural accessible forms of worship that is challenging and justice orientated. Well done Jonny et al, this is a great book. I have read it almost in one go as it held me that much!
Back in the Spring I met up with Tim Nash to explore the whole emerging and fresh expressions of church initiative in the UK, and to explore more deeply my book the Becoming of G-d. They have made a great podcast out of the discussions and included a book review, so do check this out here.
Tonight I had the good fortune to go to the first live world premiere with a full choir and orchestral accompaniment with this great film at the South Bank Centre in London. I have come back very moved. The original story by Arthur C Clarke was a short story, that was rewritten and lengthened encouraged by Kubrick. The story is mystical and fascinatingly mixes up science and spirituality.
I used to think this film was the ultimate expression of modernity, but I had forgotten how it is laced with postmodern existential awe. The original story relates aliens as beckoning humans to evolve (the black obelisk encouraged humanity to reimagine what is possible) resulting in humanities evolving into star children – children of the light.
I am fascinated how this holds deep premodern transcendence – spiritual searching – and the sense of human becoming. For me what the book expresses as aliens, the film seems to be more mystical – more about encountering the divine rather than an other species. The almost total lack of dialogue makes this sense of transcendence deeply felt.
The ending of the film used to confuse me. Seeing it live – it now not only expresses a sense of evolution, but a sense of theosis – that humanity is transformed into an inseparable connection with the divine, following birth, life death and resurrection.
Really recommend going to see it – check it out here