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.