Studies in Christian Ethics, April 2008
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Milbank takes a sideswipe at Fresh Expressions and Mission-Shaped Church

From 'Stale Expressions: the Management-Shaped Church', Studies in Christian Ethics, April 2008 by John Milbank. I think he partly has a point.

The projects known as ‘Fresh expressions’ and ‘mission-shaped church’ are, therefore, the outcome of this evangelical-liberal collusion. For all the protestations, they are a clear conspiracy against the parish. Perfectly viable parishes, especially in the countryside or the semi-countryside, are increasingly deprived of clergy who are seconded to dubious administrative tasks or else to various modes of ‘alternative ministry’ such as ‘ministry to
sportspeople’ or ‘ministry to youth’. In all this there lies no new expression of church, but rather its blasphemous denial. The church cannot be found amongst the merely like-minded, who associate in order to share a particular taste, hobby or perversion. It can only be found where many different peoples possessing many different gifts collaborate in order to produce a divine–human community in one specific location. St Paul wrote to Galatia and Corinth, not to regiments or to weaving-clubs for widows. He insisted on a unity that emerges from the harmonious blending of differences. Hence the idea that the church should ‘plant’ itself in various sordid and airless interstices of our contemporary world, instead of calling people to ‘come to church’, is wrongheaded, because the refusal to come out of oneself and go to church is simply the refusal of church per se. One can’t set up a church in a cafe amongst a gang of youths who like skateboarding because all this does is promote skateboarding and dysfunctional escapist maleness, along with that type of private but extra-ecclesial security that is offered by the notion of ‘being saved’.


michael jensen

This to me is rather cheap point-scoring. But it revealing of how deeply nostalgic Milbank's vision of the church is. And therein, a problem...


As one who is increasingly concerned that the fresh expressions exercise may well be about domesticating missional Church it would be good to read the full thing.

Where can we find/buy the full text?


andy goodliff

If you see the post before this one titled Studies in Christian Ethics, its one of the articles, the link should take you to the abstract.


I think he gets close to making a decent point, but gets lost in defending parishes and 'going' to church.

I thought it was revealing that he suggests that Paul wrote to Galatia and Corinth, when he actually wrote to the churches in those regions.

It seems to me that a more missional article, perhaps considering the planting of churches amongst people-groups receiving the gospel for the first time, might have yielded more helpful conclusions.


Just read the full article, and I think Milbank makes some excellent points, that echo a lot of my concerns with these new attempts at doing missiological church.

I think he is right when he says Paul wrote to Corinth and Galatia, or the church there, rather than to the weaving club. It's clear from Paul's epistles, especially to the Corinthian church, that he is addressing a mix-matched group of people from different classes and cultures, who have nothing in common except that they are believers and they live near each other. Being the Church- being a cohesive community of pick-n-mix cultures, races, hobbies, classes etc- is, think, a far better wittness than trying to set up little homogenous clubs and societies of the like-minded.

But this is not, as Milbank himself alludes, at all a new debate. In Victorian England, the Church was debating the same thing. Should we be reaching out to young men by setting up snooker tables, swimming pools and gymnasiums? (the origin of the YMCA) or should we be trying to draw them into the Church? (see the Oxford and Pietist Movements).

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