Graham Doel Asks…

As you may have seen, Graham was blogging through the book recently, and, having done so, posted some questions, which I’m going to try to answer here.

I’ll start with an easy one:

Have you ever tried to get a plumber in a hurry?

No. But my dad has. When I asked him to repair a creaky floorboard in our new house. “Mind the pipes, dad” I said. And he put 10 perfectly lined-up nails through one. Ouch.

It struck me that your experience of the so called “Emerging Church” is born out of frustration and subsequently involvement in “Alternative Worship”. How long do you think it will be before the Emerging Perspectives become part of the establishment?

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It was born out of frustration, but I don’t think out of pain. I think there has to be an element of frustration with the old if newness is going to be born. This is why the industrial revolution happened in England, not China, though very similar conditions existed in both places. The difference: in China there were plenty of slaves to do the tough work. The people with power had no frustration, so no incentive to newness.

I think ‘Emerging Perspectives’ are already part of the establishment. But that may be dangerous. As I touched on in the book, there’d be little point ‘dressing up’ normal church in emerging clothes. Like William Hague in a baseball cap, people see straight through it. So the key will be to avoid people wagon-jumping and assimilating ’emerging church style’ into their programmes as a way of keeping up with the next new thing (see posts on Neophilia), and try instead to help people to experience the journey – intellectual, cultural, spiritual, emotional – that will bring them to a place where such perspectives are their own to be shared, not products to be consumed.

It’s an on-going emerging process though… there are those who are just taking on the alt.worship thing, and are now probably frustrated that the goal-posts are being moved again!

The book looks like it is designed to draw the current emerging perspectives from the margins into the centre of the debate about the future of the church in the uk. Is that what you intended?

Yes. The debate must happen at the centre if it is to have a fuller impact. I strongly believe in the thesis of the book; not just as a kooky piece of avant-guarde theology, but as something essentially main-stream.

Throughout the book you talk of “Christ” except when referring directly to Jesus earthly ministry. Is this an intentional reflection of your Christology?

Not intentional, no. But, on reflection, perhaps an unconscious one. I’ve been very struck by Borg’s thoughts in ‘The Meaning of Jesus’ – written with N.T. Wright – on the pre- and post-Easter Jesus, and am reflecting more on that.

You consistently talk about the “city” though the subtitle is about the urban church. Though I could consistently see your point having lived most of my life in urban environments that are not part of a city, I occasionally felt that your view excluded the places that God has called me too. It looks to me that the subtitle was intended to read “in the city church” and was later edited to “urban” is that true?

Sorry. Didn’t mean to! But, no, not true. The subtitle was by my editor… and I wasn’t really bothered what it was at the time, what with our boy having been born the previous week! One of the end-notes does say that a friend from ‘the country’ read a draft, and felt it was just as relevant for their situation. So I guess I’d like to see it as a spectrum: city/urban/rural that has more commonality than we might think. I’m not sure I’d want to draw any big distinction between city and urban. It’s all relationships with one another and our environment really. Certainly no exclusion was meant.

I am intrigued by the story of the development of Vaux which is touched on in the book. It is clear from the Vaux website why the community no longer meets as it once did. I think that reflects a brave and courageous decision. However there is little clue of what you are doing now. With the encouragement of the book to practice the Christian faith in the context of gift giving what does that kind of community look like, what are examples of what you are doing now, to put your preaching into practice.

Good. It’s a secret ;[) Only kidding. We’ve taken an intentional break. Totally stopped. That was about 6 months ago, and we are waiting to see what newness will emerge. Which I’m sure it will. But to force it now by naming stuff would be a disservice I think. In fact, things may never get named. It might just remain totally invisible. There’s excitement, and a shared allotment though, I’ll let on that much.

Prioryofzion asks 3 questions via Graham:

Do we need a desert experience first of all ourselves before we have the ‘power’ to engage with the city? If we do, and that element of spirituality is largely absent from Protestant theologies, are we lacking the means to reflect and struggle and thereby lacking the ability to engage with the urban challenge?

“In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord.”

Metaphorically, yes. Physical retreats and monastic disappearing acts, no. As I’ve said in the 4th Neophilia post, I think Jesus’ desert experience was about unmasking his fantasy self, and I think this is vital if urban ministry is to be effective and prophetic, rather than simply an unchallenging assimilation of city life and culture into faith.

So I’d probably agree that these things are currently lacking rather. Sermons just don’t challenge people in this way.

The Da vinci Code in particular has spawned huge levels of debate and interest amongst people of all classes and cultural milieux. What, as churches, should we learn from this cultural phenomenon?

There must be only 2 people left in London who’ve not read it. I’m one of them, I’m afraid. Someone posted some good thoughts about this on a blog somewhere recently (help anyone?) but I can’t remember the address. One thing that’s clear: the power of Jesus to spark people is still very strong. And people love a good story that shakes the foundations. What can we learn? Keep telling great stories, keep re-imagining the great stories, keep shaking people’s foundations.

Does Kester give any indication of what he thinks Christ would consider clean which we might (traditionally perhaps) find dirty? In other words, does he pin down a definition of the ‘dirty’? Identifying the ‘dirty’ would certainly, eventually, lead to a theological evaluation which might inevitably lead to a doctrinal one! (My answer is in the comments on the blog, what would you say?).

Basically, no. And I know exactly to what issue the whole thing would swing, which I deliberately did not want to do. The dirt concept for me is very potent, and I wanted to allow people to experience that, get some kind of grip on it themselves, and then allow their own thoughts to develop on how it might be applied.

Hopefully it’s funded people’s imaginations… so they can do a theological and doctrinal evaluation. But that’s not for me to do.

Hope that’s been helpful. Please don’t hesitate to ask for any further clarification – it’s what this site was meant to be about. Graham suggested a phonecall/podcast, so watch this space.


2 responses to “Graham Doel Asks…”

  1. I’ve been thinking some more about the idea of waiting, grieving, pausing, recognising the past is past….
    Firstly I presume that by closing Vaux, that is what you were doing, allowing that pause (I got to admit, I found that answer to my question a little frustrating because it told me nothing new!).
    Secondly can I ask you about your view of the intertestamental period. You paint it as though it is a period of nothingness of silence from above, have I understood you right.
    The reason I ask is because it seems to me that there was something happening, it just didn’t make it into the canon. There is obviously a continued development of the Jewish community and identity. Scripture is read and expounded, the worshipping community seems to be re-imagined with the introduction of synagogues (very much part of the landscape when Jesus appears). Is that period of creativity (allbeit in a largely legalistic direction) a period of silence and waiting.

  2. Yes. Closing Vaux was a deliberate pause. A Breve or two. A time to play Cage’s 4’33”.
    Secondly – I was using the intertestamental period purely metaphorically. There were things happening, and I wouldn’t want to suggest that everything stopped… And in reality nothing ever does. But the canonical pause is interesting in itself to me. It is a ‘publically projected stop’ if you will. So Vaux publically pauses, but the relationships still continue to grow. It can be a very creative time, but a time that doesn’t experience the pressures of naming, of ‘denomination’, of having to remain in the structures and expectations.
    As Rollo May says, ‘We knock upon silence for an answering music.’ You have to create that silent space to knock. And the space and time to listen intently for the new music.