pete ward has a new book out this week - participation and mediation: a practical theology for the liquid church
i really like it. pete ward has been a huge influence in my life. when i was doing youthwork it was hearing pete and reading his book youth culture and the gospel that opened me up to realise that missiology held the clues for how to work with young people (and subsequently the emerging culture). it's a journey i have been on ever since. the opening chapter of his book tells his story and he traverses youth ministry, missiology, anglican charismatic renewal, evangelical roots and trying to subvert the defensive posture of that towards culture, and then cultural studies as a framework for making sense of culture or opening up a different way of thinking about the practice of ministry in relation to culture. i studied under pete at king's for an MA and found the cultural studies approach really interesting/useful.
the challenge of the book is language though maybe that's no surprise if culture is language games anyway (paraphrasing wittgenstein). part of the challenge of academic writing is it that it is located in a particular discipline and to interact with it uses a particular grammar and discourse. so pete uses the discourse of cultural studies so it takes a while to get with the grammar - participation, representation, mediation, animation, texts, structure, agency, flow and so on. i hope this doesn't put people off. i was used to it from my previous study and reading. in fact some of the key texts that helped me inform pete's approach here including the brilliant michel de certeau. it honestly made me realise how much i have learned from and with pete over the years for which i am really grateful...
here's what's good about the book
1. pete locates what he's up to in practical theology which is probably a smart and necessary move but in doing so he suggests that practical theology whilst it attempts to be reflective ends up causing people to step out of culture to analyse it which practitioners don't want to do. i completely agree with this. the turn to culture that seems to be happening in theology is an encouraging step realising that theology is or should be about the lived experience of faith and not an abstraction.
2. the use of cultural studies gives a different way of seeing how christian communities are involved and participate in the production of culture and worship and meaning. this is really useful for practitioners though you've got to get inside the discourse or so it seems. i tried to do precisely this in my dissertation to talk about what is going on in the ritual of the labyrinth for ritual agents/labyrinth walkers. describing this lived faith in practice and how christian communities are making meaning in culture pete says that the waters are often muddied in contextual approaches to culture - i fear this may put some people off this approach but muddied waters is a pretty common experience in mission in attempting to grow the gospel in the soil of other cultures. anyone that pretends not to be in muddied waters may be deceiving themselves!
3. participation and mediation are theological themes that pete draws on. i was so reminded of the discussions/reflections i have had on the blog recently around the book here comes everybody - everybody it seems want to talk about participation and again it is a smart (and trendy i think) move to draw on participation in the divine life as a rich theological theme to open up how god is mediated in and through culture and then animated.
4. pete seems to have finally conceded in public that consumer culture has a few problems - hooray! i have had this argument with pete over several years. what pete was wanted to do i assume is to swing the pendulum so that people engage seriously with culture rather than react negatively to it which i understand. but this feels like his most mature work on culture to date discussing the complexities of both engagement and resistance within cultures.
this is a really short review but i wanted to write something before heading off for a week or it will be ages before get round to it. this book is going to punch open a hole for a lot of good work to follow i think. pete is opening up all sorts of possibilities for dialogue around lived faith in culture and what is going on with lived faith in worship, mission, denominations, using cutural texts and so on. i really recommend it even if you have to read some paragraphs a few times to get with the language games. as i said in the title i feel like i am pete's disciple!