Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Iron Chef: Battle Implicit Theology or Why the Plate Matters When All You Taste is the Food’

Written by: on May 19, 2017

If you have never had the pleasure of watching Iron Chef (in any of it’s many variations) it is a pretty serious cooking competition/reality show, that centers around a ‘secret ingredient’ challenge each week.  Once the secret ingredient is revealed – in dramatic fashion, of course – the competing chefs have have one hour to create three dishes for the judges.  Once completed the judges score the dishes, giving points in three areas: taste, plating and originality.

One of the judges of the current iteration (Iron Chef America: Gauntlet), Alex Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef herself, does something that has always stuck out to me as a little strange.  In her comments about the food the chefs have prepared she almost always has some comment about type, style or shape of the actual plate or bowl that the food is presented on.   She usually highlights how the plate/bowl either adds or detracts from the ‘story’ that the chef is trying to tell with their food.

I think chef Guarnaschelli’s comments stick in my head, because they have always seemed out of place to me – I thought of the ‘plating’ element that the chefs are judged on solely in terms of how the food looks – the plates and utensils were just instruments or means to an end.

After reading Martyn Percy’s wonderful work, Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology I have come to a few conclusions.  First, chef Guarnaschelli understands something about the power and importance of the implicit that many miss, myself included.  Second, I think Percy and Guarnaschelli would likely get along very well – perhaps having a conversation about the implicit or unspoken factors that contribute to meaning, culture and community in our lives and, undoubtedly they would enjoy a great meal, on well chosen plates.

Percy’s book is an attempt to understand, from an ecclesiastic perspective the power and implicit theologies that drive the unspoken – and often unreflected upon practices and positions which add and, importantly communicate meaning to, in and from our church communities.  Or to continue the cooking metaphor, Percy, wants to explore why pie always tastes better on the fine china than on a paper plate.

In his introduction, Percy explains:

The very word ‘implicit’ is suggestive.  Normally used as an antonym with ‘explicit’, the terms have a complex etymological history.  ‘Implicit’ is derived from the Latin implicitius, meaning to implicate – a term, in turn, that suggests involvement, interweaving, and entanglement…..’implicit’ means the meaningful folding together and close connecting of a variety of strands…..It is bringing order from apparent chaos and clarity from complexity. (Percy, 2)

The concept of ‘plating’ from Iron Chef is a metaphor that helped me to understand that the implicit things we do as a church and as believers have a theology (or theologies) of their own.  They add meaning and depth and, when we examine them and understand them, can help us both understand and communicate more clearly the story we are trying to tell of God’s love and grace.
The vessel and accoutrements that come with a dish might not change the taste, but they are undoubtedly part of the experience  of the meal.  Likewise, the implicit practices, traditions and norms that surround and accompany our explicit theologies shape our own understanding of our faith and directly effect how and what we are able to communicate about that faith.

Percy’s insights about the importance and power of our implicit theologies are as original as they are important.  The four hallmarks of priesthood and a priestly church that he derives from this implicit theology which can be used as a lens to promote and initiate ‘organic church growth’ are, alone, worth the price of the book.

Appropriately, the understanding of the importance of implicit theology doesn’t feel like a new discovery, but rather a revelation of something that had always been there, a presence that was sensed, but not quite known – a pulling back of the curtain.  Having now seen what was previously missed or only sensed, it will not be possible to go back to the old way of ignoring the implicit messages, meaning and theology of our lives and our churches.

The value, for me, of Percy’s work can be summed up by this passage from his conclusion:

Implicit theology pays attention to the normally neglected and often overlooked dimensions of ecclesial life that are constitutive for belief and practice.  The realization of a relationship between the gentle framing of faith and belief through structures and practices allows us to ponder the significance of many things we might take for granted, and their theological weight.  Dress codes, manners, the management of strong feelings, the moderation of the collective emotional temperature – all have a bearing on the emerging vision of God within each congregation and denomination. (Percy, 172)

In other words, a plate is never – just a plate – it always matters, and pie just tastes better on the fine china.

The coffee definitely tastes better out of this mug

About the Author

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

14 responses to “Iron Chef: Battle Implicit Theology or Why the Plate Matters When All You Taste is the Food’”

  1. Geoff Lee says:

    Great post Chip – really insightful and helpful. I like your analogy to Iron Chef and the plating of food – it’s Masterchef here in the UK, and I love it! I think there is real truth to Percy’s and your assertions – and it is really good to be made aware of our implicit theologies, our practices, our traditions, our markers – that say a lot, without actually saying it. I guess another parallel might be verbal and non-verbal communication – much of what we “say”, is non-verbal.

    • Chip Stapleton says:

      Yes! How many church visitors have either been welcomed or felt unwelcome before words have even been spoken to them?

      Our actions always speak at least as loudly as our words – and in the church, I think that is especially true if the two don’t match up.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Good illustration, Chip. I think we all liked different things from Dr. Percy’s book – there were so many good ponderables.
    But the main idea as you pointed out can forever shape our thinking about what is important and we should not leave out the implicit. Hope he does make it to our chat on Monday – that should be interesting.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Good comparison. There are endless books on explicit theology (the taste of the food). But there are far less books about the lighting of sanctuaries, the optimum time for a church service to start, or what a church building should smell like.

    That is where worship (music) pastors can be helpful. Many of them “get it” when it comes to implicit theology. They understand that, not only do the lyrics of the songs teach theology, but the tune of the song, the sound system, the dress of the singer, etc. convey a message.

    • Chip Stapleton says:

      You are definitely correct about (good :)) worship pastors….. but, of course, it goes much further than that too.
      I would imagine at a church your size, you guys have done work looking explicitly at the ‘visitor experience’ from the parking lot, to finding the nursery and the bathrooms…. All of the ways that a visitor is implicitly welcomed or not. I once heard an ‘outreach expert’ say that over half of visitors to a church decided before the sermon began whether they would return or not….. This definitely has something to do with implicit theology!

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    What a great post Chip. You make a good point when you stay that the “implicit” has always been there, it’s just now that Percy is shining a light on it; he is “pulling back the curtain.” I cannot wait until I have the full time to completely “digest” (no pun intended) this book. I have always felt that the unspoke speaks louder than we think–this is especially relevant for the church.

  5. Katy Drage Lines says:

    First– guess I need to watch Iron Chef. Or at least a cooking show.
    Second– as we pack up our house, we’ve recently moved to paper plates. Beyond the disposable waste they create, they are not as durable as the stoneware we use.
    Finally– Nice mug; glad you didn’t find a styrofoam one! 😉

    Seriously, you’ve latched on to a great metaphor for the plating of theology. I find it intriguing that so many of us resonated with Percy’s sensuality– scent (Jim), feasting (Kristin), and visual presentation of a meal (you). (See my comment about Dr Percy on Jim’s post).

    • Chip Stapleton says:

      Yes, Katy, you definitely need to watch more cooking shows…. whatever are you doing with your time? Top Chef is actually my favorite, but Iron Chef is a little more campy and fun……
      I think the fact that so many of us picked up on the sensual just reinforces the power and importance of the implicit in the experience of connecting with God and within the community of faith!
      The quickest way to this guy’s soul is definitely food!

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        Oh my gosh, I LOVE Top Chef! When you were talking about plating, I kept thinking about the Restaurant Challenge and how they are judged on the style they ingest into their restaurant as well as the food.

  6. Lynda Gittens says:

    Okay Chip, I see you are not the only one thinking about food.
    The taste of the pie truly is the same it’s all in the presentation are comfortable with using. Just as you related it to corporate worship. It is all in the presentation and what you are comfortable or accustom too.
    I enjoy Iron chef as well as Chop.

  7. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Enjoyable post Chip! I like Iron Chef but never paid attention enough to what they were judging on, so thanks for the clarity. Ironically, I was always focused on the emotion of the chefs and the environment of the kitchen! Great analogy too with Percy’s work…”plating” or the implied environment that serves up an intended or unintended message. With Percy’s book, I kept thinking of decor of a space. Colors, pictures, design all dramatically affect perspectives and emotions of people who are “environmentally sensitive”. I get very distracted and sometimes unsettled in churches, restaurants, homes, hotels…where the design and decor are mismatched or dated, and the smells are undesirable. Congruency with environment and messages are comforting to me.
    Oh, and I’m sure even twinkies would taste better on china.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    So many of us came to this book with metaphors about senses in our minds. I think it is interesting that Katy is writing about the Table in her dissertation and food as metaphor continues to come up in our posts. We really do feast with all of our senses, which tells me that the Creator may have made us to worship the same way. How are we missing the mark?

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