There is a practice in the US and the UK of asking politicians if they know the price of a gallon of milk. This is a test to see how in touch they are with the tasks of life that the average person has to endure. It can be a massive blunder if a politician who claims to be of the people shows that they are incapable of answering this basic question. Occasionally there is a politician who deftly answers truthfully that they do not and then spins it in a particularly successful way, but those politicians are few and far between. It is unfortunate that a similar standard is not placed upon other professions, particularly the ones with broad impacts upon civilian life. One of the places I think this would be particularly helpful would be among theologians.
There is something particularly off putting about reading theology that is clearly devoid of any knowledge of the life of an average believer. While it may be a great mental exercise the application of the work is often impossible due to its absolute lack of connection with the daily practice of most – if not all – believers. There needs to be a way of posing a “price of milk” question to a theologian to determine if they are in it for the head game or for the benefit of Christian devotees. I think that the reason theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer have continued to be loved is because of the way their work feels connected to reality. It is this same contentedness that comes across in the work of Martyn Percy and why he is beloved by so many people.
Percy, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford is also a priest in the Church of England. It seems someone with those credentials would be exactly the type of theologian to be disconnected from the rest of the world, but Percy is not because he has had a life outside of academics and the church.
Martyn has held number of roles in public life, serving as a Director of the Advertising Standards Authority, and as an Adjudicator for the Portman Group (the self-regulating body for the alcoholic drinks industry). He has served as a Commissioner of the Direct Marketing Authority, and is currently an Advisor to the British Board of Film Classification. He is Patron of St. Francis’ Children’s Society (an Adoption and Fostering Agency), Trustee of the Grubb Institute and the Li Tim-Oi Foundation, and a Vice-President of Modern Church.1
I would suggest that it is his connection with all these “secular” groups that makes his theology jump off the page as something to be considered. As a result “Percy constantly deals with the real church.”2 In many ways his work is the epitome of what it means to be Anglican, down the middle a bit of low church and a bit of high church. As Namsoon Kang says in her book Cosmopolitan Theology, “if [theological] discourse can effectively function as a tool, it should be neither trapped in the world-as-it-is (reality) nor indulged in the naive vision of the world-as-it-ought-to-be (ideality).”3 The best theology has a foot in both realms and that is the beauty of Percy’s work. To return to the question at the beginning of this, Percy knows both the price of milk and why it costs that much. This sort of mastery is something all aspiring and practicing theologians should strive toward.
1. “The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy.” The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy | Christ Church, Oxford University. Accessed June 7, 2019. https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/staff/very-revd-professor-martyn-percy.
2. Ian S. Markham, and Joshue Daniel. Reasonable Radical?: Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2018. Kindle location 156.
3. Namsoon Kang, Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-love, and Solidarity in an Uneven World. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013), 3.