DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Theology and The Price of Milk

Written by: on June 6, 2019


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.

About the Author

mm

Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

6 responses to “Theology and The Price of Milk”

  1. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Sean,

    Your “price of milk” analogy is excellent for theologians. It’s the main reason I decided on a DMin rather than a PhD. Practitioners are extremely important. Knowledge for knowledge sake usually just makes good arguers. Practitioners test what is learned on the streets of everyday life. Percy is impressive in his expansive credentials as an academic and practitioner.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      Thanks Tammy. I live in the tension of wanting to live entirely in my head and needing things to be applicable. Percy is one of the first theologians I can remember that seems to understand that tension. The theory is important but it means nothing if it can’t be applied to the ordinary believer’s life.

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Sean,
    I love the way you make me think! You are so right, Bonhoeffer and Percy seem to be cut from a bit of the same cloth. How do such brilliant theologians stay connected to the reality of the local church and then communicate this interaction in such relational and stimulating ways? How can we all take our place on the spectrum of theology and praxis to foster not either/or but both/and? Sean, how do we model this in our generation? Thanks as always for such compelling dialogue.

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    First of all, apparently you are asking different questions when you ask about the price of a gallon of milk in the U.S. vs the U.K. because there is almost an extra litre in the British Gallon. (I had to google how much a gallon is.) Anyway…I like the comparison but now I’m chewing on what kind of question you could ask to confirm connection to reality for the theologian, because their is such diversity within the church. Even between the other church in town that shares my current denomination and ourselves there is hardly any resemblance, how would you measure the entirety of the church? Even within a particular nation? Or is the theologians job to understand the breadth of the real church? And does a theologian also have the task have having a foot planted in culture at large? I suppose I ask in part as I try to find my place in the world as an emerging contextual theologian? (Oh and now I’m singing Michael W. Smith circa 1992)

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Sorry, I’m writing this from my phone. Well said Sean. There is a contrapuntal to contextual theology and that is, someone needs to do the hard and very specific yards without reference to the public. Scientists and philosophers come to mind. In most cases they are so narrow and deep that no one much cares about them. However they are usually the people that provide the food for the contextual theologian to breathe. I love unpractical thinking but as a pastor I have duty to help it make sense to everyone else. I wonder if contextual theologians are a sort of bridge between the deep thoughts of people who should never be seen in public and the the public who need to understand their deep thinking. Some of those politicians who don’t know the price of milk maybe very good at negotiating a horrible war – Winston Churchill probably didn’t know the price of milk.

  5. John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, brother, for your sharing and especially connecting the politicians to the common people they ask votes from. It is true even here I have seen many of the similar questions to our politicians who are completely disconnected with real life and they want to represent people they have no idea how they live.

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