In June 2009 I was interviewed by a journalist from the Canadian Mennonite at the Annual Delegates Assembly of Mennonite Church Canada. I was quoted saying “There is no such thing as individual Christianity.” Part of what that statement was designed to do was to challenge the pop-Christian motto “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” as well as private religion. While I don’t disagree with the statement as it is, what followed it was “Christianity is everywhere and always mediated by the church.” This is the part I have come to disagree with.
It is by reading John Milbank that I have realized some of the rather violent implications of this kind of commitment to mediation. This is perhaps surprising, since he is precisely one who makes these kinds of statements so strongly – and thereby has brought me face to face with some of the theological and ethical implications of my own ignorant proclamation. The following two quotes from Milbank were perhaps the most influential in changing my thinking:
“Recent thought has it that ours is a world in which death, the passing away of life beyond being into nothingness, is an ultimate horizon. It is suggested that only within this horizon does ethics acquire and ultimate seriousness. For if we are all terminally fragile, then our temporary lives assume an ultimate value, since we can offer our own lives for the sake of others. […] So is it true that death undergirds ethics? I want to argue against this, instead proposing the opposite position that only with faith in the resurrection is an ethical life possible.”
“Death, the experience of loss, contaminates our wills: this leads in turn to more barriers, more wars, more loss. Loss is ineradicable, and so we tend to assume that ethics is a sort of maximum possible minimization of loss. Yet I have shown that so long as there is loss, there cannot be any ethical, not even in any degree. Hence hope, hope that it may be given to me in the next moment to act well, is inseparable from hope that there may be universal acting-well, and at last a non-futile mourning; to be ethical therefore is to believe in the Resurrection, and somehow to participate in it. And outside this belief there is, quite simply, no ‘ethical’ whatsoever.”
Now, it may seem like I’m “proof-texting” here but I think these two quotes really capture what undergirds Milbank’s ethics. Can it really be that Milbank believes there is no ethics outside the Church? Isn’t the upshot of his claim that those outside the Church, those who do not believe in the Resurrection, are excluded from true ethical action? How can Milbank proclaim this and simultaneously assert and ontology of peace? Hasn’t he just excluded Jews, Muslims, Athiests, Buddhists, Hindus—in short, every single person who is not a professing Christian (by his own definition and criteria) as outside the possibility of practicing the kind of charity he describes throughout his work? Isn’t that violent? If Milbank maintains that the Church is the single mediating body of God’s grace, faith, hope, and charity, then this marks a significant moment of departure between his and my own understanding of Christianity. I hereby confess and recant my statement that Christianity is everywhere and always mediated by the Church.
 John Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice,” First Things 91 (March, 1999) http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/02/004-the-ethics-of-self-sacrifice-20, para. 7-8. Emphasis mine.
 John Milbank, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (London: Routledge, 2003), 148. Emphasis mine.