Emerging Expressions: How Social Trends are Impacting the Christian Church Patrick Littlefield March 5, 2010
Emerging Expressions How social trends are impacting the Christian Church Throughout the early twentieth century and the time leading up to it, Christian churches enjoyed their place in a culture of modernity surrounded by the safeguards of Christendom. The era of Christendom is often believed to have begun around the time of the rule of the Roman Emperor Constantine and the subsequent legalization and political embrace of Christianity. Christendom, which grew and developed in the time leading up to and through the twentieth century, constitutes a time period in which “the church was granted a privileged position as an agent of the state. It provided the moral and ideological bulwark of the society.”1 In England especially, the institution of the Anglican Church reigned supreme and traditional styles of worship were the norm. However, in the past several decades, churches of every denomination in England have seen drastic declines in popularity and attendance.2 Eddie Gibbs, a researcher of current church trends, notes, “As Christendom gave way to a secular and religiously pluralistic society, so the ministry sphere of priests and pastors began to shrink.”3 Indeed, secularization is often seen as one of the chief causes of the decline of Christianity across Europe. Philip Jenkins, another author concerned with religious trends, explains through the secularization theory that as Great Britain (among other European countries) has grown to be the urbanized, industrialized giant it is today, one can track a clear negative correlation between economic development and traditional piety.4 The correlation between the growth of modernity, made up in part by a
Eddie Gibbs, Churchmorph: How Megatrends are Reshaping Christian Communities (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 25. 2 Statistics are numerous and staggering including such figures as: only 38% of British respondents have declared Jesus as Son of God (2001), 44% of Britons claim any religious affiliation, and a startling 15% of Britons are reported to attend any place of worship weekly. See Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 27-28. 3 Gibbs, 25. 4 Jenkins, 43-44. This in combination with a limited mobility afforded to Europeans that Americans do not experience. Jenkins finds this limited mobility a key factor in why America has not also been affected by such secularization forces.
growing secular culture, and the decline of Christian practice is undeniable, especially in Great Britain. Also during this time, the western world experienced a major culture shift from modernity to postmodernity and what many Christians now believe to be a shift from Christendom to post-Christendom. Christianity no longer has the influence in society that it once had. Christianity’s hold on political, social, and cultural expressions of nations throughout the west has given way to more secular pluralistic expressions. Eddie Gibbs notes, “The organizational structures of historic churches were designed for a different cultural context, in which change was more predictable and occurred at a slower pace. Today we live in a culture of discontinuous and often unpredictable change.”5 Philip Jenkins reflects on the demise of Christendom but hopefully notes, “The recent experience of Christian Europe might suggest not that the continent is potentially a graveyard for religion but rather that it is a laboratory for new forms of faith, new structures of organization and interaction, that can accommodate to a dominant secular environment.”6 While the Anglican Church, along with every other denomination, continues to push through this time of uncertainty in church attendance and importance, some other groups, from both within and outside of the institutional church, have begun to emerge to address this cultural shift. These forms of church throughout England are in fact reacting to an emerging postmodern, globalized, post-spiritual culture through a rethinking and remolding of church structure, philosophy, and practices. These shifts are very diverse, with few all-encompassing principles. The only surety surrounding this ecclesial shift is that the world outside the church has changed drastically in regard to globalized, postmodern culture.
Gibbs, 12. Jenkins, 19.
A view into this world shows that it is getting drastically “smaller” everyday. Everincreasing connections between peoples and societies and advances in technology characterize such a “small” world. It is a world that has been propelled into its current position through many interacting forces, most notably the widespread process commonly called globalization. John Tomlinson describes globalization as an “empirical condition of the modern world: what I shall call complex connectivity. By this I mean that globalization refers to the rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependeces that characterize modern social life.”7 The connectivity that is at the heart of this situation is all-pervasive. According to Tomlinson, globalization theorist Anthony McGrew “speaks of globalization as ‘simply the intensification of global interconnectedness’ and stresses the multiplicity of linkages it implies.”8 Furthermore, Jurgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson explain, “In a single word, this term [globalization] summarizes a wide spectrum of experiences shared by many people. For one, the people of the world’s wealthy nations find (nearly) the entire world at their doorstep every day thanks to modern forms of consumption and communication.”9 The effects of globalization are prevalent in modern societies and affect every aspect of life by connecting people and cultures to one another in ways never imagined before. The onset of globalization has also brought about “the passage from the ‘solid’ to a ‘liquid’ phase of modernity: that is, into a condition in which social forms (structures that limit individual choices, institutions that guard repetitions of routines, patterns of acceptable behaviour) can no longer (and are not expected) to keep their shape for long, because they decompose and melt faster than the time it takes to cast them, and once they are cast for them to
John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 2. Tomlinson, 2. 9 Jurgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Petersson, Globalization: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 2. 8
set.”10 In such ‘liquid’ times, it is believed that social structures must adapt a more liquid, networked frame of reference toward the rest of the globalized world or risk becoming lost and forgotten. However, it is also the very embrace of fluid structures that continues to perpetuate with increasing rapidity the onset of global networks. In considering the advancement of network societies, Castells illuminates the tension between a ‘space of flows’ and a ‘space of places’. In doing so, he explains that “society is constructed around flows: flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interaction, flows of images, sounds and symbols. Flows are not just one element of the social organization: they are the expression of processes dominating our economic, political, and symbolic life.”11 The correlation between fluid, liquid structures and a worldwide connectivity is all pervasive in developed cultures, and colors personal, local, and international relations and ways of life. Such connectivity resulting from globalization has also commonly been explained by what some call “space-time-compression.”12 This concept suggests that modern technology and communication have erased the distance established by space and time. People can now share ideas and beliefs instantaneously, creating a global, shared culture. Osterhammel and Petersson note, “Another way to express this idea is to refer to ‘deterritorialization’ or ‘supraterreitoriality.’ Location, distance, and borders no longer play a role in many social relationships.”13 Globalization has brought together people and, more importantly, the ideas and beliefs of those people by lifting the boundaries once set by national and cultural territories. Vincent Miller further clarifies this issue by stating, “Mediated culture, easy travel and migration, and choice of community unbind culture from geographical space. Deterritorialization intensifies
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 1. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the )etwork Society (Malen, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 442. 12 Osterhammel and Petersson, 8. 13 Osterhammel and Petersson, 8. 11
heterogenization. These two dynamisms combine to give rise to a certain "cultural ecology" which fosters communities that focus on their own identities.”14 Deterritorialization does not always lead to a peaceful or neat cohesion, however. Through this process, the natural, often geographical identity of some communities is lost. Manuel Castells describes such a reaction in stating: Social movements tend to be fragmented, localistic, single-issue oriented, and ephemeral, either retrenched in their inner worlds, or flaring up for just an instant around a media symbol. In such a world of uncontrolled, confusing change, people tend to regroup around primary identities: religious, ethnic, territorial, national. Religious fundamentalism, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, and even Buddhist (in what seems to be a contradiction in terms), is probably the most formidable force of personal security and collective mobilization in these troubled years. In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and images, the search for identity, collective or individual, ascribed or constructed, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning.15 The loss of territorial identity has led some communities to regroup under a more fundamental identity. Osterhammel and Petersson explain that an understanding of cultural globalization has shifted from seeing the process as one of homogenization, or the dominance of a single culture, to understanding an alternative trend that is “evident in the emergence of movements protesting against globalization,” and that gives “new momentum to the defense of local uniqueness, individuality, and identity.”16 Miller also describes the misunderstanding of homogenization, and asserts, “Sociologists and anthropologists…have long noted an opposing dynamic: heterogenization. The same economic and technological forces that make globalization possible also encourage people to think of themselves as members of distinct cultures and to join together in ever purer, smaller cultural units.”17
Vincent J. Miller, “Where is the Church: Globalization and Catholicity.” Theological Studies 69, no. 2 (June 2008): 412-413. 15 Castells, 3. 16 Osterhammel and Petersson, 7. 17 Vincent Miller, 412.
The identity of these cultural units is no longer necessarily secular either. Many sociologists have begun to question the pervasiveness of secularism and whether developed countries can still be characterized as being secular. Debray comments: Had our historians and philosophers not proclaimed a century ago that technological and scientific progress, industrialization and communications would without doubt erase nationalistic and religious superstitions? Don’t we daily speak about the “opposites” inherited from the 19th century: the sacred vs. the profane, the irrational vs. the rational, archaism vs. modernity, nationalism vs. globalism? Apparently, we got everything wrong. Our modernist vision of modernity has itself turned out to be only an archaism of the industrial age.18 This view may be slightly extreme considering the prediction of a secular society “has proven to be half right as we have witnessed the demise of traditional religious institutions represented by what were termed the “mainline” churches.”19 Nevertheless, religious interest has not died out and is currently taking on a new expression. Current culture is beginning to emerge into a postSecular reality. This is evident in the rise in popularity of independent spiritualities and even fundamentalism. Habermas draws a strong correlation between the rise of post-secularization and fundamentalism in stating, “A first sign of their vibrancy is the fact that orthodox, or at least conservative, groups within the established religious organizations and churches are on the advance everywhere. This holds for Hinduism and Buddhism just as much as it does for the three monotheistic religions.”20 The post-Secular culture is looking for ways to reconnect with spirituality, within the extremes of opening up to a buffet of spiritual practices to retreating from the global world into fundamental expressions of faith. Rebecca Frey emphasizes the reactive nature of such fundamentalism by stating: The first characteristic feature of fundamentalism, which underlies all the others, is what the Chicago researchers term reactivity. A defensive or protective attitude toward religious belief is necessary, in their opinion, for a group or movement to qualify as 18
Regis Debray, “God and the Political Planet,” )ew Perspectives Quarterly 25, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 33. Gibbs, 28-9. 20 Jurgen Habermas, “Notes on Post-Secular Society.” )ew Perspectives Quarterly 25, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 18. 19
fundamentalism. The specific threat perceived by the group may come from general trends in the surrounding culture, from other religions or ethnic groups within the nation, from the state, or from more liberal members within the larger religious tradition.21 In our current situation, fundamentalism is clearly, at least in part, an extreme reaction to globalized, postmodern culture, and it is this aspect that I will explore. The deterritorialization of globalization threatens, and even violates, local identity, which pushes people to embrace fundamentalism. Bryan Turner responds to this identity threat by noting: There is a need for some understanding of how identities, membership and loyalties can develop and function in a global context. In the early modern period, religion and nationalism provided the dominant modes of individual and collective identity. Both religious and nationalist modes of self reference are products of a common process of modernization, of which globalization can be regarded as the contemporary dominant phase. Just as nationalism can assume either liberal or reactionary forms (Kohn, 1944), so religion can either develop a cosmopolitan or a fundamentalist orientation.22 Furthermore, Jenkins states that it is precisely the failing of Christendom that allowed more radical fundamentalism (i.e. radical Islam) to emerge so strongly throughout Europe.23 The demise of Christendom and the growth of globalization provided the perfect setting for fundamentalism that had been incubating for centuries to emerge in full force. Jenkins finds, among many forms of faith still surviving in Europe, the emergence of “both Christian and Muslim “sects,” [that]…are rigidly conservative in tone and speak the language of traditionalism.”24 Habibul Khondker reinforces the connections between globalization and fundamentalism by stating, “Whether or not fundamentalism is a global category (Lechner, 1993) is a matter of some contention (Turner, 2006), but no one denies the link between globalization and
Rebecca Joyce Frey, Global Issues: Fundamentalism (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007), 9. Bryan S. Turner, “Cosmopolitan Virtue, Globalization and Patriotism.” Theory, Culture, and Society 19 (2002): 45. 23 Jenkins, 1-2. 24 Jenkins, 77. However, he does note many other forms of faith expressions (that are not by nature fundamentalism) that have emerged recently in the face of Europe’s ‘religious crisis,’ even addressing some emerging church expressions. 22
fundamentalism.”25 Benjamin Barber echoes Castells’ limited understanding of the effects of globalization, which are based solely on the link that Khondker defines. In his book, Jihad vs. McWorld, Barber distinguishes one, and only one, reaction or opponent to “McWorld,” or globalized culture: Jihad, which is his characterization of fundamentalism. This relationship between globalization and fundamentalism is circular, and Barber notes, “Jihad not only revolts against but abets McWorld, while McWorld not only imperils but re-creates and reinforces Jihad.”26 While this most certainly occurs, the effects of globalization are not so simple. Castells and Barber capture a clearly evident fundamentalist reaction; however, in focusing on it, they neglect another possibility that is currently occurring throughout the developed world. This paper seeks to explore this alternative reaction to both globalization and fundamentalism within the context of Christianity. While many Christians are responding to globalization through fundamentalism, several others have emerged with a spirit of plurality and acceptance of this new globalized world. These groups are commonly titled “Emerging Churches,” or “Fresh Expressions of church.” There is much variety both within and between churches that are titled in this way or take on these titles themselves. The Emerging Church phenomenon can best be described as an unorganized, decentralized movement among various Christian churches throughout the world. These churches have emerged in developed countries, primarily in the U.K and Western Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand both slightly before and throughout the turn of the twenty-first century. Dave Tomlinson’s book, The Post-Evangelical (1995), stirred many current emerging church leaders and writers to reconsider their approach to church, resulting in a chain reaction leading to the current emerging church
Habibul Haque Khondker, “Cultural Conflicts, Fundamentalisms, and Globalization.” Globalizaions 3, no. 4 (December 2006): 443. 26 Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Times Books, 1995), 5.
situation.27 The movement has been supported by the writing and leading of many different people throughout Europe, Australia and America. This movement is unique in the fact that some critics, and proponents, of the emerging church would not even consider it a movement because of its vast internal diversity. Michael Moynagh explains, “Emerging church is a mindset…rather than a model. It is a direction rather than a destination. It rests on principles rather than a plan. It arises out of a culture rather than being imposed on a culture. It is a mood, scarcely yet a movement.”28 Apart from broad practices found throughout emerging churches, there have been other attempts to define this movement and what the churches are doing that sets them apart. These definitions are very general, however. Gibbs and Bolger quote Johnny Baker, an emerging church leader in London who explains, “I think that the term emerging church is nothing more than a way of expressing that we need new forms of church that relate to the emerging culture.”29 Gibbs and Bolger provide two other definitions of their own, including, “Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures,”30 and “Emerging churches…dismantle church practices that are no longer culturally viable.”31 Emerging churches are interacting with the world in a way that is drawing attention; however, defining exactly what these churches are or the specific things they do is a difficult task. Fresh expressions of church are very similar to emerging churches in many ways, especially in their ethos and drive for establishing and extending the Christian message in culturally relevant ways. However, there are two overarching ways to understand the term “fresh expression”. The first is Fresh Expressions, which can be best understood as the church planting 27
Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 34-35. Michael Moynagh, emergingchurch.intro. (Grand Rapids: Monarch Books, 2005), 25. 29 Gibbs and Bolger, 41. 30 Gibbs and Bolger, 44. 31 Gibbs and Bolger, 46. 28
initiative under the oversight of the Church of England in partnership with the Methodist Church and the United Reform Church. While emerging churches have begun to grow outside of England in America and Australia, Fresh Expressions is specifically a British initiative. Within and outside of this initiative, fresh expressions of churches have been established, which are specific examples of ways that the concept of church is being expressed afresh in the current cultural atmosphere. There have been many attempts to create a list of typical forms fresh expression churches take on, which showcases the vast diversity of these churches.32 Some fresh expressions of church engage with culture more intentionally and provide truly new ways of being a church in the current culture. Others, however, can be found that do very little different from other traditional churches. This makes using these titles all the more difficult, and generalizations made about the group are near impossible. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are some characteristics in both emerging churches and fresh expressions of church that are comparable and worth exploring. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout England to explore such emerging churches and fresh expressions of church. Through observing gatherings and interviewing leaders and congregants within these churches and other researchers and scholars studying these churches, I have been able to draw some conclusions regarding how emerging churches are providing an alternative way of responding to current cultural trends. This first-hand experience paired with other research into these churches and modern culture has given me only a small taste of the distinguishing characteristics of emerging churches and the interplay between these 32
The Mission-Shaped Church report, a publication of the Church of England that seeks to illuminate the intentions and methods of fresh expressions of church gives such a list, which includes: alternative worship communities, base ecclesial communities, cafĂŠ church, cell church, churches arising out of community initiatives, multiple and midweek congregations, network-focused churches, school-based and school-linked congregations and churches, seeker church, traditional church plants, traditional forms of church inspiring new interest, and youth congregations. See Graham Cray et al., Mission Shaped Church Report (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), 44. As extensive as such lists are, they are often misleading and even unhelpful since many churches break from a specific classification and new churches emerge that challenge these categories.
and other forms of church prevalent in this century. While the following insights may present an incomplete representation of the highly nuanced characterization of emerging churches, I trust that my focus on how such churches present a unique response to globalized, postmodern culture (especially in comparison to more fundamentalist expressions of faith) will illuminate at least a part of the framework of such churches. There are both differences and overlap between ‘emerging churches’ and ‘fresh expressions of church’. While I do not intend to downplay the differences between groups falling in either category, I do not seek to elucidate the complexities of these terms. Rather I aim to examine churches that interact with culture in new ways, which generally includes both emerging and fresh expression groups. Within these groups “there is a strong association with the church’s responsibility for mission ‘afresh’ every generation. There also appears to be a general consensus of understanding regarding the church’s role to emerge out of the interplay of engagement with contemporary culture.”33 There are churches within these distinctive descriptions that clearly connect on some levels; and, for simplicity’s sake, I will hereafter use the term emerging church to refer to any church that I believe is reacting to culture in a way that embraces new methods and ideals of what it means to be church in a postmodern, globalized world, differentiating between terms only when absolutely necessary. Therefore, it is important here to examine the unifying features of all these churches. They are driven to adapt and change what they are doing based on a common, underlying stimulus. A growing postmodern, globalized culture has driven these churches to adopt new and, in some senses, unorthodox methods. Emerging churches are attempting to relate to this imposing, global culture. These churches are responding to the fact that the postmodern shift has
Ian Mobsby, Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church: How are they Authentically Church and Anglican? (London: Moot Community Publishing, 2007), 31.
affected all areas of life. Pope notes, “[Modernity] has been swept aside in postmodernity, where the existence of a single, organising principle has been denied and the complexity of life, with its contradictions, plurality and ambiguity, has been asserted. All areas of human activity have been affected by this shift, including art and architecture, literature, music, politics, and religion.”34 For Pope, though, it is not enough to know that the church is affected by such a cultural shift. He goes on to explain, “our rapidly and constantly changing culture, though marked by globalisation, pluralism and the penchant for the visual and the sound-bite, requires the church not only to be aware of the developments beyond its walls but also to respond sincerely and meaningfully to them.”35 It is necessary for any social institution, including the church to respond or react to these changes. Churches, along with all of society, have been thrust into this new culture, and each institution must determine how to react. Zygmunt Bauman emphasizes the need for any socially engaging structure to adapt and change as he states, “Past successes do not necessarily increase the probability of future victories, let alone guarantee them; while means successfully tested in the past need to be constantly inspected and revised since they may prove useless or downright counterproductive once circumstances change.”36 Although some forms of church have been ‘successful’ in the past, this is no longer the case. As churches interact with culture, they must determine to what extent and in what ways they will change. Churches constantly face the dilemma of “whether the church exists simply as a subculture or a counterculture or whether it can become truly cross-cultural in the sense of crossing into the broader culture.”37 Emerging churches truly believe that they can become cross-cultural. Gibbs and Bolger offer another 34
Robert Pope, “Emerging Church: Congregation or Abberation?” International Congregational Journal 7, no. 2 (Fall 2008): 30-31. 35 Pope, 31. 36 Bauman, 3. 37 Gibbs and Bolger, 16.
concise explanation of the understanding of postmodernity that emerging churches face. They note that postmodernity may have many different definitions, but explain: We are concerned with modernity within the field of social theory (i.e., how cultural shifts affect the lives of people as a whole in society). Modernity began with the creation of secular space in the fourteenth century. This sacred/secular split led to fragmentation in society simultaneously with the pursuit of control and order. Postmodernity marks the time when secular space was called into question concurrent with the pursuit of holism and the welcoming of pluralization in Western societies. Emerging churches embody their way of life within postmodern culture.38 Emerging churches are partly characterized as intentionally interacting with this new, postmodern, globalized culture. Within church thinking, especially emerging church thinking, postmodernism takes on its own unique expressions, which is explained in more detail by Scott Bader-Saye: Emergents generally define the postmodern ethos in terms of a cluster of cultural transitions that have had most impact on younger generations – things like a return to mystery (with a renewed interest in spiritual practices and medieval mysticism), a hunger for spirituality (even if overlaid with ‘new age’ assumptions and do-it-yourself religion), new models of networked communities (via Internet, cell phones and increased mobility), a desire to find roots in tradition (in contrast to the modern suspicion of tradition), and a yearning to encounter God through image, ritual and sacrament (in contrast to highly word-centered and often iconoclastic modernist forms of Christianity).”39 Although all institutions are affected by this culture, emerging churches are those that, among other things, purposefully respond in order to connect with the culture. These changes take several different forms depending on the make-up of the community that an emerging church brings together; however, there have been several attempts to describe broadly how emerging churches are engaging postmodern, globalized culture. I will explore how church structures, philosophy, and practice have been redefined in emerging churches as they react to a postmodern, globalized culture through a contextual but networked, local/global outlook, an 38
Gibbs and Bolger, 44. Scott Bader-Saye, “Improvising Church: An Introduction to the Emerging Church Conversation,” International Journal for the study of the Christian Church 6, no. 1 (March 2006): 16. 39
ancient/future spirituality, connection with post-secular spirituality, and a relation to the traditional, institutional church. Local/Global Contextual First and foremost, emerging churches seek to be contextual in regard to the specific local setting in which they are established. This is a challenge that any organization faces in the current cultural setting. Kester Brewin, a writer and pioneering church planter in England, explains, “In every area of life it seems there are historically top-down organizations that are having to adapt and evolve; that have realized that the only way that they can survive is to transform themselves…into conjunctive, devolved, bottom-up, adaptable networks that are trim, agile, and flexible enough to face and meet the ever-changing challenges of the fast-moving post-Enlightenment world.”40 This involves continually reinventing what church means and looks like in any particular situation. Donald Miller expresses the urgency of such efforts at being contextual by explaining, “If Christianity is going to survive, it must continually reinvent itself, adapting its message to the members of each generation, along with their cultural and geographical setting…..Truth, however one conceives of it, is always expressed in rooted, culturally specific symbols. The question is whether these symbols communicate their message in the current marketplace of needs and ideas.”41 There is an overall understanding in emergent groups that the message of Christianity must be expressed in culturally relevant ways. This comes across in many aspects of the life of an emerging church, including planting a church, constructing worship services, inward church growth, and outward church service.
Kester Brewin, Signs of Emergence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 95-96. Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the )ew Millennium (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 18. 41
It all starts with what Kester Brewin labels an ‘open system.’ On considering the sustainability of systems, Brewin concludes that emerging churches must “be characterized by a sense of being open to [their] environment, of ‘sensing it, responding to it and, in turn, shaping it’. This as opposed to the prevailing current mode of closure characterized by selfsufficiency.”42 Brewin’s view of an open system, a system connected to that which is outside it or around it, draws a direct contrast to a closed system, or a system that withdraws, often characteristic of the fundamental response. Instead of closing off to protect identity, emergent groups characterized as open systems intentionally seek to interact with culture. Eddie Gibbs states, “In contrast to the mainstream of North American evangelicalism in which the various “tribes” define and defend themselves in terms of their boundaries, emerging churches are more concerned with putting down roots in a wide range of traditions. They believe this is what is entailed in becoming truly catholic.”43 In regard to this understanding, “the word catholic means that which accords to wholeness. Rather than implying a global or national uniformity, catholicity is an invitation to inclusion.”44 Emerging churches believe that interconnectedness is not merely an external reality prevalent in the rest of the world, but rather a traditionally built-in marker of identity within the church. George Lings states, “Awareness of the ecological interconnectedness of all things is one aspect of the emerging paradigm that offers the possibility of regarding catholicity as connectedness, a form of existence that exalts being above doing, and relationship above regulation.”45 Such connectedness necessitates openness to culture and to the diversity that exists in modern, global culture. Emerging churches embrace this catholicity through a promotion of 42
Brewin, 100. Gibbs, 40. 44 Cray, 97 45 George Lings, “Unraveling the DNA of Church: How Can We Know That What is Emerging is ‘Church’?” International Journal for the study of the Christian Church, 6 no. 1 (March 2006): 111. 43
diversity (both internally and across churches), and it is “this diversity [that] comes about through the ‘incarnation’ of Christian truth in many different cultural forms which it both critiques and affirms. The catholicity of the church is actually a mandate for cultural hospitality.”46 Not only is this an important value in emerging churches, but it reaches back to the early tradition of the Christian church as a fundamental aspect of identity and nature found in the Nicene Creed.47 Emerging churches take this value and interpret it in a way that pushes them to be more inclusive of whatever local culture they have emerged within as well as the larger global cultures they are now connected with. Emerging church adherents believe that they must be open to the culture around them at all stages of church life and growth. In fact, it is this openness itself that drives the mission of church planting and growth. The Mission-Shaped Church Report explains, “The planting process is the engagement of church and gospel with a new mission context, and this should determine the fresh expression of church.”48 Most emerging church minded church planters take to heart the writings of Leslie Newbigin, who after returning to the UK from many years of missionary work in India saw a need to renew mission for people in western cultures. Newbigin explores the delicate balance between two dangers – “The first danger is that the church may so conform its life and teaching 46
Cray, 97. Cray, 96. The Nicene Creed, which was established in 325CE under Constantine in the city of Nicaea, has since been adopted by many Christian faith traditions. The creed in entirety under the Anglican adaptation (with bolded area of significance): We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. (from Church of England website: < http://www.cofe.anglican.org/ worship/liturgy/commonworship/texts/word/creeds.html>) 48 Cray, 21. 47
to the culture that it no longer functions as the bearer of God’s judgment and promise. It becomes simply the guardian and guarantor of the culture and fails to challenge it. The other danger is that the language and the life-style of the church should be such that they make no contact with the culture and become the language and life-style of a ghetto.”49 He also sees that the changing cultural condition, even in his time, largely impacts the way the church must understand its task.50 Emerging churches find in Newbigin a similar analysis and evaluation of the church to their own, and it is no surprise that they rely to some extent on his ideas of reconnecting with culture. The nature of being open to inculturation or contextualization is seen as necessary and “all the more vital since different networks within our post-Christendom, consumer society, are often culturally worlds away from each other. Our society is changing so fast that it is becoming a new missionary context in which many members of the Church of England experience mission in their own land as cross-cultural.”51 The current British culture is increasingly multi-ethnic and in a globalized world with networks across countries, church establishment must arise from the bottom up to truly be contextualized. In fact, as Islam continues to grow throughout Europe, British Christians will find that their local and global contexts are both increasingly multi-faith. Jenkins acknowledges this reality and expresses the practical implications that Christians will have to accommodate both cultural and religious differences.52 However, he also believes that Christians can use this interaction as a catalyst to rejuvenate their own faith, as long as this does not impede the first goal of peaceful accommodation.53
Leslie Newbigin, “The Open Secret,” in Leslie )ewbigin, Missionary Theologian: A Reader, ed. Paul Weston (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 96. 50 Newbigin, “On Being the Church for the World,” in Weston, 131. 51 Cray, 90. 52 Jenkins, 261. 53 Jenkins, 260-262.
In considering church planting and growth, emerging church leaders try to establish an organic context. They look for ways to arise out of a specific context rather than being imposed or implanted on or in an area. They do not believe that the most effective way to establish a church is to purely replicate an existing community. There is no copy/paste function or cloning mechanism in emerging church planting dialogue. Neil Cole explains his concept of an ‘organic church’ as a church that emerges “more naturally, organically. These organic churches sprang up wherever the seed was planted: in coffeehouses, campuses, businesses, and homes. We believe that church should happen wherever life happens. You shouldn’t have to leave life to go to church.”54 Cole goes on to explain the development of such organic churches as similar to that of natural biological development, by stating, “In all of life, reproduction begins at the cellular level and eventually multiplies and morphs into more complex living entities. Life reproduces, and usually it develops from micro to macro. Our movement has developed in just such a manner.”55 Churches with an emerging mindset see the beginning of church growth at the most basic, local, contextual level. As the specific, unique elements of DNA guide the development of any living creature to be itself a unique entity, so do emerging churches look to connect with the unique DNA of the social setting around them and allow church to organically grow and be shaped by that contextualized identity. George Lings notes, “To talk of DNA invites an exploration of the genuinely creative process by which emerging church can be shaped. It is a shorthand way of exploring how gospel and church can become inculturated into a fresh context.”56 This philosophy is made real in several practicing emergent-minded groups. Most notable is the group called Sanctuary, led by Pall Singh. This is a church community situated in 54
Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 23-24. Cole, 24. 56 Lings, “Unraveling the DNA of Church,” 107. 55
Birmingham that has a specific contextual outreach to British Asians. Birmingham, like most major British cities is very diverse ethnically and has been consistently growing in this trend. Census results and projections from the University of Manchester report that in 2006, 23% of the city’s population was Asian.57 This figure is expected to rise to 25% in 2011 and to continue to rise just as consistently through the next several decades.58 Clearly, the Asian population comprises a large proportion of the Birmingham population. Therefore, seeking to connect with Asians and relate to Asian culture is a primary way (although one of many) to be culturally contextual in Birmingham. Pall has drawn on his own cultural heritage and that of other British Asian Christians to find ways to reach out to a specific population and enable a community to arise within that context. The philosophical, missional understanding of how to do this is evident in how Singh explains that the community and services of Sanctuary offer the message of Christianity in an Asian bowl.59 Although the message itself is believed to not be fundamentally altered from any Christian belief, the way in which the message is presented is contextual to this specific congregation of British Asians. The people attending Sanctuary are exposed to a faith that draws heavily on symbolic imagery, such as lighting candles or eating Asian sweets, to illustrate a Christian principle along with many meditative prayer practices that an Asian population would find familiar and comforting. Other outward signs of Asian identity include the songs and decorations of the worship space, which have a significant Eastern feel. Sanctuary is made possible precisely through the process of globalization and an openness to sharing of a plurality of cultural 57
Ludi Simpson, “Population forecasts for Birmingham, with an ethnic group dimension” (Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, 2007), 5. This is a summation of the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Chinese subgroups, but an exclusion of the ‘Other’ subgroup. While Sanctuary is primarily concerned with reaching the Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi ethnic groups, I included the Chinese subgroup as well because of the overall Asian draw that the church hopes to attain. This figure is in comparison to 65% of the population that is reportedly white and numbers 222,850 people total. 58 Simpson, 5. 59 Pall Singh, interviewed by author, Birmingham, England, June 3, 2009.
traditions. In Sanctuary there is a harmonious mesh of identities that come together to create one, more catholic identity. This identity extends even beyond the originally intended British Asian target. Although specifically contextualized for British Asians, Sanctuary has not emerged as an exclusive group. In fact, Singh comments on how “surprisingly it [Sanctuary] attracts people who feel comfortable in that…spirituality as it were, connecting to God in that way. So, we get Afro-Caribbean people, white people, people of faith, non faith, Asians, non Asians.”60 Sanctuary was planted to meet a specific, localized context; however, it has developed through inward growth that continues to characterize it as an open system connecting to a specific local setting. Moot, an emerging community in London, has also experienced inward growth that continually redefines the group as an open, adaptable, emergent system. Brewin explains that “by being open to their environment and seeking to respond to it they [emerging churches] are being open to adapting to its unique and localized needs.”61 Moot has accomplished this through the development of new services and ways to worship. The church is situated in the heart of London’s banking district. Moot allows programs to emerge to meet the specific needs of the immediate population in which it has become contextualized. This has occurred through the establishment of a weekly meditation service for people who are surrounded all day by the busyness of business life and work. This expression of worship has become so popular, in fact, that some businesses are currently trying to work out a way for the people of Moot to do something within the office building.62 Both Moot and Sanctuary have found unique, contextual ways to engage with the culture in which they have arisen. They, and many other emerging churches, model what it means to be an open system responding to a changing world. 60
Pall Singh, interview. Brewin, 101. 62 Ian Mobsby, interviewed by author, London, England, July 16, 2009. 61
Local/global Another philosophical drive of emerging church practitioners is the belief of the need to establish local/global communities. In this paradoxical outlook on how the church should connect to the world, an interrelated dichotomy is established of being locally contextual and oriented, but also globally networked and connected. Finding ways to connect to people or places has to be redefined in a globalized, postmodern culture. Debray notes that as globalization and industrialization have become more prevalent, they have forced onto the world dislocation evident in employment, social movement, and moral codes. Through this process, however, relocalization has emerged and “Even the ecological ethos of the age is “think global, act local.”63 There is an ironic dynamic in current culture of the importance and prevalence of both local and global relate-ability. George Lings comments, “The demise of Christendom and the rise of informal networks have led to a double sense of liminality. The Church simultaneously exists at the edge of society and also in a world that no longer has centers at all.”64 This provides a challenge for any group seeking to build community or collective identity among its members. As the world, and the people inhabiting it, become more global and decentralized, church leaders must find ways to work with or against such trends. Emerging churches see value and threat in the fundamentalist urge to hold on to and build up predominately local, tribal identity. Ian Mobsby notes, “Finally, and of great significance, is the link between the global market and forms of political and religious fundamentalism. That the globalising processes create local forms of ‘neo-tribal fundamentalist tendencies’ as the experience of those on the receiving end. So postmodernism as a concept brings significant
Debray, 34. Lings, “Unraveling the DNA of Church,” 105.
threats alongside new possibilities.”65 With the onset of globalization, there has been a resurgence of local, tribal identity in fundamentalist reaction. Emerging churches arise in specific contexts and thus minister to specific local communities, but they also guard against a homogenized identity by increasing lateral networked connections. Within this construct of local/global identity, territory and group membership are redefined. Such an abandonment of geographical boundaries presents an even greater problem for those churches arising within an Anglican tradition, most notably some fresh expression churches. This tension with geographic identity arises because “the starting place of an Anglican understanding of the ‘local church’ is the Diocese…[which] draws together disparate parishes and congregations in a shared identity which expresses the tensions of a pluralistic church.”66 Traditional geographical boundaries have long been in place in the Anglican Church; and in the current, less geographically oriented culture, these boundaries become limiting. This issue has been addressed by Fresh Expression churches, which have acknowledged that “individual parishes are not well placed to look at larger unit sizes and the impact of social trends and population movements. These are appropriate responsibilities for national, regional and diocesan authorities.”67 In looking for leadership, support, and even guidelines in church planting, fresh expression churches within an Anglican context are depending on the broader boundaries of deaneries and other national, regional and diocesan connections “to sustain a pattern of being Church that seeks to connect with all people, whether they identify themselves through their networks or their neighborhoods.”68 This is a specifically Anglican solution to the deterritorialization experienced in modern culture, and it is a solution that is still not completely
Mobsby, 23. Mobsby, 74. 67 Cray, 137. 68 Cray, 137. 66
ensured in regard to effectiveness. Nevertheless, it is a response to the reality that many emerging churches in England must work under or with in some capacity, and it is of a similar mindset to that of non-Anglican emerging churches. No matter what tradition or denomination an emerging church is working through, each is working to redefine territorial identity rather than withdraw defensively to protect that identity. In some sense the idea of geographical territory is upheld as emerging churches invest in the specific local communities in which they function. A group of people meeting and forming a community can never completely remove themselves from some geographically constructed identity. While this local focus may only be part, and even sometimes a small part, of the overall scope of relation a church has with the world, it nevertheless cannot be ignored. Emerging churches uphold this local identity primarily through their efforts at being locally contextual in the way they plant and develop churches, as I have previously described. Brewin states, “For all emergent systems the nature of self-organization is dictated by local, not global, circumstances.”69 Therefore, some sort of territorial identity is upheld in self-organization and other ways of relating to the community a church is situated in through acts of local service and outreach. Brewin goes on to explain that this characteristic serves to bring to life the adaptability of emergent systems and “that by being open to their environment and seeking to respond to it they are being open to adapting to its unique and localized needs.”70 For emerging churches, adaptability, rather than stagnant identity protection, is found in local contextualization. This entire process is a response driven in part by globalization, which is evident in Debray’s explanation: “The appearance of localisms does not negate globalization. On the contrary, it is a product of globalization. Each new device for uprooting liberates a mechanism of
Brewin, 101. Brewin, 101.
defensive territorial implantation, necessarily of a sacred nature. The soil and the sacred go together.”71 Globalization has reinforced the need for localization, which is apparent in both emerging and fundamentalist expressions of church. The local focus of emerging churches is not necessarily about more firmly establishing or protecting preexisting identities, as is the defining factor of fundamentalism. Rather, it is about connecting and relating to a specific identity in order to frame Christianity in a certain contextual lens and to bring that identity into the larger networked relations of emerging church discussion. Global/Connected/)etworked While emerging churches invest much time and energy to ensure that they are locally contextual, they also expend similar amounts of effort in maintaining more networked, global connectivity. This is in step with current social trends of moving from more solid, defined structures to more networked, loose connections between people and organizations. Zygmumt Bauman explains, “’Society’ is increasingly viewed and treated as a ‘network’ rather than a structure’ (let alone a solid ‘totality’): it is perceived and treated as a matrix of random connections and disconnections and of an essentially infinite volume of possible permutations.”72 This network model has been very influential, especially in an emergent mindset, and it often becomes characterized by other terms such as fluidity or liquidity. In defining a ‘liquid church,’ or a church that he believes must emerge to address and relate to current culture, Pete Ward explains, “We need to shift from seeing church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time – that is, a congregation – to a notion of church as a series of relationships and communications. This image implies something like a network or a web rather than an assembly
Debray, 35. Bauman, 3.
of people.”73 Ward seeks to change the understanding of church from one of merely a localized, tribalized community to an interrelated structure of people communicating and interacting with each other similar to “the way in which contemporary media, business, and finance are based on networks of communication.”74 Mobsby explains, “For Ward, ‘community’ is further understood as a more fluid network of relationships and communications, rather than necessarily those living in geographical proximity.”75 Even the Mission Shaped Church Report, a publication of the Anglican Church on the current state and future possibilities of the church, notes: The Western world, at the start of the third millennium, is best described as a ‘networked society’. This is a fundamental change: ‘the emergence of a new social structure’. In a networked society the importance of place is secondary to the importance of ‘flows’… Globalization implies a networked world: ‘Globalization promotes much more physical mobility than ever before, but the key to its cultural impact is in the transformation of localities themselves.’76 The report goes on to explain how through networks, community is now being redefined apart from locality and geography.77 Clearly, emerging church leaders are very conversant with the current social trends of a rise of networked connections and are trying to understand how churches can relate and respond to the phenomenon in conjunction with connecting to unique local identities. This does not merely relate to the rising popularity of ‘network’ churches. Such churches have been established recently, some of which even take on emerging characteristics. George Lings comments, “In 2003, it was possible to imagine that network churches, because they were tapping into a major way in which society was being reshaped, would at least emulate the effectiveness of other long established churches that worked through the parochial, territorial
Pete Ward, Liquid Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 2. Ward, 2-3. 75 Mobsby, 23. 76 Cray, 4-5. 77 Cray, 5. 74
model.”78 Some of these churches have seen growth and success, but most have not lived up to this expectation. While many of these network churches have not survived, their early attempt at functionally expressing what it means to exhibit a networked identity have paved the way for current churches to explore more networked structures. An even more important legacy of network churches that emerging churches embrace and embody is a networked mentality - it is the mentality that is key for emerging churches in general, not the specific structural expression of network churches. John Drane explains that tribal groupings of people have now become widespread in society and are the dominant way of connecting with people. He states, “We are all now more likely to define our social identity by reference to various sub-cultures that adopt a particular set of interests, beliefs, and ethical values.”79 While this tribal identity consists of the same terminology used in defining some fundamentalist reactions to deterritorialization, the important distinction to make is that Drane’s understanding of tribes, which is consistent to the kind of identity emerging churches are attempting to foster, revolves around an emergence from within the culture, rather than a tribal identity imposed upon a group. He goes on to explain, “this sort of tribe emerges more or less spontaneously among individuals who happen to find themselves in the same place, but without any other pre-existing networks of significant friends or relatives.”80 The emergence of tribal identity is what emerging churches are trying to connect with, and through which they are finding their own identity. These are groupings that have no pre-set boundaries (geographical, cultural, ethnic, etc.), but that allow a local context and networked connections to continually redefine the identity of the community.
George Lings, “Do Network Churches Work?” Encounters on the Edge, no. 41 (2009): 3. John Drane, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 38. 80 Drane, 39. 79
Ian Mobsby describes how this model of networked relationships has guided the thinking and practice of the community of Moot. He explains: That's the beauty of information technology, and its place within this, is that…you don't have to be geographically present to people. We have blog sites, our hosting site, all that stuff enables an immediacy…Technology allows you to be present, and we have to be aware that we live in a network culture now…Geography is still important, and practical presence in that is a really important function of church, but we have to be aware that that post-modern element is networking completely how it operates. In many parts of our city, people live as cohabiting strangers and choose who they network with and how they connect to various communities. And actually, until recently, the church was really neglecting and negating networks. So,…at Moot you're seeing a particular network of people from all different parts, different walks of life, and share a network because of their particular world view and particular interests.81 In returning to Tomlinson’s description of globalization – “the rapidly developing and ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life”82 – one can see that this is exactly the model emerging churches are using to characterize the direction that church must take. The description of this aspect of church can be seen as a specific adaptation of the general influence of globalization, and this is precisely how such churches emerge as a specific manifestation of the society of which they are a part. Mobsby traces this development of the church by stating, “Changing technology, particularly developments in communications and computing, have created the global village, which has significantly sped up communications and affected every area of life, so that people have to manage constant flows of information. Life has become fast and fluid. This has in turn created a sense of fragmentation and a constant sense of uncertainty. Social relating has shifted from a sense of place to the network, which as already stated may have no geographical reference point.”83 This is precisely the point where the more fundamentalist reaction deviates from the emergent one. Where fundamentalism retreats from fluid, networked reality of society and 81
Mobsby, interview. Tomlinson, 2. 83 Mobsby, 25. 82
culture and clutches to place and homogenous identity, emergent groups embrace the network model. Inter-Church Connections This network model takes practical form in most emerging churches. Such liquid, networked, global forms of church are expressed through inter-church connections and intrachurch connections. Inter-church connections are possibly the most obvious, and include the sharing of ideas and other general communications between churches. This is especially made possible through the internet and other methods put in place through globalization that connect people across not only cultures, but also time and space. In this understanding, geographical barriers are demolished between cities, countries, and even continents. Ideas are shared through online networks or blogs, and some even consider the church they attend to be an internet based sharing of thoughts and ideas. This allows not only a sharing of ideas, but also the building of relationships and friendships between different communities. Emerging churches rely heavily on inter-church connections to help them grow out and interact with other people, and to establish common networks of help and support. Becky Garrison records Brian McLaren’s statement, “We see the emerging church as an expression of faith in a world of networks. This network becomes more like a gravitational field than a machine. It’s a web of relationships where power and information are disseminated very broadly…As a result, everybody has the capacity to learn from, influence, and enrich everybody.”84 The networked reality of globalization plays a powerful role in the formation and maturity of any modern community, especially emerging churches, and does so between and within specific churches. Intra-Church Connections
Becky Garrison, Rising From the Ashes: Rethinking Church (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 86.
Intra-church networking is more of a reevaluation of leadership and involvement structure. Emerging churches can to some degree be characterized by strong, intentional decentralization of leadership. This varies in specific practice from community to community, but a general understanding of communal involvement is central in the emerging mindset. Drane takes the social reality of tribalism as his starting point in understanding this mindset. He explains, “The vocabulary of emergence is actually a good way to describe this social reality. With origins in geometry and chaos theory, the concept of emergence is a way of identifying the phenomenon whereby a complex organization comes into being not as a result of a grand design promoted by a leader, but as a consequence of the collective actions of its relatively humble members.”85 Instead of having a top-down focus, or the reliance on a single leader with centralized knowledge administrating to the masses, emerging churches start with a focus on the bottom, or the common, collaborative pool of members, and then ascend the hierarchy of leadership if there is one at all. This bottom-up method of establishing a system emphasizes the role of member over that of leader. In fact, leaders are often seen as encouragers or enablers rather than the dominating authority of the church. Ian Mobsby explains, “I think my big role is being an enabler, invisioner, facilitator—so it’s not about ‘I am the leader’… my role is not to be the charismatic power-figure, telling everybody what to do. It’s much more a facilitator, enabler of other people’s creativities, which goes back to much more orthodox ecclesiology, for me. Orthodox ecclesiology is very much where the bishop is on the bottom holding up the laity, the people of God, who are at the top.86 Likewise, Lou Davis of c3 Stockport explains that her role in the community is one of a variety of functions including connecting networks of people, doing
Drane, 39. Mobsby, interview.
some teaching, and getting other members excited about what is going on.87 Furthermore, George Lings states that ministers “do not make the church what it is, but rather – as servants – enable the church to fulfill the calling that it already has.”88 Traditional leadership roles are reconfigured in emerging church settings. Gibbs notes that in this postmodern age “leadership has to be devolved and expressed by different individuals according to the situational demands. Leadership consists of connecting people to one another.”89 While there are leaders and pioneer ministers that plant churches and even act as a central figure to those outside the community, within the community their leadership is much more decentralized. With such a redefining of what it means to be a leader, other examples of leadership structure can arise, most commonly a leadership team that is invested with a collective authority similar to that of a traditional authoritative leader. While leadership teams are more common, a shift in involvement extends past merely establishing a team to take on leadership responsibilities. Leadership teams may nevertheless exist, but even the function of such teams is to stimulate involvement from all in the community. For example, Ian Mobsby explains: Moot, is utterly with the idea that everybody participates. So, we have a monthly community council, and new ideas, thoughts, are discussed, and voted on, and anybody who is part of the Moot electoral roll (which is anybody belonging to Moot) can vote and participate in key things there. All of the decisions are made in public. And the leading group—or “standing group,” is its proper title—has a responsibility to make those things happen. So, they tend to be people who facilitate different areas of the community’s life to make things happen.90 In Moot’s example, one can see the establishment of a leading team that provides the needed catalyst for facilitating and finding ways to resource the ideas of the entire community. A single head pastor has no sole decision making power, but rather the whole community is invited to
Lou Davis, interviewed by author, Stockport, England, June 16, 2009. Lings, “Unraveling the DNA of Church,” 113. 89 Gibbs, 53. 90 Mobsby, interview. 88
participate and influence the direction the group moves in. Similarly, a community called mayBe situated in Oxford has relied on a unique leadership structure. While mayBe had a leader that planted the group and helped it develop for several years, he had to leave and left the leadership of the group in the hands of the community’s ‘guardians’. Jim Saunders, one of the members of mayBe explains this guardian role: “Essentially they are a group of people that feel able to and called to guide the community and be guardians of it. There should be 7 (currently only 6) and we each have different areas of interest. Play, Community, Engagement, Simplicity, In the way of Jesus, Creativity, Exploration. In practice we don't just focus on these things but all contribute to the day to day running of mayBe. Deciding venues, arranging services and thinking and praying about our community.”91 Network leadership is a core characteristic of both Moot and mayBe and demonstrates the high level of distributed responsibility and involvement within the communities. Brewin also comments on the decentralized nature of emerging minded communities. He explains, “The Emergent Church – like all emergent systems – will not be marked by knowledge stored centrally. There will be no key leader who will be seen as the fount of all knowledge and wisdom on all topics. The distributed nature of knowledge will be positively celebrated, as it will prevent the collecting of power into small male-dominated pools, and thus protect people from the abuses that that power would bring.”92 He goes on to explain the way this plays out in the fact that truth will not arise from only a trained or ordained person’s understanding of theology, but rather a sharing of communal experience where everyone brings a unique perspective on that truth.93 There is the concern that this will merely lead to the championing of relativism and a lack of fundamental truth, if anything gets said at all; yet, while that is clearly an 91
Jim Saunders, email message to author, July 30, 2009. Brewin, 110. 93 Brewin, 110. 92
issue, emergent minded people see more value in “an open dedication to understanding that each of us has a contribution to make, that no one is worthless, that no one person can have the final say on what is true.”94 Here we see the meeting point of globally influenced structure and postmodern values characterizing the reaction of emerging churches. The intention of such beliefs is that “there will no longer be a single external authority to which people look for truth, but rather a distributed network of authorities that people look to in order to assimilate multiple perspectives on truth.”95 The idea of intra-church networking can be seen outside of specifically a leadership structure as well. A globalized network model even molds how the whole community of some emerging churches relates to itself. In particular, c3 Stockport operates under such a structure. Lou Davis, the ‘leader’ of this group explains her role in c3 Stockport in relation to the networks they have established. C3 is not necessarily a network church in the traditional sense of the term; rather, there is one worshiping body and many separate, networked arts groups that meet throughout the month. She explains that it is part of her role “to go around to the different groups, cause we’ve set up a network of different groups, so to go around to those and get to know different people and to…do some more networking beyond c3, you know good opportunities, venues for events we want to hold or who we could partner with.”96 Although there is still an outward focus in networking with other groups outside the community, c3 Stockport is organized partly through many networked arts groups. Such groups include photography, card making, stained glass, and music among other groups devoted to sharing a specific expression of art. The groups meet throughout the week and the members of each often have little contact with members of another group. While there is also a weekly service of 94
Brewin, 110. Brewin, 110-111. 96 Davis, interview. 95
worship that some members of c3 Stockport take part in, there is no central event or service that defines c3 Stockport. The church is made up of many networked functions that interrelate through the relationships between some of the members. In order for this model of church to work, leadership must be dispersed in some way, and this is precisely what Lou explains in saying, “Each group is run by different people and they run it the way they want to.”97 Each group characterizes the network structure of c3 Stockport and in turn stretches the external networks out into other areas of the country. In fact, Lou explains the wide connections that are established and that through “things like the photography group, people come in for that from all over the northwest, because the people who run it…use the internet more and generally they make connections with people through websites like Flikr and Facebook and things like that;…they’re more gregarious online. So, people get to know about the groups from a wider area and that tends to attract a slightly younger age group.”98 Within c3 Stockport, one can see the influence of a networked society and how the church is responding to that influence by embracing networked models of leadership, church structure, and external connections. Emerging churches can even express a networked feel apart from the way they are structured. Drane believes that spiritual disciplines will take on a more networked feel, and that they “will be adopted from across the spectrum with scant regard for their origins, and will be merged to form new ways of expressing faithful discipleship. This is likely to take place not only across theological traditions but also across the boundaries of time and space, so that insights from the Celtic saints will be seamlessly melded with notions from medieval
Davis, interview. Davis, interview.
monasticism, alongside biblical passages and insights from contemporary artists and musicians.”99 Ancient/Future This combining of spiritual practices and expressions across time and place provides an insight into another major feature of emerging church response to a postmodern worldview. There is an openness across emerging churches in looking back to ancient church practices as well as looking forward to how these can be meshed or represented to a twenty-first century congregation. In a series of books that seek to present specific ways churches can express an ancient-future outlook, Robert Webber seeks to address the question, “How do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century?”100 This is also the question that many emerging churches are exploring, primarily in the setting of worship. There is a growing interest in Christian tradition and how churches can respond to culture by looking both backward and forward. Scott Bader-Saye explains how “emerging churches are seeking a third way beyond the traditional-contemporary divide. The emerging church seeks to engage postmodern culture in creative and sympathetic ways while also drawing on the ancient spiritual storehouses of the church’s deep tradition.”101 This is often understood as a reaction to more evangelical ways of expressing spirituality that emerging church practitioners believe have lost connection to the wider, postmodern culture. Expressing spirituality in such a culture “will require a boundary-breaking eclecticism, retrieving ancient practice as well as embracing everyday epiphanies.”102 Such ancient-future spirituality is even seen as a way to be contextual. Drane explains, “An openness to learn from, and value, the 99
Drane, 52. Robert Webber, Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s )arrative (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 20. 101 Bader-Saye, 19. 102 Bader-Saye, 19. 100
historic tradition as well as more experimental practices might help to contextualize the Gospel in today’s world.”103 Jenkins also comments on the growing popularity of ancient worship practices and sites. He explains, “We see many signs of the latent power of faith, of a persistent undercurrent of spirituality, which manifests in surprisingly medieval forms of devotion, including pilgrimage and the veneration of saints.”104 Christians themselves find a new vitality in a seemingly dying religion through ancient expressions of spirituality. The emergent view of postmodernity is one that seeks to connect with a society that values tradition (in the sense of ancient wisdom) and is open to exploring older avenues of spirituality. Bader-Saye further comments: The demise, or decline, of modernity has in many ways opened a path to retrieve things premodern and to regain the integrity of a church long compromised by its partnership with power (if you detect a slight Anabaptist tone here you would not be completely mistaken)….If postmodernity means a shift in which average people, especially young people, have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and find themselves more moved by narratives than apologetic arguments, then the emerging church is ready to offer a place to delve into divine mystery and ponder the Christian story.105 Story This focus on ancient spirituality and Christian tradition often leads to an emphasis on story, especially ancient religious narrative and how that connects to personal life-narrative. There is an emphasis on story over facts in the postmodern mindset. Drane comments on this postmodern preference for story and the way emerging churches are connecting with it. He states, “By living within this story [the bigger story of the Kingdom of God], its ancient roots as well as its infinite possibilities, faithful disciples can not only offer hope but can also become an embodiment of a greater future for those whose lives are fragmented and meaningless.”106
Drane, 55. Jenkins, 56. 105 Bader-Saye, 16. 106 Drane, 55. 104
Webber also focuses on story as the motivating factor for ancient-future faith and worship. He explains “In worship we remember God’s story in the past and anticipate God’s story in the future.”107 Webber goes on to explain how such a focus on the ancient story of God’s work “actualizes both past and future in the present to transform persons, communities, and the world.”108 Ancient-future faith is experienced and expressed in many ways, but a primary way of connecting with tradition and applying it to the present has been through an appeal to stories. This focus on story characterizes a dominant emergent mindset of understanding God’s activity in the world and Biblical history. It is understood that “God communicates with humanity, not primarily through the form of propositions but through a story illustrated by parables, riddles, sayings, and folk songs. It is a story that is still unfolding and in which we have a part at this point in time. The Bible is an invitation to share in the excitement, commitment, and risk of a journey of a lifetime rather than a book providing answers and a safe place.”109 Emerging churches even delve into the general Christian tradition of the Bible in order to find a narrative guide that both helps them connect with Christian roots and notable figures or examples within the religion and also helps them find their own place in that ongoing narrative. A major setback in this attempt to connect with ancient spiritualities is that the historic tradition emerging groups see value in connecting with is often undefined. While tradition is appealing to many emerging minded Christians, “the danger is that emergents will settle for a thin notion of tradition as a repository of ancient practices that can be raided randomly for the sake of creating ‘cool’ worship.”110 This is a point that many opponents of emerging churches emphasize, including D. A. Carson who states:
Webber, 23. Webber, 43. 109 Gibbs and Bolger, 70. 110 Bader-Saye, 17. 108
It is ironic that some emerging leaders speak constantly of the importance of Tradition, yet fail to live in any long-standing living tradition. By constantly appealing to the ‘capital T’ Tradition, and then in effect picking and choosing from its offerings, they do not succeed in living out any of the traditions that flow from the Tradition, but create their own eclectic, ad hoc churchmanship . . . As long as you can pick and choose from something as vast as the great Tradition, you are really not bound by the discipline of any tradition.111 Whether emerging churches are picking and choosing or not, it is important to note that they are interacting with tradition on some level and that they are doing this because they see that emerging generations are more readily looking back to tradition to help color and guide their lives in the present. However, many emerging churches have more firmly established the traditions and ancient spiritualities that they draw from since these criticisms. For example, Transcendence, a service held in York Minster led by the Minster and Visions, an emerging group in York, implements several ancient practices in worship services. Transcendence, which is subtitled an ‘Ancient-Future Mass’ and ‘Multimedia Eucharist’, is described as a place “to celebrate a service of Holy Communion which contains all the elements of Common Worship Order One, expressed in a cultural form which makes the most of contemporary forms of imagery and technology.”112 Furthermore, this service is described as being “registered as an Anglo Catholic Fresh Expression: the ministers wear traditional vestments; there is incense and other ceremonial, and the aim is to provide a place where the tradition can be renewed for our contemporary situation.”113 A goal of Transcendence is to provide a place where people can experience ancient spiritual expressions through more modern media. The York Minster website further explains, “A key element of Transcendence is the mixing up of old and new - plainsong chants over
D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 140-141. York Minster website, <http://www.yorkminster.org/worship/transcendence--an-ancient-future-mass/> accessed Nov. 18, 2009. 113 Ibid. 112
ambient beats, live video mixing using ancient iconography, beats and DJs working alongside Palestrina sung by the Minster's musicians.”114 Transcendence combines the rich tradition of York Minster, both the physical structure and the spiritual tradition contained within the church, with modern expressions of art and music that transform the space and the practices and provide a prime example of practical ways that ancient-future faith is being practiced. Visions, the emergent side of the Transcendence collaboration, is also an expression of ancient-future, de-centered community. The people of Visions “gradually abandoned charismatic ministry and nightclub evangelism in exchange for a more contemplative approach to spirituality, favouring Celtic imagery and rituals which promote an open exploration of spiritual possibilities.”115 In fact, Celtic spirituality is a common tradition that many emerging churches are relying on to guide their communities. Safe Space, an emergent group in Telford, draws heavily on the tradition of St. Brenden and uses the story of his life and faith to color their own mission and expression of worship.116 This expression of connecting with one particular figure in Christian history is common in several emerging groups and shows a commitment to a defined tradition. Another emerging group, Ikon, has “delved deeply into the Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican traditions in an attempt to learn what rituals have been used in the past and what their purpose is.”117 Peter Rollins, a leader of Ikon, explains, “We attempt to remain faithful to these rituals by imagining them in a different context. While we may be sitting in a dingy pub reading liturgies scrawled on the back of beer mats rather than chanting Latin in a basilica, there is often more similarities than you would first imagine.”118 The breadth of ancient-future expressions is very extensive, but these examples show an intentional interaction 114
Ibid. Matthew Guest and Steve Taylor, “The Post-Evangelical Emerging Church: Innovations in New Zealand and the UK,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6 no. 1 (March 2006): 53. 116 Safe Space website, <http://homepage.mac.com/markjohnberry/safe-space/index.html> accessed Nov. 18, 2009. 117 Peter Rollins quoted in Garrison, 126. 118 Garrison, 126. 115
with ancient spiritualities and reformation of them into more culturally relevant expressions by emerging churches. Post-Secular expressions The depths of Christian tradition are continuing to be explored by emergent minded leaders and practitioners. People in more postmodern, global cultures find deeper ways to connect with such a tradition and find importance and relevance in churches that are open to engaging and interacting with a variety of ancient spiritualities. In general, postmodern cultures have experienced a move out of secularism and into post-secularism. This is in many ways a difficult expression to fully understand in attempting to characterize this particular social change, because, “the ‘post’ in post-secular is a tricky little word, which is useful for public discourse because it is utterly vague. It simply means after, and so can imply anything you want it to. For some it is decidedly ‘anti’ and conjures up the rise of fundamentalism, while for others it indicates an emerging new kind of faith, which is deeply imprinted by the secular phase we were meant to be in before we entered the after stage – whatever that means. In either case, it most assuredly is not the death knell of faith.”119 Post-secularization is characterized by a return to spirituality, albeit undefined and often piecemeal spirituality. Although developed countries continue to see church attendance drop across the board, and often a lack of interest in any specific religion, much less any religious practice, culture has not divorced itself entirely from spiritual engagement. This is often manifested in fundamentalism. Both within and coming out of secularization, fundamentalism ensures the preservation of an expression of a particular faith tradition. It is clear that such an expression of faith has been growing in popularity over the recent decades and that it connects with spirituality in a seemingly unspiritual world. Habermas notes, “As to fundamentalism, the 119
Rachael Kohn, “Faith in a ‘Post-Secular’ Society” Meanjin 65, no. 4 (2006): 81.
fastest-growing religious movements, such as the Pentecostals and the radical Muslims, can be most readily described as “fundamentalist.” They either combat the modern world or withdraw from it into isolation. Their forms of worship combine spiritualism and adventism with rigid moral conceptions and literal adherence to the holy scriptures.”120 However, spirituality is being explored in many other ways in the development of postsecularism. Upcoming generations have been delving into a vast array of spiritual practices, especially evident in the rising popularity of new age, mysticism, and meditative spiritualities. Being ‘spiritual’ “is more likely to represent an eclectic spirituality, drawing not only from the various streams of Christian theology – Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, and Pentecostal – but including elements of other religious insights – Buddhism, Jewish mysticism, Hinduism, and Islam. Individuals mix their own spiritual potpourri.”121 Furthermore, “Generation Y is increasingly more interested in humanism and self-styled spirituality with emphasis on experience over doctrine.”122 Through the onset of globalization, people have found a freedom and the ability to connect to new cultures and religions. This, coupled with a growing interest in the spiritual, leads to a diverse, experiential religious exploration. This is true even of those within Christian circles. Kohn notes, “A sign of the times is that the new [Catholic] Archbishop [Mark Coleridge] sees…energy coming from a Church that is ‘growing more mystical’ and pursuing ‘the way of contemplation’. It is a move away from the preoccupation with structures and even doctrine, and towards the individual’s experience of faith itself.”123 Outside of and within the Christian church there is growing interest and value placed on somewhat undefined
Habermas, 18. Gibbs, 29. 122 Kohn, 84. 123 Kohn, 83. 121
spirituality, which serves to show that many see the world in post-secular terms. The church will find life as it connects with people seeking a spiritual experience. This is made difficult because of the lasting consequences of modernity. Modernity emphasized a divide between that which is sacred and that which is secular and “pushed the church to the margins of society and gave it the task of religious provider.”124 As modernity (and with it a sacred/secular divide) began to give way to postmodernity (and post-secularism), “a desire for a holistic spirituality filled the culture, but the church found itself ill prepared for the task.”125 Emerging churches seek to renew the Christian outlook on what is sacred and secular in order to make that view more compatible with all of post-secular society. Gibbs and Bolger provide several methods or understandings that emerging churches seek to employ in order to connect more fully with culture after secularization. They identify sacralization, in which “emerging churches tear down the church practices that foster a secular mind-set, namely, that there are secular spaces, times, or activities. To emerging churches, all of life must be made sacred.”126 Spirituality is increasingly seen as a return to ancient traditions, especially those that can be incorporated throughout daily life. As emerging churches engage in such ancient traditions, they also reach out to the post-secular culture in enabling spiritual practices even outside of weekly worship. Emerging churches also attempt to incorporate in church what is not necessarily seen as related to religion. Gibbs and Bolger quote Sue Wallace, who states, “The reason we embrace culture in worship is not only to make the place feel like home to those coming into it from the outside world but also to make us take our worship from our church space into our world. When you are in a shop or a pub, and you hear a track that has been used in church, it forges 124
Gibbs and Bolger, 87. Gibbs and Bolger, 88. 126 Gibbs and Bolger, 66. 125
connections and makes you think about God.”127 Emerging churches are consciously trying to engage a post-secular outlook by reminding people that many things throughout daily life can have a spiritual element. Gibbs and Bolger explain, “These ‘secular’ worship expressions become reminders and clues of God everywhere.”128 This provides a connection to people who are already looking for such a spiritual connection to things throughout their life, but colors it in a specifically Christian way. Some emerging churches even attend mind, body, and spirit festivals as a way to reach out to a spiritually hungry culture. Grace, an emerging church in London, has become a regular attendee at one of these festivals, and is typically one of the only specifically Christian groups. They merely found a way to relate to the post-Secular, spiritual culture and continue to pursue it. Also, emerging churches seek to redefine the mind, body, and spiritual aspects of Christian worship as they reintegrate traditional bodily rituals alongside new ‘spiritual’ practices such as yoga and physical prayer.129 Ian Mobsby acknowledges the reality of such a post-secular culture and gives insight into the emergent understanding of this phenomenon. He states, “There are a lot of people who are spiritually searching, who are looking for new solutions to the problems… who reject religion as having no place in that discourse.”130 He explains that what is done through Moot is an effort to connect with this post-secular culture. One of the questions the people of Moot seek to address is: “How do we live out worship, mission, and community, as an ecclesiastical community, that engages with a post-secular culture, where people are looking for things that work, rather than a church?”131 There is an appeal in emerging churches to mystical expressions of spirituality that 127
Gibbs and Bolger, 76. Gibbs and Bolger, 76. 129 Gibbs and Bolger, 78. 130 Mobsby, interview. 131 Mobsby, interview. 128
not only connect with God, but also connect with a culture seeking such expressions. Emerging churches are not withdrawing from such a culture, but rather are engaging it through such practices. Mixed Economy Another important aspect to explore in emerging church response to culture is how such churches relate to their ecclesial predecessors. In order to remain relevant to culture, must these churches break completely with other church institutions, many of which that were starting points for some emerging churches? Or is there a healthy relation that can be fostered? This is one of the issues that draws the most diverse views within the emergent discussion. Mobsby comments on “a ‘mixed economy of church’, with the traditional co-existing with the experimental,” and notes that “it is clear that not all ‘emerging churches’ agree with the need for this ‘mixed economy’ or for a role in the continued ministry of more traditional expressions of church.”132 There is internal dispute about whether and to what extent emerging churches should be involved with or relate to more traditional, institutional structures; establishing what is commonly labeled as a ‘mixed economy’. Archbishop Rowan Williams has coined the term ‘mixed economy’, and explains it by saying, “We need both a traditional parish doing its work really well and some quite new kinds of venture, some new kinds of initiative, that’s what I mean by a mixed economy and I think that’s where the health of the church of the future is going to lie.”133 It is understandable that churches aligning themselves more with the term ‘Fresh Expression’ are much more willing to promote a mixed economy. The support of such churches often rests heavily in existing church institutions and they even base their identity in part on their relation to the Church of England or 132
Mobsby, 27. Pete Pillinger and Andrew Roberts, Changing Church for a Changing World: Fresh Ways of Being Church in a Methodist Context (Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes, 2007), 60. 133
even a particular traditional church. Those within the Fresh Expressions context further describe “a mixed economy church…[as] one where the church has a strategy for accepting and promoting cultural diversity and is willing to treasure that diversity. In particular in the present context it is one that seeks to develop the best of what we at present have, whilst making room and finding resources for the development of the new and different.”134 Such an understanding of mixed economy and its importance still encompasses a mindset of trying to engage with contemporary culture; it merely sees a place for traditional church alongside new forms of church. It focuses more on the fact that the developed world is currently in a time of cultural change, rather than a complete manifestation of a new cultural reality. Mobsby explains, “The majority of ‘fresh expressions’ do accept that we live in a time of cultural shift that implies the need for a mixture of ‘inherited’ and ‘emerging’ churches, a concept which has been called ‘a mixed economy of church’.”135 Therefore, a mixed economy outlook could arguably be most accurate in viewing how to respond and connect to the present cultural climate. Often, mixed economy is appealed to because of the prospective wholesome relationship it can establish between traditional churches and emerging churches. Traditional churches undoubtedly have more resources than new, emerging churches. While traditional churches can share such resources in order to help maintain the upkeep of an emerging or fresh expression of church, the newer forms of church can bring vitality through challenge and energy to the institutional church. However, this relationship can also help develop over-dependence of one church on another. Fresh expressions may depend too heavily on the resources of a traditional church and fail to mature to self-sustainability and institutional churches may never intentionally engage with culture or even consider a different approach to ministry. Nevertheless, there are
Pillinger and Roberts, 61. Mobsby, 31.
many emerging churches that engage with traditional churches in some way, even if they don’t look toward those institutions for sustainable support, and there are examples of truly wholesome relationships as well (e.g. Transcendence). Bader-Saye provides the example of mayBe, an emerging group in Oxford, which he states, “maintains that the institutional connection to a larger community of churches (in this case through episcopal oversight and support) is not a weakness but a strength that actually allows them the freedom to explore and imagine.”136 Other emerging churches maintain a relationship with their traditional roots as they use the space of a traditional church. Feig, an emerging church in Gloucester, meets occasionally in Gloucester cathedral for an event called “Feast”. The cathedral itself attracts many people who seek to connect with its history or even with its establishment as a spiritual place. Such a relationship with the church may not be necessary for Feig, but it helps them provide a place where people can connect to the community. Steve Hollinghurst of the Sheffield Center comments, “I think Emerging Church is probably skeptical [of mixed economy]—but in a mixed kind of way, because one of the things Emerging Church has done a lot…is [that] they're actually borrowing from traditional church. So, most of them are pretty liturgical, a lot of them use a lot of medieval and ancient stuff.”137 Here the ties to traditional church begin to break down to merely a way for emerging churches to engage with Christian tradition; however, this is often as mixed as emerging churches seek to be in traditional church economy. The importance lies in finding a relationship that truly enables the greatest extent of cultural engagement, and while many churches have such incentives for supporting the idea of a mixed economy, other emerging churches assert this reason as incentive to depart completely from institutional church.
Bader-Saye, 14. Steve Hollinghurst and Claire Dalpra, interviewed by author, Sheffield, England, June 18, 2009.
Those who believe it is most important to depart completely see such a form of church as immobilized by the effects of Christendom. As the modern, Christendom worldview dies out to the upcoming postmodern, post-Christendom reality, these churches will be irrelevant and unable to recover and reconnect with a new cultural climate. This process is often equated with the sinking of the Titanic. The traditional church is viewed as the Titanic, which is sinking in our culture shift. It is impossible to stay near this sinking structure without getting pulled under as well. Therefore, the goal is to move away from the sinking, failing church as quickly and fully as possible.138 In this view, survival is often seen as key, and it is important to let the waters settle before any new ship can sail through. Some believe that committing to a relationship with institutional churches will inhibit new expressions of church from having any cultural impact. However, this is often countered by the belief that the church will never sink. This understanding looks through history and finds that the Christian church has had its problems but has never sunk, and that although it will most likely change (and be required to change in order to not sink) it will not die out completely.139 Hollinghurst believes, â€œwe need people to be working to transform the institutionâ€Śtransforming the institution is necessary.â€?140 Such a hope, though, requires a relationship with the institution. Through such a partnership, traditional churches would be expected to transform along with emerging churches. Reactions vary throughout emerging churches as to how to interact with traditional churches that seem to be on the verge of non-existence. Some believe that churches engaging in a mixed economy relationship have something to teach other emerging churches about the importance of authority, institution, and connection, all of which still tend to be viewed with suspicion in much of the emerging conversation. There is a tendency among Post-Evangelical Emergents to gravitate towards nondenominational, independent and 138
Stephen Skuce, interviewed by author, Calver, England, June 16, 2009. Hollinghurst and Dalpra, interview. 140 Hollinghurst and Dalpra, interview. 139
house church models that are disconnected from a larger body, both in terms of support and accountability. I suspect this is a continuation of the modern bias against tradition and connection that lingers even among the most postmodern of emergents.141 It seems that most emerging churches would agree on the importance of some connection (after all, it is difficult to not interact with any other Christian community, even those that are dying out), although they may disagree to what extent this should exist. As emerging churches continue to be shaped by a changing culture, they constantly reevaluate this relationship in order to determine how to best engage the present and future culture in the Christian church. Conclusion I do not mean to imply that all churches not considered emerging are doing nothing to interact with current culture or that they are not responding in similar ways. This is meant to provide an exploration of a specific expression of Christian church in our developing postmodern, global context. There are undoubtedly countless other expressions of church, both old and new, that are engaging with culture in important ways. Emerging churches simply provide a clear response that is distinctive in many ways from the response of more radically fundamentalist forms of faith. These emerging churches are undoubtedly doing something unique as they interact with the culture in which they find themselves. They are adopting new practices, rituals, structural models, and leadership approaches often in response to the impact current social trends have on the world. Through this process, these churches have started a religious dialogue that is gaining worldwide recognition, but is leaving those who hear about it just as confused and unsettled as before. Emerging churches hold great importance as they represent a trend that is likely to be seen more frequently in churches around the world in years to come. Also, they provide an option for all countries to consider as a response to globalization and postmodernism. 141
It is important to be cautionary in such an extensive overview of many different churches. A single church most likely will not display every characteristic I have associated with an emerging church expression, even those at the heart of emerging church identity. Practice expresses mindset only to a certain extent, and many emerging groups have other things they wish to put in place, but do not have access to the resources to do so at this time. Even examining philosophy and structure in combination with practices of several emerging churches does not give a completely accurate representation of each church’s total identity. However, the emerging mindset that characterizes many new forms of church throughout England can be generally described based on similarities and consensus between writers, practitioners, and observations of the groups. Grahame Thompson raises the very important question, “What has been the reaction of these religious movements [Christianity and Islam] to the process of globalization?”142 He highlights the importance of this question by explaining, “It is argued that these religious ideologies are not just the passive recipients of the globalization process, but are active agents in shaping that process and its discourses.”143 While there may be several ways of effectively responding to the current culture, emerging churches provide a distinct response that connects with the culture in a way unheard of throughout fundamentalist religious expressions. The culture continues to drive both of these responses, and at the same time, their development in turn drives and shapes culture. As the current culture shift becomes even more solidified, it will be both important and interesting to see how Christianity, along with the rest of the world’s religions, develop.
Grahame F. Thompson, “Religious Fundamentalisms, Territories and ‘Globalization.’” Economy and Society 36, no. 1 (February 2007): 20. 143 Thompson, 20.
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Published on Apr 12, 2010