Emerging revolution – the church should watch and learn


Kester Brewin has posted an interesting article on his blog today about the part that social media is playing in contemporary revolution – both inside and outside the church:

….change occurs when normal people are given the opportunity to communicate with one another, unmediated by the powers that be. It is irrelevant whether that is Twitter or Facebook or otherwise. What is important is not information dissemination, but shared conversation. Not about ‘this is the news’ but ‘this is where we’re going to meet to make the news.’ Mubarak was toppled because people spoke to one another and decided together that enough was enough. If power-politics is about ‘Divide and Rule’ then social media is the antithesis of this. It is about ‘Unite and Change’ and though these networks themselves did not bring down the government, they facilitated the huge protests and encampments that did.

This, I believe, is how we can see a line joining the revolution in Egypt to the whole emerging church movement: things happen within seemingly dead and immobile institutions when people begin to talk to another and believe that a new way is possible. I don’t believe that it is coincidence that the rise of the internet was paralleled with the rise of the emerging church movement. It wasn’t that the internet made a new way possible, but it did give permission to new forms of connection and communication: people were able to disseminate ideas and discover that they were not the only ones feeling a particular way.

I think this has always been the case, and part of the core code of the gospel is this base-level communication. Jesus didn’t send out edicts or write proclamations. He simply walked around and spoke to people. The message of Pentecost is not about fire-power, but simply this: speak to one another in language you can understand.

I’m optimistic that social media – if it can escape the grip of promoted tweets and constant advertising (which I’m not sure it can) – will continue to be a powerful tool to make powerful structures more accountable. Not because information will be shared, but because people will simply be able to share how they are feeling, and work to act together.

I think he has something here. Revolution is by nature a bottom-up rather than a top-down phenomenom. Real change cannot be forced on someone, it has to come from within them.

In the 1962 film of The Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who is in prison for life. The film to some degree focusses on the relationship between Stroud and Harvey Shoemaker, the Warden – played by Karl Malden. After 35 years in prison, Stroud has seen what justice and rehabilitation in the penal system is all about and he writes a book which Shoemaker finds in his cell.

They then have a conversation about what rehabilitation means and Stroud says this:

“I wonder if you even know what rehabilitation means.  The unabridged Webster’s International dictionary says that it comes from the Latin root word ‘habilis’, which means to invest again with dignity.  Do you consider that part of your job, Harvey, to give a man back the dignity that he once had?  Your only interest is in how he behaves.  You want your prisoners to dance out of the gates like puppets on a string with rubber stamp values impressed by you, with your sense of conformity, your sense of behaviour, even your sense of morality and that’s why you’re a failure, Harvey, because once they are on the outside they are lost souls, just going though the motion of living, but underneath there is a deep, deep hatred of what you have done to them.  So the first chance they get to attack society they do it and the result is that more than fifty percent come back to prison”.

Stroud recognised something significant.  Edicts from above can change and condition your behaviour, but they can’t change your heart – make you do, feel and believe what is right and just.

Only a change of heart will impact your worldview – and that has to come from within you.

This is just as true in a secular context as in a church context – and it is this change of heart, when it occurs in a ‘critical mass’ of people, that can start the chain reaction and leads to the ‘tipping point’ of revolution.

To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does”

The problem is that so often revolution takes place as a result of anger, hate and the desire for revenge – and these are not good characteristics on which to found a vision for the future. For reformation to follow revolution then the anger needs to be replaced by a common sense of purpose and shared identity that is inclusive of all – a true sense of ‘communitas’ if you like, the compassion and intimacy that develops amongst people who share an experience of transition and vulnerability.

This is my prayer for Egypt, as well as my prayer for the church – hopefully with social media fuelling the spread of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.

In the one case, my hope is that it will result in equality, equity and lasting peace for the Middle East, and in the other, lead to revival.

Read Kester Brewin’s full article here.

The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity

Brett McCracken has written an interesting article, published in the Opinion Journal of the Wall Street Journal:

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

I’m not quite sure he has quite ‘got’ the concept of ’emerging church’ – reports of it’s death are a little premature and exaggerated – but the overall principle of his article is sound and worth reading – and I like his conclusion:

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

Read the full article here.


A new model Christianity?


There was an interesting article by Theo Hobson in The Guardian earlier this week about ’emerging church’:

“What is “emerging church”? It is a highly vague movement mainly consisting of ex-Evangelicals, who have found that tradition narrow, inauthentic, illiberal. It is defined by the desire to communicate Christianity to young agnostics – not Alpha Course fodder, but fairly trendy, media-savvy, liberal-leftish types who are wary of organised religion. It is above all a presentation style – of openness, of scepticism towards the old fusty-dusty forms, of irreverence, of irony, of artiness, of political and environmental engagement….But is it just a presentation style – or is it a substantially new form of Christianity? Mostly it is the repackaging of an essentially conventional product….And yet there is also a genuinely radical movement here. A few voices are proposing a major rethink of what ‘Christian culture’ is meant to be….”

Read the full article here.

I would also recommend reading Jonny Baker’s response (here) in which he links to an article he wrote in February 2008 and comments that Hobson’s article:

“….seems to suggest that emerging church is about leaving the institutions as completely washed up and bankrupt…..hobson is clearly only seeing one strand of what is emerging. i am both bored and frustrated with what i perceive to be a very ungenerous view of what people are doing.”

It is obvious that Baker does not totally agree with Hobson’s rather ‘romantic’ view of emerging church in the UK.

To quote Bakers article from February 2008 (as he does in his response to Hobson):

“I am relaxed and hopeful about all of these things. Both ways, staying and leaving, can be good. Renewal comes from the edge and the centre, within and without, and if the church is emerging both ways that seems good. Let some leave and pioneer and let some people stay and pioneer. The wider mission community should certainly be able to celebrate the newness of God’s work, both in and outside of traditional structures, by crossing cultures and setting up new paradigms. It has been a privilege to work with CMS who have invested in encouraging both…

…Church is the whole body of Christ world wide and down the ages, visible and invisible. We only really know who Jesus is as we see the many faces of Christ, the theological takes and expressions of his body around the world and down the ages. It takes a whole world to understand a whole Jesus Christ. Church is not just a nice idea – it is about knowing Jesus. Whichever way the emerging church plays out its mission, that connectivity into Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic church is crucial. That does not necessarily mean institutionally, but relationally and in the spirit and heart of its leaders.

So my take is that the emerging church in the UK is growing out of contextual mission in postmodern cultures seeking to grow indigenous expressions of church that are both related to the wider body of Christ and faithfully improvised out of the riches of the tradition within and without the traditional structures. Must we reject traditional structures to do mission well? Not necessarily, though plenty will be ditched and new things brought into play out of the tradition, and that will be fine. Are we in danger of throwing baby out with bath water? No – not in the UK. We have an amazing gift at this moment in time that I thank God for, especially when I travel to other parts of the world.”

You know – I think Baker is right!  Interesting stuff indeed.

Any thoughts?


Breaking the lightbulbs – silencing theology

There are a number of interesting articles in this month’s Next-Wave Ezine (here) but one stood out as interesting to me, namely, the article ‘Breaking the lightbults – silencing theology’ by George Elerick about putting theology back into its right place, and rediscovering the mystery of God:

We need to unname God. We need to unname Christianity. We need to unname theology, truth, the bible, life and all the things in between. We need to remove the idea that theology and understanding are going to save us, when we do that, then God can save us. When we do that we divorce ourselves from the need to feel in control of synaptic processes of trying to understanding God. We can then let God teach us. Romance us. Woo us. We can then meet God on His/Her Terms. We can then let go of the gods we have created in theology.

I must admit that I don’t completely agree with Elerick’s conclusions but I think I get where he is coming from:

What we need is silence. The Latin word for silence is silentium. Silentium has many meanings, a few include obscurity, stillness and quiet. We need to rescue obscurity from the hands of theology. We need to rescue ambiguity from the Church. This doesn’t mean that we stop talking, what it does mean is that we stop taking ourselves so seriously. What it does mean is that we come to accept the idea that our words fail at fully understanding God and what the being stands for and who’s side He’s/She’s on. Maybe we can rest in the security that not knowing is a better theology than knowing. The more we know, the more we think we have arrived, the more we have arrived the less we need God. We need to embrace a sort of irreverant absurdity when we approach our human understandings of God. If we don’t, we risk the possibility of taking ourselves too seriously and then follow after a god that doesn’t really exist.

Embrace an irreverant absurdity?

Any thoughts?

Read the full article here.

Farewell emerging church – really?

I haven’t posted much over the last couple of days because I’ve been thinking and reflecting on a article published last week at WORLDmag.com by Anthony Bradley entitled ‘Farewell emerging church, 1989-2010’ (read the full article here).
The article is very matter of fact, and seemingly authoritative, and on the surface might not by itself seem like something that would be so engaging – but for me it raised a number of questions and got me thinking about many things – let me explain.
The first question for me was, what does this actually mean?  Anthony Bradley tells us that emerging church movement is ended – but surely that depends on how you understand the term ’emerging church’?
If by emerging church he means the Emergent Village and all that is associated with it – then I can understand what he is saying – but surely he can’t mean a wider understanding of emerging church?  If he does then all of us as Jesus followers need to be worried.
Why?  Because the church by it’s very nature is always emerging, since contemporary culture is always changing.  Within this context, to say that the emerging church movement is ended is to say that the church as it stands is no longer changing, it has become stagnant, no longer evolving.  If that is the case, then the contemporary church is dying, and before long will be ended as well.
Don’t get me wrong in this – I am not saying that it’s the Gospel that changes as culture changes, but how we communicate it.  The way the Gospel is explained in one generation might not necessarily be appropriate for the next.  The Gospel is solid, but the church that proclaims it must be liquid.  The Gospel holds true through the ages, but the shape of the church shifts, emerging renewed and refreshed at different times and in different places to fit the context in which it finds itself, or as Neil Cole explains in his recent book, Church 3.0:
“The essence of the Gospel of the kingdom does not conform to a culture; it transcends the culture and at the same time transforms it from within.  Our mission is not to make the kingdom or its core message bend to the culture, but to position it in a way that is both appealing and unappealing at the same time.  It must be appealing to people by calling our to the latent image of God to the dark values of sin found within every person and culture.  The Gospel does not need to be made relevant; it is relevant and always will be.  The issue is not relevance but influence. Our goal should to tap into the image of God found within a people and then offer the powerful alternative to being enslaved to sin.”
And this is my point really, the Western church over the last hundred and fifty years has conformed to the prevailing culture, Modernism, and its proclamation of the Gospel has become too focussed on the mind, seeing reason and knowledge as pre-eminent over experience and relationship.  We too easily view education and teaching as our access point to salvation, and focus on programmes and new models of ministry in our futile attempt to try and manufacture spirituality.  We have ended up boiling our faith down to a series of logical and linear arguments that we hope will be convincing to the few that are interested enough to listen.  Neil Cole again:
“There was a time when many churches condemned people for seeking a spiritual experience.  Imbedded in modernism, Christianity had become mostly about a rational belief system where personal feelings were not to be trusted.  A search for experience was seen as abandonment of the stability of truth in favour of pacifying ones’s own feelings.  This is unfortunate because it has left many churches lacking any real encounter with the spiritual life that Jesus died to give them.  Although we don’t base our faith on experience alone, God questions a faith that lacks experience”.
We could discuss all day whether the term ‘post-modernism’ is relevant any longer, and to some degree it would be a waste of time.  Post-modernism might have had its day and there now seems to be a reaction against it back towards Modernism.  But the new Modernism, neo-Modernism, Scientific Realism or whatever else you want to call it, is highly influenced by the post-modern hubris, because we still live in a multi-cultural, sycretistic and pluralistic world.  And that means that experience and authenticity need to be in play in order for the Gospel to be heard.
And this is why emerging church is important – because it inevitably basks in the light of comtemporary culture, and shows that there is a different way of ‘doing church’ outside of the accepted tradition, an alternative path to the one well trodden.  It challenges the norm and kicks against the goad, making us reflect, rethink and slowly but surely reform our church praxis.
Which sort of leads me to my second question.  What has the contemporary church learned from its recent ’emerging church’ experience?
The thing that really worries me about Anthony Bradley’s article is the underlying triumphalism that seeps through his rhetoric.  He seems pleased that, as he puts it, “the emerging church movement has ended”, almost relieved that now the church can go back to what it was doing before.  To him, it seems, the emerging church movement is like an annoying fly, that now swotted means that all can go back to normal.
If the church in the USA is happy to see the emerging church movement end but has learned nothing from it then it is a sad day.  Thankfully, that does not seem to be the case in the UK, where lessons learned from our emerging and fresh expressions of church are slowing taking root in the mainstream – as the church wakes up once more to the need to experience Jesus not just study him, to live out its life in community, adding value to society and changing it from within through engagement, rather than being closeted away behind closed doors.  Maybe the church in the UK is in a different place – more battered and beaten than its US brother – and so more open to seeing that the old ways of doing church are no longer tenable and that change is needed.  I just hope that the US church wakes up before its arrogance and intransigence lead it down the same path that we have walked over the last twenty years.  And personally, I don’t want to see that happen – and my prayer is that it won’t!
In reality, I think Bradley’s conclusion is more wishful thinking than fact, and that the emerging church movement in the USA is alive and well, but maybe evolved somewhat – more mature and becoming more integrated into the mainstream, maybe keeping its head down a little more, but still there working in the background making a difference by challenging the Modernist ways of the contemporary church, and bringing the practical, spiritual experience of Jesus back into its consciousness.
I hope so anyway, because from my viewpoint on this side of the ‘pond’, that is what it needs!

Sojourner Magazine – Is the Emerging Church for whites only?


Looks like there is an interesting discussion starting across the blogosphere about an article by Soong-Chan Rah and Jason Mach, to be published in the May addition of the Sojourner Magazine, criticising the Emerging Church as a ‘whites only” phenomenon:

There was a great sense of joy when I found an emerging church, a place where people from various backgrounds (so I thought) were gathered in one community. I quickly became a fan of the emerging church. But now, in the midst of my research, my excitement was beginning to fade.
The emerging church, or rather this particular expression of it, was in essence no different than the church environment in which I was raised. Younger and cooler, maybe, but still the same: white, middle- to upper-class, and reflecting many of the values associated with these categories. It became apparent to me that this “emerging,” postmodern church was simply the pierced and tattooed offspring of its older, modern parents.
Read the full article here.
The article includes some responses from Julie Clawson, Brian McLaren, and Debbie Blue but there have also been some interesting additional comments from Tony Jones (here) and Tall Skinny Kiwi (here).
Have a read of all the blog posts – mainly because they give a real insight in to where the Emerging Church is at the moment and the direction it might go in the future…..

The Emergent Church – John Piper’s view and Andrew Jones’ (Tall Skinny Kiwi) response

Here is a short video from Desiring God of John Piper commenting on the current state of the Emergent Church:
I thought Piper’s comments were interesting, but I also thought I would include below an extract from a response to the video by one of the Emergent movements main bloggers Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi).
Have a watch of the video and then read Tall Skinny Kiwi’s answer to each of the main observations made by Piper, as follows:
” “Emerging Church is a fading reality?” It’s true that the ’emerging church’ term is fading, as I have chronicled for the past 5 years, but in reality the movement has matured and is now more integrated with the established church and mission enterprises than it previously was, thus losing some identity but greatly increasing its impact.
“It has seen its best days” Probably true. And “you will not hear the word in ten years” is a good prediction, not because everything is falling apart and Ken Silva is bringing it all down, but because many have already moved on to other more helpful words [missional is one of them] but any term given to the new forms of church will have a short shelf life. This is normal. And remember that the word “emerging” and “emergent” are also widely used these days in biology, economics, etc.
“It wasn’t a phenomenon in the black community. By and large this is true. Yes there are many exceptions, including the many emerging hip-hop churches, which are, in the most part, not very white at all. And they shouldn’t be white – have you seen how stupid we white guys look when we break-dance?? But what Piper says is correct. Even in my own experience in San Francisco, the black Pentecostal church that was letting us use their space on Saturday nights pulled back and kicked us out when they saw the “Christian grafitti” on the walls, despite the fact that it was drawn by young black Christians trying to express themselves with their own art.
Why was the EC NOT a phenomenon in the black community? Some guesses:
– Because the black churches might have been more holistic than the white traditional/seeker churches in the first place and didn’t require as much retooling.
– Because the black churches often depend on a strong charismatic individual to lead worship from a stage which is the opposite of group-led, highly-participatory worship experiences in the EC.
– Because the bulk of missionaries in the USA and sent out of USA are also white middle class, very often “upper-middle-class” esp. when a Seminary degree is required, and it is these very people that find themselves in the urban centers starting new emerging forms of church among the less-reached, un-churched population. Thus the fruit of their labors resembles the leaders who invested in them initially. White or multi-cultural churches from white people.
Another observation – I found the black churches to succeed more in urban areas where drug addiction was a major problem. Emerging churches often lack the necessary discipline and hard-core approach. We often used to send off our drug addicts to black-church-based outreach ministries for the first stage of their discipleship because they were more likely to kick the habit without falling back.
“They prioritize relationships over doctrine/truth” This is a good observation and there is some truth in it. Many groups stay in fellowship with each other despite contrasting opinions regarding doctrinal issues, issues that would probably divide those in the traditional church. But it is the missional impetus that creates many of these new churches, rather than doctrinal distinctions, so the pragmatic bent tends to create a larger playground that includes those committed to the same mission, but differing on secondary doctrinal beliefs. Behind this is also a strong commitment to the unity of the church and the value of that unity for both the wider church and outsiders looking in. But the relationship/truth dichotomy might not be the most helpful way to look at it. Obedience to the commands of God, esp. in regard to his missional purposes, brings a lot of diverse people and groups together in the EC and it is this obedience, and willingness to comply with the demands of Jesus, that divides the men from the boys, and it separate those willing to risk it all to bring the gospel to the margins despite the cost from those who are not willing.
There are “experimental ways of doing church and spirituality.” True. There is a common conception that things are not working as they should, and the harvest is therefore not as plentiful as it should be, combined with a desire to examine the Scriptures for ourselves and reexamine church history for clues on how things have gone wrong, and a entrepreneurial edge in trying new forms of wineskins that will do a better job in keeping and maturing the new wine. OK. Sometimes there is mindless rampant experimentation which is a little stupid, at worst dangerous, but in most cases there is a return to and revamping of a previously successful methodology. And in the case of cyberchurch/social media communities, much of it is very new and precedents are lacking
However, and I hope I dont undo any goodwill here, one or two things from his video don’t sit right with me and I mention them briefly only to add some perspective and help us all come closer to the truth.
Brian McLaren is not the “biggest guru” but he has said things in his books that have expressed succinctly what many EC practitioners, less eloquent than he is, have been thinking and feeling. He is a great listener [once we sat together for 90 minutes and Brian hardly said a thing] as well as a great writer although not everyone will agree with what he says. I have not read his latest book but the “selling like hotcakes” scenario on Amazon might have more to do with critics than supporters.
“Moving away from the gospel?” For many like myself, it was a closer look at the gospels, in particular the methods of Jesus and his apostles [Luke 10 was inspirational] that caused many of us to rethink our ministry strategy and move closer to the way of Jesus as we understood it in the BIble.
“Leadership in shambles?” Here I have to scratch my head. I am aware of one controversy that is lingering, probably the same one John has heard of, although that one seems more cloudy than clear, but that only relates to one person inside of the groups. And there are hundreds of groups. Despite what John Piper has observed, immorality is not “rampant”. At least it does not appear more rampant than in the traditional church. Name a recent moral lapse related to a high-profile leader and most likely you will not be looking at an emerging church leader. However, there has been a cultural shift in which Victorian values are not automatically given Biblical credence. Culture shifts and our perception on what upsets or pleases God can change with it. Playing cards was once considered sinful, as was going to the movie theatre, or dancing, but not anymore…..
Read the full article from Tall Skinny Kiwi here.
Also have a read of Tall Skinny Kiwi’s other comments on Piper’s video here.
All challenging stuff – and it will be interesting to see how the Emergent movement develops from here.  They are by definition a broad “constellation” of opinion and doctinal position, but will the fact that some are moving so far from orthodoxy that they are being branded as heretics actually mean that the more orthodox voices will be ignored?  Has Brian McLaren gone too far in his new book ‘A New Kind of Christianity’?  Time will tell.
Scott McKnight’s review of ‘A New King of Christianity’ published in Christianity Today can be found here.

Church Building or No Church Building – Which is better?

What is church?

Good question?  Well, it’s certainly one that we need to answer and understand – and judging by the discussion across the blogosphere, it’s one that is contentious at the moment.

However, there is one thing that all agree upon – a church is a gathering of people rather than a building.

So this begs another question – if that is the case, does a church need a church building in which to meet?  Can they not meet in homes or in public places instead of maintaining costly buildings and property?

Another good question!

With this in mind have a read of the following two posts on the Out of Ur blog:

The first is Dan Kimball explaining how he has changed his mind about church buildings and now sees them as a valuable missional tool.  As he concludes:

Today I am incredibly thankful we have a building. It allows us meet in larger groups for worship, and it allows for training classes that equip people for mission. We also use our space all week and welcome the public into it.  So, I have recanted from my earlier belief that buildings drain resources and create consumer Christians. I was wrong. Now I see them as missionary centres to impact lives for the gospel.”


The second is a response to Dan’s post by Ken Eastburn defending house church and rejecting the need for church buildings:

“I am writing this because the subject of the necessity of buildings is a crucial topic to discuss all across the Church. You do indeed describe good uses for buildings … but what is good, may not be best – either for your church or for the Body of Christ worldwide.”

The discussion no doubt will continue, but maybe the answer is not one or the other – church building or no church building – but both!  Surely each church should discerning the need for buildings and property depending on its circumstance – how it needs to reach out to its community in the name of Jesus?

Church building or no church building – which is better?

I suppose one way to find out is to quote Harry Hill and shout “Fight!” – but is that the right way?

If not having a church building or property is right for your church then bless you – but if having a building or property is right for your church – then bless you too.  Maybe we should look for fruit being borne rather than get into unnecessary arguments about whether one way it better than another.

What do you think?