Having done a first draft of my Introduction (should be 6,000 words - it's about 9,000), I'm onto Chapter One, "Emergence," which asks 'what is the emerging church?' Forget that a whole thesis could be done on that subject, and remember that I'm just trying to introduce my readers to the milieu so they know the context in which I'm asking my research questions. I do this by arguing against the tendency to define such a thing as an "emerging church" and for the usefulness of the concept of a "milieu." This enables one to talk about the diversity within such a milieu without suggesting that a particular expression (ecclesiologically, philosophically, theologically, politically, aesthetically, structurally) is more prevalent or more preferable or more "emerging" than others.
So, I then move on to argue that, despite the observable diversity, there are certain ideological commitments discernable within this milieu. These ideological commitments are not all made by every individual, community, organization or network involved in the milieu. That said, commitment to one or more of these ideologies allows them to be positioned within the milieu, remembering that one can be part of the emerging church milieu and part of any number of other Christian and non-Christian-specific milieux simultaneously and that one is not judged to be more "emerging" than others if you exhibit more ideological commitments than them - you are just more deeply involved in the emerging church milieu (in other words, a value judgement is - hopefully - not implied).
I'm going to chicken-out from posting about these ideological commitments in detail until I've at least written a first draft of Chapter One so that I've got them a bit more fleshed out, but here they are, in brief:
- "Glocal" contextualization in contemporary culture
- Rediscovery of "ancient-future" traditions
- Organization experimentation
- Engagement with postmodern theory
- Radicalization of Christian theology
- Social and political activism
Anyway, in reading for the subsection of the chapter that explores organizational experimentation, I recently found this PhD dissertation from the States by Josh Packard entitled "Organizational Structure, Religious Belief and Resistance: The Emerging Church," which uses the emerging church as a case study for exploring the ways in which organizations might consciously resist institutionalization. It was fascinating.
Of particular interest to me where his conclusions that an organization seeking to resist institutionalization does not create its own organizational patterns but seeks to allow multiple patterns and to keep their existence visible in order to make these patterns 'subject to constant criticism and interrogation' (p.24). Packard suggests that resistant organizations need to create permanent 'unsettled periods' (Ann Swidler) in which ideologies and their connections to actions are clear and therefore open to be contested.
Robert Wuthnow writes, 'greater self-consciousness about religious symbolism is accompanied by a greater emphasis on personal interpretation and a decline in tacit acceptance of official creeds' (1988:299). Packard writes that 'lowering barriers to participation fosters a high degree of symbolic consciousness which compels people to examine the sets of ideas which support articulated ideologies in the form of statements or rituals' (p.267). He concludes that these processes allows those within resistant organizations to sift out the dominant ideologies which are the forces of institutionalization.
In relation to recent debates concerning the utility of the phrase "emerging church," it made me wonder:
- Does the phrase and the assumed meaning (crafted mostly by its critics) serve as a barrier to participation?
- Would the emerging church be better served as a resistant social movement if it dropped the name?