Friday, September 26, 2008

"Emerging Church" as a Barrier to Participation in (Resistant) Social Movement?

Fellow PhD student Tony Jones has blogged about the emerging church in relation to new social movement theories, which connects with some of the things I've been thinking about recently. (There's a bit of preamble to wade through before I get to the good stuff).

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
As you can see, these ideological commitments come together to form a very broad picture of the emerging church milieu. This is intentional. Many of the "emerging church typologies" out there (esp. Stezter, Driscoll, Patton, Patrick) require the not unproblematic identification of a community's primary concern (usually supposed to be EITHER theological, methodological OR structural revision). Viewing these ideological commitments as familial resemblances (of which an individual, community, organization or network within the milieu may have one or more) resists such a reductionist task. Further, within each familial resemblance is a lot of room for maneouvere. For example, two communities that both engage win social and political activism may do so in diverse ways; similarly, two networks interested in radical Christian theology may go in diverse directions; individuals participating in the rediscovery of Christian tradition may go apply their findings in diverse manners; and so on.

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?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Emerging Church" R.I.P. (more links)

I missed a few important parts of the recent conversation about the demise of the term "emerging church." Thanks for the Out of Ur heads-up, Rodney. Here they are:
Out of Ur, "Emerging Church R.I.P."

Dan Kimball, on the shift in definition of "emerging church."

Bob Hyatt, "Look Who's Done with Words like Emergent."

Jason Clark starting a 'new chapter' "Beyond Emergent and Emerging Church." P.S. It'll be here, at Deep Church.

Tallskinnykiwi's thoughts on the poll results, "You Say Dump It."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Emergence, Emerging, and Emergent

In response to the imminent publication of Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence which I blogged about here after I read the corrected galleys, to recent reflections in the blogosphere about the value of the term "emerging church," to tallskinnykiwi's poll on whether to dump it, and to Doug Pagitt's video post on the distinction between Emergent and emerging church, I've decided to write a bit more about my decision to characterise the subject of my PhD research as "the emerging church milieu." (I've blogged about the term "milieu" before, here).

Much of the published literature uses "emerging" and "emergent" interchangeably. Others are definite in declaring a distinction between the terms, but still differ on which is preferable. Although there may have been enough general consensus regarding the term several years ago for one evangelical critic to state that "emerging" is 'the defining adjective for their movement' (Carson 2005:12), an increasing ambivalence can be observed towards the "emerging church" marker, particularly within the blogosphere.

In my thesis, I argue against the tendency to define such a thing as an "emerging church," for several reasons. Firstly, this endeavour is difficult, given the diversity of communities self-identifying as emerging churches. Secondly, it is reductionistic; typologies of emerging churches divide communities based on their primary concerns to the exclusion of other concerns. Thirdly, it is agenda-driven. It is often clear where the affinities of the people doing the classifying lie.

These difficulties and failings can be shown in relation to Ed Stetzer's typology of emerging churches, which has been re-worked by Mark Driscoll and, in my opinion, re-worded by Darrin Patrick.

Stetzer's three-fold typology divides those communities that self-identify as "emerging churches" thus: 1) relevants try to ‘make their worship, music and outreach more contextual to emerging culture.’ 2) reconstructionists hold that ‘the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful,’ and therefore embrace ‘“incarnational” or “house” models’ of church. 3) revisionists recieve the least explanation but the most condemnation and are defined negatively – as differing from Baptist theology on issues concerning ‘the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell… [and] the complementarian nature of gender.’

In the Criswell Theological Review and this interview, Driscoll rearticulates Stetzer’s categories, adding a fourth (reformed relevants) in which he places himself. It is clear that Stetzer and Driscoll’s concerns lie with liberal theology and the reinvention rather than innovation of church forms.

Patrick’s recent Francis A. Schaeffer lectures can be read as translating Stetzer’s typology into an alternative language: relevants become ‘attractional,’ seeking ‘methodological revision’; reconstructionists become ‘incarnational,’ seeking ‘structural revision’; and revisionists become ‘conversational,’ seeking ‘theological revision.’

However, participants’ communities often consciously use more than one descriptor to articulate their identity, emphasise holism over compartmentalism, or tacitly exhibit characteristics of multiple categories. In particular, theological revisionism (revisionist/conversational) also manifests itself in alternative liturgies (relevant/attractional) and contextualised ecclesiologies (reconstructionist/incarnational). Likewise, organisational and aesthetic changes employed by many communities in an attempt to be relevant to contemporary culture often result in reconfigurations of ecclesiology and theology. It is therefore neither possible nor desirable to neatly divide communities and to define them according to their primary concerns (revising theology, cultural contextualisation, or structural organization).

In my thesis, as I have blogged before, I am going to follow the approach which Gordon Lynch takes in his 2006 exploration of 'the progressive milieu,' and argue for the usefulnes of the concept of a "milieu" in approaching the emerging church and its spiritualities. The decision to describe the emerging church as a milieu allows me to avoid implying through a definition of an "emerging church" that one type of community is either prevalent within the conversation or preferable in my opinion.

In his video blog, Pagitt says,

"...emerging church is the implication, the playout, the ramifications, of emergence happening inside the church... emergence is the larger category of what’s going on... Emergent Village is the network inside of that larger movement, and the emerging church is one of the enterprises that some of the people inside that network have been a part of."

In contrast to this position, however, I would argue that the emerging church milieu is the larger entitiy, a milieu (which has overlap with several other milieux within, on the fringes of, and outside the Christian religion) of which Emergent is but a part. To elevate the developments occuring within and through the organization and network Emergent Village above those occuring within and through the other individuals and communities within the emerging church milieu doesn't seem quite right to me. It's prescribing what emerges rather than allowing emergence to happen as an event with the ability to surprise us with its shape.

And I have misgivings about Pagitt's insistence on emergence as a 'larger category of what's going on.' While Phyllis Tickle's characterization of our current era as that of 'the great emergence' is an interesting way of framing the simultaneous emergence of new forms of Christianity as reactions to the dominant forms and the reconstitution of dominant forms of Christianity as a response, I think Pagitt places too much emphasis here on it as more than just a theory about what is occurring in today's religious landscape. For Pagitt, it is as if Tickle's articulation of this current era in the language of emergence (and she could have appropriated any number of different terms to describe it) represents an affirmation of both Emergent and emerging churches (but, apparently, of Emergent over emerging churches). It seems rather circular that Tickle's decision to refer to this era as 'the great emergence,' which was not made independently of there already being a milieu within contemporary Christianity that uses this language to describe itself, is now being used as a legitimation of that diverse collective's existence.

I will be interested to hear more reactions to Tickle's work when it is published.

Faith and Globalization Update

Tony Blair's recent appearance on The Daily Show. I love Jon Stewart. I don't really think Blair got the full on treatment, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Here's my favourite Jon Stewart appearance (Crossfire 2004) which, in part, led to the show's demise. He describes the show, the format of which was to pit two sides of a debate against each other but in the process often polarised the issues in questions, as "theatre" and "partisan hackery" that is "hurting America."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blair and Volf on Religion and Reconciliation

I turned in to the end of the Today Programme to hear a brief interview with Yale President, Richard Leven, about a course on "Faith and Globalization" being run by the Yale Divinity and Management Schools in conjunction with the Tony Blair Foundation, which begins today. The course will be taught by Tony Blair and Miroslav Volf. As Leven explained it, the course will address questions regarding the role of religion in politics and the impact of politics, particularly globalization, on religion. Using historical and contemporary case studies (Leven mentioned Northern Ireland and Kosovo), students will consider whether and how religion can be "a force for reconciliation in the world as opposed to a force for division."

The website for Yale's three year Faith and Globalzation Initiative provides introductory videos from Volf concerning the course content, and points to other useful resources and reading lists for each section of the course.

Of particular interest to me are the sessions on "Faith and Violence," and "Faith and Reconciliation." The website observes that,

"The destructive potential of faiths and their capacity to divide communities is more acutely felt in our closely interconnected world."

But also that,

"Faiths can provide rich resources for promoting reconciliation between persons and cultures."

The course enables students to both "[a]nalyze in detail the conditions under which faiths contribute to conflict, and explore the possibilities for preventing these negative outcomes... [e]xamine the specific contributions that faith can play in healing divides and nurturing the common good."

The Today programme already flagged up the obvious tensions involved in exploring the ways in which religion can be used to good with an ex-Prime Minister who acknowledges that his decisions, including those concerning the Iraq war, are driven by prayer, so I won't dwell on this further here.

I am interested, however, in this piece of news because I've been thinking about the implications of my thesis - I need to have a section in the Introduction which spells out to readers the ways in which my thesis contributes to the (academic) field. As part of this I've been thinking in particular about my last chapter, "Justice," and some aspects of my conclusion, in relation to what my thesis might contribute to the Church. Here's a couple of paragraphs from something I wrote mapping out the structure of my thesis.

A second “Interlude: Convergence” argues that the two discernable philosophical and theological strands within the milieu converge in practice through an emphasis upon justice which overrides any divergences with regard to truth.

Chapter Eight, “Justice,” reflects upon the ethical and political implications of participants’ notions of truth. I argue that a Lévinasian primacy of ethical action over the settling of theoretical differences is an appropriate framework in which to understand the ethical and political implications of the status and function participants give to truth. I demonstrate in particular that participants believe that the goal of the pragmatic translation of truth into action is to participate in the missio Dei of the holistic redemption of the world, the present-future actualization of the Kingdom of God. For some participants, however, to use the language of Derrida, the ‘to-come’ of the Kingdom is more important than its articulation or actualization as the Kingdom (as it has been understood by Christians).

I think participants' translation of truth into justice, and particularly the prioritizing of ethical action over the settlement of disputes about truth, might help to close remaining barriers between activists of different philosophical and theological hues. In relation to the Church, it might enable freer collaboration in social and politicla activism - ecumenically, but also beyond the boundaries of conventionally understood "religions" to other groups working with other fundamental assumptions about truth. Notions of truth which can act, as Blair and Volf's course will show, divisively might be replaced with some of the notions of truth which my participants employ; namley, truth as an event of transformation (which is then given many names) which calls individuals and groups to respond in acts of justice, hospitality, love, and forgiveness.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sexualities Special Issue

The journal Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society is planning a "Sexuality and Religion/Spirituality" Special Issue for next year. I'm going to (finally) try and finish translating my MA thesis (25,000 words) into an article (6,000 words) and submit it. The call for papers from Andrew Yip reads:

Sex and religion are often considered incompatible. Western culture is often perceived as being increasingly secular and sexualised; and religions, sex-constraining (if not sex-negative), normalising heterosexual marriage. Thus, social scientific study of religion/spirituality which for a long time focuses on macro and meso issues such as secularisation and religious authority structures tends to marginalise the study of religiosity/spirituality on a micro level. Thus, ‘lived’ sexuality – particularly non-heterosexualities – is grossly under-researched within this approach.

On the other hand, the proliferation of social scientific literature on sexuality, including non-heterosexualities, has been encouraging in past decades. Yet, this literature often does not engage with the issue of religion/spirituality. This is particularly evident in literature on lesbian, gay, and bisexual – or more generally queer – sexualities. Indeed, queer identity is often constructed as anti-religion and anti-family (of origin), as religion and family are considered the last bastions of institutionalised heteronormativity and heterosexism.

This Special Issue aims to generate exciting insights into how religion/spirituality informs the ‘doing’ of sexuality, and vice versa, in diverse ways. With the return of religion to the social and geopolitical agenda, it is important that the study of sexuality – its diverse forms, meanings, practices, and significance – should seriously consider the role of institutionalised religion and non-institutionalised spirituality in this process. This will offer us a more nuanced way of understanding contemporary
sexual as well as social identities and lives.

Thus, this Special Issue seeks high-quality theoretical and empirical articles of between 5,500 and 6,000 words. Deadline: Monday 2 March 2009

So the deadline's a way aways, but I'm thinking about this now (procrastination!!!). Here's my (revised) abstract for the piece (you can read the original here) -

Working Title:
'Life-as’ and ‘Subjective-life’ Being and Believing among Lesbian Christians

This article examines Heelas and Woodhead’s (2005) The Spiritual Revolution in the context of non-heterosexual religiosity. It argues that the essentially dualistic nature of the theoretical framework used in the Kendal Project, whilst necessary for testing the subjectivization thesis, rests on the problematic anthropology of ‘life-as’ conformity and ‘subjective-life’ authenticity. I use the voices of a small, localised group of lesbian Christians to queer The Spiritual Revolution’s polarised construction of Western spiritual and religious practitioners’ modes of being and believing. Countering the mutual exclusivity presented in that volume, the women who participated in this study undertake one of several moves available to those in-between Heelas and Woodhead’s poles of internal (‘subjective-life’) and external (‘life-as’) sources of significance and authority. I argue that Heelas’ recent (2008) translation of these classificatory categories into those of transcendent theism (God without) and monistic spirituality (“god” within) is more useful for an analysis of the contemporary religious landscape. This research begins the process of spectrum analysis, suggesting that exploration of LGBT Christian identity integration and reflection upon the work of cognitive dissonance theorists can illuminate ways in which individuals and communities might move even between the dualism of God without and “god” within.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Summer Hiatus Finally Over (Hopefully!)

Okay, so I've been a bit quiet over the past few months and I'm going to make up for that here. Since I last blogged about my thesis, I've been wrestling with transcribing (yes, I'm still transcribing!) after injuring my wrist (so, no, I haven't finished it yet!), finding and moving into a new house, buying kitchen appliances (Comet suck, but, when you complain, they give you stuff), and trying to get used to a new routine in a new place, whilst anxiously worrying about how my partner is getting on in his new job.

I've now transcribed 15 interviews (about 30 hours worth of data) with about 10 more interviews to go. Because I've been working from my fieldnotes about the content of the interviews, I've drawn up a very detailed thesis structure which I'm using to conduct thematic analysis of the transcripts, assigning participant quotations to their respective chapters. Of course, this is also further shaping my thesis structure as I do it.

Roughly, here are the main arguements of each chapter of the thesis, and some of the key words which I'm using to allocate interview data to particular chapters:

Chapter One argues for the concept of a "milieu" in approaching the emerging church and presents my understanding of the UK emerging church milieu.

Key words for (all) empirical data (not just interviews): alternative worship, "ancient-future," church, contextualization, culture, emergence, emergent, emerging church, experimentation, fresh expressions, "glocal," incarnation, leadership, mysticism, organization, post-evangelical, tradition.

Chapter Two presents the rationale for framing a study of the UK emerging church milieu and its spiritualities within an exploration of truth; namely, the criticisms of evangelical detractors, who wish to retain the "biblical" concept of truth as correspondence.

Key words: access, anti-intellectualism, correspondence, cultural postmodernity, emerging church critics, elitism, foundationalism, idolatry, intellectualism, modernity, "moral panic," nihilism, philosophical postmodernism, realism, relativism, representationalism, self-refutation.

Chapter Three provides the reader with an historical introduction to classical theories of truth, using a presentation of Nietzsche's critique of the will to truth and subsequent critiques of representationalism to introduce the ways in which participants understand the concept of truth.

Key words: Aquinas, Caputo, coherence, correspondence, Derrida, existentialism, event, Foucault, Heidegger, justification, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, metanoia, objectivity, personal, perspectivism, pragmatism, propositional, Radical Orthodoxy, realism, relativism, representationalism, subectivity, transcendence.

An Interlude: Mystics and Prophets explains that two sets or strands of philosophical implications can be drawn from the data about participants’ understandings of truth, and relates these two strands to the apophatic and prophetic strands which Jack Caputo identifies in the work of Jacques Derrida (and to Merold Westphal’s distinction between a hermeneutics of finitude and a hermeneutics of suspicion).

Chapters Four and Five highlight the epistemological and ontological implications of participants' understandings of truth, detailing the two strands which are in evidence.

Chapter Four agues that some participants are ontologically realist in relation to absolute truth, whilst acknowledging the epistemological limits that fallibility places on human knowledge of absolutes. These participants demonstrate a fear of what is constructed as postmodern relativism and postmodern nihilism, in their understanding of deconstruction as a necessary methodological phase through which they must go on their way to the reconstruction of Christianity.

Key words: absolutism, bivalence, certainty, deconstruction, doubt, faith, fallibility, finitude, foundationalism, humility, (in)accessibility, "moral panic," nihilism, relativism, subjectivity, universalism.

Chapter Five argues that, ontologically, other participants extend the themes of doubt and uncertainty to the reality of God's being and that, epistemologically, participants understand decosntruction to be inherent to language, as displayed throughout Christian history, and as a calling.

Key words: aporia, a/theism, auto-deconstruction, confession, deconstruction, doubt, event, faithful betrayal, metanoia, the other, ritual, slash, to-come, transformation, transformance art, uncertainty, undecidability, unravelling.

Chapters Six and Seven reflect on the theological implications of participants' understandings of truth.

Chapter Six assesses Jamie Smith’s suggestion that Radical Orthodoxy is an appropriate theological frame for the emerging church, arguing that, while RO connects with many of the theological implications of participants’ understandings of truth (especially within the first philosophical strand identified above), it needs to be revised in order to accord with these participants’ views on truth and religious pluralism.

Key words: aesthetics, arrogance, certainty, creativity, exclusivism, the "gathering center," Generous Orthodoxy, heresy, Hick, hierarchy, inclusivism, language, liturgy, meaning, narrative, "ontology of peace," "ontology of violence," "onto-theology," paganism, participation, pluralism, Radical Orthodoxy, sacramentality, "theo-ontology," transcendence, universalism.

Chapter Seven argues that the other strand within the data holds more affinity for Jack Caputo's weak theology, and that participants exhibit what I refer to as an “a/theistic orthodoxy,” which I show to be a practical expression of Caputo’s project.

Key words: activism, agnosticism, atheism, a/theism, deliteralization, language, the messianic, orthodoxy, postfoundationalism, pragmatic orthodoxy, theism, translatability, transformation, undecidability, undeconstructible, weak theology.

The second Interlude: Convergence argues that, while it is possible to discern differences between the philosophical and theological implications of participants’ understandings of truth, a convergence occurs in practice as participants unite in an emphasis on justice.

Chapter Eight argues that a Levinasian primacy of ethical action over settling theoretical differences is an appropriate framework in which to understand the political implications of the participants' notions of truth.

Key words: absolute future, activism, Augustine, call, Caputo, Derrida, ecumenism, ethics, event, facere veritatem, gift, hospitality, hyper-realism, justice, kingdom of God, law, Levinas, love, missio-Dei, orthopraxis, the other, per(ver)formative, politics, pragmatism, prayer, response, to-come, undeconstructible, Zizek.

The Conclusions re-cap my main findings, but also explore the importance of the context from which participants' understandings of truth arise (particularly post-conflict Belfast), and highlights two spiritualities which emerge from the emerging church milieu: Deep Church and A/theistic Spirituality.

So, any thoughts on the thesis structure as it is emerging? Admittedly, some of the key words and where I've chosen to place them within the overall strcuture only make sense to me, but hopefully the brief summary of each chapter's main arguments will give you at least an idea of where the data is taking me at the moment.