Monday, July 12, 2010

Emerging Beyond Institutional Christianity?

Two recent articles have appeared in The Guardian reflecting on the "new recipe/model" for Christianity "frustrated" with institutional and establishment Christianity. Theo Hobson's first piece, "A New Recipe for Christiainty," is on Pete Rollins and his second, "A New Model Christianity," is on Kester Brewin's use of Hakim Bey's notion of "temporary autonomous zones" in his book, Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures.

The mentions in the UK press come at a time when Kester has been debating with others in the emerging church blogosphere the question of the possibilities for relationship between emerging and established forms of church and theology. Here are the posts that I've been reading recently:


Having also read Other, I've been slow to write my own response. But I'll post about it as soon as I can.

What these posts and responses also show is how hard it is to articulate a critique of the structural move back into institutional roles without offending the people's life choices.

Anyway, some choice quotations from the posts by Kester:

"I sense that because things have been hard, people have retreated back to the safety and security of the institutions. The leaders that emerged in the previous decade have ‘gone higher’ and tended more towards liturgical forms, and typically found some kind of route into ordination – even if that be some ‘new’ form of ordained leadership." (from here)

"it is the incredible hard work that movements have to do (not being ignored, opposed or co-opted is a big battle against large institutional momentum!) that is the problem. So many movements with so much going for them simply don’t make it. And while it is good that institutions do have some inertia to stop them being swayed by every little current, I do think that the balance is currently wrong – and this is why I would look for the TAZ influence in institutional processes: taking things down every once in a while and rebuilding" (here)

"An alternative reading could be that the institutions have ‘caught up’ and are now offering styles of training and inclusion into formal leadership that were previously unavailable. My concern is that this could be a political move on the part of the powerful: they can’t afford for a generation to up sticks and leave, so they find new ways to hold on to them, offering certain compromises in the knowledge that once they’re ‘in’ they can be ‘in-stitutionalised’ – made part of the firm." (here)

"this is not about the prodigal son going away and coming back to his good home. Here are prodigals with genuine issues about a dysfunctional family life, and what should be done in response to that." (here)

"We are communal people. We like to gather, to have community. And institutions – incorporations of our values and shared goals – are an inevitable part of life. I am not arguing here – contrary to Jonny’s interpretation – for a life beyond institutions, as we both know this is not possible. I am arguing for a new approach to corporate life though, at whatever zoom level you might take: small local groups and beyond." (here)

"In other words, I’m not arguing that relationships should be short-lived, nor that institutions – some formalising of these relationships around a shared goal or project – should not exist. Rather, I sincerely believe that while relationships are maintained in the informal work of eating and sharing lives together, the structures that form around them should be regularly deconstructed, and this will probably require the move away from full-time professionalised clergy." (here)

"TAZ does connect with the permanent [narrative of Christianity], but by emphasising the temporary, it avoids the violence that inevitably comes with attempting to build and defend permanent structures" (here)

13 comments:

matthewgallion said...

I'm really curious how Brewin would respond to the institutionalization of practices that are not traditional but are not any less institutional. How does one have any organizing of persons without some establishment of order (though perhaps one might argue that such organizations are not "institutionalization"). I think there is a danger in reverse institutionalizing the emerging church.

For example, I once heard a fairly prominent American emergent "celebrity" suggest that he had nothing good to say to mainliners. It seems odd to me that such strong oppositional, dogmatic rhetoric comes from a well-known advocate of a movement that, according to Emergent Village (which he is openly associated with beyond his associations with the illusive emerging church at large) respects "every form of the church" and "seek[s] to be irenic and inclusive of all our Christian sisters and brothers, rather than elitist and critical" (from the EV website /values-and-practices).

So the question for me is, can an organized group of people escape this? And, if it is possible, should the one that supposedly has really be so dogmatic and (dare I say it?) modern in its commitment to other ecclesial forms? It simply seems to step drastically into the realm of certainty and, as our beloved John Caputo says, Capitalization.

But maybe that's just me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Katharine Moody said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your comments. Kester's point is more about the dangers of the violence of PERMANENT institutions than about the dangers of institutions, per se. He is clearly in favour of thinking alternatively about institutions, which is why he is attracted to Bey's notion of Temporary Autonomous Zones, for example.

But I agree that there is a correlative danger in, as you say, "Capitalizing" the alternatives that Kester is proposing and "reverse institutionalising" certain patterns of emerging church.

Kester's posts and Jonny's reaction to his(implied if not intended) value judgements about those who make the move towards deriving a living from institutionalised religion, also made me think about another popular move that is (from a certain perspective) no less "institutional" and equally "traditional" - the move towards the Temporary Autonomous Zones that can be set up on a lecture circuit by emerging church "celebrities."

Is the move of retreating into the "traditional," "institutional" roles of author/speaker different that of retreating into ordination? Is this move any different from ordination as a means of income? Surely the move to the lecture circuit is just as much a part of the Christian "institution" - particularly so in America?

I guess I would say that these events can be inspirational, and can themselves be the instigation of yet more Temporary Autonomous Zones. But my point in bringing up this move to the lecture circuit was to give a possible example of what you say: How would Kester "respond to the institutionalization of practices that are not traditional but are not any less institutional"?

All these discussions in the emerging church conversation regarding institutionalisation are fascinating to me. I am very interested in the question of how to "do" the deconstructive theology of people like Jack Caputo as a collective. It is easy enough to see how people can individually believe in a deconstructive or a/theistic theology. However, how does that theology translate into a community, especially given the sharp edge of Derrida's criticisms of the very notion of "community."

I guess, also, this relates to accusations made by critics of Derrida (and Caputo), who see in their (often rather polemical) attitudes to religious fundamentalism a total rejection of religion - which isn't what is happening in the work of either. What IS happening is more like a pointing towards what institutionalised religion (and religious fundamentalism, in particular) are less vocal about - the "promise/threat" of community, of institutions, and of religion in general.

So I think maybe Kester is trying to make a similar point. He is being less anti-institutional and more just pointing to the dangers of institutionalism.

The problem, I think, came with his framing this critique in terms of a "retreat from emerging church to institutional religion" that came across to some as a value judgement of people's life choices, which was really unfortunate and detracts from his (I think, valid) critique of the institutional church's fetishism of permanence.

I also guess that the key is to work out how to avoid fetishising the temporary!

Anonymous said...

Hello Katherine,

My experience is that people can construct their religious identity by often belonging to a variety of overlapping networks/groups which can encompass both institutional and temporary movements...this is particularly true in Ikon ( one individual for example goes to an institutional church on sunday, belongs to Ikon monthly event, is a committed member of Corrymeela and is active in politics (which can be seen as Christian peacemaking praxis). Maybe in the emerging landscape there is room for both permemant and more temporary structures each with strengths and weaknesses.

Rodney

Anonymous said...

Hello Katherine,

Apart from Ikon is there any communities in your research that 'do the deconstructive theology of people like Jack Caputo as a collective' or how would you imagine such a collective in practice? A big question but I am curious.

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Rodney, I completely agree with you that many are happy to be part of several different groups and the example you give is a good one and just a snap shot of the kinds of relationships people can have to various communities/structures/events/etc. I don't think it is a matter of either "being part of an institution" or "not being part of an institution." Nor of either being "permanent" or "temporary." I think that a mixture of both is often the healthiest option. Would you agree?

I think that there are many groups who could be read as "a/theistic" in their approach to religion and spirituality. Particularly those who might refer to themselves as being "marked by the religious question" or interested in "that part of culture that used to be called religion." While these groups can be structurally linked to particular denominations or have particular culture make-up (e.g. post-evangelicals), the approach they are taking is (self-consciously or implicitly) a/theistic - willing to exist on the slash of undecidability between determinate faith options. I think this is a good way of describing a number of collectives.

The whole trajectory of my research is an exploration of precisely what material and social mechanisms are required to enact a/theism communally. My thesis may answer some of your questions about how I imagine many emerging church collectives enacting such an a/theism, but as for what specific activities constititue an enactment of a/theism... that's the next project. And it will have a lot more implications for political theology, as it will address questions of how a Derridean theology negotiates in practice questions of difference and community.

Anonymous said...

Ian Mobsby

Looking back, I can see that many people like me were searching for a deep spirituality in the late 1980s, and for some younger churched people, the gap between church and the sensibilities of a post-modern culture had set the scene for two streams for experimentation.

The first stream was very ideas driven, drawing in the humanities and especially philosophy. People were not happy with the prevailing theology of many churches, so philosophy became an opportunity to critique the language of church which was predominately modernist and foundationalist. Understandably, this stream was thinking driven, where this was focused on a post-foundationalist ideology, using a strongly philosophical narrative. The groups and communities that grew out of this stream were focused on deconstruction, seeking to explore the area of spirituality and alternative worship. Many of these groups burnt themselves out after a while, but their contribution to opening up the spiritual landscape and possibilities, were enormous. These included the Late Late Service in Glasgow, Holy Joes, Parallel Universe, Live on Planet Earth, Thursdays, NOS, Abundant and others.

The second stream was driven less by philosophical ideas, but the desire for community and a more creative and artistic response to post-modernism. Again, many of these groups would self-define themselves as alternative worship communities. Many of these have continued into the present, groups such as Visions, Grace, the Epicentre Network, Foundations and Gracelands.

There were in these early days, a few groups that straddled these two streams, Vaux being a very good example, but most I would say, straddled these two streams.

Somewhere around 1993, the term emerging church became more apparent. This being because some in these two streams were increasingly happy to use the word church. This was not however a consensus decision. Some of these communities had expanded what they were doing to cover worship and community, and some, were now exploring the need for mission to an emerging new social group, never churched post-secular spiritual seekers. So initially the two streams expanded to three streams, and many groups called themselves emerging churches whose worship was alternative worship. It is I think fair to say, that largely most of this new emerging church grouping came from the second stream, because most in the first stream perceived themselves as post-church and some post-Christian.

Anonymous said...

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!


forgive me for copying Ian Mobsby blog but it is an very interesting summary of the UK emerging church.

i wonder if whilst there are many dechurched individuals who are a/theist in outlook there are very few organised collectives (apart from Ikon and the Garden which correspond to Ian Mobsbys first stream) which exist to-day....I am not sure if streams 2 and 3 can be classified as inspired by derridean
a/theology.

I have only read the first part of your thesis and appreciate you have delved deeply into this subject!! these are just a few random musings

Rodney

Anonymous said...

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!


forgive me for copying Ian Mobsby blog but it is an very interesting summary of the UK emerging church.

i wonder if whilst there are many dechurched individuals who are a/theist in outlook there are very few organised collectives (apart from Ikon and the Garden which correspond to Ian Mobsbys first stream) which exist to-day....I am not sure if streams 2 and 3 can be classified as inspired by derridean
a/theology.

I have only read the first part of your thesis and appreciate you have delved deeply into this subject!! these are just a few random musings

Rodney

Anonymous said...

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!


forgive me for copying Ian Mobsby blog but it is an very interesting summary of the UK emerging church.

i wonder if whilst there are many dechurched individuals who are a/theist in outlook there are very few organised collectives (apart from Ikon and the Garden which correspond to Ian Mobsbys first stream) which exist to-day....I am not sure if streams 2 and 3 can be classified as inspired by derridean
a/theology.

I have only read the first part of your thesis and appreciate you have delved deeply into this subject!! these are just a few random musings

Rodney

Anonymous said...

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!


forgive me for copying Ian Mobsby blog but it is an very interesting summary of the UK emerging church.

i wonder if whilst there are many dechurched individuals who are a/theist in outlook there are very few organised collectives (apart from Ikon and the Garden which correspond to Ian Mobsbys first stream) which exist to-day....I am not sure if streams 2 and 3 can be classified as inspired by derridean
a/theology.

I have only read the first part of your thesis and appreciate you have delved deeply into this subject!! these are just a few random musings

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Yeah, I read Ian's post ("So what is happening with the emerging church in the UK in 2010" http://www.ianmobsby.net/mobblog/?p=53) and can see why he sees three streams in emerging church practice. What I was exploring are the hermeneutics within emerging church discourse - which is a different question. And I identify two (Deep Church and A/Theism), though of course there are more.

I would argue that there are those within the 2nd and 3rd streams that Ian identifies who are involved discursively in one or both of these (and/or other) hermeneutics. In terms of practice, I'm more interested in those who are trying to work out what an A/Theistic collective might look like - and there are certainly some communities who are more keen on this than others, and some communities who are more successful at translating this hermeneutic into community practice than others. You are probably right that they will tend to be more stream 1 communities than stream 2 or 3. But I want to look into that more.

However, in my thesis, I try to move away from definitions or typologies of "the emerging church" that rest too heavily on community membership as the key identifier of religious belonging. I do not think that the emerging church conversation is adequately characterised by trying to define such a thing as an "emerging church" per se. I don't think community membership is the primary signifier of being part of the emerging church conversation. So while Ian's post seems to be trying to map the field of the 2010 emerging church by categorising communities, I would take a discursive approach and try to identify what discursive commitments individuals and collectives have (regardless of whether they are connected to a community that can be identified positively as an emerging church - of either stream 1, 2 or 3).

Anonymous said...

My thanks for your detailed response Katherine....I will probably see you in the future when you come to NI to study Ikon in your next project-funding permitting hopefully! (smiley face)

I have many subjects I enjoy reading on in both politics, religion and history but alas limited time...I am reading about Girard at the moment and am going to a 2 day Girard study event at Corrymeela in Aug - his work is very relevant to peace and reconciliation issues in the depressingly divided society I live in!

all the best

Rodney

Katharine Moody said...

Yeah, it would be great to meet up again in the future. I will definitely let you know the next time I'm in NI. I haven't read any Girard, so it would be great to hear more about that and the August event you mention. I hope it's useful for you. We're moving house at the moment and having Internet difficulties, so sorry if I'm slow to respond at any point in the next few weeks! Katharine xxx