Monday, March 24, 2008

The need for Emergent and some of the Emerging Church to deconstruct its ecclesiology

Many of the churches and groups involved in the Emergent & Emerging Church movement in the UK & US came out of radical evangelicalism. Evangelicalism - and in particular the more reformed, were birthed in modernity. Recently, Emergent churches and projects have changed their practice socially, due to the influences of postmodernity, information technology and consumerism. They have socially changed to respond to the sociological norms of culture.

The problem is, that many of these churches have changed sociologically - but not theologically or ecclesiologically. Many hold to the view that the real church began at the point of the reformation, and that reformation values still have a core place in the postmodern church. Those at the more radical end, still hold a view that they need to finish off the reformation, and were never happy with the Anglican settlement which held a more 'both and' perspective of catholic and protestant together. No - the more radically Emergent continue with this idea that the Emergent churches are the next stage of the reformed church - more pure than those that have gone before. A lot of the language coming out of the Emergent movement in the US seems wrapped in this language and perception of reformation.

Many of us in the Emerging Church feel uncomfortable with this position. We need a more both and postmodern perspective. We need an approach that is more affirming, more humble and less arrogant, something more communal, more about celebrating diversity. We have deconstructed our theology and ecclesiology - listening to the lessons of postmodern theology and ecclesiology. Some of the Emergent language of reformation needs to be deconstructed for our new context. If change remains only sociological - then we are only window dressing. What we need is a reappropriation or reconfiguration of missiology and ecclesiology to understand how we the church need to approach worship, mission and community in our new social context.

We don't need more disunity - more churches that define themselves as ' not like them'. We need a church that seeks to live out God's love to the world. One that brings renewal, revitalisation. Yes we need change, but with an ancient:future perspective. Our cities are littered with empty churches. These create new opportunities for doing new things drawing on the old. What we need is more churches focused on real mission to the unchurched and dechurched. Churches focused on love, and seeking apostolically to build new churches in a culture which is increasingly post-Christian. Without more deconstructed postmodern approaches to Ecclesiology and Theology, then Emergent will not be sustainable in our new brave world. It will then only be a short term fad!

I hope that is not so!


Adam said...

Hmmm...interesting. I think you do hit on some important points here. However, I don't know if agree that the US emergent/emerging is largely attached to the reformation theology and ecclesiology. I think there has been more deconstruction, more "both and" than perhaps you are acknowledging here...but maybe this is just my US bias coming through. Anyways, I really do appreciate the thoughts here - I really agree with where you're going.

Ian said...

Hi Adam

thanks for your comment. I think the reformation thinking is often unquestioned and unconscious - and I don't want to make it a US v UK thing - as this problem is here too. I think all I am saying is that we need to deconstruct theologically as well as sociologically. And then get to be creative in contextual reconstruction. Without this, we will never be able to reimaging in the context of the world we now live. Holding onto the hold reframed into the now

linda said...

Hi Ian
I think you are "right on". The strongly Reformed character of US evangelicalism and the implicit acceptance of that in the emergent/emerging church have been obvious to me for quite a while. I'm going with the capital R because the commitment I see is to that particular branch: Methodists and Lutherans are also Protestants with roots in the reformation, but have quite different perspectives...at least where not subsumed into generic evangelicalism. I get frustrated with the sloppiness that equates Reformed and Reformation with the only "real" way to be Protestant. The misunderstandings that arise this way lead to just the effects you mention. This is why I feel very committed, as a (Free) Methodist, to the Anglican connection, a different approach that harks back to the theological concerns (Trinitarian and Christological) of the early church. As my seminary professors were wont to say, "ecclesiology should follow Christology, not the other way around." Being firmly rooted and grounded in Christ and his love -- intellectually, spiritually and in will/practice -- should come first. Any of a variety of ways of conceptualizing/being/doing church can appropriately and effectively follow.
Linda Schwab

Matt Stone said...

"What we need is more churches focused on real mission to the unchurched and dechurched." Yes indeed