Transitology and emerging theology

As a practitioner and activist I have been fascinated by the idea of change for a long time, change on so many levels, and in so many ways. How individuals change, how communities change, how culture changes, how education changes, how young people change, how theology changes, how church changes and list goes on and on…..

For some time I have been questioning the depth of change, challenge and if any real transition was happening in emerging church thinking and theology, if we were on a road less traveled and willing to encounter G-d that can only be found in glimpses as we deny the false god we know. Often finding a sense of newness in some of Pete Rollins writing and in agreement with Kester Brewins post that there has been a sense of retreating. However I am unsure if this is conscious or circumstantial as the institutions catch up.

Kesters postthe backlash begins and the comments has prompted me to finally get around to this post.

At a basic level Transitology (derived from political science and initially examining change in latin america) identifies 4 elements to the change process. 1, structural factors are inadequate by themselves need actors to help make change, 2 change happens at times uncertainty, 3 Actors are assumed self interested, 4, Property rights of the wealthy need to be challenged.

I want to borrow from Transitology to say a few things about the change or lack of it, and current processes in the emerging theology debates.
1, The structures (and here I mainly mean the institutions and denominations) recognised the need for change and could not make the shift happen by themselves. They needed and still need actors on the edge of and preferably (in my mind) outside themselves to help make change happen.
2, The uncertainty and backdrop of the cultural shift to post (hyper) modernity is obvious, and the challenges it wrought both in terms of thinking and theological processes and in terms of subscription to institutions, commitment etc provided the climate of uncertainty needed for next shift, or as Phylis Tickle suggests the great emergence.

But it is the next two arenas of Transitology where I think we can draw some hope from and maybe build a bit of a platform to stop the retreat.
3, I think the backlash Kester mentions, comes from, and is coming from, a number of fields. Initial emergence was quite egalitarian, and practice driven by actors, working out what to do on the ground in the shifting context they found themselves. This flew in the face of self interest and created a platform for voices from the margin to be seen and heard. As the movement matured the voices shifted from the group to the individual, (which is needed as Actors play a key role), but in doing so could easily be seen as being less rooted in communities and practice or self interested. This will make it easy for people from outside emerging theology circles that are too lazy to get to know the actors to criticise them as self interested or unaccountable, as at a surface level they see people removed from their communities (or systems) and not practice orientated. I assume (like my own experience on the edge) that Kester with Vaux, and Pete with Ikon forged a depth of relationship created in the years of practice and risky experimentation that still remains. However, it may be helpful (particularly for the likes of me) to be given some pointers on grounding some of the thinking into our practice, and where actors are not involved directly anymore, to be dialoging with practitioners who are seeking to flesh out the christ they are speaking of on the ground, and to make these faltering attempts, and relationships public alongside the theological discourse. One of my greatest fears is that our key actors will be unfairly criticised from within (one field that the backlash may come from), and in doing so the movement will not embody the openess and acceptance, robustness and questioning that much of the emerging church is known for, and is certainly one of the changes worth protecting. This links to my final point, I do think the voices of the wealthy need to be challenged and this is two fold. There needs to be a challenge to the intellectually wealthy to root theological ideas on the ground. Secondly the growth of fresh expressions could be viewed as the wealthy institutions colonialising the grass roots, and in so (hopefully not intentionally) suppressing the voice of the actors and those on the edge who were and still are, key to helping make change happen. This may be the another field where the backlash comes from, but it will be disguised in many colors, as the tentacles of the wealthy and powerful are legion.

Does Christianity have a future in a new shape?

After the programme does Christianity have a future? see iplayer here (our bit is around 37 mins in) I wanted to start a discussion about what I thought the programmes was going to be about which was more about the emerging shape of Christianity and how the values of Gen Y influence and change the way we do church. Ann Widecombe seemed to have an agenda around traditional approaches to faith, and how much she was involved in shifting the focus of the programme i am unsure. Dave Wiles summed it up nicely “Dear old Anne playing with red herrings”

SO am asking the question does christianity have a future in a new shape and what does that shape look like?

Heres one colour that I think the new picture will be painted with to get you started – it will be apologectic free, people will not bother about arguements like did God create the world in seven days, and whilst people may ask those sort of questions, answers will not be about justifying a defence but explaining that it doesnt matter and only giving their view as one of the options about what the truth may be.

A third confessional perspective.

At the moment I have a three sided mirror in which to reflect on some big questions about change and the nature of the christian message. I am reading Phillip Davies Whose bibe is it anyway for my post grad in practical theology, Reading Pete Rollins The fidelity of betrayal and the third mirror is my own practice side of church on the edge driven by the missiology developed over the past decade or so. All which are provoking me to look deeper at the meta-narrative I think the christain faith and Biblical text carry and the implications for mission.

Davies discusses the nature/approaches of biblical criticism and argues that there are esentially two perspectives, confessional (coming from a theological/faith perspective which he also uses emic, Bible studies and Scripture to differetate those who see the Bible as canon) or non confessional (coming from a humanist perspective where he also used the terms etic, biblical studies and non canonical). His typeology is good and useful but I find his understanding of the confessional perspective (a kind of fundemental/literalist to liberal) limted and dated.

From my third confessional perspective (which I would say borrows from modern emerging church perspectives that in themselves also borrow from traditions although reframed, post modern theory, and mission encounters) sees faith about the redemptive processes that consistantly ruptures our worldview (inc our faith paradigm) and is a series of revolutionary moves

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that form and shape a new (at the time) but growing (in hindsight) understanding of God.

So I have no qualms about Davies exegisis of texts as they may help us with the rupture, indeed I approach Biblical studies with this mind (part of the third confessional perspective) and may even argue that this is why we have the text, however Davies would argue that confessional perpectives limit. I would agree when looking at narrow confessional perspectives and that there is a danger of this within the third, but I would argue that biblical criticism from the third perspective more in line with etic approaches than the emic as it demands a rigour and openess that could even beyond a humanist perspective as this a truth understanding that may be less open than the third confessional perpective.

Rollins in both the fidelity of betrayal and how not to speak of God goes someway to underline both the need for a third confessional perspective (although he doesnt use the term) and identifies and develops (particularly in fidelity of betrayal) the perspective as he reflects on the place and notions of truth held within/by the historic confessional perspectives.

Davies exergesis of Abraham in chapter 5 Male bonding leads him conclude “there are no historical or theological truths that need to be won from this, only the wisdom and experience of the tellers.” and the writer may be suggesting that god is much like politican that makes promises that change, and not to be trusted, and that we shoud hold these lightly, esentially that neither Abraham or Yhwh are what they are cracked up to be. So what Davies does is very consistant with a third confessional perspective perhaps even biblical evidence for this perspective, and supports how Rollins develops the perpective as the God we know cannot be G-d as G-d is beyond, more etc.

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I was chatting yesterday Iain about stories that break the narrative and creating fissures in the christendom/ corrupted christian worldview. Thinking about how both pressure from within and outside can help open the cracks up. However over the years there have often been stories that oppose the establishment eg anabaptist but cant get away from the thought that lots of people see the need to paste over the cracks hence the slow pace of change.Definitely, Maybe dvdrip

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New way of being church

I was asked today to join with a meeting the new way of being church The Passion of the Christ rip community. A mixed bunch of faithful radicals that have been exploring new ways of being church long before the term emerging church became trendy. Lots of connections, it was interesting how we shared many links, basic eccelesial communities, friere, alinsky, jim punton, fyt. They have lots of resources online and worth a visit.

A parable about church

I was revisiting some of Off the Beaten Track today and this story hit me again as I thought about church and change.

The prison walls had become the home they had forgotten, so long had they been there amongst the dust and dirt that any memory of the outside world was but a dream to them.
One day, which started like any other, they huddled together to talk. Having the same conversation they’d had every day for as long as any of them could remember, talk of escape. In the middle of this discussion something unusual happened. The cell door swung open.
The prisoners cowered against the back wall, shielding their eyes from the bright sunlight. A man stood there, someone they didn’t recognise, for had they not seen or heard anyone for these long years? The man spoke to them saying;

‘You are free to go.’ The group sat in silence, for though they had planned to leave; now they were too afraid to do so. What world was out there? A place that surely must have changed beyond recognition. The prison walls suddenly seemed appealing, for hadn’t it become their home? No one moved, until one man, cautiously making his way to his feet, crossed the small cell and averting his gaze from what lay beyond quietly closed the door.

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Open Sets as a way towards enlightenment

I have been exploring the issue of bounded and open sets, one thing that is often talked about is about being committed at the core and open at the edges, yet I wonder if we are missing an opportunity for growth here. I am part of a network that describes itself as A network of mission practitioners and communities who are restlessly trying to follow Jesus in the midst of a changing contemporary culture. The Ugly Truth full I cannot underestimate the support I have found within group and how important the space to be open and vulnerable with like minded people is. In many ways this group is not fully open (nor should it??) but this is what I am questioning. At one level all open groups are self selecting and will attract people around the ethos of the group etc, but open set groups for people exploring spirituality will mean the members come into contact with those they disagree with, those they think are off the wall etc, all of which if processed worked through, dialogued about, motives, passions and actions searched and questioned help us on the path to enlightenment. You can hear a talk on patience a 100 times but try living with someone you think is a Muppet, what has the greater benefit for the soul?

Questions for the anyone in the Emerging Church scene

Over the weekend I am facilitating a conversation on Church on the Edge with the subtitle Emerging church gets missional. So I will be introducing the concept and process via a handout and as part of the session asking the following questions, and would appreciate any comments.

1. Is the emerging church in missional mode?

2. Are EC’s still a bounded set model but just with better PR?

3. Is community development a core part of your mission approach?

4. How does the church on the edge model/process fit your situation?

5. Where should church on the edge go from here?

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