September 6, 2011
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.