Welcome to FutureChurch - a blogsite where a variety of authors give their thoughts on the future of the church in South Africa. Each blog (listed on the right) is meant to be self-contained but this front page lists the most recent posts. We have published many blogs from many renown authors, including Richard Wilcox from Inversion Table Life. While on his own website, he publishes inversion table reviews on the best inversion tables - here, he is a devote christian.
Scot McKnight delivered a clear and helpful lecture in October 2006 at the Westminster Theological Seminary intending to answer the question, "What is the Emerging Church?" In reading through it I've extracted some bits which have helped me clear the waters (you can download the pdf here) although I don't try to unpack them. We probably can't narrow the definition of emerging church down to a single thing, but if I had to it would be "missional ecclesiology".
Technorati Tags: emerging church
I don't believe in coincidence, so I won't say, "As luck would have it"... But this afternoon, just after posting my previous entry on Dan Kimball discussing our faith, I read one of my business colleague's, from TomorrowToday.biz, blog entries on leadership, and the important art of questioning and listening - read it here. Keith Coats has a wonderful writing style, and I am sure you'll enjoy what he has to say about Gurus, leaders/>I think the point he makes about American leadership gurus could be similarly applied to many church pastors and theologians.
I recently entered into an interaction with a pastor - I would not call it a conversation or a dialogue, but about 7 or 8 emails passed between us. This pastor had some concern over my "involvement" in the "emerging church movement". As our interactions progressed, I suggested that we make it a more "formal" discussion. His response was to set three prerequisites for our conversation - three fundamentals that I needed to accept before he would even engage in conversation. This is extraordinary. As fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, why would we feel the need to limit our conversation in such a way? And since his critique of me involved some of the points he wanted me to stipulate, there seemed no point in continuing the interactions.
Just today I read Dan Kimball's blog entry, responding to criticisms he has received about a chapter he contributed to a recent book. Dan is a great thinker and one of the leading Emergent leaders. What I appreciated most about his post, however, was his humility in the face of a public barrage of criticism, and I appreciated his willingness to engage in debate and discussion. Read his excellent post here.
In my mind, there is a big difference between abandoning your faith, and being willing to question it. It is this distinction that conservative, traditional-evangelical Christians don't seem to get.
Pete writes that Good Friday churchgoers don't know what to do with the day - whether to be happy or sad. I think we should experience the day as it was originally experienced - without the hope of Easter Sunday or the resurrection. We should hear our own voices in the crowd shouting, "Crucify him!" and remind ourselves of the times we still shout that. We should find ourselves in Mary, weeping over her dying son, in John, tasked with taking care of his new mother - the mother of his dying friend, in the centurion, who saw God, in Jesus, betrayed and deserted by his friends and by God...and in the rest of the disciples, who scattered and had their hopes shattered. Jesus is dead. We are lost.
And so dawns Holy Saturday - which most churches ignore (!) - but is a significant day in the Church calendar. Jesus is buried, his followers scattered; Judas dead, Peter denied Christ. God has abandoned God - and it is in this moment that our faith is truly tested.
Pete Rollins writes,
M. Scott Peck pens a brilliant chapter in "The Road Less Travelled" on approaching religion from a therapist's perspective called "The Baby and the Bath Water." In the preceding chapters he examines three clients who have some sort of relationship with religion. In two of the cases the path of growth was in the direction of belief in God; in the other the person came to a point where, "She doesn't know if she believes in God or not, but will tell you frankly that the issue of God just doesn't seem a very important one at this point in her life."
Alan Hirsh has some good advice: Don’t emerge before you get missional
In SA there's a danger that we hook onto this catchphrase of the "emerging church" without becoming missional first.
This phrase was introduced into our conversation at the Forge Tribal Moot over this last week. It comes from the mind of Tim Hein, our Forge South Australian director. His concern, and I might add ours, is that people who read about new forms and ideas about church and mission, get excited, and end up disillusioned because, after a few months of giving it a go, they decide it wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be. I have to admit that many people do end in this rather sad place. I think largely because they like the idea of emerging church but don’t want to bother about mission as the organizing principle of the church. They emerge before they get missional.
And it is this aspect of the ‘emerging church’ that does worry me–much of it (by no means all) seems to me to be a re-configuration of the inhereted forms of the church and its worship. And much of the literature seems to focus on the renewal of worship and spirituality as if this will resolve the problem. Even scarier is the attempt to re-energize outworn symbols and forms taken from many great movements in the past.
It is no good fossicking around in Christendom as if somehow we will find the solution to our dimemma there. In actual fact it seems to me that this is precisely where we got many our current problems from in the first place. We need more than a critique of the old system, or a simplistic ivoking of ancient rites and rituals. What we need is a positive, dare I say apostolic, vision of the future, is we are going to overcome our churchly inertia and decline.
I have always been challenged by Einstein’s dictum when he said that “…the problems of the world cannot be resolved by the same type of thinking that created those problems in the first place.” Touche Einstein! Apply this to the church and you might get what I am trying to say here.
In my first post I examined how Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger approached researching emerging churches in Western contexts. Their starting point was new missional Christian communities formed within the last 20 years meeting at least monthly in Western, postmodern contexts who exhibited a vibrancy and creative immersion in popular culture with a strong corporate expression outside the church and employing a multisensory communication approach in their gatherings. Due to their predisposition toward new media it was fairly easy for Gibbs and Bolger to make contact with these communities via the internet.
So how do we learn from this approach and use it in a South African context? We are a country which is both first and thirld world; we have pre-modern, modern and postmodern worldviews (with the (originally) Western/European church being mostly modern). So if use the internet to find our emerging churches, we are simply going to connect with exactly those communities who already use the internet, which will be the richest people in the country, and the richest people tend to have a strong modern Western influence (although with an African flavour).
Perhaps we can assume that these postmodern, creative communities will therefore exhibit the same characteristics as the emerging churches identified by Gibbs/Bolger. We don't have the research to back this up but I don't think it is a bad assumption. What was helpful to Gibbs/Bolger was the referrals given them by people they initially made contact with online. We can assume that people doing innovative ministry in South Africa will be aware of others.
So how to contact these people? Firstly we have to decide our parameters. Here's a working list, adapted from Gibbs and Bolger:
The community has formed in the last 20 years Consider themselves Christians or Christ followers Consider themselves a congregation or a mission Meet at least monthly and are still meeting
These, I would think, are the specific South African ones: have a strong element of justice (being involved in some element of public life, whether it be fighting crime or bringing peace, or helping with homeless people in their area) have a strong focus on mercy (HIV/AIDS and poverty) lives as a reconciled multicultural community engages popular culture
So, please email me anyone you know who fits any part of this description Or add it into the comments, and we can start an informal categorisation.
Finding good Christian books is hard in South Africa, in spite of the amount of Gospel Direct and CUM book stores. Both carry a certain kind of Christian writing; mainstream evangelicalism is the order of the day. They don't take any risks - which is why I've heard at least one American, after viewing the books on offer at CUM, offered a heartfelt apology to South Africans for his being a part of a nation which "exports the worst of American Christianity" to South Africa. Certainly, I've found a few good books at both shops but I simply don't visit them any more. Why visit MacDonald's when you can eat homemade pasta with ingredients found at fresh produce markets? They're both food, but the first is bland and the same everywhere in the world, while the second allows local flavour combined with international variation. And it's healthier.
For instance, CUM and Gospel Direct don't stock any Frederick Beuchner, Henri Nouwen, NT Wright, Lenard Sweet, Richard Rohr, Brain McLaren, Dallas Willard, Hans Kung, Leslie Newbigin, Ronald Rolheiser, Antony de Mello, Pete Ward, Thomas Merton, David Tomlinson, Walter Breuggeman, Jonny Baker, Marcus Borg, Stanley Grentz, Eddie Gibbs, Wolfgang Simson, Peter Rollins, Alan Hirsch, Jürgen Moltmann, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Fritjof Capra, Kester Brewin, Alan Jamieson, Shane Clairborne, Miroslav Volf, St John of the Cross (or any mystics - they're DANGEROUS I guess), Esther de Waal, David Bosch (ironic, since he's probably the most respected South African author in the international missions community) - nor would they have heard of these authors in many cases - authors who, in most cases, are well read throughout the Christian world. I have to ask, are CUM and Gospel Direct out to promote a specific theology and reject books which don't fit into that? I'm disappointed to have a one-dimensional John Maxwell/Purpose-Driven Gospel propagated by these bookshops. The most on-the-edge they get is Philip Yancey (but please, if I'm wrong - and that would make me most happy! - please let me know).
Enter stage left: Loot.co.za. They're not a Christian website but their selection of Christian books is breathtaking - and prices are reasonable. I don't if they stock all of the above but I haven't been disappointed yet. I've bought a number of books from them and am quite happy. If only other Christian bookstores carried their selection...
...now if only I could get a reseller id so I can make some cash through referrals!
Ignoring my plagiarised suggestion to give up God for Lent, perhaps my Bible study friends could be encouraged to give up Lent for Lent? If Lent means a time of guilt for eating chocolate, for not repenting enough, for not entering into the season enough, perhaps the best way you can observe Lent is by giving up the very thing which is getting in the way of Lent - Lent.
But Lent is neither success nor punishment. Ultimately, Lent urges us to let go of self-deception and pleasing others. These 40 days ask only one thing of us: to find our truest selves on a journey toward God.
Giving up Lent for Lent meant giving up guilt. Although I have been back to church for Ash Wednesday many times since I gave up Lent for Lent, that year freed me from spiritual tyranny and helped me understand Easter anew. The journey to Easter is not a mournful denial of our humanity. Rather, Lent embraces our humanity – our deepest fears, our doubts, our mistakes and sins, our grief, and our pain. Lent is also about joy, self-discovery, connecting with others, and doing justice. Lent is not morbid church services. It is about being fully human and knowing God’s presence in the crosshairs of blessing and bane. And it is about waiting, waiting in those crosshairs, for resurrection.
Technorati Tags: lent
Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger's "Emerging Churches" is currently the seminal work on understanding the emerging church. Their work has been restricted to the UK and US context but the results speak authentically for any Western context. To quote from the introduction:
If the church does not embody its message and life within postmodern culture, it will become increasingly marginalised. Consequently, the church will continue to dwindle in numbers throughout the Western world. We share a common vision to see culturally engaged churches emerge throughout the West as well as in other parts of the world influenced by Western culture.
...this book analyses emerging church trends in the UK and the US exclusively, and we have no data to confirm or deny whether these patterns will hold up in other Western countries or those countries influenced by the West. We suspect that these patterns may be useful measures in these other locales, given our common Western orientation, but that simply remains our educated guess. Verification of that assumption must wait for another day.
...the patterns we identify are those we observed as missiologically significant (i.e. emerging church practices that engage our postmodern context with a gospel native to that same culture).
Regarding language, when we say emerging churches do such and such a practice, invariably we are saying that these activities are patterns in emerging churches. Because we are casting the net wide - a church needs to demonstrate only three [out of nine identified] core practices to be emerging - it follows that many emerging churches do not do all nine practices. We recognise that churches emerge differently. What we intend to say but do not want to qualify each time is that exemplary emerging churches participate in the particular pattern under discussion, a practice that is missiologically significant.
...We are aware of the delimitations in our study. Our research identified that many emerging churches are led by white, anglo, middle-class males. Consequently, some may judge the movement to be deficient multiculturally. At this point in time, the detractors may be right. Part fo the reason this particular culture predominates is that many of the pioneering emerging churches arose out of the evangelical charismatic subculture, which has these same characteristics. We must say, however, that in our interviews we were deeply impressed by what we found in regard to the social and cultural practices of emerging churches. Virtually all these communities support women at all levels of ministry, prioritise the urban over the suburban, speak out politically for justice, serve the poor, and practice fair trade (especially in the UK). In addition, because these emerging churches are urban in orientation, and to be urban means to be multicultural, we anticipate that as these missional groups become increasingly rooted in their context, they will increasingly represent its cultural mosaic.
So how would someone interested in researching emerging churches in a South African context go about it? Gibbs and Bolger have a helpful appendix entitled "Research Methodology" from which I'll take some things which might help us.