Rethinking Church in an Emergent Salon
Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church explores the interface between the emerging church and traditional, liturgical churches. The book is a series of interviews the author, Becky Garrison, describes it as a "salon." It's a helpful (if poorly edited) sampling of discussions about recovering authentic Christian witness in postmodern urban culture.
Becky Garrison, senior contributing editor for the Wittenburg Door, had in-person, phone, e-mail, blog, and IM interactions with 33 people, most of whom are involved in "emerging" groups, "alternative worship," or other innovative worship practices. About half of the contributors are of the Episcopal/Anglican tradition; nearly half are women.
Garrison asked about the role of doctrine in emergent experiments and the relationship between newer forms of church and traditional churches. She guides discussions on a variety of topics, asking questions such as:
How do you respond to conventional wisdom that the mainline churches are dying? (of Phyllis Tickle and Martha Grace Reese)
Why do you define "alternative worship" as postcharismatic and postevangelical? (of Jonny Baker)
How do you reconcile the need to affirm orthodoxy without becoming exclusionary snobs? (of Brian McLaren)
How do we balance the experience of the church with the authority of Scripture? (of N. T. Wright)
What do you say to all those who feel all you have to do is light some candles, turn down the power praise music, and viola you have an emerging church service? (of Nadia Bolz-Weber and Jonny Baker)
Define ritual, and how do you see ritual as being redefined for the 21st century? (of Kurt Nielson, Elise Brown, and Rick Fabian)
What have you learned about God from your ministry with prostitutes? (of Kurt Nielson)
Eight themes permeate the book:
- Hope! These folks are hopeful about a substantial and authentic rebirth of the church in postmodern culture, and their hope sparks a lot of creativity and risk-taking.
- A new partnership between traditional churches and emerging churches. Episcopal and Anglican leaders are building bridges from older liturgical forms of church worship to emergent forms. Jonny Baker works with the (Anglican) Church Mission Society to "reimagine worship, faith, and community in postmodern/emerging cultures." Karen Ward (abbess of Seattle's Church of the Apostles) is excited about "amazing 'convergence'" she finds "between Anglican ethos and practice and [that of] the emerging church."
- The priority of engaging postmodern youth and young adults, especially PUPs (Postmodern Urban Professionals). The book is fairly culture-specific to this demographic, both a strength and limitation. Emerging experiments are not really (for the most part) engaging the poor, or working-class people, or people less affected by postmodernism. They're reaching PUPs.
- Things are different in the U.K. Ian Mobsby (priest missioner with the Moot Community, Diocese of London) says emerging-church discussions have occurred longer there "because there is more of a crisis in the church than in the U.S. we are slightly ahead of you in the postmodern context."
- Humility. The mood is a chastened one, pained by the failures of the church and aware of the danger of seeing new experiments as magic keys to renewal. Says Steven Croft (Team Leader of Fresh Expressions, a joint Methodist-Anglican venture), "Nobody knows quite what they're doing, but there is humility of the heart, which is enabling new learnings."
- Theology, not just pragmatism, is important. Crucial theological reflection is occurring at "the interface between missiology and ecclesiology" (Croft) and the interplay between how the gospel impacts culture and how culture understands the gospel. Emphasis is more on the kingdom of God (a concept not fully spelled out in the book, but having to do with the church's redemptive and transforming role in the world), than on the church and tradition. Still, there is considerable love for the liturgy.