Monsters on the Loose 2
Emerging churches and Cloverfield are both criticized for experimenting with new styles, but they still manage to honor tradition.

Read part one of Craig Detweiler's posthere.

Monsters movies are a tired, moribund, nearly dead genre. Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla remake was horrible - all the effects, none of the joy. It had a traditional scenario, established stars, and extravagant set pieces. But the end result was a snooze. Where was the giddy thrill of discovery? The fear of what happens next?

Cloverfield goes back to the original Japanese source material to reinvent Godzilla. It has all the familiar notes: What is that thing? Where did it come from? No time to find out–RUN! The tension builds in traditional ways. Long quiet passages punctuated by panic. The rats in the subway tunnel run the same way. It offers a creature in the background you can't quite see.

But Cloverfield didn't just revive an old genre; it also uses the latest video camera technology, such as creepy night vision, in a raw and authentic way. The movie generated antipathy simply because of its shaky, handheld video style. It feels loose, informal, and spontaneous - it can also make you seasick. The style itself becomes a stumbling block. Plenty of viewers longed for Cloverfield's camera to settle down and conform to some pattern. But the chaos also means you can't be a passive observer. The audience is forced to participate.

Emergent churches are equally authentic, immediate, and lived. Their services feel unscripted, even though they may be planned. Like Cloverfield, they offer the illusion of spontaneity which is an art unto itself. The generation that embraces Cloverfield and emerging churches isn't interested in second or third order reflection. They live in the moment, treasuring direct and unmediated experiences.

For better or worse, handheld digital video is the affordable future. This new, highly democratic medium has barely begun. Everyone can and will be a filmmaker. There will be plenty of junk, but an immediacy will emerge because everyone now has a chance to tell their story. The same goes for churches; everyone can become a theologian as formalized education becomes unnecessary. Sure, there will be plenty of junk theology and it will take time to sort out the essential from the popular, but in emergent churches leaders would rather learn by doing ministry than studying it just as film students would rather start making movies rather than sit in a classroom. Despite its faults and limitations, the next generation prefers on the job training. This could be their blind spot or their competitive advantage.

April 25, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 12 comments


April 28, 2008  11:05am

Elly, you definitely got what I was going for. Thanks for helping to focus things a bit. MIke, you've highlighted the strength and danger of distancing ourselves from the immediate past. Is it a valid and important separation or merely a reaction–'Not that'? I like how Cloverfield respects its forebearers and then presses on to a new kind of monster movie. That's emergence of the best kind. Michael, I appreciate the criticism for the short shrift I extend towards seminary training. I'm writing from a seminary! I believe strongly in theological education. I'm simply pointing out how the self-taught video generation that picked up a camera rather than dropping $100,000 on film school will continue doing the same with seminary education. It is a loss to both seminaries and to future pastors that the gulf of money, time, interest hasn't been bridged. The democratization of video matches the democratization of seminary. The need for discernment increases both on YouTube and in our local faith communities. We need sharp interpretive skills.

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April 28, 2008  8:20am

i can't help but be reminded of the most common criticism of Cloverfield from folks who haven't seen it: they won't see it because the camera style and the viral marketing remind them too much of Blair Witch...which most of them haven't seen either. anyone to whom this makes sense, please raise your hand. yeah, i thought so. i'm reminded of emergent devotees who criticize a traditional church they don't know, and traditional devotees who...well, you get the picture. and, like Blair Witch, many people will probably only know Cloverfield from seeing spoofs and caricatures, and they'll feel like they know it. they'll be able to quote it; they'll look informed, and they won't have to do something as unsavoury as actually sit through the real film themselves. several folks have criticized the blogger for his analogy, but i think it works here, at least in the parallels of the criticisms for both Cloverfield and the emergent movement.

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mike rucker

April 27, 2008  6:37pm

@mike rucker, if someone preaches something that you do agree with, I hope you are equally quick to tell them so. :-) i am, certainly. but he's on his own when the deacon board calls an emergency session... mike rucker fairburn, georgia, usa

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Jonathan Stone

April 26, 2008  11:32pm

Craig, I loved part two of this analogy. I'm still not sure about part one, and wonder if you should have started with two and left it that. Perhaps that's because part two is a little more sympathetic and understanding of the emergent movement. Or it's because it's really the best part of your analogy.

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April 25, 2008  12:49pm

So let me get this straight – we can call anyone who is trying to eschew labels "emergent", right? That seems pretty ironic, actually. "Despite its faults and limitations, the next generation prefers on the job training. This could be their blind spot or their competitive advantage." It'll be both. I'm okay with that. @mike rucker, if someone preaches something that you do agree with, I hope you are equally quick to them them so. :-) @Michael Batley, a flat hierarchy means that junk theology will not prosper as it once could (still does?). We are now all iron sharpening iron, complete with the inevitable sparks and heat. I don't have a seminary degree either. While I respect those who do, they are no longer placed on lofty ivory pedestals. Under postmodernism we are equals. Furthermore, if theology isn't practical, it's useless. It's that whole 'faith without works' thing. Each one of us to called to be a good theologian, not just those in hallowed halls, and I think for too long those things have been arm's length from each other.

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Michael Batley

April 25, 2008  10:00am

"everyone can become a theologian as formalized education becomes unnecessary. Sure, there will be plenty of junk theology and it will take time to sort out the essential from the popular, but in emergent churches leaders would rather learn by doing ministry than studying it" I'm uncomfortable with the tone of the above comments. With a verbal flick of your hand, you throw away something really important. Look, I don't have a seminary degree, and having one doesn't necessarily guarantee against bad theology, but it does offer strong guard rails for the body (both locally and globally) against rapidly running off the rails. To flippantly say "yea, there will be some junk theology..." is going too far. When that "junk" get placed in our body Christ may be mis-represented, believers led astray and those destined for a Christ-less eternity may be told, "ahh, you're fine." Sorry, I'm not ready to go there that easily. Good, strong, theology is not something you just pick up and casually do. (Like making bad movies with a digital camera. Even my 12 year-old has posted stuff on youtube. Neat, but not meaningful.) And anyone thinking that our experiences can primarily lead to good theology are just plain wrong. Sorry but doctrine rooted in good theology is very different and methods that it produces (even radical new ones) will endure and have their greatest impact when they find themselves connected organically to good theology.

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mike rucker

April 25, 2008  8:54am

good thoughts here ... in the comments section. :) craig, i'm not sure you're putting enough focus on theology, and too much on the asthetics and context. i can see how people should be told to not fear the second, but it's hard for some not to fear the former. at different times in my life, i've taken tests to guage my personality, my work skills, temperament, etc. every time - i mean EVERY time - i get this finding: resists authority figures. i used to think, "what? that's stupid. parents and bosses always had my respect." but i see daily in terms of the church, the Bible, theology, etc., i have a very, very thick stripe of "hey, thanks for your opinions, but i'll come up with my own ideas" running down my back. and i think that's what some people see and fear in terms of the emergent church. me? i like it. if you preach something i don't agree with - though it may be mainline orthodoxy - i'm going to tell you so. over 2000 years of history, we've seen the movement away from heirarchical authority and more to the priesthood of believers. i think this is as important as the views of any historical figures in theology. so calvin and barth may have written large and detailed works, but the breadth of opinions over the years clearly indicates that all of us can come to our own views on the church, salvation, Paul's views, etc. without fearing too much valid criticism. that's valid criticism; i expect i might get some of the invalid type here in response to what i just wrote... (but that's just my opinion.) mike rucker fairburn, georgia, usa

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April 25, 2008  8:30am

Sure, everyone can become a theologian without needing formalized education–by studying! Not by just doing ministry and hoping people can sort out the junk theology they pick up! It is fully possible to do ministry and study theology and the Scriptures at the same time–and thereby gain a solid foundation for ministry while avoiding heresy and "junk theology".

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April 25, 2008  8:23am

What we are seeing, and I think what makes some folks so upset, is what Thomas Friedman writes about in his book, "The World is Flat". Basically, all authority and power is being decentralized or as the author of the post states so well, "everyone can be a theologian..." And although this may be chaotic, I also believe it to be much more organic and ripe with possibilities for spiritual growth, missional living, and more vital discipleship. I was actually looking through my own "tribe's" (read: denomination) Book of Order the other day and began to see what a straightjacket it has become. It was written for a different time and a different era and is way too restrictive for the 21st century church. For example, according to the Book of Order, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper can only be celebrated on Sundays, the entire congregation must be present, and only the Minister of Word and Sacrament can preside. WOW!!! Compare this with Acts 2:46-47 where the early believers gathered daily in homes for the breaking of the bread, fellowship, study of the apostle's teaching, and the prayers. And this is exactly the kind of "top-down", authoritative, hierachichal model that must be set aside for the sake of the Kingdom. Sure, it may be more clean and efficient but I do not believe life in the Kingdom is marked by "cleanliness" and "efficiency." It seems much more messy and chaotic to me.

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April 25, 2008  4:34am

Quiet passsages..............

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