Sunday, August 16, 2009


I thought I might as well continue in my reviewing of the words I've used to describe this blog, having covered radical and Unitarian I now want to cover "emergent."

I have to admit I was thinking a lot more about the emergent church and alternative worship 4 years ago when I labelled this blog than I have been since. During my life as I've been writing this blog over the last 4 years I've spent a lot less time thinking about the emergent church. Partly this is because I've been going through the motions to become a Unitarian minister. I've needed to spend a lot of time learning about the Unitarian community, learning about the way things work, learning about the way things are done in traditional church. And that's been important.

But now I feel the need to begin to think about new forms of spiritual community and new ways of worship.

What is the emergent church? Browsing YouTube I came across this video from an US American Evangelical persective.

Although clearly speaking from his own perspective this seems a pretty fair summary.

Clearly using Driscoll's category I would want to be closest to the Emergent Liberals. One difference would be that the emergent stuff is not coming out of Evangelicalism but mainline denominations in the UK. In the UK a good deal of emergent stuff is Church-of-England-liberal.

But actually I would want to go further than emergent liberals. For example Brian McLaren seems to refuse to answer one way or another about gay inclusion in the Christian community. This video shows some rather stuffy looking old guys criticising McLaren for refusing to answer the question about gay inclusion and I kind of agree with them. I don't want the kind of liberalism that refuses to takes sides. I want a much stronger liberalism, or radicalism.

So I think it's right that I describe this blog as radical emergent. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that the church needs to develop in new ways to become missionally relevant to British culture in the twenty-first century. This includes a questioning of both practices and theology. Typically liberalism is more comfortable questioning theology and conservativism is more comfortable questioning practices. The radical emergent approach I'm advocating questions both. What I consider more foundational is an ethical commitment (it's a bit deeper than the word "ethical" but I can't think of a better word at the moment). In other words, all that Sermon on the Mount stuff.

The church needs to break out of a culturally-bound ways of working. It needs to change from institution-maintainance mode to missionary mode. The mission becomes primary. Not as a way to attract people to church, but rather as its rasion-d'etre. The classic way of saying this is that the church does not have a mission, but the mission has a church.

What this means in practice is an open question but I'm going to be thinking about this a lot more in my ministry from now on, and blogging about it.


Anonymous Tim (S Manc) said...

I would also side myself most with "emergent liberals".

The key thing I got from your post is that emergent Christianity needs to take its lead from outside the internal culture of the Church. Many attempts by church leaders to make their worship "relevant" come from an inside-out approach with ideas fed from within the church about what worship should look like - usually inspired by the Evangelical movement. The result is usually cringeworthy.

When we face the facts, we find that most "emerging church" movements are populated by people who either attend a Church regularly or come from a Christian background, which Driscoll refers to. This is even the case with initiatives such as Sanctus in Manchester, which is viewed by its sponsoring churches as a major success. It's not entirely a bad thing, as it's been a way of keeping some within Christianity; it's the same in most Unitarian congregations. Yet the "growth" claimed by "emerging church" movements - from all of Driscoll's streams - can be a little illusionary.

So let's not lose the plot here. When a person visits a church, especially a Unitarian one, they're not interested in what "radical" or "emergent" mean. They want a safe and welcoming space where they can pray, reflect and seek fellowship, learning and spiritual growth.

8:17 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

I think you make a lot of good points, Tim. No one has yet realised the best way to relate to post-Christendom postmodern western culture. But at least a bunch of folks have realised that we need to. And that this might mean a change in the way we do church.

But one reason I see the need for change is that I'm not sure I would go to Sunday morning worship if I wasn't a minister. Before I started training I got pretty disillusioned and bored with Sunday morning worship and decided that I would only go to a the weekly meditation gathering not the Sunday morning service.

As a minister I try to do Sunday morning worship as well as I can, and that will still appeal to a great number of people. But there's a lot of people it won't appeal to (including myself), and we need to think about how to engage those people. It may be more successful at retaining those on the edge than attracting people from outside, but it's a start.

6:02 pm  
Anonymous Tim (S Manc) said...

I agree with you, Stephen.

A lot of hyphens coming up here: I don't claim to have the answer to reaching the "un-churched" in addition to retaining the "de-churched", but I feel that worship meetings do not necessarily have to be on Sundays, and I think this forms part of finding the solution.

Part of forming a post-Christian, post-modern response involves re-evaluating the concept of Sabbath, what day of the week it could be, and whether "resting from labour" should include attending church.

10:32 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

That's an interesting point, though the time of worship wasn't the primary thing in my mind with what I said above.

I went to an emerging church in Birmingham once where they had a practice of not meeting for one Sunday in a month. Once a month they said - go home and spend time with your family. It's an interesting idea.

9:31 am  
Blogger Yewtree said...

Stephen - could you define what you mean by "missional"?

To mainstream Christians it means converting people to Christianity.

To Unitarians, I would argue, it should mean "encouraging people to explore their spirituality in community and to seek their authentic selves" and/or spreading liberal values.

And btw I still don't understand what emergent really means, despite reading dozens of blogposts by "emergent" Christians.

5:20 pm  
Anonymous a said...

I get more out of worship other than Sunday worship, and it appears that so do a lot of Unitarian activists. However, I put more in to other forms of worship (unless I'm taking the service). Perhaps there's some kind of link?

10:12 pm  

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