Archive for the ‘Post-modern Church’ Category

From Restoration to Emergent

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

There was an interesting discussion on ship of fools recently about what we thought of Dave Tomlinson’s book “The Post-Evangelical”, eleven years on. It was surprising how many people have made the same trip as I have through to emergent church from the Restoration churches, which would at first sight appear to be diametrically opposed theologically. Here are my comments:

Comment 1
Just a couple of comments on what has been said so far.

My own theological path has taken me from R1 through post-evangelicalism, back towards a more open evangelicalism and on to the emerging church conversation. I am not sure that I can accurately represent these viewpoints any more, but I can see distinctions between them and other positions such as liberalism and sacramentalism.

Every distinction is necessarily a cliche or characature, as each position does not remain static but matures over time.

The distinction between a post-evangelical viewpoint and liberalism would centre around the pre-suppositions with which the text is approached. Liberalism approaches the text with a modernist viewpoint: in particular with the assumption that we live in a universe where miracles do not happen and thus must be interpreted out of the text. A post-evangelical does not share the materialist viewpoint of a liberal so, though he/she may share the view that the text must be studied as a human text, he/she will not interpret the same verses as metaphors.

With repect to sacramentalism, the post-evangelical/emergent/whatever regards evangelicalism as having made a fundamental wrong turn in identifying the spirit with the mind and excising a lot of physical expression and emotion. One of the reasons for entering charismatic churches in the first place was a recognition that there was a need for a more holistic faith including emotional and physical expression. Charismatic worship may have started as a holistic expression, but it soon became a pursuit of the ecstatic/trancendent rather than an incarnational/immanent expression. Post-evangelicals turn to sacramentalism as a way of linking back in with the church as a whole, but also in an attempt to express truths physically as well as mentally. Where they differ from sacramentalism would be in the interpretation of what sacraments are and how they relate to concepts of priesthood and church authority often held by sacramentalist(real word?) churches.

Comment 2
With regards to the sacramental vs gathered church divide, I think that we need to think seriously about where our models fit with reality and where they do not. I was brought up in the Anglican church, with the half hour ritual that did not seem to impinge on any other part of life. I recognise that this is not true for all. It may not have been true for all in that church, but it was my conclusion as a fifteen-ish year old when I stopped going.

What Restoration offered was a whole-life transformation, in which every part of your life was lived in God. There was no sacred/secular divide. However, model and reality were in conflict. For example, the authority structure of the church had to make distinctions between what was and was not a legitimate area for leaders to meddle with, so instead of re-examining power, limits to it were set.

The concept of the gathered church as the community that you work out life in was fundamentally flawed. In a sense it reflects a nostalgic urge to return to villages. In reality most of us work, live, communicate and worship with completely different sets of people. We no longer live in one community. When church tries to be your real community, it competes for your time with all your other relationships, devaluing them. In reality, working things out with people is much more important and real when you are talking about a business deal or a family divorce than when you are talking about services and outreaches.

I just stopped struggling to make the church my community and recognised that whoever I meet is my community and context, and I was going to have to find spiritual value wherever I was.

My move towards (for want of a better word) sacramentalism is a reflection of another truth that is not generally recognised by either the traditional evangelical or the charismatic churches: human beings require ritual, and it would be a good idea to recognise it and design appropriate rituals, rather than denying it and ending up with a set of inappropriate behaviours that have unconvincing cover stories.

I do not think that there is any legitimacy to medieval concepts of the spiritual power of priests, or of any church authorities. I simply believe that a holistic expression of faith/life involves conscious ritual, and that what is said can be legitimately prepared and well-written.

I do not currently “go to church”. I go to Greenbelt and I went to Iona last year. I have old friends who visit from time to time. I remain friends with people from the church I stopped attending, however that seems to strain their understanding. I seek to express and thus encourage what parts of the teaching of Jesus I think that I understand. At the moment that is enough.