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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

a bit of light relief...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I'm off on my hols so the blog will be quiet next week. By the time I return, World Cup fever will be well and truly on us ('you mean, it's not already?'!) So why not take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and have fun with 'this'!


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:12 AM | link | 0 comments |

what we need is dialogue not demonising...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why oh why are there so many people intent on destroying the emerging church (EC) with polemic attacks and demonising accusations? If you aren't aware of some of these, you might want to take a look at three of the more recent examples (but have a strong cup of coffee first!)...
  • Sydney Anglicans accusing Graceway (Auckland, NZ) of 'shaking Christian orthodoxy' (see it also from Steve Taylor's perspective).
  • Chuck Smith's paper, in which he accuses the EC of belittling sin and undermining belief in the uniqueness of Jesus (Andrew Jones has some good comments on this 'here')
  • J Jacob Prasch's frankly laughable-if-it-wasn't-so-offensive email to Andrew Jones
I've never really been able to get my head around the reason why it is that those who shout the loudest about 'salvation by grace alone' often seem to have so little grace when it comes to attacking the people they don't see eye to eye with or understand. It's seems a little ironic and even undermining of such a gospel of grace (I hope I'm not falling into the same trap).

So thank God for Walter Henegar's article, in which he feels able to voice his concerns without having to demonise the emerging church and those involved in it. Henegar is a Reformed scholar who has actually made the attempt to understand the emerging church and its missiology, rather than simply shoot off against it. As a result, his critique comes as a challenging dialogue, rather than as an offensive polemic. He's not necessarily a signed-up fan of EC (if such a thing exists!), but he does affirm many aspects, and not just in a tokenistic kind of way. His overall tone is one of humble concern which is well reflected in his conclusion, calling for dialogue and mutual learning to the benefit of all. (Hat-tip to Andrew Jones for pointing the article out!)

While my own writing is not up to the standard of Henegar, and so I'll leave other responses to the more articulate readers of this blog (and others), I did want to pick up on one thing that he said and question the foundational assumption of his comment (hopefully in a tone like his)...

"the Emergent emphasis on the visual and concrete can easily swing too far from the word-centered nature of Christian faith. The God of the universe is a God who speaks, both in history and through his Word. Christians are people who interpret our whole lives (bodies, relationships, thoughts, and things) according to those words. Emergent worship forms such as candles, icons, incense, and meditation stations, easily lead to a corresponding decline in biblical proclamation."

I agree wholeheartedly with Henegar that the Christian faith is 'word-centered' (SIC), but the Word at the centre is surely Jesus, the person - the Word who "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) In my understanding, the greatest distinguishing feature between Christianity and the other major world religions is that our source of salvation is not a book that sits in heaven which we have a closely-guarded copy of, and it's not to be found in simply following a set of rules and regulations or even propositional beliefs. Our source of salvation is Jesus, and him alone - the living breathing enfleshed incarnation of God: THE Word.

So, if the use of candles or icons or incense or meditiation stations (which, incidentally, are often very heavy on biblical content) helps a person connect with the Word, Jesus, then how can these things be negative or lead to a decline in biblical proclamation?

Surely the task of the Church is, and always has been, to journey in relationship with Jesus as his disciples and invite others into that same journey. The teaching, the proclamation, the doctrine, the propositions, may all help us (or hinder us) in this journey of discipleship, but they are not the Word at the centre of Christian faith - Jesus is.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:40 AM | link | 3 comments |

a continued renewal...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Phil Johnson has posted an excellent article 'here', challenging those who self identify with the emerging church (EC) conversation/movement to project into the future and articulate goals and desires for where we would like to be. His challenge is that we must do this, lest we fall into a default position of creating further denominational fragmentation or worse.

Of the four possible future scenarios that Phil describes, the first one best reflects my hopes (though not restricted to 'Protestants' or existing church structures, for reasons that will, hopefully, become clear)...

One option is for the EC as a global movement to follow the broad social dynamics of other social movements from recent history like the civil rights movement and women's movement. In that general schema EC advocates will agitate for social and structural and attitudinal changes in existing church bodies...
For EC this is not an issue of canon law requiring reforms, but rather a renovation in theology, missions and praxis on the part of Protestant bodies. If this schema worked for EC then in the process of time new models of gatherings and congregations would appear and in positive reciprocal dialogue both EC and existing church bodies would collaborate. Existing bodies would absorb the needed changes (radical in many ways) and the need for EC would plateau and subside as Protestants navigate a new course for ministry and missions in the twenty-first century.

I think I gravitate towards this because I don't see the EC as a phenomena in itself, but as a continuation of what the Spirit of God has been doing in the Church for the last 40 years or so. I was having this conversation with a friend yesterday and it's much easier to chat about it than to put it into words, but I'll have a go anyway! My own church background is in what has been labelled the 'Charismatic Evangelical' tradition of the 'Renewal' movement. Now, while I can't claim to have done any extensive study of that movement, it seems to me that, beyond the rediscovery of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (which is the public 'badge' of the renewal movement), God was actually doing something far more significant and important. The legacy of the renewal movement is the easing up or 'chilling out' of evangelical faith - what many who like their labels refer to as 'Open Evangelical' (itself closely related to or even feeding into what Dave Tomlinson called 'Post-Evangelical').

By this, I don't mean a 'watering' down of evangelical faith as our more conservative friends have accused us of, but a growing recognition that while our doctrinal statements and models may be helpful in the journey of discipleship, God is sovereign and is at work beyond them as well as through them. In short, he is not boxed off in the structures we create. This understanding does not reflect a move away from Biblical faith or the authority of Scripture, but is actually found continually on the pages of Scripture. Brian McLaren's excellent (though often publicly slated) book 'A Generous Orthodoxy' has been very helpful to me (and I know of others too) in working my way through to this viewpoint.

It is, of course, something that many have found (and continue to find) hard to swallow, and this has been the case for over 2,000 years! When Jesus offended the worshippers gathered in the synagogue in Luke 4, it was not because of his implicit claim to be the Messiah or the fact that he had chosen a passage from Isaiah that highlighted God's concern for justice and equality. The outrage that nearly cost him his life at that point was caused because he pointed out from the Scriptures how God was active outside of Israel, in the lives of Gentiles. In omitting to mention the second half of Isaiah 61:2 ("... and the day of vengeance of our God") Jesus was highlighting grace over and above judgement, and extended this grace to the Gentiles. Yahweh was not to be seen as the God of Israel only, but the God of the whole world; the Messiah had not come to save Israel only, but to save the entire world. It seems that the major mistake of the Church in Christendom has been to but barriers of control around this boundless grace of God again, such that, for example, we are now engaged in pointless arguments as to whether we can allow children who have not been confirmed to receive communion (which is, after all, a Sacrament - an outwardly visible sign of God's grace; so who are we to control it?)!

I'm glad to have been a part of the charismatic movement because it enlarged my vision of who God is and what he's about. In the same way, I'm glad to be part of the EC because I believe the same Spirit of God is continuing to teach the same lesson, only we're now seeing beyond the institution of the church too. Whereas through the renewal movement the Spirit taught me to expect God to work in ways I don't expect within the church, and that means through people I may not agree with; through the EC he is teaching me to expect God to be at work in the lives of all people in and outside the church, and to rejoice in this and partner with him in living the Gospel - the good news - amongst the people he loves. This is not, of course, rocket science - it's simply a rediscovery of the missio Dei that has always been from the foundations of the earth.

The EC is currently in a liminal phase, which is why many people associated with it will argue that it's a conversation not a movement. In fact, there is little desire within the EC to create a movement in the sense of an alternative denomination. As a result, it's difficult to project into the future, as to do so may run the danger of imposing strategies and models too early, so missing what the Spirit of God is teaching us along the way.

With that said, however, what I hope for (and here is your chance to agree or disagree with me!) is that through the EC the Spirit of God will continue to open our eyes to the activity of God at large, and renew the Church to truly be conveyers of his grace - not simply preachers of a message (though the message is essential) but conveyers of grace; to recognise that all people are created and loved by God, and that there is nowhere where God isn't and no-one off limits to him. I hope (and pray) that the EC will not simply be a pocket of the Church that seeks to live in this way, but that it will have been a catalyst for the whole of the Church to be renewed.

That may be a big ask and this is a long splurge, but Phil's post invited it! What do you think?...

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:21 AM | link | 3 comments |

What place do cathedrals have in the Emerging Church?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Two new posts today (keep reading for the other one!)

I would have blogged this thought at the end of last week if I'd had time. On Thursday I was involved in a meeting in Liverpool Cathedral, where the Dean was describing the various ministries he was involved in. At one level, his job consists of being a site manager extraordinaire (an unenviable task I can tell you), but in our discussion we started to ask questions about the role of cathedrals in mission today.

Personally speaking, I can see two sides to this and thought I'd blog it to see what others think. On the one hand cathedrals are visible symbols of a huge institution and, in some cases, seem to have more in common with museums than with places of worship. The magnitude of them (and I know not all cathedrals are big, but Liverpool's is!) may well point to an awesome God but to many may simply shout power, dominance and arrogance. For spiritual seekers suspicious of large institutions, cathedrals may be the final confirmation for them not to look in the direction of Christianity.

However, it also seems that in an age of spiritual tourism, the cathedral is a major attraction and can be a vital point of connection with the Christian story. When we had a labyrinth installation in Liverpool cathedral a couple of years ago (to my shame we've not done this more recently), hundreds of people of all ages walked it over the two weeks it was there, and many had deep experiences of God through doing so (if the comments book was anything to go by!)

So should our attitude to cathedrals be one of quiet embarrassment for what they may be seen to represent, or should we be opening up conversations with cathedral chapters and Deans about how we can help the cathedral be a more effective place of spiritual resourcing?

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:05 AM | link | 5 comments |

Emerging Church Identity & How (Not) to Speak of God

Ok, I don't normally do this and I'm not about to start a habit of it now but, as an exception to the rule, I'm going to quote from a book I haven't even read yet! I can't comment on Pete Rollins' 'How (Not) to Speak of God' yet (obviously, as I haven't read it) but as I was catching up with my blog reading this morning I came across three other bloggers who clearly HAVE read it (Jonny Baker, Andrew Jones and Scot McKnight) and two of them quote a passage that resonates with me and also with the discussion that's been ongoing on this blog from my last 3 posts (by the way, thanks to everyone who'd contributed to those discussions - it's been an inspiration and an education!)

In posting about Emergent US's reluctance to offer a doctrinal statement of belief (see 'here'), it seems I've hit a critical discussion in the emerging church (EC). Of course, it's not that we don't have doctrinal beliefs in the EC, but that we're nervous of imposing a faith package on a person's spiritual journey because we've seen how such packages have been used and abused in the past. A question I've been left with from the discussions is how the EC defines itself in the absence of doctrinal statements - i.e. what does it mean for me to belong to this group - what am I 'signing up to', if anything? In the case of Dream, we've resisted doctrinal statements and gone for 'core values'. The first of these is 'Christ-centred' and is explained in the following way..

The Dream Network is committed to the concept of '‘faithful improvisation'’, seeking in our exploration and experimentation, to remain faithful to the story of God'’s people contained in the Bible and lived out over the last 2,000 years. While resisting unhelpful labels and working to be a welcoming place for those whose past experience of church has been negative, we remain unashamedly within the 'Christian'’ tradition. We therefore seek to develop a spirituality centred on Jesus Christ and lives that are formed by following him.

Now, of course, we've made an implicit
(though some might say 'not very'!) statement of faith by appealing to the 'Christian Tradition' and the stated intention of remaining faithful to the 'story of God's people'. Likewise, we focus on Jesus because of what we believe to be true about him. Doctrine is fundamentally present in Dream's values and outlook.

But, and it's an important but, by not wearing the doctrinal statements on our sleeves, so to speak, and not imposing them on our members, Dream remains a community open to people who wouldn't identify themselves as 'Christians', or who would not at that point in time be able to agree with those doctrines, but are keen to develop an understanding of, even follow, the person Jesus. For example, before she moved away from Liverpool, a frequent member of the 'Dream in Liverpool City' community was a faithfully committed Muslim young woman for whom Jesus is an important character in her faith. She brought her own reverence for Jesus to the worship and fully respected what was happening in Dream even though she voluntarilly sat out of certain activities (e.g. when we shared Communion). She was welcomed into the community and considered to belong even though her beliefs differ from those of historic Christianity in many ways. We could, of course, have kept her at arms length, even excluded her altogether, by insisting that members assented to a 'Christian' doctrinal basis of faith, but I think our approach has more in common with that of Jesus in the gospels and certainly displays grace more visibly.

Equally, others who have connected with Dream or other EC communities have initially done so simply because their own exploration was respected and they didn't feel pushed into a package of belief or ethics. Many of these have continued in their journey and now own a faith which may be identified more closely with the doctrine of the historic creeds, etc. However, if those creeds were an upfront 'membership statement' it is unlikely that these people would have joined the community and continued journeying in the direction of Christ.

Maybe then, the EC doesn't really need to define itself at all. Maybe its place in the missio Dei is precisely that place of open, often messy and up in the air, exploration. Maybe we need to spend far more time listening to the stories of people who do not consider themselves to be Christian but are on a journey of spiritual discovery, and be open to the activity of God in their lives. Maybe if the EC becomes too defined, it will cease to be 'emerging' in any meaningful sense, and simply become another institution or denomination. So here's the quote from the book I haven't yet read!...

In this way the emerging conversation is demonstrating an ability to stand up and engage in a powerless, space creating discourse that opens up thinking and offers hints rather than orders. In short the emerging community must endeavour to be a question rather than an answer and an aroma rather than food. It must seek to offer an approach that enables the people of God to become the parable, aroma and salt of God in the world, helping to form a space where God can give of God. For too long the church has been seen as an oasis in the desert - offering water to the thirsty. In contrast, the emerging community appears more as a desert in the oasis of life offering silence, space and desolation amidst the sickly nourishment of western capitalism. It is here in this desert as we wander together as nomads, that God is to be found. For it is here that we are nourished by our hunger.

Pete, I'm going to order the book now! (Update... it's ordered!!)

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:11 AM | link | 2 comments |

the metanarrative of the kingdom...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Finally, I'm actually getting around to reading Gibbs and Bolger's 'Emerging Churches', after it's been sitting on my desk waiting to be read since it was published in the UK (yes, I know it's been featured for weeks in my 'currently reading...' on the side bar of this very blog, but that's been an expression of wishful intent up to now!) . That said, I thought I'd break off from the reading to share a very helpful quote from that book that adds something significant to the discussion around last week's post.

Gibbs and Bolger spend some time discussing the place of deconstruction in the emerging church, both in terms of ecclesiology and theology. Terms like 'post-protestant' and 'post-evangelical' indicate this process of deconstruction - a moving away from previously held positions to reconsider what following Christ is really all about in a new cultural context. Of course, this is a 'post-modern' thing - a pulling down of the propositional metanarrative approach to epistemology. I haven't got time (because I want to get back to the book!) to blog here about postmodernity, but you've only got to 'google' the term to get to a range of descriptions and explanations (for better or worse!).

The journey of deconstruction can be an unsettling one but also a liberating one - a journey that leads you into a fuller appreciation of following Jesus as opposed to simply following the package about Jesus. However, it's the reconstruction that is the most significant issue - what kind of faith and discipleship do we rebuild after the inherited 'modern' one (be it evangelical, charismatic, liberal or whatever) has been deconstructed. Is it an 'anything goes' faith, valued simply because it resonates with an individual, or are there some givens which should form the basis of the faith journey? Does genuine engagement with postmodernity require a jettisoning of all metanarratives?

This is where the 'helpful quote' from Gibbs and Bolger comes in...

We share common cause with the postmodern philosophers who revealed the oppressive nature of the master stories (metanarratives) of modernity. But our shared journey ends once the deconstruction is complete, for we do believe there is one metanarrative, one master story that redeems our material reality, welcomes the stranger, shares generously, empowers, listens, gives space, and offers true freedom. This metanarrative, even thought it manifests in a myriad of local expressions, remains the singular missio Dei, the kingdom of God, the gospel.
('Emerging Churches', p 46)

The beauty of this quote for me is in the final sentence - the explicit recognition that we can share a metanarrative but express it in 'a myriad' of different (culturally determined) ways. I like this quote - now back to reading the book...!!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 1:08 PM | link | 4 comments |

Friday, May 05, 2006

Scot McKnight has posted the statement by LeRon Shults explaining why it would be inappropriate for Emergent US to publish a 'statement of faith' as many have asked them to do. It's well worth reading (go 'here') and has much to do with the conversation arising from my previous post. The following quote puts much better what I've been trying to say in my rambled way...

Why is such a move [proffering a doctrinal statement] unnecessary? Jesus did not have a "“statement of faith."” He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent. The very idea of a "“statement of faith"” is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 5:00 PM | link | 10 comments |

Is the Emerging Church really a new path?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

David Fitch has written a great thought-provoking post demonstrating how the traditional perspectives of Evangelical Fundamentalism (EF) and Protestant Liberalism (PL) are two sides of the same coin (see also Maggi Dawn's link and comment 'here'). While his analysis may well be open to critique (read on after Fitch's post for some interesting discussion), the comment that got me thinking was...

"What I often suspect in the emerging conversations however, is that what we are really getting is an ad hoc conglomeration of the PL theology onto some assent of the basic evangelical affirmations. We are not getting a third way that engages the postmodern worlds, or a third way that avoids the pitfall’s of the old dichotomies between EF&PL"

I guess this comment reflects some of the recent criticisms levelled at the emerging church from the likes of Carson and Hammett, but Fitch's agenda is altogether more positive, with his closing comment...

"For now I affirm that the demise of modernity has cleared a third way that makes it possible for us to hold firmly to our most precious orthodox beliefs in Christ yet not fall prey to the EF mistakes exposed by PL, and the PL mistakes exposed by EF, of the last century. I believe the emerging churches provide a space for this third way, the way I think we all must go."

My take on this, for what it's worth, is that the key difference between the emerging church (EC) epistemolgy and that of both PL and EF is that the EC is trying to get away from a purely cerebral autonomous faith. There is a renewed recognition that, while our God-given critical faculties should cause us to seek a greater 'understanding' of God, his Creation and our place within it, this quest should never expel the place of mystery and open questions. In rediscovering the biblical concept of journeying with Christ, knowledge is something we acquire along the way rather than a predetermined formula that we have to assent to at the start (be it EF doctrine or the dogmatics of PL). This knowledge will be moulded, shaped and even radically changed along the path of the journey - theology is not static because relationship is not static.

Whether this is the 'third way' that Fitch is calling for or simply a return to 'The way' is open to debate!!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:22 AM | link | 7 comments |

Dream on Fresh Expressions

Dream features on the 'Fresh Expressions' website this month. Richard White has written a brief potted history of the Dream Network. For a fuller version of the story, see here.


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:06 AM | link | 0 comments |

Alan Jamieson with Spirited Exchanges UK

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Had a great time in London today with about 50 others, listening to Alan Jamieson talking about his latest research revisiting the stories of some of the church leavers he'd initially interviewed for 'A Churchless Faith'. Alan's latest book on this, written with Jenny McIntosh and Adrienne Thompson, will be published in August (hopefully) in the UK but has just hit the shops in New Zealand - you can read more about it here. If you weren't able to get to the session at lunch time today, Alan's talk is available to listen to or download in its entirety here, so go enjoy! (to download, right click on the web link and chose 'Save Link As' (forefox) or 'Save Target As' (MS Explorer))

The session also gave us an opportunity to share something of what's been happening with Spirited Exchanges UK. You can read about it and sign up for the email list at the website, but if you're going to Greenbelt in August look out for the two sessions we'll be doing in the new worship cafe venue and find out more there also.


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 8:44 PM | link | 2 comments |