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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!

the conjunctive church...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It's a rare thing me blogging twice in one day (!), but as I was reading an extract from James Fowler's Faith Development and Pastoral care, I was reminded of so many current discussions in the emerging church. The following (fairly lengthy) quote is particularly helpful...

"In the transition to Conjunctive faith one begins to make peace with the tension arising from the fact that truth must be approached from a number of different directions and angles of vision. As part of honoring truth, faith must maintain the tensions between these multiple perspectives and refuse to collapse them in one direction or another. In this respect, faith begins to come to terms with dialectical dimensions of experience and with apparent paradoxes: God is both immanent and transcendent; God is both omnipotent and a self-limiting God; God is the sovereign of history while being the incarnate and crucified One. In physics, in order to account for the behaviour of light, two incompatible and unintegrable models must be employed - one based on the analogy with packets of energy, and the other on the analogy with wavelike motions somewhat as in sound. Similarly, many truthful theological insights and models involve holding together in dialectical tension the "coincidence of opposites." As regards faith and its expressions in this stage, we must speak of a kind of epistemological humility. The Conjunctive stage recognizes that properly we stutter when we speak of the Divine."
(Fowler, Faith Development and Pastoral Care, Augsburg Fortress, 1987, chapter 4: 'Stages in Selfhood and Faith')

This has so much resonance with Pete Rollins' How (Not) to Speak of God, Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy and Kester Brewin's The Complex Christ; as well as relating closely to Gibbs and Bolger's second mark of the emerging church, 'Transforming Secular Space', in Emerging Churches, and to the comment made by Matt Rees 'here' about the desire of the emerging church to "operate beyond conservative/liberal polarities"

So... is the emerging church (knowingly or unknowingly) in the process of building authentic faith communities for people operating at Fowler's stage 5 - 'Conjunctive Faith'? If so, it seems pertinent here to add a further quote from Fowler, by way of refuting the often made accusation that the emerging church is in danger of slipping into an epistemology without any convictions...

"I do not here speak of a wishy-washy sense of openness in which one has no strongly held convictions. Rather, I refer precisely to its opposite. ... Persons in this stage do have deep and particular convictions that account for their nondefensiveness in the dialogue with other traditions and perspectives."

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:27 PM


Bullseye! (see also Alan Jamieson on Fowler in 'A Churchless Faith')

And where does Fowler's sixth stage fit in? That is, might it help emerging churches in navigating the modern/postmodern overlap to anticipate that they can/will/do move beyond the conjunctive stage to the universalizing stage? Perhaps that's why some (not all) disappear?

Such a meditation will take us into dangerous territory though, as Kester quoting Fowler makes clear:

"In their penetration through the obsession with survival, security and significance they threaten our measured standards of righteousness and goodness and prudence. Universalisers are often experienced as subversive of the structures by which we maintain our individual and corporate survival, security and significance. Many persons at this stage die at the hands of those whom they hope to change."
(Fowler, Stages of Faith, (HarperCollins 1995 pp. 200,201 in Brewin, A Complex Christ...)

Personally I reckon the risk is worth taking, because:
1. You no longer need to be in Church to join in a very real debate about survival, security and significance. (Or was it ever thus?) Perhaps postmodernism is itself a mark of a conjunctive society? Then, to be prophetic, don't we need to move beyond (or at least to the edge of) the current bounds of contemporary society?
2. We are already taking risks! Emma and I were on a train on Tuesday. We were joined by a tough drunk man who looked me in the eye, reached over, drew his finger across my neck and said 'I can slit your throat'. How do you show God's love in such a situation? Ten point evangelism strategies don't quite cut it for me. You've got to trust that love shines through even when you've not a coherent thought in your head!
3. That old 'love is infinitely giving' conundrum: if we really believed Jesus' words and acted on them it would drop us straight into the heart of a universal worldview. Let me say this carefully and humbly: it is possible - you don't need to be a name like Thomas Merton or a ninety-year-old saint to 'achieve' it. Just don't expect it to be obvious! As Pete Rollins says, Love conceals itself even as it is revealed:).

By the by, I suspect that as EC raises its profile, people may join it because it is the new 'correct form' of being church. When, earlier, I've written about people doing postmodernism in a very modern way, that's perhaps what I mean. They come in at 'Stage 2', even meet 'Stage 2' leaders. But they think they are doing Stage 5 church because the form is right.

What do you think?

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 12:05 PM  


thanks for your comments - before I reply in any depth, I need to ponder your comments some more (I'm also trying to finish Kester's Complex Christ so may be better placed to comment then!)

Some gut reactions though on your reasons why the risk is worth taking...

1. Interesting thought about post-modernism itself being a mark of a conjunctive society. Interesting because I've tended to focus more on postmodernity as a liminal (using Turner's terminology) phase demanding a liminal church in response. I think the same contextual arguments can be made if we concede that society is (moving towards) conjunctivity. I guess time will tell (when anti-structure gives way to structure)
2. A harrowing experience for you that illustrates your point well. One of the problems with strategies and models is that they don't fit every context. I love the expression you use about love shining through.
3. I need to think more about!

I share your concern about people adopting EC practices as a model to follow (as you know, I blogged a bit about this 'here').
I guess you could adopt the attitude that I've heard - "what does it matter, we ought to be glad that they're doing it in this way", but I'm not sure that such bandwagon jumping will actually get us any further along than where we are now. As you rightly point out, this whole discussion is NOT about form but goes much deeper.

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:35 PM  

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