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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!

resisting the hyper-real...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I finally got round to reading 'this' excellent thought-provoking post by Jason Clark, reflecting on Jean Baudrillard's notion of 'hyper-reality' and its connection to the emerging church conversation. In some ways it's an uncomfortable read because Clark asks searching questions of the emerging church and, in particular, whether it is actually more 'real' than the structural church it critiques. He suggests that, steeped as we are in the consumerist and image-saturated culture of the West, the emerging church can be just as capable of projecting an image - a 'hyper-reality' - with little or no correlation to reality...

"... at the heart of our bent towards the hyper-real, and fetish of church, is our entrenchment in capitalism and the market place. We need to really understand how capitalism has captured our understanding of what it means to be real, and find some ways out of it into non-commodified forms of church, to find the spaces between the doing of church and the consumption of church that will enable a liberating and ‘real’ change."

Ten days ago a group of emerging church practitioners met for a 24 hour conversation and, as part of this, we discussed what a more intentional supportive network might look like. A constant refrain in this was the need for a 'spin-free' environment, where real stories could be shared and real support gained without the perceived need to make everything look rosy! It seems to me that the network was, in less technical and academic language perhaps, engaging with the same issues that Clark does in his post, recognising that so often we are engaged in 'hyper-reality' rather than reality.

The discussion arising out of Clark's post (also worth reading) highlights the fact that a contextualised church in post-modernity will have to grapple with the 'hyper-real', but there must also be a case for prophetically modelling something different that is more authentic. I, for one, would welcome the space where struggles and failures could be shared and even celebrated as part of an emerging story, recognising the hand of the ever-present God throughout. As soon as we start to get overly preoccupied with neat packages, strategies and structures we become in danger of killing genuine emergence and buying in to the consumerist image of the 'hyper-real' church.

As Clark puts it... "What if real church doesn’t look like the idealized images we are endlessly portraying about church"?

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:50 AM

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