In the previous post, I outlined John Gray’s recent conclusion that, post-Iraq (and thus, essentially, post Neo-con), post-Communism, post-Marxism, post-Nazism, the grand utopian ideas of the 20th Century had proved themselves failures, and that we should all give up on grand political visions. I paralleled that with some of the disenchantment I’ve seen expressed about the ‘emerging church’ movement.
“With a few exceptions, the utopias of the c20th were of an all-encompassing top-down nature, rather than the organic communities of the c19.“
I think this is pretty spot on, and actually lines up nicely with the later sections of the Prospect article on utopias, where the writer points out that:
“During the 19th Century, many utopians tried to create perfect societies in small settlements, often in the ‘new world’ of the US. […] The real harm came in the 20th Century, when utopians abandoned the idea of withdrawing from the world and instead attempted to remake it.”
I think this model is actually helpful. We can see two visions of the emerging church through it: the ‘withdrawal’ model (no giggling, please or the ‘re-making’ model. Both have been seen to fail in history. The withdrawal model because the very act of attempting to create a pure society carries within it its own destruction, especially when disillusionment with the leader comes (which it always does). The re-making model fails because it is essentially futile. We can’t bring heaven to the whole earth yet. Energy saps, and people drift away.
So what’s the way forward? Do we admit the EC vision has been hopelessly utopian, and give up?
The Prospect article continues with a review of another book – Jay Winter’s Dreams of Peace and Freedom (subtitle: Utopian Moments in the 20th Century) – which I think offers us some direction. Winter wants to ‘resurrect a more modest strand of visionary thought, what he calls “minor utopias” […] He describes these as visions of partial transformation that “sketch out a world very different from the one we live in, but from which not all social conflict or all oppression has been eliminated”‘
So one way forward is for us to think of the emerging church in terms of such a ‘minor utopia’. In other words, we retain the powerful vision, but are more realistic about the bounds and reach of that vision. It’s always going to be partial transformation, and dirt is always going to remain.
As I outline in the book, the characters that help us to remain involved in ‘dirt’ are the Tricksters, and thus, if the Emerging Church is going to pull back from the ‘hopelessly utopian’ place, it must keep in touch with its tricksters; it must avoid trying to harden boundaries and purify its ground. In other speak, I think that means it needs to pro-actively avoid ‘denominating’ – moving towards a settled, denominated state. (See earlier post on this.)
Some ideas about how we might practically do that, I’ll try to cover in the next post.