Been really enjoying Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity. In the concluding chapter he outlines what this new sort of Christianity might look like, and in one section suggests at a denominational level that churches ‘develop a theology of institutions.’
What he says is interesting in the light of the short series of posts I did on whether the Emerging Church has retreated back to more institutional structures. First of all, he makes the point that:
A lot of us have foolishly identified institutions as the problem, something to be eradicated, not realising that our anti-institutionalism serves only to create new institutions by accident.
I’d want to press Brian on this a little: if institutions are identified as problematic, that doesn’t necessarily mean a call for their eradication. It does call for their modification though. He then goes on to say that:
From my perspective, institutions exist in a dynamic relationship with social movements: simply put, institutions preserve the gains of past social movements. And with amazing consistency, they also oppose current social movements. With equal consistency, however, if a social movement survives without being ignored, oppose or co-opted by the institution it seeks to change, that movement’s gains will enrich the legacy of the institution, and the institution will conserve those gains.
I think this is excellent analysis. Reflecting on my concerns in the previous series of posts, it is the incredible hard work that movements have to do (not being ignored, opposed or co-opted is a big battle against large institutional momentum!) that is the problem. So many movements with so much going for them simply don’t make it. And while it is good that institutions do have some inertia to stop them being swayed by every little current, I do think that the balance is currently wrong – and this is why I would look for the TAZ influence in institutional processes: taking things down every once in a while and rebuilding.
Great book – highly recommend it.