Into the ‘Year of Opposition’ – The Backlash Begins?
I’ve been reflecting a little on Greenbelt – not so much on the talks that were going on, but on the conversations I fell into and around in the pub and other places. It’s here, in the ‘interstitial festival’ that the truth is often heard more clearly. (Tricky really: you can’t programme these spaces – you need an ‘official’ programme in order for them to grow in the gaps.)
One of the things I’ve been wondering is if the theological direction that a few of us have been taking is entering into a period of more acute opposition. I had a long conversation with two people – one a good friend and the other someone I’ve known for some time – and I found both were, a couple of beers down, becoming quite aggressive in their opposition to, in particular, Pete Rollins’ work and the parallel stuff I’ve been writing too.
The general thrust was this: a) it’s been done before in the ‘negative theology’ movements b) it gets people nowhere in mission or social justice c) it’s too complex for the ‘common man’ – and thus cannot be ‘true.’
Thinking over it reminded me of the thumbnail sketch of Jesus’ ministry: a year of obscurity, a year of popularity and a year of opposition. No ‘messiah complex’ intended (!) – obscurity is certainly my specialist area, though Pete has certainly achieved ‘popularity’ – with close ties with Rob Bell and others who have feted his work. But I wonder if the tide is turning now, and people are beginning to see what might be at the centre of the project – and not like it quite so much as they thought they might.
Perhaps this is actually quite encouraging in an odd way. There’s been a lot of candy-floss around emerging theology, and perhaps it’s time now for a bit of seriousness about which way people are going to fall. Certainly for me, I think there are some radical cuts to be made, and while people may have found the path so far ‘interesting’ or in some way ‘cool’ it’s now going to shake down into some tough choices on what people really believe, and where those beliefs take them.
As I’ve written here before, I think for many this path is going to be a retreat – for want of a better word – back into what is essentially a more conservative faith practice. The emerging / alt.worship thing was fun for a while, but now people are a bit older the old order seems more comfortable… New Monasticism is part of this, I think.
For me, that’s not an option I think I can go with. It’s something I’ll be explore in more detail if I get this book finished, but having listened to Pete’s new work on his Christology, I do feel very drawn to pushing in that more radical and difficult direction – and do genuinely feel that there are very good things there. Positive things that are not about deconstruction, but a very different construction to what has been before.
I wonder if this is something that we should aim to get to grips with at next year’s Greenbelt? Perhaps we should aim to set up some serious debates between some of the key figures involved, and have a bit of a deeper reflection on where the movement – if there is one – has got to, and where things might be going.