Has What Emerged Retreated? | Returning to the Institutions


I’ve been thinking over the previous post, and over the conversation I had with Barry Taylor on Saturday about the state of things, and a thought keeps returning to me: there seems to have been a retreat to the institutions recently.

I want to be very careful here, partly because a) I have many friends who have taken or who are about to take this path and b) I don’t want to claim a hugely wide knowledge either of the forms that are being created nor of the wider landscape of Christian within which they are happening. However, I have a niggling sense of a general change in trajectory for the ’emerging’ movement in the UK, and wondered if this resonated with anyone else.

To very widely summarise:

  • The 90’s were about a movement that began to emerge from the institutional context of church. Things were happening, but they were generally connected umbilically to an institution. Groups began to form, who were asking rich questions about what might lie beyond institutional faith expressions, even as they remained connected to them.
  • The 2000’s were about these groups actually finding a life beyond the institutions that birthed them. In small ways, they separated, and made an attempt to make their own way. Leaders emerged within these groups, and some of the questions about what new forms could look like began to find fledgling attempts at answers. But it was hard.
  • The end 2000’s and into this decade I sense that because things have been hard, people have retreated back to the safety and security of the institutions. The leaders that emerged in the previous decade have ‘gone higher’ and tended more towards liturgical forms, and typically found some kind of route into ordination – even if that be some ‘new’ form of ordained leadership.

I know that Jonny Baker has been working with CMS on new modes of training, and I’m keenly aware that I don’t want to criticise the good stuff they’re doing – I just find it interesting that after a period when people seemed set to leave the old structures behind, there has now been a move back towards them.

An alternative reading could be that the institutions have ‘caught up’ and are now offering styles of training and inclusion into formal leadership that were previously unavailable. My concern is that this could be a political move on the part of the powerful: they can’t afford for a generation to up sticks and leave, so they find new ways to hold on to them, offering certain compromises in the knowledge that once they’re ‘in’ they can be ‘in-stitutionalised’ – made part of the firm.

When times are hard, and my sense is that after a period of energetic pioneering things are seeming harder, the retreat to what is familiar is tempting, especially when that offers financial stability, job security and a fuller sense of personal worth.

I’ve addressed some of this in ‘Other‘, and will try to follow this post up with one looking at one of the models that might explain some of this, and how it might offer a way forward too, but in the mean time I’d be interested to know the extent to which people agree or not.


31 responses to “Has What Emerged Retreated? | Returning to the Institutions”

  1. As a person who has sold out and comfortable with it. I think that Turner’s language of separation, liminality and aggregation is language that describes the three eras that you describe. Mission Shaped Church was the catalyst that started the aggregation process. Aggregation is a process of dialogue where one learns from the other.

    It’s about giving back to that which birthed you, and being humble enough to say that the young upstart can learn from the wisdom of the tradition.

    I also believe in a church that is committed to offering christian community amongst the most poor and deprived communities in our country. So whilst the church is powerful and institutional I believe in the church being available for all people, this is one of the draws of the insitution. It’s not as simple as: institution=bad. My concern is that church with no sense of aggregation is self-selecting and has no responsibility to the poor – church is just for those like me, it’s just like public school! 😉

  2. Phil Doragh

    I think the established church (in some cases) has gad a desire to (in varying degrees of generosity vs. control):-
    1) embrace and support the emergent for the sake of mission and for the good of existing members (ie we can learn from them / they can act as our agents / we’re scared of where they’re going but someone needs to do it…)
    2) not miss out on the ‘cool’ factor (we can bask in the funky reflected glory)
    3) keep a reign on what’s happening (keeping an eye out for heretics on one hand but also offering a level of accountability (eg spiritual direction) that some emergent leaders are not wanting to lose)
    Catching up is the thing. Anything new takes a bit of getting used to, but the rest of culture eventually comes to terms with those who, a few years ago, were so cool it hurt.

  3. Phil Doragh

    took me so long to type I didn’t get to see Ben’s reply, so yeah, what he said!

  4. christine dutton

    Spend most of my time reflecting on the relationship between parallel congregations which operate along inherited ones, and have a feeling that this journey in parallel still has time to run. My observation is that whereas some high profile emerging communities may have ‘gone higher’, the majority of grass roots experiments don’t reflect this. It is the minority and previously ignored voices from these fledgling communities which, I believe, hold the key to understanding and approaching the phenomenon which is the emerging church. It is possible to stand in the middle holding a creative tension between both stream – but you need long arms and a tight grip.

  5. Having journeyed from young born-again pentecostal/charismatic, to zealous young upstart lured by fringe fundamentalists, slowly and painfully exiting that to the safety of mainstream evangelical charismatic, leaving that sanitised environment to become a lonely, mystical post-modern ’emergent’ who eventually found some fellow travellers to journey with, I’ve now found myself older, wiser and more informed and can actually no longer hold any kind of Christian faith with any intellectual integrity. I guess I am open (in a small way) to some kind of spirituality, but this would look nothing like the specifics of the Christian (or other faith) narrative. This is not a bitter reaction, but a position arrived at after a long hard journey. It just doesn’t make sense to me any more.

    Part of me longs for the comfort and solace of the various communities I was a part of, and the shelter of an over-arching religious narrative to create my world-view, but there was always the unspoken underside of those communities which required me to betray my inner self in some way in order to really belong in any meaningful way.

    So, having found the ’emergent’ thing, whatever that is ending up for me as some kind of universal spiritual experience that became so vague I could not call it Christian, and delivering nothing except a fuzzy warm idea of connectedness, and that what we now know about human origins through evolution pretty much destroys Christian narrative (both in it’s literal as well as metaphorical readings), instead of returning to the institution, I’ve left the whole thing altogether and happily call myself an atheist.

    I remain intrigued and fascinated by all things faith however and there is a certain amount of sadness that what appeared to be a progressive and authentic journey where I would eventually arrive at some ‘true’ or ‘truer’ configuration of faith, has in the end left me faith-less.

  6. It’s not as simple as: institution=bad

    Absolutely right. But it is a case of institution = different. And I’m not sure that general vector of ’emerging from then moving back into’ is a positive one.

    I understand Phil’s idea of catching up, but I think there are problems inherent in that: catching up can be a euphemism for ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and this can be a cynical ploy to subsume what is innovative and reap the rewards from it. Perhaps this has always been the case, but I don’t really see this move benefiting those who might be classified as ‘outside’ the church. What it appears to do is make those who are already on the ‘inside’ feel better about themselves – more in touch, more relevant – without actually changing anything systemic at all.

    In a sense it’s like a large oil company buying up a smaller solar-power start-up. They reap the rewards of appearing greener, but then suffocate funding to the solar sector, in order to continue their oil dominance. Or is that too harsh?

  7. Phil Doragh

    I think it’s both. Some are buying in for the good PR (reflected glory) some actually want to learn.
    In my mind, what we’re seeing is the emergent church coming out of it’s adolescent phase and into an era where we start to see some value in /some/ of our parents ways and in taking a more mature approach, win their confidence and even admiration. This in turn is opening honest dialogue between them and opening the way for learning in both directions.
    Well, maybe…

  8. As someone outside the UK I can’t directly comment on this, but I found your comments interesting in light of the recent article in Spectator about Grace:


    The article is quite positive but concludes by wondering why Grace remains connected to the institution (he then goes on to mention other groups not connected to the institution).

    Anyway, I don’t know anything about Grace or very much about emerging church in the UK, so this is just intended to draw attention to this possible connection. I look forward to reading your follow-up post.

  9. Hi Gav,
    my heart really does go out to you. I know many who have been burnt of by the different movements within Christianity. The worst for me was the ‘Shepherding’ movement in the 1970’s. The good thing about going through it however was that it made me very cautious of all things new in the ‘Christian wave’ front. Since then we have had the signs and wonders with John Wimber, Paul Cain and The Kansas City Prophets (sounds like a Jazz band),the Toronto blessing, now emergent or emerging churches. All of these promise to have the answer but sadly none of them deliver.

    In my own situation, after the shepherding mess up, I had to, like the prodigal son finally ‘come to my senses’and I turned back to Christ himself.He is continually calling to us:’come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’,’Here I am I stand at the dor and knock if any man opens the door I would come into him and eat with him, and he with me.’ We an never find God through our intellectual pursuits. But the good news He has come looking for us! He is not far from anyone, in fact he is very close to us! Reach out in faith to him dear brother. Akevangel@gmail.com

  10. That’s an interesting piece Adam – and interesting tweet you’ve just put out too. Talking to Barry we had a hunch that the same was true in the US. Indeed, I’ve so rarely met anyone who’s doing anything faith-based who hasn’t been to Seminary, and I wondered

    a) what others from the US thought about that and
    b) whether the UK is moving in that direction too.

    I have no objection to training, but I do find that the training I’ve seen people go into does institutionalise them quite a lot, and because they’re then ending up being paid by them, they’re far less likely to bite the hand that’s feeding, so become more conservative.

    Phil – there’s quite a lot in the book about the move into maturity – too much to simply quote here – but I’ll try to summarise in another post.

  11. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your kind comments. There was a time that I would have said I was ‘burnt’ and there was an inevitable period of recovery. However, that time has now thankfully passed and I no longer find myself licking any wounds as it were 🙂

    I found the emergent thing a great source of stimulation and a place of shelter and acceptance whilst I worked out my ‘heretical’ faith. However, after a time it just became too vague to call Christian, it was more a philiosophical journey, with some Christian ideas mixed in with post-modernism and social justice. What did I actually believe that meant I could call myself Christian? i read a lot of Pete Rollins’ and Kesters stuff and still find it engaging, but am not sure what mileage there is in the project.

    Ultimately, it seems we are a very recently arrived species on a lonely planet in the middle of a vast universe, evolved from more primative primate species’. It is a winderful and magical story, but a godless one, since ultimately I can’t see how you can reconcile it with ANY form of the Judeo-Christian narrative and despite earnest searching, no-one has been able to produce antything to convince me otherwise. Everything I have read on Theistic Evolution is bordering on non-sense.

    I did try the whole ‘turning back to Jesus’ thing, even before becoming skeptical on itellectual grounds, but unfortunately I thought I heard a knock, but there was never anyone at the door.

    I just don’t see how you can hold the idea of the Christian God/faith alongside what we know to be the case about the origins of our planet and human beings unless you are prepared to say “I don’t know” a lot or just bury your head in the sand.

  12. John D

    I thought Pete Rollins spoke rather convincingly on this issue in his article ‘Biting the hand that feeds’ in ‘Evaluating Fresh Expressions’, Canterbury Press. He talks about some of the darker and more subtle features of the church institutions, and highlights ‘…. the dangers of becoming part of a mixed economy that is really nothing more than a multifarious expression of the one hegenomic economy.’

    It has to be read, really; I don’t know if it is available online anywhere; the book is quite expensive!

  13. I know of very few (if any?) groups in the US that don’t fit into the traditional/institutional model (not counting house churches and theology pub discussion groups). This is quite discouraging to me.

    For a little while I have been experimenting with groups outside these structures. VOID is the current project (http://voidcollective.com). We don’t get any institutional support, no one is paid. I work a full-time job, have a family, and do this as best as I can.

    I work at a university so I started taking classes at the seminary, because I can for free. I’m just taking theology classes and avoiding the practical church courses. I am doing this because of my own academic interests and have no plans of being paid to do “ministry,” etc. But while I’ve been taking these courses I’ve encountered an interesting phenomenon. Many students at the seminary have significant issues/problems with the traditional/institutional church. However, everyone gets sucked into the system. By the time they graduate, they have loans, maybe a family, and need a job. The church is where they can get a job. People deal with this situation in one of three ways:

    1. They join the system and get a job at a church.

    2. They go the academic route, get a PhD, and teach, while still attending a traditional/institutional church.

    3. They leave it behind altogether, get a different career, and usually continue to attend a traditional/institutional church.

    All of these fail to deal with the problem (and I admit, if I were in their situation, I’d probably fall into the same situation).

    Fortunately, I have another career already, so I don’t have to face these choices. My hope is that puts me in a position to do something about the problem…but as you know, it’s not easy, especially with a family and full-time job. I’m trying.

    [By the way, do you know a place I can get your book in London? In a couple weeks I will be there for a couple days. Buying from Amazon UK is a little steep (to ship to the US).]


  14. Excellent analysis Adam – I’ve heard of VOID through Pete Rollins, who spoke very highly of it. The 3 ways you outline how people deal with the situation are pretty accurate as far as I can tell, and it worries me that the sorts of training people are getting into are leading them into full-time ministry, which is just not a model I have a lot of time for. No one ever worked for Vaux either, and though that meant it was less robust, I think the pay-off (no pun intended) was worth it.

    In terms of getting the book in the UK, I know Church House Bookshop have some in stock, and are pretty central.

  15. Hi Gav

    Your story sounds just like mine…I loved reading what you first posted…I’m where you are…it seems you have it a little more worked out that me. I left institutional Xianity on my own when I came to a Universal understanding of salvation in 2008…hung out w/ the emerging crowd for a while…devoured progressive Xianity thru books (Borg,Crossan,Knitter etc) and then I found the atheists on Twitter…about a month go. Progressive Xianity did some to lift the heavy baggage I carried growing up in a Christian fundamentalist home…but it couldn’t do enough. I was telling my husban the other day (he still considers himself a Xian…but a very open minded one) that atheism has done in a week or so what I gave emergent/progressive xianity a year and a half to do. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m going to stop here because this is not at all what this post is about…but nice to meet you Gav…it would be nice to talk else where…are you on Twitter or Facebook? I would like to ask you some questions. Peace to all!

  16. Hi Christi, sure.. I’ll drop you a mail.. can see your email address on your site.

    Kester, sorry if gone off topic here. Will likely be getting your new book as enjoyed the last one, have been following your blog and am interested in the ideas you are exploring. Realise my posts may be a bit off topic and more about my own personal experience of leaving the institution and then the fringe. If you got any comments on anything I’ve said, would love to hear them if you have time to respond. Particularly interested in how those in the emergent scene hold faith in the light of what I was talking about as I’m struggling to get it. Mail me if you like. Gav.

  17. Kester

    wonder if there are soem different journey’s going on here. having been part of the alt worship scene since 1990 it has always been true that for some the jounrey that would later be called ’emerging’ was for some a journey of emerging from the institution, for many people this was i think about realise one’s own life and culture invited a journey of personal integrity of faith that needed to go somewhere new and uncharted. if that journey then returns to the institution then indeed the question is ‘is this a retreat or has the insitution caught up’.

    for some of us, myself included, the jounrey was about mission in a changing culture, part of a journey people both in and outside the instituitional church peopel where taking in the 1990s in rresponse to post-modernity, globalisation, technological impact on society etc. in this journey new expressions of faith and church where nor emerging from the instution but from the new cultural landscape as we discovered cross-cultural incarnational approaches to mission and church planting. now my expereince and that of many others is that as you go on that journey your own faith changes, though as you repeat that journey in different places one finds that one can be both in and out of the instutition and work in both worlds. my prefence in worship would either be a nightclub or something that looked like a pagan gathering – neither of which i currenlty have a place to take part in! – but i am OK at a charismatic service or a choral servce or… though i find i can;t sing some of the words and certaintly don;t like dogmatic or controlling approaches – still a big fan of the shared authority and flat strucutes and open questioning of the emerging scene!

    perhaps the question on the second journey is not then about emerging from and returning to the institution, but about staying true to the cross-cultural principles, and those always mean opting for some level of insecurity – it is perhaps here that there is a real issue in your suggestion that the desire for security can tempt us to play it safe and follow the better understood track of parish minsitry etc.

    having said that we seriously need people in the existing churches prepared to expereiment with experience of what the emerging chruch world offers, so whatever journey someone is on very happy to have folks at the heart of the institution as well as mainting their place on the edge – i think the conversation between the two will be of value to both.

  18. I’m really enjoying this conversation, and since you’ve asked for comments from others in the U.S. I thought I’d reply.

    I hear a lot of decline and “turn the ship around” conversations going on in the institutional structures. I’m hesitant to paint it as darkly them intentionally running an accept and assimilate scam in order to quell the newfangled upstarts that are doing things differently (although I would guarantee there’s some of that out there). Rather, I hear a lot of panic, and I think these institutions are grasping at anything that they think might help out their insitution. However, they don’t seem to be interested in any real change, which is what I think a lot of this emerging/ent stuff is seeking out and exploring which is inevitably where I see the rub coming (of course this is all simply from my perspective, experiences, and what I’m hearing as opposed to a well researched argument).

    I resonalte a lot with what Adam Moore is saying. Being steeped in a traditional mainline denomination I went through the traditional church structure and went to seminary. Seminary in and of itself does a bit of institutionalizing of you. At times it explicitly reinforces the institutional bonds, at others it serves as a pressure release, just enough challenging of the institution in order to allow you to continue to go along with it. When I finished I came away with a lot of debt, a young family, and nowhere to really go except into the traditional church structure to feed said family. At the same time there wasn’t the freedom to pursue the type of explorations that are more than cosmetically different. I agree that institution doesn’t necessarily equal bad, however it is an institution, which means there are some things to which it’s systems are very committed that will at some point hinder creativity and freedom in some way shape or form.

    So, however unintentional it may or may not be it’s kind of a trap. We have a large population of anti-church people. Creating things that they will find resonate with them isn’t going to easily “pay the bills.” You can’t simply say we’re doing something different and expect a bunch of sceptics to believe you, show up, donate, etc. Yet if it doesn’t run certain attendance and financial numbers the institution deems them uneffective and tends to seek to shut them down. And this is all assuming your exploration invovles more traditional rubrics of attractional worhsip gaterings that hinge on financial donation by the “worshipping body”. You take out those ruberiks as some emerging/ent groups are doing and it becomes even more complicated.

    I think Adam’s 3 options are very true – PhD and teach, bail altogether and find another career, or capitulate and work with what they give you. I would like to add a couple of bullet points to the three. I’ve seen two additional trends that fit within it his framework, 1. that of leaving altogether and starting something on their own and 2. that of staying within the traditional structure to pay the bills while simultaneously starting independent ministries where they have the opportunity to explore on their own terms (although there is the risk of getting your hand slapped for taking that approach).

    I know that the striking out on your own is difficult and food has to be put on the table. I also think there is a desire for many of us to be something more than our own isolated island. We want to be a part of a larger tradition in order to have a sense of feeling grounded and to keep ourselves accountable to someone other than ourselves and our close community of friends. Also, in some of the more progressive denominations there is room theologically for the questions being raised. But, even in those cases the issue is not those of theology as much as the practical workings of ministry. For some institutions it is not the theological systems as much as the functional systems that require an overhall.

    I’m concerned for those who enter back into the institution. I’m afraid that what they’ll find in the end is a bait and switch. They want your new thing because they’re desparate to see their institution turn around. Yet, whenever your new thing crosses the institution or asks too dificult of questions of the insitution I expect you to find yourself no longer as welcome you thought. While striking out on your own is difficult, some who go back to the institution may find it more difficult once they get back, a bit like moving back in with your parents.

  19. Hi KB I’m out of the UK perspective and live in Melbourne Australia. I also feel I was a little late on the scene coming into contact with emergent ideas via books, internet (blogs & FB). I resonate with a lot of your readers responses here. Especially those describing the social circumstances we find ourselves in. Those who may have come out of an institution situation and already have a career and family can and do struggle (I speak from experience). I seem to be in a strange but expanding holding pattern. I have learnt that if I were to just try and go back to my former mainstream institution I would begin bumping up against their solidified concepts of God (Yes I read little of Peter Rollins) and would find myself unsatisfied pretty quickly. At the same time I don’t have any fellowship outside of FB and regular but not frequent gatherings of peace activists and other multi denominational seminars. Although I’m not saying there is no truth to your idea that many may be simply returning. I would at the same time wonder how many would be similar to my situation. So loosely affiliated with what seems like nothing but at the same time profoundly changed and affected within by the emergent ideas.

  20. Thanks Joshua – very interesting, and difficult, words. It seems that many many others are suffering the same problem: the loose affiliation of something ‘alternative’ doesn’t really provide the community support that people are after. But the institution where one can get that has serious theological and cultural problems. I just hope that this holding pattern will give birth to something more grounded in the future… and it’s my contention here (read the next post due up shortly) that what will give birth to that will not be something born within the old institution, but something that has emerged from it…

  21. Interesting reflections. I think there has been a shift in the landscape and perhaps one of the greatest changes is that the language that once was peculiar to ’emerging churches’ (never comfortable with that term) is now being employed by mainstream denominations. In Aus my own denomination’s ‘evangelism documents’ read like stuff we were saying at Forge 10 years ago!

    So if (as I suspect) the movement was primarily prophetic then perhaps much of the ‘calling back’ has been done.

    Personally my own faith community/ missional experiment folded around 2 years ago and we agreed to go back and lead a local Baptist church who said that they signed on to all of our core values… Of course you can guess the rest of that story.

    We had hoped to lead others on the journey we had been on, but despite verbal affirmations of agreement, we have been met with a very clear ‘hands off’ when it comes to imagining and expressing church differently.

    I’m not sure we will last in this environment where we are considered hired hands and paid workers rather than fellow workers. There is much that the institution makes possible but also much good that dies in the process.

    As it stands today chances are we may just go back and walk in the wastelands of unstructured and unconventional faith. It might not pay as well but it certainly feels true to who we are.

    So while the broad landscape may have shifted I think there are many displaced people who will not find a suitable home in the old forms

  22. I’d certainly suggest that the institutional ‘accommodation’ to these kinds of groups has been a major cause of many of those groups ‘returning’ to the institutions out of which they were birthed.

    I’d also ask to what extent the emerging church demographic might have contributed to this return (noting that I have had extremely limited engagement with this movement), with 2 things in mind:

    1) Pragmatically, a lot of the emerging movement seemed to be made up of energetic, young, often trendy types; I wonder if some of this is that those people have settled into careers, had children, and are looking for an environment the whole family can take part in together, perhaps without expending so much creative energy?

    2) Theologically, it always seemed to me that the emerging church people were reading a lot of theology, and constantly trying to respond to what they were reading. I wonder if a consequence of engaging widely with theology is a pull toward the institution. I can think of many examples of Protestant theologians who turn Catholic late in their career (life), and indeed low-church Protestants who turn to Anglicanism or Lutheranism. Perhaps wide engagement in theology somehow pushes people in this direction generally.

  23. Thanks Kester for re-opening the debate around the ’emerging’ thing. I am part of a small group in Scotland- we have no institutional affiliation, but most small groups like ours, whilst they may exert an influence in this internet generation, tend to be fragile. The passion and creativity that we start with tends to fade and then the harder work begins- in terms of maintaining community, dealing with the leadership stuff and finding refreshment vision and renewal.

    And as this process continues, most of us need peers, mentors and supporters- which turns us back towards established church.

    Or it seems to do for many. We are still out there at the moment- and I agree with Andrew that many others still feel excluded from ALL forms of church…



    Like your

  24. I can see a lot in what you say, Kester (and in the book too) although it interests me that two of the theologians who are most-quoted by the Emerging/Emergent church are Tom Wright and Lesslie Newbigin, both of whom are/were deeply committed to the institution, while at the same time aware of its downsides. I wonder whether Emergents are reading these guys highly selectively? What do you think?

  25. To be perfectly honest, I’d find it difficult to comment, as they’re not people I’ve read very widely recently.

    To be sure, we all read selectively, and the issue is trying to avoid the ‘highly’.

    On the other hand, it may be that people are doing valid interpretations of their writing within a context that the authors themselves couldn’t inhabit because of their own back-stories? That may be too generous to emerging authors who are quoting them – but as I say I’m not particularly up on them, so wouldn’t like to say.

  26. Very interesting thoughts and conversation (thanks again for your voice) just a quick thought/question Kester… I wonder how this relates to Pete Rollins’ thinking on the negating the negation? Was the early movement you describe a negation of the institutions, which is now going through a process of negating that negation i.e. not simply negating the institutions nor returning to them but moving into a third place that finds new shape and expression in relationship to and in the institutions?

  27. Kester,

    I don’t think it has retreated. But I do think the conversation has had its desired outcome as a catalyst. To think about the Church beyond the walls, religion or human control – back to the people, tribe, work of the Spirit. Here is a little piece I posted on Facebook and TheOOZE.com. Does this resonate with you?

    “One of the difficulties I think we will encounter in this conversation is – we have lived with the illusion of the “Emerging Church”. Just like those who are defending the “Modern Church” today against the coming heresy…

    I do not think there is a modern church, emerging church or whatever comes after that. What we are trying to “Brand” or label is a transitory state the Church goes through all the time. It has just been fashionable (and maybe profitable for publishers and critics alike) to name it.

    In reality I think we will look back at this period in time and see it is the IMPACT of the “Emerging/Postmodern” time/technology/theology/etc. that has had a great effect on the Church. Just like there were “Emerging Businesses” that came out of the transitions of the ’80″s, it would be hard to imagine working without a computer or the internet. It has become business as usual.

    Rather than looking for what we disagree on – perhaps we can find ways to hear each other, learn from each other, challenge each other, and join each other in the way of Jesus.

    I know I have had my fair share of heretical moments and I live by the motto “If I am not a little embarrassed about what I said yesterday, then I probably didn’t learn anything today”.

    But it is also important to hear the words of Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident” .

    Someday those who are defending the church today will realize that it was the loss of modernity that they were grieving. And those who are so eager to be the torch bearers for the emerging church will be left with a new institution to feed. But for some, the Church will always be the Church and she will continue to surprise us…”


  28. Was the early movement you describe a negation of the institutions, which is now going through a process of negating that negation i.e. not simply negating the institutions nor returning to them but moving into a third place that finds new shape and expression in relationship to and in the institutions?

    I think there may be elements of that, and I think this is something Jonny would want to see, and probably will see with the new models CMS are working with. But I also think there is simply a more straightforward return, which perhaps sees the move out in retrospect as more of a ‘rumspinga’, as I’ve noted.

    Spence, that’s good stuff. I like the Schopenhauer quote a lot, and it resonates well with the stuff on pirates functioning as cultural heretics which is also in the book – they give permission to something which is heretical, are vilified for it, but it is then accepted as the norm.

  29. it’s hard to keep up with the posts and conversation!… you’ve certainly generated some traffic.

    i think steve hollinghurst’s comment is very helpful and names better than i could why i was trying to suggest in my blog post that the issue you are addressing is not a question that was in the room on the recent weekend away with people who have left, returned, stayed out, never were part of or never left instiutions.

  30. I’m not sure I follow: the question has generated a lot of traffic, but it not a question that was in the room when you went away recently?

  31. I’m not sure I agree entirely with the analysis. I remember in the 1990s Mike Starkey observing that (and I paraphrase his far better prose) “Behind every church casting off the trappings of history and tradition there are increasing numbers of hungry pilgrims searching through the dustbins in search of the roots that they hunger for in their spiritual journey”. There was a movement back then to rediscover the things that the institutional church offered, something Mike Riddell also observed in ‘Threshold of the Future’. Alt worship was already exploring ‘ancient-future’ and I had many friends (myself included) who at that time looked afresh at Anglicanism, went East or swam the Tiber.