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.


45 responses to “Into the ‘Year of Opposition’ – The Backlash Begins?”

  1. Cue the invite for Tony Jones . . . his new book, “The Church is Flat”, tackling and putting some flesh on the ecclesiology of emergence . . . might be time to get him in?

  2. I think it might well be. He’d be a good voice to add to this. I do think GB12 could be a key time for a ‘review’ of what’s going on.

  3. Jeremy Putnam

    Really good post Kester. I have been reading New Monasticism alongside audio from Pete Rollins (Greenbelt, and his vimeo clips), as well as his first chapter intro of Insurrection. My immediate thoughts are – as yours – that these (for want of a better term) two emerging theologies seem worlds apart. However there are a few touch points. Both speak of Mother Theresa as embodying the typos of their movement. Pete mentions Mother Theresa as an example of someone who ’embraced the doubt’ losing God in herself in order to later find God in her place. New Monasticism has used Mother Theresa as an example of living out a ministry of poverty and the upside down kingdom (Shane Claiborne). This, I think helps to consider how these two paths of radical theology can have some common ground and maybe a basis for dialogue as you are suggesting at Greenbelt.

  4. Giles Parker

    Opposition is the life blood of any exploration of thought. It’s part of a healthy process that prevents us of getting ahead of ourselves without asking questions and weighing the options of the direction we’re taking. Most opposition is just counter-thought that needs to be aired and considered.

    A key ingredient is accessibility. The Sunday 2pm panel session in the Jesus arms at GBelt was a positive in that it provided a wider forum of discussion making the exploration more accessible to those on a journey. Perhaps this would be widened out further into a “World Cafe” style approach where discussion is less centralised and the objective is for people to learn to explore questions rather than rush to answers….

    The Paella stall was good too…

  5. Thanks for the post. I have recently been glimpsing small signs in the air that lead me to suspect that more turbulent times lie ahead.

    I would love GB12 to have a part of their programme dedicated to a type of colloquium on the various strands of theological innovation. Bringing into debate movements such as new monastasim, fresh expressions and radical theology.

    Aside from the more serious clashes I could imagine a boxing ring in the big top with opposing figures having a debate with the audience voting the winner. Complete with referee and a bikini clad Kester Brewin walking around the ring between bouts (perhaps I am mixing serious theology too much with personal fantasy here)..

  6. Totally agree Giles, and what I like about GB is that it has the breadth and strength to offer that space for opposition to be worked through. I do think it’s time that some proper reflection is done on the ground we’ve covered these past… 10 years?

    Personally, I don’t fancy Pete’s chances against Doug, but I’m happy to don a bikini and try distract him while he has a go!

    I do think the New Monasticism needs to be brought into the critique too. Personally, I’m worried that it is the old cloaked (or in-habit-ing perhaps) the new.

  7. Hey Kester – sorry not to see you at GB – contributors hospitality didn’t have the same feel for me this year so I was hardly there…

    Anyway, I’m fascinated by this post, it essentially sets you and pete up as the radicals and others who disagree with you as conservatives! Now no one wants to be called a conservative and everyone wants to be a radical. Is the direction that you and pete want to go the radical one and the other one the conservative one…the language that you use means that no-one is going to say ‘I want to take the conservative path’…Or am I reading it wrongly? I have a problem with the self-referential nature of being ‘radical’.

    For me GB is about collision, interface, dialogue, discourse etc. the dialogue that takes place between the people as you’ve said is where the real festival is, that dialogue is in many ways fuelled by the festival. For me dialogue starts with the acceptance that the position that one holds can change. I’m not convinced that there is this level of maturity within the conversation yet, it has the potential to be a fight rather than a dialogue ( I was part of a conversation where a person central to one of the movements was jokingly called ‘The Enemy’ by a person at the centre of another movement). The conversation maybe welcome in the short-term but I think that a long-term approach of dialogue and grace that moves beyond the polarities of conservative and radical will leave us in a more helpful place.

    Or am i just being the voice of the conservative?



  8. steve thack

    i think what the conversations kester is hearing reflect the fact that in greenbelt circles ideas of kester and pete have gone from being easily ignored voices on the edge of the festival to be pretty central. couple of years back folks strongly disagreeing with pete prob went to the bar and discussed other things. personally i enjoyed some great music at greenbelt and mainly spent my time discussing either how shit my job is, or how much the beer in the jesus arms has improved this year. guess i need download a few talks and join in the debate. the fact pete is getting respect from rob bell prob pushes quite a few folks to listen who otherwise wouldnt, Bell’s fan club certainly seems to contain large numbers who (trying to be polite) might not be ready for more challenging thinkers.

  9. Ben – missed you too, and think I went to contribs about once over the weekend!

    In some ways I want to agree with you – dialogue/grace etc. – but in other ways I want to ‘turn things up’ a little because I think that being too careful not to offend can end up in a spineless situation which has no strength to support or help anyone. I do think it’s time we had a more serious debate about some of the key differences that are emerging, and what the implications of them might be.

    In terms of ‘radical’ and ‘conservative’… well, in the sense that ‘conservative’ is a turn towards the old and wanting to conserve it – as well as rejuvenate and regenerate – then yes, I suppose I do see much of what is going on as conservative. As you say, everyone wants to be seen as the radical, but I suppose what I mean by that is that I’m interested in departing more fully from the forms we have inherited than those who might, for example, be in the New Mon movement, and departing more fully from some of the central theological tenets that others in the movement might wish to still hold to.

    My concern is that if we don’t create spaces for these dialogues now then people are going to get confused as currently the whole thing seems to get lumped together a bit, which I don’t think helps anyone. And actually, I disagree… I think a level of maturity is being reached where these things can happen properly. I hope it is anyway.

  10. Great post and I agree with the points made. This was my first Greenbelt and one of the best sessions was the debate, over a beer at the Jesus Arms, between Pete, Brian McClaren, Phyllis Tickle and one other over emerging theology and other issues relating to it. I think we need more of these discussions, involving all of the above and maybe Rob Bell as well. I think these are important issues which need discussion and are inevitably going to demand a response from us all in time to come. Challenging and exciting times.

  11. I think you’re perhaps being a bit oversimplistic in the use of the term new monasticism – its a very broad term encompassing a variety of schools of thought and practise, some of which are deeply conservative, others vastly less so. I would suggest that such new monastic heroes as Bonhoeffer, Merton and others may not be quite the model for a conservative movement.
    Personally though, I am never particularly comfortable with a movement/idea/gang which is too popular. There are huge advantages in obscurity, which is another lesson born out through monasticism in general.
    Two quick things to note – I have seen a number of copies of Pete’s and your books in monastic houses – which leads me to think that you are not a million miles away in thinking. I also note the popular resurgence of the reformed/conservative bloggers, which leads me to wonder if its just part of a wider move to conservatism in the church.

  12. Interesting comment about ‘Bell’s fan club’. I certainly have been a long-time fan of Bell’s, and it may be that he becomes an acceptable face of this movement, even though he himself may not wish it. People may associate themselves with him in order to give the appearance of being radical whilst still not seeing substantive change. That is a challenge for me, for sure, as I know I can easily get suckered into that thinking. Bell is more radical – in it’s proper sense – than many would really be comfortable with, but his style is very all-embracing so allows all to come under it. I am
    his biggest fan, though in the best sense I would hope, and fully admit he brought me into this conversation. Now reading Rollins material and being pushed and challenged like never before. The challenge for me and others like me is how we respond. Does it have to be New Monasticism? Is it something else? Good discussion though and pleased to be part of it.

  13. I’m pretty sure RB is way further along than he is ‘allowed’ to say. The question is, for how long does he hold back from what he is saying privately?

    As for the NM movement… what concerns me partly is that the lessons that Merton and Bon. were learning have not been taken much further. But I admit that I’m not au fait enough with the spectrum of the different forms, and need to look more widely than those I know.

  14. Ali, I couldn’t have said it better myself! ๐Ÿ™‚

    KB, et al, I’m all for a more robust exploration of the theological undercurrents of emergence. In the States, as the radicality of theological emergence became more evident, evangelicals jumped ship en masse. I feel that my own vocation is to draw out that radicality, and to challenge those who sometimes avoid the deeper theological reasoning to step up to it. Some of the very groupings and individuals mentioned by other commenters, I think, occasionally shy away from the deeper theological implications of their words and practices. Having some conversation about this at WGF12 and GB12 would be fascinating.

  15. Not too sure I recognise myself in the “and thus cannot be ‘true’” Kester – which seems like a less intelligent conclusion to that sentence than I would have expected of myself, even after a couple of pints of Redemption. Maybe it was your recollection which was suffering here?

    As you know, my main concern with aspects of Pete’s work and yours is not its radicalism, but its liberalism – the two are different in my mind. And I find one is less interesting and convincing than the other. Jamie Smith made a similar point on his blog Fors Clavigera recently about liberal scepticism and orthodox doubt, which I think was him having a tilt at Pete?

    I think you should also withdraw the “aggressive” word – we can have an open and honest exchange of views – you’re no shrinking violet yourself in terms of naming positions you regard as untenable or outmoded.

    I have great respect for both you and Pete Rollins, for your intellect, compassion and integrity – I hope we can maintain that all round while extending and deepening the conversation. I think there is a lot at stake in the theological issues which are now coming to the front and we will have different understandings of where the promising openings are and where the blind alleys are. What’s interesting is that in the routes being charted out of the postmodern turn, you are dismayed with (what you see as) people turning back to a theological conservatism you are out of sympathy with and I am dismayed with (what I see as) people turning back to a theological liberalism I am out of sympathy with. There are some contested readings of each other’s projects to deal with here…

  16. Doug, yours is a particularly interesting comment. In the States, those of us on the more “radical” side of emergence are very often called “liberal” these days. But from where I sit, I am far out of step with traditional liberalism. In fact, I’ve been in some environments of liberal theologians, and it’s been made very clear to me that I don’t belong to their tribe.

    You and I have written the first two books on emerging ecclesiology, and they’ve come out simultaneously. It might be an interesting case study from someone (or a group) to read both groups in parallel and let us know if I am truly liberal, and you are truly conservative. (If that were the conclusion, I’d be both surprised and disappointed). I’d also be keen to have a public conversation with you about our similarities and differences at GB12.

  17. Good to have you here Doug. Apologies for baggy language in places – I shouldn’t write blog posts in tiny gaps in busy teaching days!

    Aggression is the wrong word, because I mean something more positive. I liked the energy in our discussion, and know I gave as good as I got. What I hate is the ‘we’re both right, let’s not fight’ that I think we’ve seen too often, and is profoundly unhelpful.

    But yes, ‘true’ isn’t what I meant. Apologies for that.

    To the rest of your comment though. I utterly agree that a lot is at stake, and I do very much respect the thought that you’re putting in to mapping out this new place we are in, which I don’t think everyone is doing. That’s why I’d really like to get a place where you and some others like Pete can thrash out where some differences might lie, because there are differences emerging which I don’t think are yet quite understood popularly, and can lead in very different directions.

    The contested readings are going to be vital, and I personally am quite happy to admit that some may turn out to be blind alleys… though as emergence theory tells us, these are important to the search for the high places, as long as there are those to flush us out of them and chase us down. That requires humility, and a preparedness to engage robustly in debate. And I’m glad we had the chance to do that.

    I’d agree with Tony too, in that I don’t see myself fitting with a traditional ‘liberal’ label at all. But these labels are fitting badly everywhere I think, even though they continue to be used so much.

  18. Thanks Kester – re the conversation at next year’s GB – I am very keen to see Jamie Smith invited. (are you still on the Talks group?) I think a conversation between him and Pete would be pretty interesting, because they are engaging with many of the same thinkers and issues but coming to very different conclusions or Jeff Keuss from Seattle Pacific would be another good option for similar reasons. Both great communicators and very GB friendly I think.

    One of my reasons for pinning the old (modernist) liberal tag to you, was partly because you were so generous in awarding yourself the handsome dashing ‘radical’ tag, when of course Jonny, Nadia and I are the real (loyal) radicals. But it’s also because this does all sound very 60s [and 40s] to me… Secular theology…the courage to doubt… honest to God… humanity come of age…negative theology, the (effing) ineffable, the privileging of the anophatic, religionless Christianity..

    People emerging from the fog of deconstruction coughing and spluttering – clutching some inchoate scrap of the ethical/political in their hands as the true prize and insisting with true liberal assurance that Christianity is just another symbol system as my friend Chris Boesel says – its the view that if it’s good it can’t be news and if it’s news it can’t be good.. Cheers – let’s keep the energy flowing…

  19. rodney neill

    I think Doug is spot on…..Pete ideas sound remarkably similar to the non-theistic liberal John Spongs work ‘A New Christianity for a New World’….non-realist theology from the Sea of Faith movement dressed up and recycled for a new audience.


  20. I must confess to finding it strange when people say things like, ‘this is just the [insert year] theology dressed up’, or ‘it’s just like [insert person] for a new generation’. Why is that bad? Or good for that matter? It may be accurate or inaccurate but it isn’t an argument for or against, yet it is said in such a disparaging way. Also if its less than 100 years old it is very very young philosophically speaking. Movements tend to take decades to grow and centuries to die. I would love serious theoretical discussion but please lets not dismiss something because it is like another movement, influenced by it or has resonance with it.

    For instance if my work is like Spong (who I personally have never read), then show why and then show why this is good or bad. I am not trying to make something new, or keep something old, I am just reading, reflecting, debating and producing as a result. If Spong is like me then great, I will defend him, but I actually have no idea if that is the case. If my work is like the 60’s secular theology then again I am happy to defend it… lets engage with each others work as it is presented!

    Look forward to a few good debates in GB12!

  21. I like direction this discourse is going and really hope the level of challenge can continue in such an open but robust way in a public space like Greenbelt and would echo the need for a participative process like world cafe

  22. Jeremy Putnam

    @ben and others. I’m interested in this categorisation (i understand to be loose) of liberalism = radicalism in opposition to conservatism. In this paradigm how or where does Orthodoxy fit in? In particular the Radical Orthodoxy movement of Milbank and Ward?

  23. or is it possible that those that were once rebels have have grown older and more comfortable and gaze longingly at the fireplace and imagine how cosy those slippers must be? I struggle with the idea that it was a fashionable phase we were going through, the initial concepts and ideas that birthed everything was based on genuine disquiet and unrest. I agree a discussion needs to take place, a review of where we are and maybe we need to include the voices of those who are now restless and have new things to say.

  24. sorry i missed greenbelt this year. would have enjoyed some Redemption with you.

    as for the shift from deconstruction to reconstruction that kester has observed [not the philosophical one] i have noticed that many in the monastic stream and some in the organic ec stream have shifted from doing without buildings to actually buying, receiving, restoring and maintaining buildings – esp. buildings that can house a holistic residential space with room for social enterprise and business production. its a new reformation and we are choosing to rethink monastic structures rather than scrap them [or turn them into universities] as the reformation 500 years ago choose to do.

  25. Pete is absolutely right about us needing to go on to engage specific arguments – Kester’s original post contained a good deal of shorthand itself, which is what these more general allusions and descriptions of other people’s positions amount to. Of course the fact that something has been said before in similar terms does not count against it at all. A reference to that might however count against the idea that something is ‘new’ or ‘radical’ and help to orientate other people towards the previous rounds of conversation, discussion and debate which the church and its theologians have had about these questions before. So a reference to the post-modern invokes the term modernity as a kind of short hand, just as a reference to post-liberalism invokes the legacy of liberalism as a short hand.
    This may be helpful if something is being sold or oversold as new and innovative thinking. It helps to alert those overhearing such a claim, particularly if they have little access to or knowledge of the history of theological and philosophical debate behind it, to the possibility that such claims have already gone through periods of evaluation and testing within the church and the academic community.
    For those of us with longer memories, the role played by Matthew Fox in the early alt worship conversations might form an analogy. As a charismatic speaker and populariser, he would thrown out all kind of accusations about eg Augustine and his entirely toxic role within Christian history, mostly to audiences who had never had any access to any critical debate about Augustine. The scholarly references tended to heighten his sounding like an authority, but were mostly deployed in forums where few people were able to challenge or contextualise his opinions.
    This may have implications for the kind of conversations we try to stage at an event such as Greenbelt and how we empower people for whom GB is a kind of open university of theology and philosophy, to challenge the conservatism of a staid evangelical like me or a fluid organic intellectual like Kester…

  26. Matthew Fox. That is a blast from the past.

  27. Peter King

    A friend drew my attention to this thread. For what it’s worth, I think the idea of a symposium at GB 2012 is a great one. It would be good to see a conversation developing between the various strands of emerging church and GB would be an ideal place to do so. Perhaps even a participative workshop ? Or is that too ambitious ?

    I have read both but never made a connection between John Spong and Pete Rollins. Spong is really an examplar of liberal protestantism (Paul Tillich is his favourite theologian) whereas Pete to me seems much closer to 1960s “radicals” like Thomas Altizer (author of “The Gospel of Christian Atheism”, a clip of whom was shown at Beyond’s “Unsafe Space” event) and so (personally speaking at least) much more interesting. The Sea of Faith movement would seem to me to be something different again.

    That being said, both Rollins and Spong seem to end up in a similar apophatic / mystical place where doubt and questioning are encouraged and the inadequacy of language is acknowledged even though they get there by different routes.

    Perhaps what is important is not so much our route (“liberal”, “radical”, “orthodox”, “evangelical” etc) but where we are now … and the questions we are posing about the future shape of Christian faith and practise.

  28. What behaviour of mine would all your theology change? Does it make me more generous, more kind or more creative than the theology I already had?

    I’m not saying it won’t. Liberation theology (and hence queer theology and feminist theology) did. And I did very much appreciate Pete’s layman application of Derrida, via Caputo, to the giant cultural construct that is ‘God’.

    But that’s really because I like argument. Which is quite culturally blokeish. Meanwhile, the churches are full of middle class women.

  29. Jeremy Williams

    Interesting thread – I was also at the Jesus Arms discussion and enjoyed it but felt it skated the surface somewhat. I’d love to hear some more (C)cross-examination of (say) Pete Rollins by his peers rather than the more loose format, so that points of difference are teased out and arguments are more nuanced.

    In terms of the neo-liberal nature of Pete’s work; I think a key feature of the emergence is its post-evangelical nature. Most emergents I meet are from (charismatic) evangelical stock (myself included) and this gives the debate a distinct flavour; very different from liberal ecumenism. Maybe we’re still formulating a Hegelian antithesis rather than a synthesis (or, for McLaren, stage 3 rather than 4). I suspect the gap between emergents and new monastics will indeed widen as we seek separate syntheses. But we need to keep listening, especially as regards praxis.

    More of this at GB12 / WGF12 please Kester!

  30. Doug, I think you’re right: we need to make sure people understand something of the terms being used, and those being referenced – though of course one can go too far in this and never get anywhere. There will always be some level of assumption about shared meaning, and negotiation in situ of terms too.

    I think some kind of series of events at GB12 would be a good, and as I still have some input on the talks programme I’d be interested in hearing how people think this might best work. It would probably be good to video/record them too so others can engage remotely as I do think this gets right to the heart of things at the moment. Your reference to Fox might be prescient: if we don’t have better engagement with ideas than people may have done in the past then some pretty awful things could result. What I’m hopeful of is that there are some very good relationships at the heart of this that can sustain robust disagreement. That’s going to be important.

    And… You the staid one and me the fluid whatever? You do that cheeky Scottish thing well Doug ๐Ÿ˜‰

  31. Peter King

    Although as a theologian I would say this, I think it might be helpful in some way to set some of these emerging church thinkers in a wider theological context. And I think this would be possible without making everything too complicated and heavy.

    Perhaps for me the value of Matthew Fox was that his books led me on to other, more rigorous thinkers. In the same way, hearing Phyllis Tickle at GB 2011 has led me to read Harvey Cox’s book “The Future of Faith”. We need these figures but we also need those who more rigorously explore the issues they raise.

    By the way, as far as we know, Joachim of Fiore did not prophesy that the Age of the Spirit would come around the year 2000 CE but rather that it would come within a few years of his own time (twelfth century). In an online interview, Harvey Cox says of Joachim, that “he was on to something. He recognized that society goes through transitional periods. Human beings need labels, but you have to be aware that the labels are always just that. You can stick them on, but you can peel them off as well. They help to organize thinking, which is why, after some hesitation, I chose to use that periodization, realizing that it would be problematic.”

    I wonder if this emerging church thing is all about peeling off our labels …

  32. Sorry to come late to the conversation, I tried to post yesterday but…who knows?
    When Kester speaks of ‘radical cuts’ and moving into that ‘radical and more difficult direction’ I think he is doing more than simply laying claim to the radical label at the expense of others. The labeling stuff gets so tiresome and is such a cheap shot, and we all do it–but I worry that real dialogue is not possible until we have a prior conversation to get all that stuff out of the way.
    It seems to me that in all of this back and forth there is a need to find some kind of shared understanding and language that is sensitive to the many differences between various people/groups etc that would actually get us past or through this particular moment of ‘opposition’ if I go with Kester’s original post, but I wonder if we can do the necessary work–because it’s big, there is lots to overcome and much to be considered. I think how we read the present moment has as much to do with this conversation as particular theological positions–one person’s ‘fog of deconstruction’ is another’s clarifying moment–an understanding of secularity, technology and other contextual topics is also central here I think. It would seem that there would need to be any number of conversations before we were capable of getting down to business and really addressing what is going on here.
    Kester’s new post today, which centered on the radical/conservative issue in this post says well what I feel in all of this. Perhaps the central question might come down to whether or not one feels that there can be genuine newness or simply new expression–I think the difference is immense and it is not necessarily linked or tied to either conservative or liberal issues or positions. Perhaps that is the horizon for the dialogue, I don’t know. I think it is good people are up for the conversation.

  33. Jonathon Edwards

    Being a far left liberal Christian pastor, the “emergent” church has always looked like a hide out for the discomfited children of right wing fundies. Not quite disgusted enough with the theology to abandon it entirely (witness the tolerance for people “evolving” in their homophobia and not just telling them to get over it already), but wanting a place where their tattoos and earrings wouldn’t bring gasps. It’s always seemed a bit phony. Especially when the “movement’s” leaders hide behind “conversation” instead of taking firm moral stands on issues where blood is on the ground. And that may be, in fact, the background for leading to reflections like this post. That kind of shallowness – and it is shallowness, have no doubt, or do you think the church in Laodicea is an acceptable model? – is simply not going to hold people’s interests for more than a decade. And when those, like me, who are busily implementing contextualized theological, ecclesial and liturgical work AND drawing a firm line in the sand when it comes to values just simply find the whole enterprise tiring. Great work mainstreaming guitars and earrings in sanctuaries. Where, I wonder, is the grown up food?

  34. Going back to Kesters original post – is this a backlash or is this just a sign that this thinking is beginning to break through to ordinary church folk who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near Pete, Kester or Doug, let alone Derrida, Caputo or Kierkegaard. I stood on stage at the beginning of the GB communion watching a large proportion of the 15,000 crowd with their arms in the air while the gospel choir warmed up for the service. We forget that the vast majority of the church is not radical, liberal, progressive or emerging, they just want to learn more about what it means to be Christian. It’s fine for us to sit in pubs and seminar rooms and lecture halls talking through all this stuff but we need to engage with the man/woman in the pew who thought Rob Bells mainstage talk was radical if these ideas are going to get some traction in a wider way.
    If there is resistance, I don’t think it’s a backlash because the people aren’t far enough into it to have anything to lash back at. I think the challenge for us all is to work out how to make this relevant and meaningful to ordinary Shack reading folk in a way that helps them to understand God and themselves better.

    ..and Pete is Thomas Altizer reincarnated, I look forward to him adopting his hairstyle and dress sense.

  35. Sometimes I think we can get so caught up in theology, in using flashy terms and showing how clever or radical we are, we often forget the simplicity of Jesus message – Love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength and live your neighbour as yourself’. Theology is important and very interesting and the debate important, my biggest fear is often that the simplicity of the message of Jesus can get lost in the academic jargon, and my fear is that I myself – and others – get so caught up in the discussion we start to become like Pharisees and miss the point. Maybe it’s just me.

  36. Larry Kamphausen

    I’m not all that familiar with GB. Though, I have followed Peter Rollins for a while now.
    But I’m having a bit of difficulty getting a grasp on what is at stake here. but I find it interesting that you see New Monasticism as a conservative faith practice and as conserving the “old order” that doesn’t fit with my sense of the movement. Recovery of ancient practices and picking up things that have a long history doesn’t seem the same thing as settling for or settling back into the old order.
    I can’t help but have the sense that for you what has been received in the faith is faulty. What then is Christianity? Certainly unless what where you are heading is something completely new there is something you have received that you are holding onto and allows you to evaluate why this is the better way to be a Christian for you.

  37. I have responded to this conversation on my Blog here: (although more @ Pete) longing for a paleo-emergence.

    New Monasticism is not to my mind a subset of the emergent set – there happen to be overlaps. In general it could be considered far more a part of a wider re-enchantment of orthodoxy.

    However New Monasticism is practioner driven rather than theorist driven. Perhaps this is where the tension comes from?

  38. Peter King

    On the point about “ordinary church folk”, from my experience I wouldn’t underestimate the abilty of the most unexpected people to engage with, and be inspired by, some quite “radical” questions. Conversely, when I am teaching those preparing for some sort of ministry in the church the question always comes up “(How) do we share this with the congregation ?”, and I always say that there will be some at least who want to hear about it and we owe it to them to gently raise it in some way.

    The task, as you rightly say Martin, is to work out how to make all this meaningful to the person in the pew. One way I would suggest is to open up the floor for their questions … The problem in the mainstream churches is that this opportunity will most likely be offered by a person in a collar who is seen (with all the dynamics Pete Rollins points out) as a representative of the status quo.

    As for Pete as Altizer, the latter is still alive so perhaps we could get them onstage together somewhere … they would be a formidable double act !

  39. I’m not sure the ‘ordinary folk’ of 1st Century Palestine could have truly understood what was going on in their time. That the way forward may be philosophically complex and theologically nuanced doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Who the hell understands quantum theory? Does it make it less true?

  40. Interesting. I guess the greatest shock to my system came this year from reading Kierkegaard and George Fox and wondering whether we’ve actually missed the whole point of Christianity. If the ‘conservatives’ and the ’emerging church’ (which is a messy distinction if ever there was one. I recently met a wild calvinistic, charismatic emerging church pastor, with some pretty hardcore conservative theology and dreadlocks..) have anything in common it is the idea that Christianity is All About Me.

    And then in my travels amongst those with some really conservative hutterite theology, I’m left wondering whether being a conservative isn’t so bad. Maybe the truth is that in our distaste for the ‘conservatives’ we’ve become dispassionate. And maybe there is nothing worse than that.

  41. jon hazell

    Your previous comment betrays a rather patronising and sneering tone to the ‘ordinary folk’ The tenor of your post plus comments remind me of a typically male(have you asked yourself why no women have commented on this post compared to 20 plus men) pissing contest. Theological smackdown conversations between wordy theologians is fun for a while at Greenbelt but not to be taken too seriously. It is a supreme example of irrelevance apart from about a couple of hundred people? who take this stuff seriously in a dying church. You have a self-involved self-enclosed bubble world of a number of blogosphere writers interested in theology but who are in reality connected to an amazingly small audience.

  42. jon – in a way, I agree. I’m not clear why thinking needs to only happen at appointed places and abhor the idea of floating from one exciting meeting-of-minds to the next practitioner-led conference to the next. I find the language and references hard to follow.

    On the other hand, I can’t see that you can blame people for being interested in things that bore you. Kester, Peter and the others are hardly mainstream to start with. But then countless movements have begun, and some continued, with very small numbers of people. I can’t see that means that the conversation is non-serious.

    At the end of the day, if you think it is exclusive, sneering, patronising and irrelevant, why did you bother to read or comment?

  43. I’ve come across this thread whilst procrastinating – whilst it’s stuff I’m interested in I usually struggle to find the time to engage. What has really struck me about the above conversation is that all the voices are male. And I wonder whether the language of “thrashing things out” and the imagery of the boxing ring might have something to do with this? I had originally written that “the contributors can’t be held responsible for the lack of female participation” but on reflection, if the debate becomes couched in the language of aggression – which is often evident above – then they can. In my experience, a lot of women will simply walk away from that. And you don’t want to end up as a lot of blokes talking to one another do you gentlemen? :o) Btw – loved Martin Poole’s comment above – spot on (I gave up on the Shack half-way through – it got boring)

  44. jon hazell

    I tried to say the same thing but what came across in an agressive way. You phrase things in a much better way that I did.