Category Archives: new monasticism
Not really, though its hard to say these days – what constitutes “emerging” anymore? If we’re talking Peter Rollins, I’m still intrigued – but that’s because he’s actually doing some theology. (I’m looking forward to picking up his new book Insurrection next month.) For the most part I’ve backed away from Emergent not because I think they’re too liberal or because I’m afraid of some kind of guilt by association.
I’ve backed off because frankly, I got bored with the whole alternative worship conversation.
This of course is a gross overgeneralization, but it seems that after a while what I was hearing/seeing in this conversation was just 21st century hipster modernism. We find an old warehouse, add candles, sit in the round and viola – we’re emergent. And yet the conversation is still focused on what we do during the once-a-week event. When our theology makes implicit claims on our living based on explicit claims on our gathering, I don’t really think it matters how good it is – it stops short.
I recently saw Kester Brewin’s article titled Into the ‘Year of Opposition’ (thanks to Tony Jones’ fb post) in which a side comment was made suggesting that New Monasticism may be a redressing of the old while the “alternative worship” types represent the radical new. I’ve already admitted that I’m somewhat out of the loop here – I’m not entirely sure what “stuff” Brewin’s been doing that is gaining opposition, so I need more before I make too many assumptions.
There may be much more to the conversation than I’m currently aware, but I have a hard time seeing that alternative worship will truly be the more “radical” position – even compared to fairly liturgical contexts in which many new monastic communities worship. The reason? The aim of new monasticism is first about incarnating the gospel in community and only then about how that calls us to gather for worship, whereas the alternative or emerging worship stuff seems to go the other way around. I could be wrong here…and if anybody who’s more in the know wants chime in, I’d appreciate it.
I still find some of McLaren’s stuff interesting and helpful – I highly recommend his recent book, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words. Brian is certainly still a figurehead of emerging church – but he tends to focus on more broad issues of ecclesiology than just the setting/focus of the worship gathering.
Maybe once I get this dissertation finished I’ll catch up on what I’ve missed – who knows, there may be a new depth to the conversation.
Here is the introduction to the section covering a short, but incredibly helpful book by my professor, Elaine Heath. If anyone has read this (or any of the others I’ve referenced) please share your thoughts as well.
Longing For Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker.
Though addressed largely to a Wesleyan audience, Heath and Kisker have issued a call to the church at large with this short book. Perhaps what is most striking is the clear conviction that something new is possible, even within reach, for established churches. The formation of new monastic communities does not have to be seen as competition or rebellion, it can be embraced as a faithful and powerful ministry of the church, with deep roots in our various traditions.
Regardless of one’s denominational affiliation Longing for Spring provides an apology for continued connection between the established church and more organic expressions that many have sought to cultivate. In the forward, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove notes that, “as we learn to navigate a rising tide, we are all increasingly aware of the degree to which we are in the same boat.”
If the book, New Monasticism, (written about here) addressed the question of what the new monastic movement has to say to the church, then this book begins to describe ways in which that conversation can bear fruit in the church.
The desire for authentic community and the call to live out whole-life discipleship beyond membership in an organization are in no way new impulses in Christianity.
As others have done before, Longing for Spring explores some of the different expressions that have arisen throughout our history, from the Benedictines and Beguines to Pietists and notably, the early Methodists. Herein lies a subject often apparently overlooked in both monastic and missional literature.
The semi-monastic structure of bands and class meetings in early Methodism contained several components that are essential to the cultivation of authentic community. The “bands” were small, gender and life-situation specific groups that met together regularly for prayer and confession. The Wesley brothers developed this discipleship tool from what they encountered among the Moravians in America.
The mutual accountability and humility fostered by these bands were reminiscent of the more intentional monastic communities previously mentioned.
The class meetings were even more central to the formation of Methodist community. Though attendance had decreased since the mid-19th century, until 1939 participation in these meetings officially defined membership the society. Because the classes were lay led, the beginning of localized clergy in Methodism marked the gradual ending the class meetings’ significance.
The relatively short span of monastic influence in Methodism may be to blame for its relative obscurity outside Methodist circles. However, the demise of the class meetings may well have something of great value to teach us all regarding monastic and missional community.
I find no reason to suspect that anyone within the denominational hierarchy sought to discourage the monastic impulses in Methodism by moving away from a truly itinerant preacher system. However, Kisker notes that with the arrival of localized clergy, people could go straight to him with their questions, and the lay led class system slowly (depending on perspective) lost its efficacy. Would the effect have been different had the localized preacher been called from the congregation rather than placed from the outside through a still somewhat itinerant system?
Whether a different process would have still affected class participation can be debated. It seems less debatable that, in the given case, there is a clear connection between the presence of ordained clergy and a decrease in the “regular” disciples’ participation in monastic commitments. Stated another way, the localization of clergy appears in this case to be correlated with an increase in a more passive consumer approach to religion.
I do not think there is enough evidence here to suggest that having ordained or trained ministers located in a community will universally lead to lower levels of whole-life discipleship. However, Kisker’s brief historical sketch does clearly suggest that we should think carefully about the impact our models of leader selection and preparation may have on future generations of disciples, particularly if we desire to see an increase in missional and monastic characteristics.
This paper is meant to provide a 30,000 foot view – it isn’t meant to touch on every important aspect (otherwise I’d never be able to deal with all 12 books in this one paper!)
Regarding The Mystic Way, here is a section from my introduction and question #3 (pertaining to the established church).
Is the American Church experiencing a dark night of the soul? Elaine Heath thinks so and I doubt many people find this hard to believe, or even surprising. What we may have not considered is her claim that this dark night is a necessary component of the path to renewed health, vitality and evangelistic impact. In a world that is becoming increasingly aware of the widening disparity between the have’s and have not’s; a culture that has come to suspect that the Modernist/Enlightenment project was never more than a smoke-and-mirrors illusion, perhaps a good dose of humility is precisely what the Church needs.
Particularly here in the West, we have come to exhibit a level of entitlement that is (for some of the people I talk to on a regular basis) simultaneously terrifying and nauseating. We expect the government to enforce our religious convictions on others, yet we hit the streets in protest if we feel they’re infringing on our religious turf through taxation or accountability. It seems that we want to be simultaneously protected and ignored. We want to get something for nothing. Just as it did on Wall Street, that mentality may be leading to a crash.
I received the following text message yesterday from a member of our community: “If u can, turn to am-660, the topic is ‘zoning ordinances pertaining to religious home meetings.’ I think its important to note that the public conversation has begun.” There seems to be an increasing population of people dissatisfied with the Church attempting to function as a business in the competitive market, without playing by the market’s rules.
Operating with a sense of entitlement, functioning as a business (with or without proper oversight) and holding an ends-justify-the-means mentality to support coercive or deceptive evangelistic strategies may have all contributed to the present situation. For this reason, I think Heath is correct in The Mystic Way of Evangelism, to suggest that the way out is to move through, not skirt around, this dark night. This assertion simultaneously strikes chords of fear and hope because, as she says, “Though the dark night is perilous, with no guarantee of a good outcome, it holds the possibility of new beginnings.”
Heath’s book traces the ancient three-fold way of the contemplatives and mystics which includes purgation, illumination and union. Perhaps our present experience is one of purgation, not unlike the Israelites wandering around in the desert while time and new birth cleansed the community of its institutionalized slave mentality.
You can’t hurry a process that only occurs over time, but you can often hinder your progress and increase both the stress and duration of the ordeal. As we transitioned into more organic and whole-life expressions of faith, there were a myriad of different expectations, assumptions and (mis)understandings that had to be purged through our own desert experience. There was no way to rush through this time, and in many ways the process continues even today.
The Mystic Way reminded me that regardless of one’s specific context, the interior life (particularly with the intention of it bearing fruit in community) is something we cultivate rather than instantly inherit. We did not arrive at our present location overnight, nor will we relocate in such a way.
What does it have to offer the established church?
I recently saw a commercial attempting to convince people that they need to take action when they notice the early signs of a stroke in another person (which I never realized was a problem). The scene involves a young man with an arrow through his chest, confidently declaring, “It’s no big deal.” Perhaps this commercial could have also been used as a trailer for the release of The Mystic Way.
It is a big deal. The situation in our churches today is a big deal. The question that remains to be answered definitively is whether or not we will adequately acknowledge and respond to the situation.
Several years ago I heard Walter Brueggemann speak about prophetic ministries. He reminded us that prophets will not be effective unless the people to whom they speak are aware (or are made aware) that there is a problem to begin with. It appears that some of our churches are beginning to realize what many who have left our churches are saying: “something isn’t working.”
Mission Alive, a church planting resource group with which our team is connected, was formed in 2004 by missiologist, Dr. Gailyn VanRheenan, whose study of the status of churches in North America convicted him of the need for renewed efforts in domestic mission work. One fairly new aspect of Mission Alive is a ministry called REvision, where leaders from established churches are trained – often by and alongside current church planters – to develop, communicate and implement a missional ecclesiology within their traditional context.
It is still too early to assess the impact that this ministry is having on the congregations involved, but the hope and prayer is that there is hope beyond only planting new churches. As Brueggemann pointed out, a lack of awareness of the situation among a majority of the leadership (let alone the whole congregation) seems to be one roadblock to the needed growth and maturation process. Standing outside the circle throwing rocks may get people’s attention, but then we have the added roadblock of angry people with bruises on their heads!
I believe that The Mystic Way can serve the established church by raising awareness of the need for whole-life discipleship / community and presenting a way forward that doesn’t require a violent dismantling of congregations, yet contains practical content for how to proceed.
Heath describes in several brief, but encouraging sections, different potential avenues for partnership between established, “anchor churches” and new communities. The picture is one of mutual encouragement and support, where the strengths of each are used to build up the other rather than being placed in tension and competition. The question that looms in my mind is whether or not this is possible given the history of turf-wars, power struggles and (to be totally honest) market-driven-rather-than-kingdom-focused definitions of success in the church. The Mystic Way, suggests that it is not only a possibility, but is a necessary and exciting present opportunity.
This is part of a series of posts raising questions about the impact and benefits of New Monasticism. Please refer back the Introduction for more background. Quotes in this essay are from the book being reviewed unless otherwise noted. You can contact me for a list of references cited.
The title of this series of essays is taken from the book New Monasticism, where Wilson-Hartgrove states, “Monasticism, I learned, isn’t about achieving some sort of individual or communal piety. Its about helping the church be the church.” This brief and very accessible book is, in many ways, a foundational text for the new monastic movement.