Friday, April 01, 2011

Church In The Present Tense: A review of a review!

Church In The Present Tense has recently been reviewed blogger Jonny Baker who works for CMS. Edited by Kevin Corcoran the contributors are Jason Clark, Pete Rollins, Scot McKnight and Kevin himself. The book aims to give a snapshot of these and a few other leaders within what is sometimes called ‘the emerging church’.

Jonny's review kicks off with what some may think as a bit of an unfair comment that the book has no representation from women. I think this is a valid point as an important aspect of the emerging types is they claim to listen to voices from the margins yet apparently lack female leaders or at least need to promote them more. I remember Jenny Baker, one year at Greenbelt, mentioning the lack of female leaders in general in churches when discussing gender issues in her talk ‘Sod the Difference’.

The review then points out how the book clearly shows the different perspectives on theology, mission and church that are held by the contributors. I think this is an important point as many still think there is a monolithic doctrine of the emerging church – so when someone they link with that label says something they don’t agree with everyone gets ‘tarred with the same brush’, so to speak. He points out that in the midst of all the philosophical debating we do need a humility about truth but one that doesn’t stop us saying things that are real such as Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Oddly Jonny doesn't give a rounded overview of the book but instead comments in detail about the two chapters that stood out for him by Jason Clark an 'emerging church' leader who is part of the Vineyard churches.

In his first chapter Jason Clark questions Christians who critique the church having stepped outside of it. Jason sees this as a mistake as such people, he says, have lost contact with church life and ultimately with God’s mission. Jason recommends remaining in the traditions of the church where you are rather than leaving in the search of the latest model. The gist of what he is saying is ‘Don’t be focused on the problems with your church.’ and ‘We need more people around us who verbalise their love for the church.’ Jason lambastes the consumerist faddism of seeking the next big thing whether it is emerging, organic or house church but, rather ironically Jonny comments, then proposes this new model positioned within the traditional church which he calls Deep Church. Jonny points out that people are already writing books about Deep Church so isn’t it just another chasing after the next big thing? But I think Jonny’s main concern is that we need to be shaped in Christian identity as Jason suggest but we also need to be empowered to live in our culture as Christians

Jonny appears to resonate more with Jason Clark’s second chapter on worship. This opens by Jason discussing liturgy, the rediscovery of the church calendar and the catechisms. This is comparatively new to Jason being part of the Vineyard churches but very familiar to Anglicans like Jonny – although Jonny has found new life breathed into these through his own experiences in Alternative Worship. I am very aware that these liturgical aspects of worship have been largely shunned by those in my circles. But I would concur with Jonny’s hope that now they will be opened up afresh. Again Jonny emphasises the importance of mission and engaging with our culture. He feels that these are important aspects of worship in addition to the idea of spiritual formation that Jason Clark outlines.

Even though Jonny rambled on a bit and his thoughts really do need editing I found this a fascinating review. I really must investigate this book further.

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