Monday, April 28, 2008

Typologies of renewal: Three routes, four models, five streams

This is something of a follow-up to my previous post on emergents and new Calvinists. In the comments, Claytonius linked to a post he'd written last year about three routes of escape from the pragmatic evangelical church. He observed that many young adults who leave evangelical churches tend to head to three other places (bulleted text are his words):
  • Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. "Obviously, these are three fairly different groups when it comes to theology, practice, and culture. But, for the young, former pragmatic evangelical, they are the same. They are high church. They are rooted in tradition. They are sacramental."

  • Emerging Churches. "Again, there are lots of varieties to emerging churches, but to the former evangelical, they have a certain unifying quality to them. They are culturally-embodied. They are experiential. They are communally-oriented. They are concerned with social justice and the arts. They are open to question and change."

  • Reformed Churches. "This group of Christians, obviously, could be considered evangelical (as could many emerging and Anglican groups). But, to the children of the pragmatic evangelicals, it is a big difference. They are much more overtly theological. They are God-centered. They focus on glory and sovereignty. They also have a sense of history, at least in the Reformation era. They value the life of the mind in a way the more pragmatic side of Evangelicalism doesn’t."
I really like Clayton's typology here. I like typologies in general, because I like mapping out a landscape, organizing subcultures and seeing where people fit. And these three groups ring true to me; I myself find myself identifying to some degree with all of them, but mostly with the first, as an ancient-future evangelical Anglican. I posted earlier about evangelicalism being where the action is in comparison to other religious traditions. We could also talk about these three phenomena as drilling down into what actually is happening among evangelicals/former evangelicals.

"Pragmatic evangelicalism" is itself part of a typology that Bob Webber used in his book The Younger Evangelicals, with the traditional evangelicalism of 1950-75 (like Billy Graham), the pragmatic evangelicalism of 1975-2000 (like Bill Hybels) and the younger evangelicalism of 2000 and later. The complexity of the younger evangelicalism is that it is nowhere near as monolithic as traditional or pragmatic evangelicalism. It is far more fragmented into multiple subcultures. And several folks are trying to map out these different subcultures.

Earlier this year Wess Daniels posted "Four Models of Emerging Churches." Here's an abridged summary of his typology:
  1. Deconstructionist. Influenced mainly by deconstruction, Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault and Caputo. Much of the focus is on adopting postmodernity, and contextualizing the Gospel accordingly. Daniels places Peter Rollins, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren here.

  2. Pre-modern/Augustinian Model. Leans more towards a Renaissance-styled post-modernism that harkens back to pre-modernism, influenced by St. Augustine and St. Thomas. Includes the Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank and James K. A. Smith.

  3. Emerging Peace Church Model (or Open Anabaptism). Focuses on non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. Influenced by Wittgenstein, Barth, Bonhoeffer, John H. Yoder, McClendon and Nancey Murphy. Includes the new monasticism, Jarrod McKenna and the Peace Tree, Shane Claiborne, some Mennonites, Rob Bell’s Mars Hill, Submergent, Jesus Radical and convergent Friends.

  4. Foundationalist Model. More conservative in their reading of Scripture and modern approaches to ecclesiology while seeking to be innovative in their approaches to evangelism. Influenced by Millard J. Erickson or D.A. Carson. Includes Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus and many “emerging services” within megachurches.
Another four-fold typology is found in Tom Sine's The New Conspirators. His four streams are:

eMerging: Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt of Solomon’s Porch, Ecclesia in Houston, Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan, Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith in Santa Cruz, California, Karen Ward of Fremont Abbey in Seattle, Rachelle Mee Chapman of Monkfish Abbey in Seattle, Mark Scandrette of the Jesus Dojo in San Francisco, Sally Morgenthaler, Chris Seay, Emergent Village led by Tony Jones, The Ooze led by Spencer Burke

Missional: The Gospel and Culture Network, the late Lesslie Newbigin, Darrell Guder, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Fuller Seminary, Biblical Seminary

Mosaic (or multicultural): David Park, Efrem Smith, Phil Jackson, Julie Clawson/Emerging Women, Christian Community Development Association, John Perkins, Urbana, second generation Asian churches, Eugene Cho/Quest, Mosaic

Monastic: Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way, Rutba House, InnerChange, Karen Sloan, Order of Mission, Order of the Mustard Seed, Servant Partners, Urban Neighbors of Hope, Word Made Flesh, Scott Bessenecker's The New Friars, Global Urban Trek, Mission Year

And if all that isn't enough, Scot McKnight also identified five streams of the emerging church: Prophetic/provocative, Postmodern, Praxis-oriented, Post-evangelical and Political. I won't bother to summarize the article because everybody should read it. (I think Scot is also working on a book on this topic.)

All of this is encouraging. All of these movements and ministry efforts are contemporary expressions of the church's ongoing work of reformation and renewal. Evangelical Christianity is widely diverse, with fascinating things happening in various corners, tribes and subcultures. And in an overall 1 Corinthians 12 ecclesiology, all of them are important parts of the body, doing different things to help the church be what it's supposed to be. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What do emergents and new Calvinists have in common?

I just read Collin Hansen's new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, which grew out of his 2006 Christianity Today article on the phenomenon. He opens the book by talking about how when he started at CT, the emerging church was all the rage, but he found himself noticing a different kind of young movement that paralleled it but offered a distinctive counterpoint. So Collin chronicled the emergence of the neo-Calvinists, a generation of young adults who are passionate about Reformed theology and avid followers of John Piper, Albert Mohler, Mark Driscoll and the like.

What's interesting to me about Collin's book is that despite the fact that the new Calvinists and emergent folks might seem poles apart in many ways, they do share a common concern - that contemporary evangelicalism is not what it ought to be. Both critique evangelical Christianity for being shallow, ahistorical, more focused on pragmatic issues than authentic spirituality and transformation. Both communities are calling the church to recover its heritage, the depth and breadth of Christian theology and worship, with a keen eye to missional ministry in this postmodern world, to the glory of God.

Of course, John Piper and Doug Pagitt, while both Minnesotan pastors, have somewhat different visions for the church. And Mars Hill (Seattle, Mark Driscoll) is a different kind of church from Mars Hill (Grand Rapids, Rob Bell). But for all the differences, I think folks on all sides can charitably affirm that everybody wants Christianity to be more faithful, more vibrant, more missional than it currently is.

What's also interesting to me is that both communities claim underdog status. Many emergent Christians feel like persecuted minorities in their churches or denominations. And new Calvinists often think of themselves as the righteous remnant in a morass of nominal Christianity. I was fascinated by Collin's chapter on Calvinism among the Southern Baptists. I don't move in Southern Baptist circles much, so it was news to me that Southern Baptist churches are splitting over the issue of Calvinism, which many Baptists see as wrongheaded. New Calvinists are actually experiencing criticism similar to what emergents are getting from non-emergents, being labeled as heretics and having their theology ruled out of bounds. It seems that emergents and new Calvinists would be sympathetic to each other's challenges!

So here's my question - are these different tribes and subcultures just doing different things in different corners of the church, and never the twain shall meet (except to denounce each other every once in a while), or are there opportunities for fruitful collaboration between the two, for the benefit of evangelical Christianity overall? At risk of making gross overgeneralizations, it seems to me that different groups bring different things to the table. Emergents are great at asking questions and challenging the way things have been done. They're willing to reexamine everything in pursuit of a better way. New Calvinists have a passionate zeal for knowing God, understanding Scripture, and a particular appreciation for historical theology. Emergents can help new Calvinists temper their zeal with a bit of epistemic humility. New Calvinists can help emergents to appreciate the historical tradition and not reinvent the wheel.

Maybe both communities will blast me for this post (people in the middle get shot at by both sides), but as a moderate centrist evangelical who reads both Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog and Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds blog, I have to think that there are others like me that would like to see more fruitful collaboration and dialogue on all sides.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Radical idea: Buying only what you need

Somehow this makes news: "Consumers are buying what they need." Here's a summary report:
General retail sales in March were the worst in 13 years as consumers concentrated on "buying what they need," as Jennifer Black, head of an eponymous equity research company told the New York Times.

Reflecting a focus on the basics and low prices, sales at Costco and Wal-Mart stores open at least a year rose 7% and 0.7%, respectively, while most other stores reported declines. For example, comp-store sales at Target were off 4.4%, at Penney down 12.3% and at Kohl's off 15.5%. Even some higher-end retailers were down: Saks was off 2.9% and Nordstrom fell 9.1%.

So what happens if people only buy what they actually need? The economy collapses, because it's based on us all buying unnecessary stuff? So sad.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wheaton Theology Conference: Kevin Vanhoozer on the Trinity and Scripture

I was at the Wheaton Theology Conference last week, and this year's theme was "Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry." As usual, there was a wide range of interesting presentations. Keynoting this year was Kevin Vanhoozer, who took up the task of relating the two components of the Evangelical Theological Society's doctrinal basis, that God is Trinity and that Scripture is inerrant. Vanhoozer argued that though these two foundations might seem disparate at first glance, in actuality, a trinitarian theology of "Scripture as triune discourse" is the best way of understanding the truth of Scripture.

Vanhoozer explored how all three persons of the Trinity are at work in Scripture. He unpacked Scripture as divine rhetoric, that the classical components of rhetorical communication (ethos, logos, pathos) correspond with Father, Son and Spirit. Ethos is the divine character of Scripture. Logos is the covenantal content of Scripture. Pathos is the persuasive power of Scripture rightly interpreted.

Vanhoozer used a baseball analogy (as did Tony Jones last year). What provides "home run power" - is it the bat, or the batter's swing? Both, of course. Vanhoozer likens Scripture, the written Word of God, as the bat, and the triune God speaking through it as the batter. So the statements "Scripture is true" and "the living God speaks truly through Scripture" are not necessarily equivalent statements. The first focuses on the bat, whereas the second focuses on the batter.

In Q&A, someone asked Vanhoozer whether the word "inerrant" is still useful, or if we should prefer to simply speak of the "truth" of Scripture rather than its "inerrancy." (As folks like Roger Olson have argued elsewhere, the terms "inerrant" and "inerrancy" are often problematic and more confusing than helpful.) Vanhoozer had a nice response, pointing out that yes, "inerrancy" was a term used that was particularly meaningful in the various debates of the 1940s and 50s, and that it is still valuable for affirming Scripture by what it negates (just as the word "infinite" affirms a characteristic by what it negates, that it is "not finite"). And Vanhoozer said something to the effect of how instead of automatically affirming (or denying) the use of the word "inerrancy," it's usually better to find out what people mean (or don't mean) by it first.

This is pretty sensible, but I personally think it's better to simply say that Scripture is true and to let truth be the guiding understanding of Scripture. Especially since "inerrant" isn't a biblical word. We can be fully biblical in describing Scripture with terms that Scripture itself uses, like "God-breathed" or "living and active" or "cannot be broken" and the like. But "inerrant" seems to claim something about Scripture that Scripture does not necessarily claim about itself, especially in how folks tend to use it or perceive the term today.

At any rate, Vanhoozer argued that "the Trinity is our Scripture principle," and offered these three theses:

- On the nature of Scripture: The Bible is a gracious word, a self-communicating work of triune love.
- On the authority of Scipture: The Bible is a truthful word, a knowledge-giving work of triune light.
- On the interpretation of Scripture: The Bible is a sanctifying word, a freeing work of triune life.

I really like these, and how they connect the work of Father, Son and Spirit to different aspects of what Scripture is and does. I like that this moves beyond a discussion of Scripture as "inerrant" (as if it's simply some static artifact) but instead looks at God's dynamic work in Scripture, in grace, truth and sanctification. Yes, Scripture is "inerrant," if you still want to use the term - but it's so much more. It's a gracious, truthful, sanctifying Word of the triune Father, Son and Spirit.

By the way, the proceedings from last year's conference are now in print in the book Ancient Faith for the Church's Future (IVP, naturally). While all of the essays are valuable and should be of interest to various folks, I particularly recommend Jason Byassee's chapter "Emerging from What, Going Where? Emerging Churches and Ancient Christianity," which provides a thoughtful analysis and balanced critique of contemporary emerging/Emergent folks from Mark Driscoll's "neo-fundamentalism" to Doug Pagitt (who Byassee notes as presenting a "surprisingly modern" approach and "confidence in modern progress" despite self-describing as "post-Protestant" and aligning with postmodern sensibilities). I highly commend the essay and the whole book.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Suburbia's midlife crisis

A commenter pointed me to this recent Boston Review article which, interestingly enough, starts out talking about my home county of DuPage County here in the western Chicago suburbs. He writes that "urban decline moves to the suburbs":
A few months ago, about 125 leaders from religious institutions, civic organizations, and social service groups met at Etz Chaim synagogue in the town of Lombard, in DuPage County, to wrestle with a new reality: a budget crisis. Budget crises are not supposed to happen in places like west suburban DuPage. It is home to nearly one million souls and more than 600,000 private sector jobs. It boasts a median income of $70,000, one of the highest in the nation. And yet the county, strapped for cash, was threatening to cut convalescent services, veterans’ services, housing assistance, breast cancer screening, and many other essential public functions.

. . . DuPage is not alone, of course. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, in Bergen and Essex and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, in almost every mature suburb in the northeast and Midwest and mid south, families face these same conditions. A Roman Catholic pastor I met in Nassau County described it as suburbia’s midlife crisis. It may be part of America’s midlife crisis as well.

This says something about how current economic conditions are affecting our suburban context. It has been over half a century since the initial mid-20th-century suburban boom, so while newest suburbs continue to grow and expand, older suburbs are hitting midlife crisis and decline. For many decades, counties like DuPage have had high levels of development, investment and prosperity. Counties have gotten used to certain amounts of growth and income. But now things are tapering off because counties are running out of land for new development, and previous levels of investment, income and spending are becoming unsustainable. As new suburbs/exurbs become new cities, old suburbs become old cities, with similar challenges of adapting to new economic realities.

So as local governments face increasing costs, expect to see more budget cuts of various services that may make life more difficult for our suburban neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This may well become an opportunity for the church to partner with the nonprofit sector, as churches find ways to meet needs and minister to people that are falling through the cracks.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kingdom Sightings: A Multifaceted Gospel

My column for the April 2008 issue of Christianity Today is now available online. It has already received a number of comments, both pro and con. And the back-and-forth between commenters is also very interesting, as it highlights how people have very different perspectives on this.

I chose to write on this topic as something of an unofficial tie-in to this year's Christian Vision Project theme on the gospel, which poses the simple question, "Is our gospel too small?" The project has already generated some thoughtful reflections from Richard Mouw, Scot McKnight and others. Check them out. At any rate, here's part of my article:

A Multifaceted Gospel

Why evangelicals shouldn't be threatened by new tellings of the Good News.

At the 2006 Ancient Evangelical Future conference, historian Martin Marty commented briefly on the Atonement theories proposed by the early church. Did the church fathers hold to penal substitution, Christus Victor, or Anselm's view of the Atonement? Yes. All of the above.

Panelists pressed Marty to declare one view or another the "right" one. Whatever one thinks, he responded, the reality is that the church held to multiple versions.

The same is true today, in evangelical thinking about the nature of the gospel. . . . Some focus on a change of heart, mind, or direction; others major on judgment or conviction of sin. Some speak about the promise of new life, now and eternally; others stress individual transformation or societal and cosmic renewal. We need all of the above.

[The full article is available here. And by the way, I blogged some time ago about the Martin Marty talk that I reference in the column; that post is available here, and it unpacks further what Marty said at the conference and my own take and application of it.]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wuthnow on twentysomething life: Young adults lack support systems

The April 2008 issue of Martin Marty's Context newsletter has this thought-provoking excerpt from Robert Wuthnow's important new book After the Baby-Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion:
"The evidence suggests overwhelmingly that young adulthood is a time when other social institutions fail to be of much help. . . . [As a culture] we provide day care centers, schools, welfare programs, and even detention centers as a kind of institutional surround-sound until young adults reach age 21, and then we provide nothing. Schooling stops for the vast majority, parents provide some financial assistance and babysitting but largely keep their distance, and even the best congregation-based youth groups or campus ministries no longer apply. Yet nearly all . . . decisions a person has to make about marriage, child-rearing, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function.

"This is not a good way to run a society. No wonder young adults experience stress and confusion, worry that they are not yet capable of behaving like adults, delay settling down, and often make bad decisions about jobs and money. This is not a criticism of young adults themselves. They do the best they can in the absence of much assistance or support.

"We cannot hope to be a strong society if we invest resources in our young people until they are 18 or 20 and then turn them out to find their way entirely on their own. The bits and pieces of support are already there--in family networks, among groups of friends, at singles bars, in day care centers, and even in the workplace. But we have not even begun to recognize the challenges that need to be met."
Perceptive observations, and I think they ring true. This is part of the reason I went on to grad school after graduating from college - I couldn't imagine life outside an educational setting! And I was shellshocked to discover that grad school was completely different from college life, that it lacked the kind of community and relationships that I had experienced in college. It wasn't until I got plugged in to a church singles group in the spring of that first school year that I really started adjusting to life after college. And I fear that too many of our peers never find that kind of community.

I wrote about this briefly in my singles book in my chapter on loneliness and solitude. Many of us experience a quarterlife crisis or what Douglas Coupland called a "mid-twenties breakdown," defined as "a period of mental collapse occurring in one's twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments coupled with a realization of one's essential aloneness in the world." We typically don't fully understand or grieve the losses of exiting college because we're thrown into the "real world," and a lot of folks end up adrift, without community to help them find their way. (I wonder if the success of Facebook is partially due to a sociological need to preserve some virtual sense of collegiate community as folks navigate the real world.)

In the last lines of the above block quote, I find it telling that Wuthnow did not mention the local church in his list. Ministering to recent college graduates and twenty/thirtysomethings is both a challenge and an opportunity, especially for churches in suburban/exurban areas that have an influx of young workers. Many folks who gravitate toward nontraditional churches or leave church entirely do so out of frustration that traditional churches have little in place for young adults. We want to create viable community and support systems for them/us. But the sad thing is not merely that if the church doesn't, other things will fill the vacuum. What's even more sobering is that other social support systems aren't really there, and a whole generation may drift for years as a result.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some upcoming events: Envision '08, suburban seminar

I'm about to begin a round of spring teaching at some local churches and Sunday school classes, and this reminded me to highlight a few upcoming events that I'm speaking at this summer.

This June 8-10 is Envision '08: The Gospel, Politics and the Future, held at Princeton in New Jersey. The conference is described as being "about the power of the gospel to transform the public square. It’s about Jesus and justice, evangelical history and heritage, and practiced theology. It’s about the next one hundred years of the church and its impact on the common good." It has an amazing lineup of speakers, with Miroslav Volf, Randall Balmer, Brenda Salter McNeil, Shane Claiborne, John Perkins, Jim Wallis, Kay Warren, Brian McLaren, Richard Cizik and many more. There are tracks on issues like consumerism, poverty, immigration, earth care and human trafficking. It looks like a great event - they're planning on a thousand people, and registration is just $49 for the first 200 to sign up. (I'm part of a group presentation/panel discussion on the future of the church.)

August 8-9, I'll be in Philadelphia to do a seminar on "The Church and Suburbia." I was invited by Todd Hiestand, pastor at The Well and author of the paper "The Gospel and the God-Forsaken: The Challange of the Missional Church in Suburban America." Todd is passionate about suburban mission and just reserved the domain name for He describes the seminar this way:
“God always shows up in the most God-forsaken places.”
Alan Roxburgh

In some ways, it doesn’t get any more God-forsaken than suburban America. This seminar will take a look at two important topics: Suburbia and the Church. For some people, there is a sentiment that its impossible to really be the church in the ‘burbs. But for others, we believe that this is the place that God has called us. If we are going to stay, we need to ask what it means to “be the church” in a culture that is defined by comfort, consumerism, isolation, wealth, strip malls and hidden poverty.

This one day seminar will focus on the development and culture of suburbia and the opportunities and challenges that this context presents the Church.
So if you're in the Philadelphia area, you can register here; it's just $25. Should be a good time - hope to see some of you there!

Monday, April 07, 2008

In Memoriam: Jon Hassler, 1933-2008

I learned last week that one of my favorite authors, Minnesotan novelist Jon Hassler, has died. He was hailed as "the best novelist we've had of ordinary life in Minnesota," and the New York Times lauded him as "Minnesota’s most engaging cultural export.”

One of my high school English teachers recommended him to us, but it was not until college that I actually started reading his work, beginning with his contemporary classic Staggerford. He provided a far more realistic portrait of small-town Minnesotan life than anything by Garrison Keillor. Furthermore, Hassler was a committed Catholic and wrote with a profound sense of morality and integrity. His characters, while flawed, wrestled seriously with life, faith, right and wrong. One of his most perceptive novels was North of Hope, in which he explores a priest's vocation and relationship with a girl he almost dated back in high school. He also offered a wonderful coming-of-age story in Grand Opening, and a complex love triangle in The Love Hunter. He poked fun at academia in Rookery Blues and The Dean's List, and he meditated deeply on aging in novels like Simon's Night and his latest book, The New Woman. (Hassler just completed a final novel, Jay O'Malley, shortly before his death.)

I met Jon Hassler once at a booksigning at a Twin Cities bookstore some years back. He read from his latest novel and graciously signed several books for me. I now own his complete works, mostly first editions, including his young adult novels, essays and short story collections. He is a treasure, and one of the finest Midwestern novelists of the latter part of the 20th century.

The following are some comments I posted back in 1997 about The Dean's List:
As a displaced Minnesotan, I always enjoy revisiting my home state via the novels of Jon Hassler. Like coming home for the holidays, this book evokes the mixed emotions of anticipation and disappointment, the joy and frustration of renewing relationships with the relatives, and the uncomfortable reality that time takes its toll on the ones we love.

Hassler fans will find in The Dean's List another enjoyable trip to the now-familiar small town of Rookery. But this book is unlike its predecessors in that it may be Hassler's last outing to the Badbattle River valley. Readers may not know that Hassler has Parkinson's disease. And the awareness of his mortality seeps through the pages of this book.

While all of his books are to some degree autobiographical, we see in The Dean's List a greater sense of authorial self-revelation. Leland Edwards, the Icejam Quintet alumnus and now dean of the college, is a frustrated academic-turned-administrator struggling to keep his school above water. He encounters his hero, Richard Falcon, a Frost-esque poet working on his magnum opus. Edwards decides to revitalize the good name of Rookery State by bringing the esteemed poet to campus for a rare reading.

Little does Edwards know that Falcon has his own struggles, not the least of which is the onset of Parkinson's disease. And in these two characters we get a glimpse of Jon Hassler's own plight. Both Edwards and Falcon--and Hassler himself, we might surmise--are fighting to achieve a sense of purpose, meaning, accomplishment and lasting significance at a point in their lives where the clock is ticking and the odds are against them. Will they achieve their goals? Will they complete the tasks that lie before them? And will they be remembered when they are gone?

It is these elements that make this novel an intriguing read. True, it lacks some of the power and beauty of his earlier novels--but this too, is illustrative of the trauma we experience as we approach the end of life. Can we find meaning and significance in our midlife and waning years? This novel provides insights well worth contemplating, from one who well knows what it feels like to be there.

Thanks for all your writing, Jon. I'm glad that your characters will live on through your books, and that you shared the hope of Christian resurrection.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Puritans and pornographers

I came across a striking observation in Os Guinness's The Case for Civility. He cites sociologist Peter Berger as commenting that "America is paradoxically viewed in many parts of the world as a nation of 'Puritans and pornographers.'" Compared to secularized countries like France or other European nations, America seems to be overly religious and moralistic. On the other hand, in the eyes of the Middle East and many traditional cultures, America is hopelessly decadent and immoral. Some see us as sexually repressed, and others see us as sexually obsessed. Both perspectives are probably simultaneously true!

This reminds me of something I heard John Stott say some years back about the human paradox - we are created in God's image and thus have tremendous value, worth and capacity, yet we are thoroughly fallen and corrupt at the same time. Sometimes Christians err on one side or the other, either saying that we are basically pretty good or that we are completely worthless. Stott would have us hold the two in tension and not overemphasize either our value or our depravity. As Luther put it, we are simul justus et peccator - simultaneously saint and sinner. That's not just abstract theological truth. It corresponds pretty well with reality and lived experience.

So it's not merely that American society is divided between different tribes, that some are Puritans and others are pornographers and that these camps are locked in a culture war against each other. No, the truth is more significant than that. It's more that each of us is a mix of Puritan and pornographer. Created in God's image, we really do yearn for holiness and transcendence. And as fallen people, we also all too easily gravitate toward temptation and sin. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it, "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The New Suburbanists

In recent years, there have been all sorts of new things percolating, from the new monasticism of Shane Claiborne to The New Friars by Scott Bessenecker and The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Tony Jones has just released The New Christians, which describes different kinds of approaches to Christianity, and there's also something of a neo-Reformed/New Calvinists movement afoot. In counterpoint, the "New Atheists" like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have been increasingly vocal.

In a completely different realm, for some years now the New Urbanist movement has called for a more sustainable approach to urban planning and land development, with walkable neighborhoods that minimize automobile use and facilitate community and human interaction. Principles of the new urbanism have been applied in suburban contexts, with efforts toward a "new suburbanism" and work being done on "sustainable suburbs."

Well, I seem to be sitting at the convergence of these different worlds. I've been invited to be part of a project that is working toward a new Christian vision for suburbia, both in terms of how the church lives out its faith and practice, as well as how the suburban landscape itself is configured. There's a growing movement of suburban Christians who are dissatisfied with how things are and are thinking creatively about how we can live differently.

At this early stage, there's nothing concrete to announce yet, partly because we haven't quite settled on a good name for all of this. "New Suburbans" sounds like a bunch of new SUVs. "New Suburbanites" is slightly better but a bit generic. "New Suburbanists" has the advantage of paralleling the "New Urbanists," but it lacks any distinctively Christian content.

So we've also been playing around with things that might tie in to the various emerging church movements. "Suburgent" is an interesting possibility because it evokes things like Presbymergent and Anglimergent, and I like that "urgent" is part of the word and adds a sense of urgency to the idea. But the suburban part of it isn't quite as clear, and it could be confused with the already-existing Submergent community. It also sounds like an ad for Subway: "Be suburgent - eat subs now!" Another possibility is "Suburbant" but that struck me as blah - suburban ants? And there was also "Suburbent," which looks misspelled, or like it's about suburban ents, or that the suburbs are bent (which is interesting, but do we want to self-identify as bent?).

It's really hard to come up with a good name! I really like the phrase Missio Dei Suburbia, but that's taken. It might be better to go with something straightforward like "Missional Suburban Christians," but that's a mouthful, and who knows if "missional" will still mean anything in three years?

Another possibility is "post-" something, since there are all these postconservative, postliberal, postmodern, postevangelical things happening. (I'm waiting for the post-emerging/postmergent community to emerge, or demerge, or something.) Is it accurate to call ourselves "post-suburban"? That doesn't seem quite right, because we're still suburban, though we're looking toward a different kind of suburbia. And it would be weird for me to self-identify as a post-suburban Christian - I'd have to change my book title and blog name.

At any rate, interesting things are afoot! If anybody out there has a suggestion for a good name for this movement, let me know - we're very open to ideas. And we hope you'll come and join us!