The Deconstructed Church Reviewed in Religion by Stephen Fouse

DSC05229There’s been another review of my latest book, co-authored with Gerardo Marti, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Oxford 2014), written by Stephen Fouse of Missouri State University and published in the academic journal Religion.

I reproduce some excerpts from the review below, which can be read in full on my profile.

The Deconstructed Church Reviewed by Stephen Fouse in Religion

In 2006, sociologist James Spickard published an article entitled, ‘What is Happening to Religion? Six Sociological Narratives.’ In this article, Spickard summarized various theories that attempt to explain the changes of Western religion, including each theory’s strengths and weaknesses. The fourth of these narratives Spickard calls ‘Religious Individualism,’ which he describes as ‘a fundamental shift in the locus of religion from organizations to individuals’ (Spickard 2006, 20). This explanation of religion states that individuals now feel free to blend various religious traditions and practices in a way that was previously uncommon and to create for themselves a set of religious beliefs and practices that are meaningful and unique to themselves. In The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel employ Spickard’s fourth narrative as a lens through which the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) becomes clear. Through a masterful blend of survey data, interviews, and on-site observations, Marti and Ganiel offer a meaningful description and explanation of the ECM for students already familiar with the Emerging Church.

… [The chapter titled] ‘Understanding Emerging Christianity’ synthesizes the book and reiterates Marti and Ganiel’s argument that ‘Emerging Christianity is a religious orientation centered on individualization’ (164). In this concluding chapter, Marti and Ganiel argue that such individualization is not simply self-obsession, but rather a necessary step to translate modern faith systems into a postmodern context. The ECM is not evangelicalism rehashed, another version of liberal Protestantism, even more religious consumerism, or a passing fad that may already be gone. For the authors, the example of religious individualization found among Emerging Christians is the best application of Christianity to the emerging global society.

Overall, The Deconstructed Church provides a skillful blend of personal interviews, important survey data, and ethnographic scene-setting that orients the reader to the Emerging Church. Whereas some academic works rely too heavily on ethnography or elicit frequent eye-glazing through over-reliance on statistics and numbers, Marti and Ganiel utilize these tools in measure without overuse of any. Ethnographic research is tempered well by scholarly insights and sprinkled with relevant and meaningful statistical data, and the work of the most prominent primary sources gives the knowledgeable reader an orientation and focus for the discussions at hand. Perhaps more importantly than the skilled presentation, Marti and Ganiel introduce the theoretical framework of religious individualization as a means of understanding the Emerging Church. Throughout the book, the authors utilize Spickard’s narrative of religious individualization to reject several theories about the ECM, to evaluate Emerging Church practices such as preaching and preference of ‘church-ish’ but not ‘church-y’ meeting spaces, as well as provide understanding for the Emerging values of pluralism, conversation, and the importance of both the individual and the community.

For those familiar with the Emerging Church and its primary leaders and contributors, The Deconstructed Church will breeze past basic information to delve into the philosophies of the Emerging Church and one means by which it can be understood. Conversely, those unfamiliar with the Emerging Church and the works of such authors as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and Peter Rollins may find themselves without a proper introduction to the source material. Marti and Ganiel have chosen to footnote some important foundational understandings of the ECM in favor of giving readers a means of understanding the ECM itself. This means that, in spite of an accessible writing style and blend of survey and interview data, newcomers to the study of the Emerging Church and its authors and teachings may find themselves buried early on. The index provides a bit of relief to this problem, but a lack of knowledge of the primary sources may mean this work is not the best introduction to the subject of the ECM. For those looking for one book to introduce the subject, The Deconstructed Church may not be the best selection. For those looking to expand and perhaps synthesize their study of the Emerging Church or even Evangelicalism or Progressive Christianity, The Deconstructed Church will provide a bridge to connecting Protestant Studies to an understanding of the ECM. For those well versed in the ECM or those familiar with Protestantism who hunger for the application of theory to the Emerging Church, this book will be a valuable resource.

The Deconstructed Church offers a synthesis of ideas surrounding the Emerging Church, and most importantly, the application of a well-known theory of religion to a hotly contested sect of Protestantism. While not advised as an introduction to the subject, this book provides helpful analysis and presents the best scholarship on the Emerging Church. For someone interested in an introduction to the Emerging Church, this book might provide too little background and foundational material to be particularly helpful. For students of the ECM, this book will provide a beneficial theoretical framework with which to view and understand the Emerging Church and its participants. With such apt usage of Spickard’s theory of religious individualism, this book will be of interest to those versed in the Emerging Church and students of religious theory.

One thought on “The Deconstructed Church Reviewed in Religion by Stephen Fouse”

  1. Is ‘religious individualization’ Christian? Need it necessarily be Christian? Does it need a ‘Church’?

    Are ‘Emerging Christians’ emerging from a Christian Church into ‘religious individualism’?

    Is there presently a Church of ‘Emerging Christians’?

    Are followers of any other religion at a similar stage of evolution?

    Have followers of any other religion recently passed through a similar phase of evolution?

    Judaism evolved from older eastern religions. Christianity and Islam evolved from Judaism. So where are ‘Emerging Christians’ now heading?

    Dennis Golden

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