Dr James Wellman, Professor of American Religion, Culture and Politics at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, has reviewed my latest book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (co-authored with Gerardo Marti), on the Patheos blog.
You can of course read the full review on Patheos, but I have reproduced excerpts from Wellman’s review below.
Readers in the UK and Ireland may be interested in Wellman’s characterisation of Belfast-born Peter Rollins as: ‘the most interesting figure in the entire movement, the most intellectually complex and the most charismatic of these ECM entrepreneurs.’
And while Wellman admits that he remains sceptical about the long-term viability of the Emerging Church Movement, he concludes that ‘Marti and Ganiel respond to the claim that ECM’s are already in a death spiral, and I think they make the case that the movement has legs, of course, time will tell. … In this sense, as a midterm report on a movement, I found it fascinating and stimulating for my own thinking.’
Prof James Wellman on The Deconstructed Church
I have always been suspicious of the concept of an Emerging Church Movement (ECM)—it always feels pretentious in a very unpretentious way—how ironic! So going into reading Marti and Ganiel’s The Deconstructed Church, I took a skeptical lens. And while I found myself questioning the long-term strength of the movement, I am convinced that Marti and Ganiel are on to something. And even if the movement may not last, it puts an interesting focus on the overall strength and condition of global evangelicalism, at least post-evangelicals in America and the United Kingdom. Something is afoot among these post-modern religious entrepreneurs, trying to deconstruct their evangelical tradition without falling into Protestant liberalism, which they equally reject. It is quite an interesting group of “religious individualists” who at the same time are deeply committed to a “cooperative egoism” that both adapts and adopts the creativity of the artist but tries to avoid the arid autonomy of the modernist dilemma. They hope to maintain an egalitarian community where certainty is not sought and hierarchy is avoided at all costs.
The authors look at the ECM in terms of pubs, conferences, web based networks and the neo-monastic movement. Peter Rollins, a Belfast Protestant entrepreneur, becomes the symbol and teller of the ECM story even as he denies being a movement leader. Ganiel, who followed Rollins most closely, understands him very well and has done the primary work on the Ikon movement. In many ways Rollins is the most interesting figure in the entire movement, the most intellectually complex and the most charismatic of these ECM entrepreneurs.
… It is not easy to establish a final picture of what this movement is or could be. Marti and Ganiel are smart in not claiming too much. Piety and practices of the faith are deconstructed and reconfigured and the whole point is to move beyond a creedal faith that becomes a rote affair and loses its dynamism. The fundamentalism of many of these believers’ past is far in the rearview mirror and Jesus is the one leading them into the real world un-sanitized and incarnated in neo-monastic traditions. Monastic traditions, by the way, which neither demand celibacy nor poverty, but are adopted when found convenient or when they feel “right”.
One can be a bit cynical about how these ECM figures poach and pick what they find compelling, living mostly by their wits and abilities to sell their wares on the social networks, but they are trying to be religious individualists in community and this is neither easy nor convenient. I find it admirable at certain levels, though its sustainability seems doubtful.
… At the end of the book, the authors’ do a nice job of setting ECMers in context: they are not evangelicals (at least evangelicals have said so); they are not consumers, even as they try to sale their wares like any good entrepreneur—though no one seems to be getting rich in this group! Marti and Ganiel respond to the claim that ECM’s are already in a death spiral, and I think they make the case that the movement has legs, of course, time will tell. Most of all they are clear that these religious individualists have faced the truth that in our post modern times, there is no choice, that in these times of uncertainty, the religious task is to do bricolage, not for the sake of a denomination or a system of believing, but for the sake of individuals trying to maintain a relation to a world soaked in the diversity of faith systems and constantly facing the shock of diverse perspectives, all the while without lapsing into a kind of boring relativism. In this sense, as a midterm report on a movement, I found it fascinating and stimulating for my own thinking.