Does the Emerging Church Mix with Ecumenism? Doug Gay on Remixing the Church

imageI’ve recently read Doug Gay’s excellent new book, Remixing the Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology (SCM, 2011), which I plan to review in full on this blog, in due course.

(In due course means that we are coming to the end of our academic term, and I am even more busy than ever, so my work on this blog tends to fall by the wayside!)

But today I want to focus on one of the aspects of Gay’s work that most excites and intrigues me:

His careful consideration of the relationship between the ecumenical movement and the emerging church.

This relationship is usually overlooked by the people involved with the emerging church, and by the growing band of scholars that is investigating it and trying to understand its wider sociological and theological significance.

But Gay argues that the development of the emerging church wouldn’t have happened without the wider changes in global Christianity which were hastened by the ecumenical movement and the reforms of Vatican II.

Ecumenism, he believes, helped to create a context in which low church Protestants – those most usually credited with ‘founding’ the emerging church – felt freer to critique their own tradition and to experiment with the insights and practices of other Christian traditions.

(For example, think of all the evangelical Protestants you may know whose lives have been so enriched by the practices and outlook of the ecumenical Taize community.)

Gay thinks that the connection with the ecumenical movement is so important, that this is how he chooses to define the emerging church (p. 93-94):

The Emerging Church can perhaps best be understood [and defended] as an irreverent new wave of grassroots ecumenism, propelled from within low church Protestantism by a mix of longing, curiosity and discontent. It is what we in the UK might call DIY ecumenism, constructed by means of a series of unauthorized remixings and emboldened by an (evangelical) ecclesial culture of innovation and experimentation. It is a variant of ecumenism which for the most part is ignorant of the history and protocols of institutional ecumenism, but which ‘frankly might not give a damn’ for them in any case, since it still carries a genetic confidence about remaking the Church and its mission in response to the Spirit’s prompting. Even the language of ecumenism will sound unfamiliar and irrelevant to many of those active within the emerging church conversation, since they were, for the most part, not formed in contexts that used or valued it. My decision to embrace it here as a key identifier may therefore seem strange, but I am increasingly convinced that it may be a fruitful approach, both in terms of seeking to deepen the reflection of those within the conversation as to what we are about and as a way of translating and defending ‘emerging church’ to at least some of its detractors.

I think Gay is on to something by making the connection between ecumenism and the emerging church so explicit. A question for me then is:

If Christians who are involved with the emerging church or with the ecumenical movement become aware of this connection – can this help them to better work together to renew the wider church in our time?

4 thoughts on “Does the Emerging Church Mix with Ecumenism? Doug Gay on Remixing the Church”

  1. Hi gladys
    This is a very practical question that deserves consideration. For myself, I find more and more that I need to just ‘step around’ the ‘gatekeepers’ in the denominations to be able to do something effective. For example, just last weekend, I heard one of the best (and most ‘courageous’ – in the sense of ‘Yes Minister’) sermons I have ever heard on the question of Gay marriage but when I challenged the Rev toward making the church ‘Gay friendly’ he backed off. But there are places of ‘hope’. One I have found is a Counselling organisation affiliated with the same church as above that will work with anyone who is refered to it. There I am able to engage in ecumenical activities even though such a goal is not on the radar screen of the organisers. There I am able to mentor people of every variety. There I am able to engage in social justice’ activities even though none of the organisation’s goals would mention that phrase. It all sounds a bit sneeky, but hey, one has to think on one’s feet when it comes to finding ways to ‘be Jesus’ when faced with the gatekeepers of the Empire. Another thing that I am trying to do is to start Street Pastors here in Southern Australia. From what I can see, this is a very ecumenical organisation. So far I have bowled up the idea to the Rev without response – but I think it might happen. In this situation they do not seem averse to the response that in effect says, ‘You just go away quietly and do it and we will pretend not to notice – unless something goes wrong’. Oh well, one has to work with what one is given.
    Cheers from Down Under

  2. Hi Gladys and Doug
    I greatly appreciate what Doug has done and I think there is undoubtedly some kind of organic connection between the two groups ‘ecumenical’ and ’emergent’ (eg same faces, different places). Indeed, Phyllis Tickles diagram of emergence suggests in its central ‘spiral’ that there will be a lot of denominational cross-over. But (and it is a very small but) would it not be possible to suggest that a stronger link can be made with the rise across the world of a ‘participatory’, ‘egalitarian’ and networked generation that is not interested in the heirarchies that ‘old religion’ needs to maintain to continue to exist as an ‘oppressive’ (Peter Rollins) system. This is postulated in Tony Jones book ‘The Church is Flat- The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church’. I think it is not totally unfair to postulate that ‘most’ of the people interested in the emergent movement are young. However, I don’t know the data and stand ready to be corrected.

  3. Thanks, Lyle …

    I think you are right – the data show that ‘most’ in the emergent movement are young (its historical roots in the US are in a youth-orientated movement, as chronicled in the work of Pagitt and Jones).

    Along with Doug Gay’s book, the Tony Jones book you mention is also on the list for review on this blog. Eventually, eventually! 🙂

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