I’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: