Ryan Bolger’s The Gospel After Christendom Book Review–Part 3

beanToday is the third and final post taking in my review of Ryan Bolger’s edited collection, The Gospel After Christendom. In my first two posts, I provided a general outline review, and then descriptions of three of the chapters I found most useful.

In today’s post, I focus on three more of my favourite chapters. Again, I recommend the book as a solid introduction to the Emerging Church Movement, one that has an admirable international scope. While some of the chapters have a more ‘confessional’ or ‘evangelistic’ thrust than I am accustomed to in sociological treatments of religion, these provide some valuable insights.

Chapter 18: The Underground – The Living Mural of a Hip-Hop Church by Ralph Watkins.

In his comparison of hip-hop church The Underground with his home church, FAME, Watkins shows what a church operating outside traditional religious “systems” looks like. Like the music genre that is its inspiration, The Underground (and other hip-hop churches) “do not need the system” (p. 233). In this, The Underground reminded me of Kester Brewin’s adaptation of the anarchist concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs) – spaces where people can subvert stifling systems by creating spaces outside of them. I was also struck by how important it is that hip-hop churches are embedded in cultures that are not usually associated with the predominantly white middle class culture of the ECM. As Watkins writes (p. 238):

“Churches that embrace the ethos of hip-hop, which comes out of inner-city poverty, are poised theologically to give back. It is a movement that looks outward at those the society has forgotten, because the forgotten are the ones who birthed hip-hop in the first place.”

It’s also refreshing to see Watkins’ enthusiasm in the video below, where he urges people to get their hands on a copy of The Gospel after Christendom.

Chapter 19: Bykirken (The City-Church) by Andreas Osterlund Nielsen.

Nielsen’s chapter is fascinating because it tells the story of a “failed” experiment – if failure is measured by the fact that Bykirken no longer exists. Bykirken met in a restaurant in Aarhus, Denmark, and was transformative in the lives of people who attended. But Nielsen is very honest about the reasons why it wound up, admitting his own mistakes as a pastor and describing how the group resorted to navel-gazing. As he says (p. 243):

“… we tended to become a small, inward-looking group of people doing church in a way we really liked.”

Chapter 25: Urban Abbey – The Power of Small, Sustainable, Nimble Micro-Communities of Jesus by Kelly Bean.

Bean recounts the journey of Urban Abbey in Portland, Oregon, including how it was established and functions today. She provides perspective on her internal struggles, as well as the challenges of living well as a community of diverse people. Casting herself as “the dreamer,” she writes in a stylized “once upon a time” format, with passages such as (p. 310):

“Despite the denominational and theological hybridity, there was no denying it: in this ethnically diverse neighbourhood they Abbeyites were all white, white as could be. The teenaged son of the dreamer attended a multicultural high school where as a white boy he was an ethnic minority. He enjoyed challenging the Abbeyites, reminding them that their stated values and ideals were somewhat disconnected from this reality.

Following the advice of the wise Dr. [John] Perkins, the dreamer began to attend neighbourhood gatherings and to learn from longtime neighbors. Her dear friend Donna helped by sharing her own experiences and perspective as a black woman in the predominantly white Pacific Northwest. One relationship at a time, one story after another, is how the transformation takes place. The little abbey was open to be taught.”

As such, Bean’s chapter provides valuable insights and inspirations from the perspective of a practitioner.

(Image: Kelly Bean, from Facebook. See also http://www.kelly-bean.com/)

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