As discussed in a previous blog post, last month I spoke at Peter Rollins’ Holy Ghosts event in Belfast. Holy Ghosts was described as “a carefully curated festival of ideas,” and featured lectures, discussions, music, and film.
The title of my talk was “Questions that Haunt Emerging Christianity.” It was based in part on my new book, co-authored with Gerardo Marti and published this month, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Oxford University Press). This included descriptions and definitions of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM), as I outlined in Part I of this series of posts.
The second part of my talk focused on the significance of Peter Rollins’ and the Belfast-based Ikon collective to the wider ECM, and the importance of the Northern Ireland context to both Rollins and Ikon.
These themes are also explored in an article written by myself and Gerardo and published this month in the new Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions:
“Northern Ireland, America and the Emerging Church Movement – Exploring the Significance of Peter Rollins and the Ikon Collective.”
While I originally planned to discuss both Ikon and Rollins in this post, I’ve decided to focus today on Ikon and return to Rollins in a third and final post.
The Significance of Ikon
Of course, I acknowledged that most people from Ikon did not identify with the ECM. Indeed, I found some were bemused that so many people seemed to assume the collective was “emerging.”
But the fact remains that Ikon is talked about in terms of the ECM, by both insiders and outsiders. I would hazard a guess that Ikon is discussed more in the United States than in Northern Ireland now. Much of this is down to Rollins’ more recent visibility on the American scene, and his frequent referral back to Ikon in his work (for example, the descriptions of Ikon events in How (Not) to Speak of God).
For me, that signals that Ikon is at the very least in conversation with the ECM (like it or not!). And Ikon pushes the ECM further than it is willing to go in many cases, especially in the US.
So from its position on the margins of the ECM, Ikon pushes it through:
- The practice of “transformance art,” which produces gatherings that are often darker and more unsettling than typical ECM gatherings in the US
- The deliberate rejection of identifying as a “church” or even a “community,” thus forcing people to take responsibility for their own spiritual quests and for the welfare of others
- The quest for a “leaderless” structure
- The quest for a “religionless” expression of Christianity
What is important for Ikon is that “religionless Christianity” helps people to live after the “death of God”, or to live even as if there were no God. This means participating in gatherings where the failures of humanity and the darkness of crucifixion, doubt and abandonment by God are unflinchingly explored – and where people are urged to love and help one another rather than to hold out for God’s magical, cosmic deliverance, or the intervention of a cleric or senior pastor.
Such pushing leads to all kinds of uncomfortable dilemmas, especially for those in “leadership” positions in churches — which included many of those attending Holy Ghosts. People spoke of an attendee from the previous year, whose grappling with such questions had led to a decision to leave paid Christian ministry.
Such a decision isn’t “the answer” for everyone, of course. Indeed, another lesson to be pondered from studying Ikon is that each emerging collective or gathering is unique to its context and depends on the creativity and the skills of the people who participate. How leadership, community, relationships, etc. manifest in emerging groups will of course vary. But it takes some courage to experiment with these new models of “religionless Christianity.”