Tuesday, August 03, 2004

culture and the emerging church

G wrote: I would love to hear your thoughts about the emerging church and hauerwas, and also the “counter-culture” or “culmination-culture” motif, or whatever alternative you are working with.

Hauerwas offers a strongly counter-cultural approach, using the community as an alternative place from which to challenge culture.

I find it idealistic and unrealistic. It seems to me that people live in multiple communities; not only church communities but work, interest groups. Thus to offer the church as an alternative community seems too pure, to unconnected, to the multiple layering of most people lives. It also tends toward isolation and withdrawal from culture, an approach which tends to minimize Incarnation. The emerging church values creation and Incarnation and thus is seeking to work with a more culturally engaged approach.

For me, I have found the model of DJ-ing culture helpful and I use this in my (forthcoming) book. The DJ samples from multiple places, and lives in a symbiotic relationship with a community, who give authenticity to the DJ mix.

This approach recognises the multiple worlds we live in, and allows us to take different approaches to different dimensions of our culture. For example, we might buy a car, but use it less and to transport a disadvantaged person. Thus we are using the culture, but mixing in an “environmental” and “social justice” ethic.

So I think we need a DJ approach to culture; sampling, always in relationship to a community, because where 2 or 3 are gathered, Christ is among us. Our use of culture is “processed” in the Spirit-discerning community.

I guess there are some parallels to Hauerwas in the importance of community, but in a multiple (DJ) way that respects the complexity and fluidity of our lives and our cultures.

G, I hope that offers some answer to your questions. Too much more and my book publishers might come calling.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM


  1. I need to think some more about this…I’ve always seen value in the Hauerwas / Willimon notion of “resident aliens” hmmmmmmmm. Thanks for your perspective…as always you’ve got me thinking…

    Comment by Paul Fromont — August 3, 2004 @ 8:58 am

  2. steve, thanks for getting back to my question. I also have found Hauerwas very helpful in calling the Church back to the vocation of being the Church, instead of lossing itself in the World, esp. the world of capitalism.

    However, I am beginning to find the talk of missions as connected with the emerging church increasingly problematic. 1) we don’t live in a real culture but a faked one. Capitalism has ready-made cultural products, but not a real culture to be missionaly oriented toward, at least in the West. 2) In a post-Christian culture, rather than pre-Christian and therefore missionary, the issues is just as much faithfulness as it is missions.

    But since I’m not publishing a book (at least not yet) here is link to what my thoughts that prompted steve’s response.

    Comment by Geoff Holsclaw — August 3, 2004 @ 1:32 pm

  3. when’s the book coming out? Looking forward to reading it

    Comment by phil — August 3, 2004 @ 3:48 pm

  4. Phil, book is due out January. Yee ha.

    Comment by steve — August 4, 2004 @ 7:44 am

  5. I think the point with Hauerwas – and those who espouse a similar position – is that though we inhabit many different communities (in many different ways), the community of Christ takes precedence.

    The communities we inhabit shape us and vice-versa. And an incarnational approach insists on being culturally engaged *and* prophetically counter-cultural. So I don’t see that Hauerwas’ approach necessarilly leads to isolationism any more than a culturally-engaged approach leads to godless syncretism.

    Comment by graham — August 4, 2004 @ 8:29 pm

  6. I would tend to agree with graham

    Comment by Geoff Holsclaw — August 5, 2004 @ 12:07 am

  7. The Haeurwas term “resident alien” is at odds with a doctrine of creation – God’s good earth – and with the image of Revelation of heaven come to earth. This place is our home.

    It is also at odds with 1 Peter, where alien needs to be read in the exilic tradition of Jeremiah 19:5ff; eat, build, marry, live.

    We don’t have a global culture, we have global cultures, and the DJ image frees us to deal with the sheer complexity and multiplicity of life.

    When you work 60 hours a week, graham’s claim that the church community takes precedence sounds a bit thin, and so we need to find ways to fund this practically. Why can’t the DJ ‘sample’ developed in community be played on MP3 in the subway?

    Comment by steve — August 5, 2004 @ 11:39 am

  8. But you’re at odds with the old negro spiritual – ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’ 😉
    Within the story there seems, for Christians, to be a tension of being at home yet not at home. SInce we’re so into taking the image of the incarnation as a model of mission, let’s take it a little further. The logos was said to have skainos’d amongst us. skainos as tent gives the impression of semi-permanence. Jesus himself showed such semi-permanence, so if we’re going to use his incarnation for all its worth, why don’t we use his temporariness also? The scribe of Hebrews conveys this tension well…particularly in ch11. Being brought up brethern and therefore dispensationally, the gnostic ‘flee the earth’ approach was the norm, however, I’m still not prepared to jettison it entirely because it still seems subtely embedded in the story. Rev does talk about the New Jerus descending, but only after the first heaven and earth are scrubbed?? Likewise, 2 Peter 3 tends in a similar direction. This makes sense to me, because feeling too at home leads to complacency and rushing on leads to you behaving like a lunatic and writing books called ‘Left Behind’ etc. Good conversation though…thanks Steve et al.

    Comment by Si Johnston — August 9, 2004 @ 10:12 pm

  9. How is the term ‘resident alien’ not scriptural?

    I actually work more than 60 hours a week and I need for the community of Christ to take precedence if I am going to work those 60 hours as a disciple.

    Comment by graham — August 9, 2004 @ 10:37 pm

  10. Graham, I don’t think you read my comment properly – I didn’t say that resident aliens was not scriptural. Rather I said that it’s use (in relation to Hauerwas) needs to be read critically in light of a doctrine of creation and of eschatology.

    Comment by steve — August 11, 2004 @ 3:59 pm

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