Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church

Explanatory note: An abstract I’ve just written, trying to get my head around some future research offerings that I would like to be involved in.

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church
Dr Steve Taylor

Discernment is named by the Apostle Paul as one of the gifts given to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:10). In the tradition of the church, it has at times taken different trajectories, from The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, to the Pentecostal movement, to the Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Howard, 2008), in which it gains an entire chapter of coverage.

One way to understand discernment is to consider it as both a gift and a practice, a charism originating in the grace of God, yet a practice nourish by human skills and capacities. Using this understanding, the performing of discernment can then be analysed.

This paper will analyse attempts at the performance of discernment in relation to ecclesiological innovation, in particular to discerning of the phenomenon termed the “emerging church”. A number of attempts have been made in recent years to discern this phenomenon. Some examples include:

  • Don Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2005.
  • John Drane, “Looking for Maturity in the emerging church,” Mission-shaped Questions. Defining Issues for Today’s Church. Edited by Steven Croft, Church House Publishing, 2008.
  • LeRon Schults, “Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging churches,” Theology Today (January 2009).
  • Kevin Ward, It Might Be Emerging, but Is It Church? Stimulus 17, 4 (November 2009).

This paper will explore a number of these case studies, paying particular attention to the performance of the practice of discernment. What has each attended to? What are the sources being engaged? What might be the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?

The aim of the paper is to provide some analysis of the processes by which discernment happens, to provide some commentary on contemporary ecclesiological developments and to nuance and deepen trajectories surrounding ecclesiological innovation.

Posted by steve at 10:04 AM


  1. Hi mate. As usual with papers you write, it sounds fascinating. Needless I think it’s a critical practice too -especially if congregations are going to learn the skills and practices needful to discern God future and God’s invitations to growth, change, transformation etc amongst them – and beyond them in the context of missional service and engagement. All the best for you upcoming Sarah Coakley presentation. I hope the writing and preparation is going well.

    Comment by Paul Fromont — July 2, 2010 @ 4:49 am

  2. Thanks Paul. Much appreciated,


    Comment by steve — July 2, 2010 @ 9:48 pm

  3. kirsteen kim says in her brilliant book joining in with the spirit that the first act of mission is discernment – what is god doing and how can i join in…

    Comment by jonny — July 2, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

  4. thanks Jonny. this paper made an initial/first appearance in October last year at Tabor College. in that draft, I quoted Kim toward the end, from her book The Holy Spirit in the World. A Global Conversation, Orbis, 2007. Is that the one you are talking about.

    I engage with her categories of discernment, and then applied them to Carson, Schults and Drane. Did they

    1 – Expect to be surprised; quoting Kim, “given the biblical freedom of the Spirit, it is unwise to limit expectations to any particular locus or modus operandi; on the contrary, we should be ready to be surprised by the Spirit.” (166).

    2- integrate with the community, quoting Kim, “Discernment should not be a matter for individual conscience alone, but a community activity.” (167)

    3- be provisional. Discernment can only be practised with regard to concrete situations. And concrete situations, by their very nature, are dynamic. Thus we must commit to a process that is always provisional.


    Comment by steve — July 3, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

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