Paul writes – Quite provocatively Andrew Perriman makes the following comments in the context of a reflection on the Alpha Course.
“…We should keep in mind, however, that the emerging or postmodern church phenomenon is largely a reaction against the modern evangelical-charismatic movement. It is driven and defined for the most part by people (like me) who have spent 10 or 20 years in this world and have got tired of its contradictions and constraints, and so on. This means that the emerging church is probably not a good entry point into the faith – it has evolved to deal with a quite different set of issues…”
What do you think? Is he right? Or is it again a problem that the term “emerging church” is so amorphous – it can mean so many different things in so many different contexts. For example, often lumped in with “emerging church” are those expressions of church, quite distinct, I would have thought from say Alt-Worship congregations, that emerge (or are the result of renewal and re-vitalisation) from an intentionally “missional” journey. Surely these must provide an entry point into the faith?
That said, it is a subject that plays on my mind, and thus for me prioriterises missional intentionality. If I was, for example, to start a new expression of church from a “clean sheet of paper”, it would inevitability be most appealing to people like me, and would thus reflect a longer journey that started with the basics of Christianity (within the reformed, English puritan, and evangelical / charismatic stream) and while not discarding this foundation, faith has continued to grow and change. I’ve not been involved in a church (in the traditional sense of the word) for 4-years, I’m very very well read (both in terms of breadth and depth), and my sense of church / worship (while remaining sacramental at its heart) is very different from the form of church that introduced me to the faith and enabled me to lay a solid theological foundation upon which to build. But, then growth is not just about rational belief - discipleship is not less than that, but it's a whole lot more than that.
In a very real sense then, if I started a church from scratch, and prioriterised church over mission, I feel pretty certain that Andrew’s statement would prove true – that kind of church (if it was to meet in some measure my own needs of church belonging) would not provide an entry point to the Christian faith without a huge amount of creativity, imagination and intentionality. But then, are established churches any better at making disciples and growing distinctive Jesus-followers. Do they provide better entry points... particularly for the rare person (young adult / adult) who wants to explore Christianity as part of their spiritual search? I'm not sure they do either, so we're back to square one... Do we require different kinds of churches, for example, like Church of the Saviour in Washington DC which was profoundly and creatively engaged in forming people in the faith and making well-rounded followers of Jesus...?
You can read the rest of Andrew’s post here (you might need to scroll down a little). Also, worth a read in relation to the Alpha course is Martyn Percy’s essay “Shopping for God: Production, Consumption and Globalisation” in his collection of essays The Salt of the Earth – Religious Resilience in a Secular Age. Also, S. Hunt’s Anyone for Alpha?...