Also: P.C. has been breaking into Amazon best-seller territory.
Because I suck at time management. It’s tough being a new daddy, husband, have 2.5 businesses, and take graduate-level courses. I’m seeing a life coach friend. I’m getting better–slowly but surely. So here’s my belated entry into the fray.
I feel deeply ambivalent about the talk going ’round, like the kid with a lot of friends whose friends are really really different from each other. One day the kid has a birthday party, and the friends are all under the same roof for the first time…and they ain’t getting along so well. My journey of knowing Jesus led me into house church waters in 1998, and into the pre-emergent discussion in 2001 (back when it was just PoMo Christianity, baby! Who remembers Stranger Things?). I have since felt like the bastard child of both, a hopeful amphibian breathing the air and water of two similar yet distinct movements/phenomena. Of course emerging saints are waaaay more media saavy (new media, old media, all of it) and so have made far more headway into the popular religious imagination and discourse. But now that me pal Frank has graduated from guerilla publishing to real, live publishers, our subterranean wares are being offered in the marketplace of ideas for the first time and eeesh! We’re like that odd gypsy family offering homemade trinkets to snobby European connoisseurs. What to do?
Sigh…I have dear blogger friends on all “sides” of this…I hate that it’s become so divisive. Over the past decade in housechurchland, Frank’s books on a different kind of ecclesial life were always (believe it or not) among the kinder, gentler offerings available. Like the Radical Reformation of old (which gave us Levellers, Diggers, Anabaptists, Quakers, etc…), much early North American house church literature was produced by embattled Christians who felt very disempowered by mainstream ecclesiastical authorities. These extended “tracts” (and that’s often what they were) seethed angst, all the while making many valid points about contemporary church practices and whether or not they resonate with Jesus’ original intent.
I don’t think that the revised “Pagan Christianity” is one such tract. You could, perhaps, argue that the earlier edition was. But Frank has grown since then, and changed. He embraces a more generous orthodoxy. Frank appreciates past and contemporary Roman Catholic mystics; he is a genuine conversation partner with this wild and crazy ride we call “emergent/ing.” Sure he might be passionate and use rather absolutist language at times, but you can’t fit him in a fundamentalist box…not really.
While not everything in Pagan Christianity is as I would have written it (and let’s face it–it’s easy to be armchair critics…have you ever written a full-length book? I’m finishing up my first one, and even co-authored it’s a bear!), I think that Frank is doing an important work that even Jack would appreciate–he’s deconstructing one of the most powerful institutions the world has ever known, and asking if there’s an alternative path.
Bob H, Michael S., Robby–I have nothing but respect for you, I hope you know that. You’re living out your life and calling in faithfulness and as best you know how–as am I, in a clergy-less, open and participatory house church. I would only ask that everyone–friend and foe of this book alike–will pause for a moment and consider: In my Foresight Program, I am learning a ‘systems thinking’ approach to seeing the world. One thing about systems—they’re everywhere, and we each simultaneously are in one, are one, and have sub-systems within our very bodies. When looking at dysfunctional reality from a Systems perspective, we’re encouraged to do something which at first seems counter-intuitive: focus on the system itself, rather than blaming the character of those within the system, or chalking up the systems’ failure to some vague, nebulous forces outside it. Similarly, we should own up to the possibility that our present church system might be the (or at least a) problem in our present breakdown of faith. It’s not that we have bad pastors, or bad ‘laypeople.’ And it’s not that the new atheism or Islam or Buddhism is picking off our best and our brightest. It could be that the system itself is sick, and needs thorough metanoia and rebirth.
When a Peter Rollins or a Doug Pagitt comes along and heavily critiques some aspect of traditionalist Christian dogma or theology—a thought system–most of us applaud. (I know I do.) We consider it spiritually courageous and intellectually brave and want to rethink epistemology, atonement, or what have you, accordingly. So why do we then react so viscerally when someone aims similar deconstructive queries to church-as-institution—a praxis system?
It could be that many of you reject the puritan impulse, the glassy-eyed nostalgia which longs for some ecclesial golden age. Understandable. I do too. And in my early days of house churching (not to mention my early days of being Pentecostal nearly 20 years ago, and my flirtations with Messianic Judaism…), this was precisely a main motivation–to get back to the way it ‘really oughta be.’ But my reasons for practicing church as I do have evolved, I think–and I’d venture to say Frank’s have too. Before you assume he’s advocating a rigid, absolutist, proof-texted New Testament dictatorship as an alternative to culturally compromised Christianity, read again. If he does, it’s absent from Pagan itself. As to what Frank practices and positively articulates, I’m looking forward to seeing his growing/changing thoughts in the summer release Reimagining Church. I hope that we can leave primitivist romanticism behind, while retaining a real and healthy respect for the peculiar genius (even organizational genius) of Jesus and his earliest apprentices.
From what I’ve gathered, a great many Christians not involved in our ’emerging conversation’ have found Pagan Christianity to be quite helpful as a historical sketch looking at the origins of various (mostly Protestant) church practices. They’ve been able to see where steeples or dressing up for church has come from, and have then been able to evaluate whether these practices are helpful and edifying for their spiritual journey, or not. Interestingly, emerging church readers seem to be more sensitive to the discussion than the yeoman “guy in the pew” not in our enlightened masses. And so–without disrespect to any who have genuinely struggled with (or even felt hurt by) the book, I’d propose that maybe we can re-examine our unwritten ‘script’ of who we allow in our ‘conversation’–do they really have to talk and write a certain way, to quack and waddle just like we do? I hope not. The North American house church movement is emerging from its fundamentalist roots, and they desperately want some open-minded conversation partners. But they might get loud and passionate, use terms like “Praise The Lord” and “Amen” without irony, and talk like they walked of the pages of the New American Standard Bible. (Maybe one day they’ll forgive us emergers for sounding like art students dropping acid.) But like emerging church folk, they have been reexamining their faith for 5, 10, or even 40 years. The house church movement needs you, emerging church brethren and sistren. Please keep the possibility of dialogue open.