Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deep Church

The idea of "deep church" has been getting a lot of traffic lately. However, is this term really any more helpful than emerging/ent or missional? The meaning of these terms are far from self-evident. In fact these terms have insider meaning (usually positive) and outsider meaning (usually negative). I don't think the answer is ditching the effort to name things - but rather recognizing that there are two legitimate components of all these names. First there is a core common phenomenon that folks are trying to name and second these terms are artificial creations with artificial meaning(s) attached by everyone who uses them.

The common phenomenon is the attempt to deal with cultural relevance. Guder's Missonal Church is a great touchstone on this one. The reality is that the models and modes of being church are not as functional in the West as they used to be. There are complex reasons for this. And the reality is that different practitioners have different answers and see different issues as primary concerns. It is important to recognize that even entrenchment into tradition is a response to this phenomenon. Adaptation is a feature of the church that has enabled it to survive and even thrive for 2000 years now. And to be sure most of this adaptation has had faithfulness to the gospel front and centre (at least that aspect of the gospel that was dominant in that moment of history).

This tendency for adaptation means that the practitioners are having an involved and inside conversation involving their specific context(s), ecclesial background and hopes for the church. Because this often occurs with little critical reflection (it is a practical and incipient activity) the language that arises is insider language. The big problem with insider language is the ease at which it is misinterpreted by outsiders - especially outsiders who read the conversation partners in different ways. Take the knee jerk reaction of most anti-emergent books, articles and websites as a prime example. What is needed really is not polemics, but concentrated study. Especially in terms of differentiating the aspects of this phenomenon. Personally I see this an opportunity for academics to step into the conversation, not to give their opinions on how it should be, but to help define what is going on in ways that are helpful, accurate and harder to misunderstand as an outsider.

What this means is that the attempts to adapt in our generation(s) should be submitted to a high degree of examination. What this does not mean is that we should simply assume the worst. I would dare say we should expect the best - and I dare say that in the multitude of options we are bound to find it. It doesn't mean these terms will work for you, but perhaps we can get past the tendencies to simply conflate emerging, deep, missional with some fictitious attack on the church.


steven hamilton said...

i like your take...

and speaking of deep chruch, i am participating a several weeks of conversation on jason clark's deep church blog...the first two posts are up, so check the re-imagining the holy spirit conversations if you have time:


One of Freedom said...

Nice! I'll have to mosy on over there.

Jeremiah said...

What is our obsession with naming things? I had a friend that would come home from seminary every few months with a new, twelve-letter, thrice-hyphenated, psuedo-denomination that he defined himself as. I get that it helps up catagorize in some cases, but to take your example: deep church...how does that help? Thanks for bringing it up.