Thursday, June 22, 2006

Emerging Church and Critical Issues: Part 2

Following is the second installment from "Baptists and the Emerging Church: some critical issues," by Simeon Payne and Philip Johnson from Mosaic. Copyright Mosaic, Payne & Johnson.

Social Change and New Spiritualities
Let's get our bearings straight about societal changes. Firstly, sociologists argue that we live in the age of "he self". Life in the dotcom, 24/7 world is shaped with expectations about work, leisure and relationships that leaves little space for enduring commitments to communal or institutional activities like church. There is little trust in public or corporate entities and decreasing notions of the "common good".

Increasingly many now feel that modern institutions have failed us, and so you have to look inside yourself for truth and values. Over the past twenty years, religion has gone from being a corporate experience to being primarily focused in the individual. It has gone from focusing on doctrine to being focused on what you do. The individual goes within to discover meaning. The shift is from the passive acceptance of what a pastor declares is truth, to do-it-yourself (DIY) spirituality. It is less concerned with reading a sacred text, and much more about experiencing things. It celebrates the self in popular culture but critiques modernity‚s sceptical denial of spirituality.

Sociologists use the term consumer religions when describing the way people now approach spiritual matters. People now shop for spirituality in the same way they would look for a new car or pair of shoes. The emphasis is no longer on product loyalty, nor the empirical facts about the product itself. The emphasis is on how it feels to me at the time. It is the consumer who defines truth ˆ not the retailer. Gone is the era of the authoritative religious leader. It is the consumer who sets the agenda.

Secondly, this is an era of mix and match spirituality. In the spiritual supermarket, you can access a never-ending array of experiences or beliefs. Because there is little "product" loyalty, one is free to sample whatever they might desire; and very often this mix-and-match process removes things from their original context. What matters is what "works" for you. This has led to consumer fads about crystals, angels and the Cabala. There is also a tendency to romanticise the past and to project back into it what the seeker is looking for today. One can take a bit from the east, a bit from the pre-Christian pagan past and top it all off with a bit of indigenous spirituality. As DIY spirituality is consumer driven it is an eclectic leaderless social phenomena.

Within these alternate spiritualities, we have discerned a broad spectrum of positions. There is a distinct "soft end" of the spectrum, which is very consumerist and faddish and pandered to with chic books and trinkets. But there is also a distinct "hard core" - those who are very savvy about the consumerist nature of spirituality and in fact despise its commercialisation. The hard core yearn for depth and integrity to their spirituality.

Tomorrow: Part 3 - Comparing EC and New Age

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