Sunday, October 15, 2006

Burning Man and the Emerging Church

In my last post I provided an excerpt from my Burning Man essay that related its meaning to the contemporary church. In this post I include a section of the essay that engages Burning Man and the emerging church.

The West’s cultural shift to post-modernity has fostered a response from a number of sectors in American society, including evangelicalism, with the rise of the emerging church movement. This is a diverse movement reacting against modernity and trying to express forms of church in a post-modern environment (Gibbs & Bolger, 2005). This movement has strengths and weaknesses, and some of its efforts at engaging post-modern cultures have been more appropriate and successful than others. But permit me to address one glaring blind spot in the movement in its failure to consider the significance of alternative spirituality in post-modernity. Scholars such as Christopher Partridge describe the situation in the West as a form of spiritual re-enchantment in response to a previous process of secularization. Partridge comments on the significance of this re-enchantment and the place the alternative spiritualities play in this cultural milieu. He says:

"Far more notice needs to be taken of the culture of re-enchantment which is beginning to shape the Western mind. In particular, new religions and alternative spiritualities should not be dismissed as superficial froth or the dying embers of religion in the West, but are rather the sparks of a new and increasingly influential way of being religious, a way of being religious which is shaping and being shaped by popular culture (Partridge 2002, 250)."[1]

What does this mean for the emerging church? While I appreciate this movement’s attempts to wrestle with important epistemological, theological, and ecclesiological issues, the emerging church simply must attempt to come to a greater awareness of the presence and significance of new spiritualities in post-modernity. For increasing numbers of people, alternative spiritualities, such as those experimented with at Burning Man, represent attractive pathways for experiencing spirituality. Sound theological and missiological engagement of alternative spiritualities are crucial for the emerging church if it is to have not only cultural relevancy, but also theological and missiological integrity.

[1] See also Philip Johnson’s article on this topic that attempts to dialogue with the emerging church, “DIY Spirituality and Pop Culture,”; accessed 22 September 2006.


philjohnson said...

Interesting John your emphasis on re-enchantment of the contemporary west especially of frontier/new spiritualities and the part they play in pop culture.

I see some parallels between your remarks here and those of Matt Stone on transforming sacred/secular spaces. Matt questions the notion that Christians are primarily facing the need to resacralise secular spaces. Instead he sees the challenge as bringing Christian material-spiritual transformation into Post-Christian sacralised spaces -- spaces inhabited by frontier non-Christian spiritualities.

Below is the URL to Matt's post:

Anonymous said...

The power in this is its unapologetic tone. The church is stuffed to the gills with cautioners, defenders and apologists, but dosnt have too many re-enchanted celebrators. Has anyone seen Thomas Moores book "The re-enchantment of everyday life"?

Anonymous said...

I think that Burning Man would be open to an mmerging church theme camp. Of course, such a theme camp would have to attract people like any othger camp, but I think enough of Burning Man philosophy, e.g. non-commerce based interaction and focus on participation, is consonant with emerging church ideals that this has a great chance of succeeding.

John W. Morehead said...

Tribe L.A. is an emerging church that has had a presence at Burning Man for a number of years.