The Deconstructed Church: Marti & Ganiel on the Emerging Church

The Emerging Church Movement is here to stay.  So say researchers Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel in their new book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity.  I'm looking forward giving it a careful read and drawing on their research as I reflect on my study of New Seattle Churches.

Marti and Ganiel's research is "based on ethnographic observation of emerging congregations, pub churches, neo-monastic communities, conferences, online networks, in-depth interviews, and congregational surveys in the US, UK, and Ireland" and the book intends to offer "a comprehensive social-scientific analysis of the development and significance of the Emerging Church Movement. Emerging Christians, they find, are shaping a distinct religious orientation that encourages individualism, deep relationships with others, new ideas about the nature of truth, doubt, and God, and innovations in preaching, worship, Eucharist, and leadership." (from the Amazon blurb)

For more of their findings, check out these videos in which Marti defines ECM and discusses its demographics, distinctive practices, and the role it plays as a "last stop" for those on the way out of Christianity.  Below, I've also included excerpts from an interesting interview with Marti and Ganiel. 

Excerpts from "The Last Stop" in Bearings.

GANIEL: Usually people have heard enough about the ECM to have some misconceptions about it, so we tell them that we don’t see it simply as a reform movement within evangelical Christianity, nor as a re-hashed liberal Protestantism, nor as a pick-and-mix consumerist religion in which people take what they like from various Christian traditions. Frequently the ECM is considered to be merely are-invented evangelicalism. But to focus on its roots in evangelicalism minimizes the resonance resonance that the movement’s message has for mainline and other Christians and for people of non-Christian faiths. The ECM is more than a vaguely defined, fluid, post-church religiosity. Emerging Christians are not disaffected religious “nones.”

Many Emerging Christians have defined the ECM in terms of a “conversation,” signaling that they think Christianity is in need of reform and that one way to reform it is to start talking about the meaning and shape of the Christian faith today. What’s interesting about this conversation is that Emerging Christians see it as an end in itself. The point is not to get to a particular destination; the point is to keep talking, searching, and journeying together.

MARTI: We called the book The Deconstructed Church because we think it captures what Emerging Christians are doing. They are trying to pull apart and critique existing forms of church life. In place of those old forms they are constructing what they see as better ways of living together as Christians. Emerging Christians share a religious orientation built on a continual practice of deconstruction. They actively deconstruct congregational life by questioning the beliefs and practices that have held sway within other expressions of Christianity, especially conservative evangelicalism. Many Emerging Christians were previously involved in evangelicalism, which they experienced as constraining, prescriptive, captivated by a wrong-headed biblical literalism and a conservative political agenda, or even emotionally abusive. Seeker megachurches, which Emerging Christians see as manipulative, homogenizing, and missing Jesus’ point of identifying with the poor and marginalized, receive some of their harshest criticism. Some Emerging Christians also critique other expressions of Christianity, including forms of liberal Protestantism that they have experienced as “dead,” or a Catholicism they found authoritarian or abusive. Emerging Christians think that many of the ideas and institutions of contemporary Christianity simply do not help them to live what they would call authentic or holistic Christian lives. They often say that their involvement in an ECM church is the only thing keeping them within the bounds of Christianity at all, describing it as their “last stop” before leaving religion completely.

GANIEL: The death of the ECM has been greatly exaggerated. We have seen confusion about various terms associated with the ECM, like “emerging,” “emergent,” “emergence,” “post-evangelical,” “missional,” “neo-monastic,” “ancient-future faith,” and so forth. But as our research tells us, people who share Emerging Christians’ religious orientation do not like to be put into identity boxes, or to identify with religious labels. Nor are they particularly concerned with convincing people to join with the ECM as a movement. So rather than announcing the ECM’s death, we see it as moving beyond specific groups, congregations, and collectives that explicitly take on the moniker of“emerging.” The ECM is not dying; it is persistent. Many who don’t use the label still participate in the movement through their questioning of established orthodoxy and negotiating with conventional practices. As researchers, we have to move from analyzing specific organizations to investigating a broader movement that manifests itself in various religious arenas.

MARTI: The ECM’s resonance with the wider trends and values of our age leads us to conclude that Emerging Christianity cannot help but persist, even thrive, in the current religious environment. It will contribute to changes in the face of Christianity over the next decades.

Gerardo Marti is L. Richardson King Associate Professor of Sociology at Davidson College. He is author of A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church, Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church, and Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial ChurchGladys Ganiel is Lecturer and the Programme Coordinator of the Master's in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast (the Irish School of Ecumenics). She is author of Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland and co-author (with Clare Mitchell) of Evangelical Journeys: Choice and Change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture.

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