Emerging Christian Faith: Deconstruction, Reconstruction, Prayer & Theology
Introduction – The Christian Journey of Faith
For some time now, I have been reflecting on the spiritual journey that many of us have undertaken and that many more are making. The gap between traditional forms of church and contemporary culture continues to expand, and many who turn to the Emerging Church are increasingly dechurched, as well as people who are not yet Christian (unchurched). What is most apparent is that there is a progression of spiritual journeying….
Many have written on how faith is a journey of life with many stages. There are key stages in the transition from a simple form of faith to a more complex form that can cope with the inconsistencies of life , (Fowler describes these stages in some detail, calling the simple faith stage 1 & 2, and the more complex stages 3 and 4. See notes below). For some it is about questioning the faith they received as a child, for others it is about frustration about the faith they received from Sunday school or courses such as Alpha, for others it is academic study or a family crisis. For others like myself who had no Christian faith formation as a child or young adult, it is the quest for an authentic Christian faith that makes sense of the complex real world we live in. Whatever the cause, it can be a painfully hard thing to face; the doubts and the unknowns. It requires you to ask dangerous and far reaching questions in the search for God. It requires you to face your own disappointments particularly around the word ‘church’. In many ways it is about part of you dying and a new part of you coming to life.
However, I would argue that we are most definitely not the first to face this, and there is something about the struggle of faith starting with Abraham, through the Prophets and the Exodus, to John the Baptist and Jesus. All struggled with a God that seemed at times very present and then very absent. In Jesus we see a cycle of spiritual growth, that patterns a sense of growth, crucifixion and resurrection. In the disciples, we see this in the way they started with simple faith, which is then led by Christ into confusion and crisis, and then built into the first Christians seeking to live in a complex world with a complex faith….
In the same way, I sense that Christians called to the Emerging Church have to make a particular journey of death and new life as a cyclical way of life. Today the gap between church and culture often creates a tension for those passionate about encultured Christianity. Many of us struggle to keep up with ourselves, let alone God!!
As with Alan Jamieson’s research (see booklist below), I am concerned that we lay down some markers for a way through what is essentially a very difficult journey. I also believe that this is a specific calling by God, to a particular vocation to be Christian in a postmodern and consumerist society.
I have been concerned, that many on this journey have gone down a route that leads to a very cynical, overly-deconstructive approach, where nothing positive seems to be graspable, with the result that some have ended up losing their faith through an ever downward cycle of fragmentation and loss. I do not think that it needs to be the whole story; this can be a starting phase of something more constructive. So I have put these thoughts down on paper in order to (hopefully) benefit people who either have been or are going through, the pain of deconstruction. It is also my belief that this process can and will lead to reconstruction of faith for those living in postmodern contexts. I am going to call this “emerging faith”.
Now in Postmodernism, there are two rival strains of thought – one which we will call ‘hard postmodernism’ and the other has been called ‘creative postmodernism’. The first, a distinctly philosophical approach which I mentioned in the introduction, relates deconstruction to a process that is very ‘head’-based (intellectual/cerebral) with very little ‘heart’ involvement. It is very cynical and very untrusting of anything and everything. I would go so far as to say that, as a process, it becomes deeply dehumanising and distorting if it remains the only way forward. When people get stuck in this form of deconstruction, self-preoccupation and ‘bitterness’ take over – to point that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a scenario that I have witnessed far too often – too many friends lose faith by hard forms of postmodernist critiques, and I feel distinctly uncomfortable with its nihilistic destructive approach.