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Kester Brewin – The Complex Christ

February 1, 2007

I’m coming to Kester Brewin’sThe Complex Christ’ a little later than the cool kids but better I do it now than never at all. I’m eager to find out whether there is more substance to the style of emerging church forms, (i.e. whether it requires more of us that buying up Ikea’s stock of tea lights). I’m also attracted to the subtitle of the book ‘signs of emergence in the urban church’. I’m interested because I work in an urban faith context, and because of a commitment to developing a robust urban theology.

The book is about to be published in the USA under the title, wait for it…. ‘Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church That Is Always Organic/Networked/Decentralized/Bottom-Up/Communal/Flexible/Always Evolving’.

(Aside: I wonder why the title has been changed? Is it because the publisher was nervous about selling a book to American’s with the word ‘Complex’ in the title? Remember the kerfuffle a few years ago over the film ‘The Madness of King George’? It was originally titled ‘George IV’ apparently until movie execs got fearful that Americans wouldn’t go if they hadn’t seen the prequels, George I, II and III).

Introduction
I like the courage of the author, who right from the off tells us it’s a book about change. Thankfully though he eschews the oft-travelled route of calling for personal, individual change in favour of a call for a radical overhaul of structures in our churches. He makes an interesting point that in an era and a culture obsessed with the self the church has gone the way of calling for personal change as the route to revitalisation (p2). He asks what appears to be an obvious question, but one I’ve never heard asked before,

“The resuscitation of the dying church has been made out to be dependent on the sinlessness of its members, yet we have to ask the question: did the leavers all go in the first place because we weren’t holy enough? Of course not. They left because it was boring, unchanging, irrelevant, said nothing to them about their life and was completely unconnected to anything in their experience." (p2)

Now whilst that extract is strong and direct, it would not be representative of the tone of the whole book. This book is not a sustained rant against the church; it emerges from concern at where the church finds itself and desires to see it recover its mission in the world.

If revival is asked for then we need to recognise that only those things close to death require it and it is often a violent and invasive process to accomplish it. This painful transformation can come about through empowering people to engage with the questions that affect their existence, not through legislative change from the top, allowing them to assimilate the complexities of the local situation into the necessary changes.

In community work we refer to community development approaches, that is supporting local people to find local answers to questions. Empowerment is central to the whole approach. In the last week or two I’ve been to several events for clergy designed to awaken them to the necessity of community engagement. The question I’ve asked most frequently is to do with the willingness of the local church to engage in practice with community without owning the outcomes of that action. This is hardest I think for clergy. But even for those who have made the journey, and are commited to community development and the empowerment of local people to make decisions which affect their lives, there is a fear of applying those same principles into the life of the congregation. CD practice does not influence the work of preaching or pastoral care.

Now this strikes me as dishonest; making one rule for those outside the congregation and another for the people served as part of the congregation. Is it about a basic unwillingness to surrender power, regardless of the impact on the life of the congregation? I wonder.

Top down approaches are still the order of the day inside the church. I’m reminded of Randall Balmer’s recent comment on the abortion debate in the US. He said, ‘I would not make abortion illegal , I would make it unthinkable’. Top down approaches don’t necessarily change the heart. Education from the bottom up can.

Following a discussion on Fowler’s stages of faith, and the importance of reaching the conjunctive stage, he says too few of us make it there. But Brewin also argues that the process of getting there is also important. The model of leadership which got the church to its current malaise, must not be the model which leads it out. We cannot lead the church out, or onwards, through the exercise of power, but through the practice of empowerment (p16).

The solution lies in evolution, he says.

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2 Comments
  1. Glenn – Kester was at the Soliton sessions up in Portrush. Did you get a chance to chat to him?

  2. Hey Brodie, yes I did. We chatted in a snug in the bar on Saturday night, just before the music was turned up and all conversation became impossible. I’m hoping to get an email chat going.

    It was great meeting you…let’s keep in touch.

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