We Need A Story

The post below is my contribution to the deep church website. I'd be interested in any comments, which you can make at deep church site.

Philip Pullman, the children’s author and atheist, known most famously for his trilogy His Dark Materials (1995-2000) where he attacks and seeks to undermine Christianity, says in a recent essay:

‘We need a myth, we need a story, because it’s no good persuading people to commit themselves to an idea on the grounds that it’s reasonable. How much effect would the Bible have had for generations and generations if it had just been a collection of laws and genealogies? What seized the mind and captured the heart were the stories it contains.’

I believe Pullman is correct. He is aware that if we reject, say the Christian story, we need to replace it with something equally powerful: we need a story in which we can orient our life and answer the big questions. Where I disagree with Pullman is instead of rejecting the Christian story, I believe we need to tell the story better. Richard Hays has remarked,

'I have grown increasingly convinced that the struggles of the church in our time are a result of its losing touch with its own gospel story. We have gotten "off message" and therefore lost our way in a culture that tells us many other stories about who we are and where our hope lies. In both the evangelical and the liberal wings of Protestantism, there is too much emphasis on individual faith-experience and not enough grounding in our theological discourse in the story of Jesus Christ.' (The Faith of Jesus Christ, 2nd Ed., 2001, lii)

Pullman, in His Dark Materials (HDM), is reacting against the Western description of God as an authoritarian power, which I think he is justified in doing. I have no problems with Pullman killing off this god. In fact it clears the way for us to introduce the triune God of the gospel, who's power is displayed on a cross. We also see in HDM that Pullman's understanding of the Christian story is centred on heaven and hell. Colin Gunton has said '‘[the Enlightenment’s] view of traditional Christianity as authoritarian and excessively other-worldly was not entirely a caricature’ (Enlightenment and Alienation, 1985, 1). But the Christian story we find in the New Testament is not centred on the individual's eternal destination, but in the person's participation in the divine drama of the triune God.

It is God’s story that the gospel tells and only secondly of our involvement. It’s a story that subverts and reveals the emptiness of all other stories. This is a story that we can orientate people towards in their search for identity, which is grounded not in fantasy but in truth and a truth that is not firstly scientific and detached, but is personal and christological, that is, Jesus Christ is the Truth (Jn 14:6) or ‘. . . no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11). Because this truth is christological it is also relational. The gospel is not a doctrinal basis to which people sign up to, but is the Spirit liberating us through Christ into relationship with the Father.

Sadly Hauerwas is right when he says, 'God has entrusted us, God's church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed to make the story, with the aid of much theory, boring has hell.' We need to find new ways to tell the story of Jesus, to show that it is alive and kicking, to show that it is world-altering and life-changing - it might mean we have to change. This I think is what deep church is all about.

de-coding the new 'church' language

emerging church - a loose term that reflects christians who are experimenting and trying to discover church in a postmodern world. those who identify with the term 'emerging church' resist trying to define and label it. there is a difference in how the word is used in the uk and usa, because of the different contexts. for more see eddie gibbs and ryan bolger's Emerging Churches (2006, spck). in the uk, see emergingchurch.info and the blogs of andrew jones, jonny baker, jason clark and kester brewin (this is just some of the major players).

inherited church
- this term is used to described the existing church, which still is the vast majority, from which those involved in these other types of church listed here are moving beyond. some are very critical of inherited church, others are more kind! evangelicalism does come in for a lot of criticism.

liquid church - first coined by pete ward (lecturer in youth ministry and theological education, kcl) in his 2002 book of the same name. He borrowed the word 'liquid' from zygmunt bauman's book Liquid Modernity (2000, poliity press). Liquid church is church that moves beyond the one-size fits all (solid church) into a more dynamic notion of church which is focused on networks, relationships and communications.

deep church- first coined by cs lewis, but used more recently by andrew walker (professor of theology and education, kcl)  and others to describe church that seeks to reconnect with the common historical Christian tradition and go beyond denominational divides. See Andrew Walker's essay 'Recovering Deep Church' in Remembering our Future (2007, paternoster).

mcdonaldized church
- first coined by john drane in his book the McDonaldization of the Church, which adapts the theory of george ritzer to the church. It is church that is pre-packaged and takes on the characteristics of McDonalds.

- the understanding that in recent years there has been a shift from christendom to post-christendom. in christendom, the christian story was known and accepted and society was christenized in many ways. after christendom, the christian story is much less known and the chrisitans find themselves on the margins of society and competing for the public square. see the work of stuart murray, especially his two books Post-Christendom (2004, paternoster) and Church After Christendom (2005, paternoster).

mission-shaped church
- a 2004 church of england report which got the anglicans moving into exploring and financing different kinds of church. operates under the name fresh expressions.

alternative worship
- worship that emerged out of the likes of the nine o'clock service in sheffield in the mid-1990s. it can be described as creative (embraces the arts), post-charismatic  (tends not to do singing) and post-evangelical, visual, kinasethetic, post-modern, contemplative, retriving and rewriting liturgy, rediscovering theology (especially doctines of incarnation, creation and trinity), having a positive of view of contemporary culture. see jonny baker and doug gay's book Alternative Worship (2004, spck) and steve collin's alternative worship website.

- first coined by dave tomlinson's in his 1995 book of the same name. casued something of a debate. a term that describes those wanting to move beyond evangelical church and theology. 

churchless faith -  first coined by alan jamiseon in his 2002 book of the same name. the word refers to those who still express or identify with the christian faith but have beyond the church. these people are evangelical/charismatic/pentecostal church leavers (and jamieson's research showed often church leaders as well).

deep church blog

I've set up a deep church blog, which hopefully will a place of conversation about deep church and theology in london. There is some exciting theology happening in london and some exciting theologians involved (douglas knight, luke bretherton, graham tomlin, crispin fletcher-louis). Strangely at almost the same time  Jason Clark has set up a deep church website with a similar aim. So mine might become null and void. I'm interested in deep church for two reasons it reflects the way I like to do theology and also because I think if the emerging church and church planting is to really make an impact it needs to discover the deep resources of the christian faith.