Friday, February 7, 2014

The Tickle Down Theory of Ecclesiology?

Stand back from the details of debates here there and everywhere in 21st century Christianity. Get a perspective which is appropriately post-Christendom on a pluralist, secular Western world, while seeing the rest of the world through a different lens as sometimes strident, often times alarmingly extremist growth spurts are made by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. What do we see?

One answer, bubbling away for a few years now, but not recently addressed here, is that we are in the midst of massive religious change. 2015 is 1515. Just as the Reformation in Europe was to the then world - massive seismic shift, change in paradigm, revolution in consciousness - so is the Something which is going on now. Whether we are worried about decline in our local parish as members age with no replacement generation in sight, or press carefully in reflective research into how people are 'spiritual' but not 'religious', or just hammer away at the question of why otherwise sane Christians today seem intent on (say) ignoring biblical truth, chucking away liturgical heritage, reversing nostalgically into some past (e.g. reviving Mass in Latin, reworking BCP 1662), the deep issue may be something else.

In specific Anglican terms, whether we rejoice or despair in the lead which Nigeria/Uganda/TEC/Sydney/Holy Trinity Brompton is trying to give the Communion, the actual question of Anglican future in the midst of this Something might have an answer no one is currently proffering. That is, Christians generally and Anglicans reading blogs such as this (tends to mean you are concerned about the Anglican future!) need to get hold of the Something which we are in the midst of, which hasn't yet received a name like 'Reformation' (or, for that matter, 'Renaissance'), smell the roses and realise that what is dying is a now useless version of Christianity (and Anglicanness).

Just as there is a point in a body which is dying where attempts to revive and resuscitate should give way to preparation for death, so (this answer) would say that a lot of huff and puff amongst Christians today is pointless. But or BUT, in preparing for the death of what has been, we should act and think Christianly, that is, we should also prepare for resurrection. Out of this Something will arise a new and vigorous Christian movement, with as much or more dynamism than Protestant Christianity once had (and, indeed, post Counter Reformation Roman Catholicism had). So, a thesis goes.

With all that as background musing, check out this interview of Phyllis Tickle about her new book, co-authored with Jon Sweeney The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of An Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church.

What do you think?

Even if, on the basis of the interview, you demur from the detail of Tickle's argument for 'Spirit Christianity' to be the new 'Great Emergence' of our faith, do you think we are in the midst of change as significant as the Reformation (or the Great Schism or ...)?

If so, is the Holy Spirit kind of the 'key player' of the Trinity in this new phase?


Andrei said...

What we are actually "witnessing" is the dying of Western civilization and the West.

The decline in the Christian Faith along with Church attendance is is just a symptom of a deep malaise that has overcome our culture.

If you have any doubts about this just watch prime time Sunday night TV

Peter Carrell said...

That is a good point, Andrei.
The 'Something' which is happening is a greater upheaval than the Reformation ...

Andrei said...

I was of two minds whether to post this or not Peter.

You're a Sports Fan and the Winter Olympics opening ceremony is in a few hours.

Here is a video of the Patriarch of Moscow in Sochi blessing the Teams of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus a few hours ago.

This sort of public display of Christian religion is treated with suspicion or mockery by our western secular media and its pomp, ceremony, icons incense and holy water might perhaps raise discomfort in your protestant soul.

There's two points I want to raise here

(1) Our sophisticated elites might think we have grown beyond this but they haven't, in New Zealand our equivalent might involve a Maori elder with things drawn from Maori culture, perhaps with Christian elements perhaps not - Maori elders rather than Bishops to lead.

Oftentimes ceremony is invented out of thin air, such as a "memorial service" I recall lead by a female MP where after highly sentimental rhetoric helium filled red balloons were released.

(2) Many of those present or who see this service in whole or in part, say on a News roundup will not be strong in the Christian Faith but seeds are being planted/watered some of which will in the fullness of time blossom.

I think that the Christian religion is being deliberately airbrushed out of existence in the secular west

Father Ron Smith said...

"I think that the Christian religion is being deliberately airbrushed out of existence in the secular west" - Andrei

Not at St. Michael's, Christchurch - If you attended, you would find Daily Mass with actual people in attendance. Waiting upon God in holy worship.

On Sunday;, 3 services: Low Mass (BCP) at 8am; 10am: High Mass, very much with the ceremonial you may have admired about the Russian Orthodox celebration, Andrei; and Solemn Evensong and Benediction, in the evening, when Christ is at the centre of worship & Adoration.

This is what I like about Anglican Catholic liturgical life. It has something very clear to say about the mystery of God in Christ, and is not just a hymn/sermon sandwich

And, of course, there is the requisite social action issuing from this attendance upon Christ in the sacraments. We feed on Jesus in order to be 'Alter Christus' in the outside world.

Andrei said...

My point has gone way over your head Fr Ron

What you do at St. Michael's, Christchurch is good and needs to be done but I wonder how many are there and how many of them are still of childbearing age. You'll know if you are honest with yourself.

There has been a total collapse in those who profess to the Christian Faith in this country which is attested to in the census figures and reported with much hoopla in the media.

I f you were to go down the street asking people under 30 if they can recite the Lord's prayer how many could do you suppose - 50 years ago virtually everyone would have and if asked would have recited it in the Jacobean English of the King James Bible, a not insignificant number would have been able to do it in Latin and know what the Latin meant - this is true Fr Ron because these things and some biblical stories would have been as much a part of their cultural background, more deeply ingrained than any Harry Potter material might be today.

We still have the Bible taught in some secular state schools, and you know as well as I do Fr Ron that there is some antagonism towards tiny crumb of what is or was the cultural heritage of the majority of the students in these schools.

You know too the opening prayer for Parliament is currently under attack even though it is quite bland and generic and not explicitly Christian in its wording

Father Ron Smith said...

I can report, Andrei, that our Vicar of St. Michael's, Fr. Andrew Starky, was asked to Bless the groundwork of the new Christchurch Justice and emergency Services site opposite St. Michael's, before the 'turning of the first sod' by the Prime Minister. And that without being asked by The Church!

When asked if the Church would not be put out by the fact that we have the Criminal Justice facility right next door, I believe Andrew gave the gospel answer: "Thank you for bringing them here so that we can care for them!" - Not a bad situation for a 'Godless Western Society' ethos, eh, Andrei?

But then, God has me given a heart that puts its trust in God - that believes God is really in control - not the other way round. D.G.

Bryden Black said...

If I may venture another line of conversation. What we are seeing as well in the West is the demise of the elites having the last word. We are now positively post secular. Neither the Guardian nor the Washington Post represent what is actually happening on the ground, to which most of their journos and their ilk are simply blind and deaf.

Taking only England, I really recommend a recent purchase of mine: David Goodhew, ed., Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the Present (Ashgate, 2012). True enough; much of it is outside the walls of the trad CoE and most other ‘main lines’. But the Christian Faith itself is thoroughly alive! Stephen Warner’s blurb is especially poignant!

So what is emerging? I think Ms Tickle has an element of it, but even she is misconstruing it and is missing the real heart, which is far more - dare I say it - orthodox than she wants to accept. This is even more significant when one looks into the majority of Two-Thirds World’s expressions of the Christian Faith, which are quite simply off the radar screens of western elites and their own incestuous forms of indulgent media.

andrew said...

I have just attended two new age festivals on teh south island of new zealand and two things stick out to me.

1. the desire for sacredness, spirituality and wholistic integration of life and the prolific options of eastern and earth-based religious lifestyles on offer

2. the complete lack of protestant or catholic christianity as an option

i think the shift is bigger and is part of a post-western re-orientation which is a greater challenge to the western church than the enlightenment was.

liturgy said...

Thanks, Andrew,

You are saying what I have become hoarse in repeating. Why are churches not present at spirituality festivals? Why are we not in the forefront in arranging such festivals? Why in bookshops with shelving bulging with spirituality resources, is Christian spirituality so scantily represented?

How well-versed is our Christian leadership in our own spiritual tradition? [Our NZ Anglican Church last millennium systematically went through the complex process of removing the requirement that clergy pray daily!] How deep is the spiritual practice of regular churchgoing Christians? And how agilely could they help others seeking to enrich their spiritual lives?

Where are the articles in the media presenting what churches offer to enrich life in marriage? Where is the information ready to hand about what we Christians offer around death?

Where are the booths for possibilities of employment within the church at careers expos?

Where is the real engagement with contemporary science as a paradigm replacing Christian thinking (discussions about evolution soon ground to a halt on this site; one of our bishops publicly stated he had not talked about evolution for the last 20 years).

We, as the church, have allowed ourselves to live in a grandparent-clause paradigm. We hope those of us who were part of the church last millennium will be able to see it survive to our death, but check out the church’s real footprint on the internet [the (Western) world of the third millennium] and let’s be honest with ourselves – many of the reasons for Christian decline in the West are not rocket science!



Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew,

Yes, I think your right. Secularism, especially in it's militant forms, is a problem, but the real challenge for the Church in the West is responding to the growth of alternative religions/spiritualities, and understanding why they are attractive to people, and why we are not.

Here are some suggestions for ways I think we can approach this.

1. We have to start training priests/ministers to be holy people, not administraters. By that I do not mean moral holiness alone, but people with a deep spirituality. One of the things I noticed watching my wife's training was how little time was spent on teaching prayer, fasting (none!), spiritual warfare (none!), and contemplative disciplines (almost none). Instead, passe 70's liberal theology and the Treaty of Waitangi took precedence. Our churches priorities are wrong. It is not an accident that when people meet a Buuddhist monk or a Hasidic Rebbe they often say they felt like they met a holy man, but when they meet the average Christian minister they feel like they have met a secular manager.

2. Re-sacralisation of the world. Both contemporary Christian Liberalism and contemporary Evangelicalism tend to buy into a quasi-secularism in which God and His presence is reduced to a Sunday act or to church life. We need to develop the practice of being aware that we are ALWAYS standing on holy ground, that every tree and bush is on fire with God's glory.

3. I would like to see a dialogue between Charismatic/Pentecostal spirituality and Contemplative spiritual practices amongst all Christians. This would help deepen our own spiritual lives, and help to overcome the effects of the so-called "enlightenment" and modernity which have had a degenerative, destructive effect on our spiritual lives.

4. Recover our sense of being the Church militant. We are at war against Powers and Principalities, and both ministers and laity should be taught how to deal with this in their daily lives through warfare prayer. Plus, a recovery of our sense of being the Church militant would help in steering the Church away from trying to partner with the powers that be (politically) and engaging in the secular nation-building project of the State.

Anonymous said...

Hit submit nefore I was ready, so further to my last post;

We need to sop trying to appease the secular world and Christianities cultured despisers. For decades now the Anglican Church in the West has been engaged in a pointless and self-destructive project to make the Church relevant to and acceptable to a small minority of university educated upper middle class secular liberals. We need to stop reducing Scripture and the message we have been given simply to appease current moral fashions or what currently passes for "science" in the secular world. Someone once described the Anglican Church as the "Church Hesitant" and this is part of our problem. We have lost our confidence in the message we have for the world. We have bought into the secular worlds attack on the Faith and political Left's attack on our independence. The Church's King is calling the world to repentance, not the other way around.

In NZ this means we must stop the Liberal theology project to appease those who hate us. We need to assert our independence by closing down the Left's fifth column in the Church, the misnamed "social justice commission" which allows the secular Left to speak for the Church and determine the Church's approach to politics, instead of the Church speaking for itself. And we need to stop wasting time and resources, and the corruption of our ecclesiology, on the Treaty of Waitangi. It's an irrelevancy and a dangerous threat to the unity of the Church and it's message of One Kindgom under One King.

liturgy said...

Thanks, Shawn,

Again you are saying what I have become hoarse in repeating.

We need to form contemplative leadership that can lead contemplative communities – places where the primacy is on God and our relationship with God. Your description of the current model of priestly formation reinforces my understanding.

Your description of the charismatic-contemplative is also my experience. Healthy charismatic grows into mature contemplative. We need both – the environment in which people can fall in love with God, and the environment in which we can grow into that love for a lifetime.



MichaelA said...

Hi Peter, re the article by Phyllis Tickle, it frankly seemed to be mainly fluff (maybe that was the fault of the journalist writing it).

Her views on revelation (if accurately reported) seem quite different to those of Jesus Christ. So, not a book I am going to waste more time on!

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, is this post simply an extension of your infamous 'Tickle Down' theory? Phyllis is, in some quarters, considered to be quite a formidable theologian.

Peter Carrell said...

I am not aware of a 'formidable theologian' who has no critics, Ron! Why, even my own good self has been known to have people disagree with his theological profundity :)

Father Ron Smith said...

"Why are churches not present at spirituality festivals? Why are we not in the forefront in arranging such festivals? Why in bookshops with shelving bulging with spirituality resources, is Christian spirituality so scantily represented?" - Fr. Bosco Peters -

Quite right, Bosco. The Church of England is on the ball here. Each 'Green Belt' Festival in the U.K. has great input from the C.of E. - seeing this secular festival as a fruitful part of the mission field - nothing to be scared of, and part of the rich tapestry of our common humanity - a place into which Christ became Incarnate!

Anonymous said...

I was not aware that Tickle was considered a theologian at all, let alone a "formidable one".

I unfortunately did read her book. It was superficial to say the least.

Much of what has come out of the Emergent movement, theologically speaking, including Tickle, Mclaren and Bell, looks suspiciously like repackaged Liberalism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

a small correction. The GreenBelt Festival is a Christian festival, not secular.

Father Ron Smith said...

I think you'll find, Shaun, that Green Belt is not specifically Christian. It is a 'spiritual' event which includes other religions.

Anonymous said...

Check their web site Ron. It's always been Christian.

From their mission statement:

"Our history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition"

It was actually started by Evangelicals.

Anonymous said...

Also from Wikipedia:

"Greenbelt Festival is a festival of arts, faith and justice held annually in England since 1974. Greenbelt has grown from a Christian music festival with an audience of 1,500 young Christians...

The festival regularly attracts the biggest names of Christian music...

It may be very slightly more "inter-faith" than it used to be, but it's still a Christian festival.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Greenbelt has grown from a Christian music festival with an audience of 1,500 young Christians..." - S.H. -

If you actually knew someone who attended the last Green Belt festival, you might have found out that the words 'Grown From ' in your statement are now operative. The G.B. is now a celebration of different religious groups, including Christians. The Church of England is well represented there - especially by liberals, but the Festival is no longer exclusively Christian - because of the fact that UK is now a multi-faith democaracy.

Anonymous said...

"If you actually knew someone who attended the last Green Belt festival"

I know two.

"The G.B. is now a celebration of different religious groups" It is still majority Christian, and as the mission statement I quoted from still has a Christian mission.

"The Church of England is well represented there"

That would be a Christian church...right?

" because of the fact that UK is now a multi-faith democaracy."

Britain will be a majority Muslim nation in less than a hundred years, thanks to Liberals. At that point it will cease being a democracy.

Anonymous said...

By the way Ron, your first claim was that Greenbelt is secular. When that was proven wrong you changed to inter-faith. Which one do you actually believe?

Round and round the mulberry indeed!

Father Ron Smith said...

Specially fort Shawn's information from 'Wikipedia':

"Greenbelt Festival is a festival of arts, faith and justice held annually in England since 1974. Greenbelt has grown from a Christian music festival with an audience of 1,500 young Christians to its current more inclusive festival attended by around 20,000 - Christians and non-Christians."

N.B. the final sentence: 'Christians and non-Christians'.