01 May 2008

The Suburban Christian: Typologies of renewal: Three routes, four models, five streams

An interesting post on the changing shape of some varieties of Christianity. The Suburban Christian: Typologies of renewal: Three routes, four models, five streams:
This is something of a follow-up to my previous post on emergents and new Calvinists. In the comments, Claytonius linked to a post he'd written last year about three routes of escape from the pragmatic evangelical church. He observed that many young adults who leave evangelical churches tend to head to three other places

To summarise, the places these restless pragmatic evangelicals tend to head to are:
  • Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches
  • Emerging Churches
  • Reformed Churches
And there are four kinds of Emerging Churches:
  • Deconstructionist
  • Pre-modern/Augustinian Model
  • Emerging Peace Church Model
  • Foundationalist Model
As a language pedant, I find the growing misuse of "typology" a bit annoying. Surely the correct term is "taxonomy"?

My (secular) dictionary (Collins Millennium Edition) gives:
  • typology n Chiefly Christian theol. the doctrine or study of types or of the correspondence between them and the reality they typify.
  • taxonomy 2 n the science or practice of classification.
Typology usually has to do with one event foreshadowing another -- for example the Passover and Exodus as types of Christ's resurrection.

There's still a language problem, though, because I'm not sure what "pragmatic" evangelicalism is, and I get the impression that "evangelical" means, or has come to mean, something different in the USA from what it means in Southern Africa. For example, in posts such as the one I was referring to, "evangelical" is mentioned in the same breath as "megachurches".

In South Africa "megachurches" (ie the barn-style "everything under one roof" hypermarket-style super-congregations like Rhema, Christian City, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God etc) are almost invariably Neopentecostal, rather than "evangelical".

Evangelicals are spread over a number of different denominations that tend to have normal-sized congregations -- Baptists, a few Anglicans and Methodists and the like. Evangelicals are also concentrated in some parachurch organisations like Scripture Union, Youth with a Mission, African Enterprise, and so on, which were regarded as more evangelical if they were anti-charismatic, and less evangelical if they were pro-charismatic or at least tolerant of the charismatic movement.

So where do "pragmatic" evangelicals fit in?

Another observation is that in South Africa these distinctions seem to be far more important to white Christians than to black ones.

I once attended an ecumenical mission conference where my room-mate was a hyper-Calvinist member of the Church of England in South Africa, who kept interrogating me with the TULIP test, and when I failed the test he found my presence unbearable. He kept phoning home to ask for advice on what to do, and must have been advised to "Come out of Babylon" because after a couple of days he left and I never saw him again. Back in those days I was a hands-up and knees-down Anglo-Catholic Evangelical Charismatic Anglican, with bells, smells and singing in tongues, and believing in things like "one man one vote", which was very politically incorrect in the days of PW Botha, Adriaan Vlok, Magnus Malan and the Total Onslaught, all of which was anathema to the Church of England in South Africa. The Church of England in South Africa (CESA) is changing too, though -- as Stephen Murray's blog shows.

But even today, white Christians in South Africa tend to do the classification thing and create taxonomies. Yet among black Christians the church that is emerging is a kind of generic Protestantism. Anglicans, Assemblies, Baptists, Congregationalists, Full Gospellers, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Zionists are all coming to resemble one another more and more.

White Christians (some of them) are interested in the Emerging Church, but the church that is emerging among the majority is somewhat different.

So I think our taxonomies might be somewhat different from the American ones, and what is emerging isn't necessarily Emerging.


Stephen said...

Yes, I think 'taxonomy' would be a far better word to use.

Sorry about the TULIP test - its a curse that runs deep in our reformed circles.

With regards to the black churches I'd like to make a personal observation. This comes from very limited and humble experience but over the last 4 years I've had the chance to do quite a bit of itinerant preaching in black and coloured churches across the denominational board, mostly in Cape Town but also in Durban, Johannesburg and Malawi. What was striking to me is how much almost all of these services looked like they were trying to mimic that neo-pentecostal stream you mentioned. My experience of watching TBN and attending these churches is often very similar in terms of the language used, the dress code, the music and most depressingly, from my point of view, the theology.

This has caused me much lamenting as I've thought about it becuase it seems to me that our black churches are adopting elements from America - it just happens to be the worst elements in my opinion.

Semaj Mahgih said...

Whoa - this is way over my head at suburban level. Are taxonomies and TULIP absolutely necessary?

rob said...

This is from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. The study or systematic classification of types that have characteristics or traits in common. 2. A theory or doctrine of types, as in scriptural studies.


1. The classification of organisms in an ordered system that indicates natural relationships. 2. The science, laws, or principles of classification; systematics. 3. Division into ordered groups or categories


Seems like either one would be legit.

Steve Hayes said...


Yes, your observations of black churches are similar to mine, though not necessarily quite so American, though the Neopentecostal churches are tending to get that way. What gets me is that the people who do worship like that say it is "African", and refer to is as "our culture".

Steve Hayes said...

Taxonomies and TULIP essential? No -- not unless you have a mania for classification, and some people do :-)

Miss Eagle said...

Don't we get our knickers in a twist?! Don't we ever stand back and try to think of what Jesus might think of all this carry on.

I can understand people being on journeys carrying them to diverse places through a lifetime. Been there, done that myself. But the fact that people cannot be accommodated within their own denomination says heaps.

It says that the institution cannot make room for difference and requires individuals to toe the party-line. Recall the Pharisees?

It also says that the institution is so iron clad that it is not permeable and cannot be impacted upon. Hardness of heart? My own journey seems to have left me with two strong leanings which are accommodated in separate communities of faith. My need for sacrament and word is met in a traditional Anglican community. My need to be in a more contemplative community pursuing justice and peace is met by Quakers. I have returned to the Religious Society of Friends after a 15 year absence and in a different place - Victoria, Australia. The unprogrammed Meetings for Worship in Australia meet for one hour. However, there has been movement in other places towards longer periods of worship as in the early days of the Society. There is talk among some of us in Melbourne that we might find ways of experimenting with this. I love this worship power house among Friends. The Meeting for Worship is the life, heart, soul and spirit of the society. It seems to me that this is what gives Friends a tremendous energy and stickability to pursue peace and justice and to make continuing sound and sensible contributions to humanity in spite of small membership numbers.

Blessings and bliss

Anonymous said...

Steve, you know I don't identify with any of the ones you've listed here. What I do partially identify with is Tom Sine's alternative taxonomy mentioned elsewhere in the post, where I would be happy to be loosely identified within the missional camp. Makes me wonder though how ideosyncratic all these are when they still don't cover everyone. Feels a bit forced.

Steve Hayes said...

Miss Eagle,

Trying to classify things is one of the things missiologists do, and is one of the difference between missiology and mission. As the saying goes, those who can do, those who can't teach.

I've got involved with such taxonomies in the study of African Independent Churches, where the first classification was done by a missiologist called Bengt Sundkler, who classified them (the South African ones, anyway) into Ethiopians and Zionists. But, as I've noted, and Stephen Murray has as well, the boundaries are tending to get much more fluid these days.

Fr. John N D'Alton said...

Hi Steve,
Good article, and yes its helpful, but I agree with Matt that its missing a bit. Anyway, FWIW, the "pragmatic evangelical" term seems to overlap a lot with "emerging" (which may be small in your part of world but is bigger in UK, US and Oz). Which is itself can be taxonomicaly broken down into 4 subcategories according to Mark Driscoll of MarsHill (excelllent video on their site, 24 Feb 2008 i think) (part 2 of religion saves series).
What is significant about his and your 3 way breakdown is that people when disrupted either move back to the roots of faith or become even more deconstructed. Those who go to roots either go to Calvinism or original church ie Orthodoxy or close equivs. From the viewpoint of the original faith until 1500, TULIP is all wrong, ut at least Calvinists are hanging onto someting, which is better than McLaren's brand of emerging, which Driscoll critiques well the vid.

Its interesting how many emerging people get disillussioned with the deconstructed version and move back to orhtodoxy.

Yvonne said...

I am completely confused! And people say the number of traditions in Paganism is confusing.

Can you do a post on the difference between missiology and mission? I assume that missiology is the study of mission?

I think the reason for all the schism in the Western Church is the fear and loathing introduced by Augustine and Calvin.

Augustine's idea that all are damned unless they've been baptised, and Calvin's idea of predestination, exclude all but the "saved", and cause the inexorable drawing-tighter of the definition of who is saved and who is damned. This promotes a climate in which the Other is feared and loathed, and other people's paths to the Divine are characterised as "worshipping demons".

By contrast, the Orthodox doctrine of apokatastasis holds out hope, and the universalism (in both old and new senses) of the Unitarians and UUs is an even more inclusive message.

I wonder how much of the "emerging church" has singed up to, or even heard of, the Phoenix Affirmations?

Yvonne said...

PS - what on earth is the TULIP test?

I googled but to no avail.

I wanted to see how comprehensively I could fail it ;)

Anonymous said...

John, I did the bulk of my deconstructing in the New Age Movement where I was free to drop any pretense of being Christian.

So upon re-entering the faith, it was a process of reconstructing Christianity from the word go. The only way was up. I was converted through a "Reformed" Anglican church but it was never a good fit and studying alternative traditions, such as Orthodoxy and Anabaptism and cross cultural missionaries, were part of it from the start.

But in a sense I am doing neither digging into my original roots (which is Catholicism) not pursuing deeper deconstruction. It is pursuing deeper Christian roots through a number of traditions; you might say I am trying to triangulate Tradition from a number of divergent traditions.

Richard said...

Interesting post.

A couple of years ago I thought I understood 'emerging church' more recently I'm not so sure. I thought 'emerging church' might be my kind of thing.

More recently I have been overwhelmed by what I see as a pharisee like attitude in many or most of the so called churches. They all seem to like a legalistic application of their interpretation of scripture. An ecumenical is as intolerant. They are intolerant of any churches that have fixed legalistic approaches! Aiiii....

I am less and less happy with the designator 'Christian' preferring the term 'follower of Jesus'. You see, these classifications put us in camps and don't free us. Maybe they are really just warning signs - 'caveat emptor when you enter this church'.

I sit, I meet people, I encourage all towards our Messiah. I am still not sure about what we call the church. A gathering of people who follow Jesus? Oftentimes its a gathering of people who like behaving in a certain way... and want others to behave in the same way. Thus they are phenomenological designators more than theological. But then missiologists like measurable phenomena!

Miss Eagle said...

I agreewith Richard. A couple of years ago I was following the story of the emerging church in Australia with great interest. Some people who were leading the charge were people I had a bit of time for and I thought this looked like something. However, I came not to bother. I think it is another case of shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems to me that evangelical churches tend to go through this sort of 'renewal' about every two decades. Another thing is that just about all the voices I heard were white males. Few female voices could be heard and those I did hear were connected to the males who were speaking - not women who were there for themselves alone. I am tired of the church of the dominant white male - and included in this are some women who seem to adopt the same behaviour and characteristics and careerism as the men. I am tired of the pharisees (the legalists), the scribes (the scholars - I don't think Jesus would be able to get ordained in most of to-day's Christian denominations) and the sadducees (there are still a significant number of 'Christians' inhabiting pews and denying the resurrection).

Can we leave the taxonomy and the TULIP test behind and just become sincere and sold-out followers of The Way? This task is sufficiently demanding to absorb all our energies and attention.

Steve Hayes said...

Miss Eagle,

I take your point about most followers of the emerging church movement being white and male. That seems to be true even here in South Africa, where most followers of Christ are black and female.

I've mostly encountered it in the blogosphere, which also seems to be predominantly white and male.

Perhaps that is significant.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

'Follower of The Way' is a phrase I have started using myself recently, having been disenchanted with:

* 'Christian' [which often means follower of Bush and Blair in the Middle East!]

* 'believer' [which can mean believer in anything - Scripture says even the demons believe]

* 'follower of Jesus' [this is the one I still use most but because of debate about the name Jesus within the Middle East find this unhelpful sometimes]

So I then came back to what the early disciples called themselves -- 'followers of The Way'.

But 'follower of The Way' would confuse many from the West who would then say 'So are you a Christian then?'


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