New Monastic Book Launch

Five contributors to 'Ancient Faith, Future Mission: New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of Church' formed a panel for a book launch meeting in Manchcester. There are to be four more book launches in Australia. A Conservative Evangelical Anglican clergyman told me 'It's hard to introduce my church members to this sort of thing, because they dismiss it as not in the Bible'. 'Help them to become more, not less biblical' I suggested - 'seventeenth century Rationalism, which separates the mind from the rest of life, led to the twin idols of Individualism and Biblicism, they may be making an idol of doctrinal formulations which prevents them from connecting with the heart and with people and therefore with Jesus.'

On the train home I read a book by a USA Anglican (Episcopal) clergyman who is a Facebook Friend, Ken Howard. Despite its title, 'Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Them and Us' (you're right, no one but a cleric would read a book with a title like that) he has a good story to tell. He tries to make his church both 'a place to belong and a place to become'. Everyone is accepted and befriended and may join in things. But there is an ongoing spiritual process that encourages everyone to become better acquainted with God and with their brothers and sisters in Christ. They come to understand that each is an organic part of the Body of Christ and their DNA is deeply connected, even with the parts of the Body they don't like or agree with. They engage in a 'midwife' educational process: they read a Scripture story, put away their Bibles, re-tell it in their own words, and let Jesus continue the story among them in the present moment.

Ken helps his members understand that three types of people make up a fellowship: head people for whom right doctrine is all important; heart people for whom right relationship with God is all important; and hands-on people for whom justice and other actions that Jesus commanded are all important. The book provides a paradigm shift inventory which helps these three groups move from conflict to communication.

The collapse of centuries old Christian paradigms is tearing apart Christian churches. It can lead to chaos and even violence, but it need not. The author points out the difference in the human body between mitosis, the division of cells which creates cancer, and meiosis, which is healthy and necessary to reproduction; a cell divides and gives half of itself to one new cell and half to the other. This is what we mean by weaving together the God-given strands that have been separated - and it is interesting that the author refers to Michael Mitton's book which explores this theme, and includes a chapter on 'paradigms that might have been' from the desert and Celtic eras. He leaves us with a question: could the Holy Spirit be preparing to birth something new, one that welcomes differentiation as a way of becoming a more whole Body of Christ? Sorry for this ghastly jargon - it is one of the off-putting features of some new monastic writers.

Posted at 10:45am on 4th February 2011
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