Scot McKnight cues me to the latest edition of David Dunbar’s Missional Journal. David is not only the president of Biblical Seminary, he is also a voice in the missional conversation.

Along with others I distinguish the “missional” conversation from the emerging conversation. This follows historical precedent, and both Tom Sine’s recent work “The New Conspirators” and David’s journal article. It’s worth the read and you can find it HERE.

It’s interesting to characterize the four conversations as Sine did, with four streams denoted by emerging, missional, monastic and mosaic (Find Andrew Perrimann’s summary HERE). It’s even more interesting to observe the convergence of these energies, all birthed by the Holy Spirit. Each brings their own renewal dynamic to the broader church, and I’m convinced that the convergence zone is where some of the most creative experiments will occur. Convergence is evident in places like Life on the Vine, where monastic is meeting missional and emergent, or in kingdom initiatives like ALLELON, where a similar dynamic is at work.

“Experiments,” you say, “the Church of Jesus Christ is never an experiment.” Agreed. Elizabeth O’Connor writes,

“We would say that the church of Christ is never an experiment, but wherever that church is true to its mission it will be experimenting, pioneering, blazing new paths, seeking how to speak the reconciling Word of God to its own age. It cannot do this if it is held captive by the structures of another day or is slave to its own structures…” (Call to Commitment, 1966)

David characterizes “missional” and “emerging” uniquely. The missional movement grew out of the Gospel and our Culture network and came to prominence with the publication of Missional Church in 1998. This conversation, profoundly theological, was built on the insight and experience of Lesslie Newbigin who recognized that the west had become a context for mission.

The emerging conversation, while incorporating some of the insights from the missional movement, is also built on insights rising from the new science, and in particular from emergence and chaos theory. David writes,

Emergence theory argues that dynamic systems grow out of a combination of top-down and bottom-up processes that unleash the creativity necessary for organisms to adapt and thrive in their environments. Emerging church leaders are therefore quite prepared to reinvent traditional church structures and leadership roles in favor of promoting life.

That observation and contextualization is helpful. My own reading has taken me into the works of Margaret Wheatley, Dee Hock, Peter Senge, Fritjof Capra and others. I find the work being done at the convergence zones of biology, quantum physics, and organizational science to be extremely helpful. The work around complex adaptive systems is helping us move beyond rationalized and mechanistic thinking to an older and more organic paradigm.

David has focused on two of the four streams identified by Sine. I have little contact with the mosaic, but I am intensely interested in the “monastic” stream, and its own flavor and impact in the on-the-ground engagement that is occurring as these streams water the roots of the church world-wide. If Thomas Homer-Dixon is right that synergistic energy can result in catagenesis in complex systems, we may be observing the emergence of conditions that will engender a new storm system for change.

In the journal, David accurately cites David Fitch as a leader in the emerging movement. Life on the Vine, however, is one of those bodies that has crossed into the monastic movement by scripting and adopting a rule of life. Similarly, Alan Roxburgh is known as a leader in the missional movement, but as far back as the publication of Missional Church has had a strong interest in covenant structures. Retrospectively, it seems that the emerging conversation has been the catalyst that allowed missional and monastic to combine. What has the monastic component added? What is this new element that grows from the synergy? The process is very new, but I think it is worth offering some initial observations.

It helps to be clear about what monastic revival offers to the mix. I take it that the goal of the new monasticism is to create “colonies of heaven,” an alternative and kingdom culture that exists in a rhythm of inward and outward movement: prayer, work, and mission — particularly mission to marginalized groups. I use the word “culture” purposefully, since I am convinced that culture is a cultivating force. We are always being formed, and the telos of humankind is the image of Christ. Thus a foundational ministry is the nurturing of alternative kingdom communities growing out of a missional engagement with culture. (Some of us would argue that apart from the existence of communities that stand in some sense prophetically against the dominant culture, there is no true ekklesial presence).
1. the missional movement identified covenant and context (place, or land) as important theological categories, but needed a way to anchor those concepts in renewed practices as well as in tradition. The monastic movement provides that anchor with its rule and rhythms, as well as the connection to memory (many of the rules and practices are adapted from historical expressions).

2. the missional movement offered a strong theological anchor for mission in the Trinity, but needed a way to anchor that movement in a rhythm of inward and outward life. The monastic movement provides that anchor by empowering devotional (gathered) rhythms with particular practices (the daily office, lectio Divina and similar)

3. the emergent movement offers a strong critique of practices, but tends toward an activist and individualist agenda. The monastic movement offers a recovery of shared discipline and common devotion and places the transformed community at the center.

4. the emergent movement offers a strong critique of structures, but tends toward pragmatic response. The missional movement offers theological anchors, historical and cultural nuancing (thick description) as well as a balanced critique of modernity and the Enlightenment.

5. the emergent movement in its emphasis on newness and difference sometimes stands aloof from tradition and history, becoming sectarian and forcing the “reinvention” of the wheel (a hermeneutic of suspicion). The missional and monastic movements offer connection to memory, tradition and wisdom and the recognition that “there is nothing new under the sun,” or as Merton put it,

“That which is oldest is most young and most new. There is nothing so ancient and so dead as human novelty. The ‘latest’ is always stillborn. What is really NEW is what was there all the time. I say, not what has repeated itself all the time; the really “new” is that which, at every moment, springs freshly into new existence. This newness never repeats itself. Yet it is so old it goes back to the earliest beginning. It is the very beginning itself, which speaks to us.” New Seeds of Contemplation

Part II

5 Comments on Missional, Emergent, Emerging: A Traveler’s Guide

  1. […] Terms like “missional” “emerging” and “new monastic” get used a lot recently, but it’s never entirely clear to me what they mean. Here’s one traveler’s take on the definitions. I think it’s an interesting one, but I’m also hopeful that we’ll keep constructing for a while, and not end up narrowing into hardened definitions too quickly. […]

  2. […] Len says, “Each brings their own renewal dynamic to the broader church, and I’m convinced that the convergence zone is where some of the most creative experiments will occur.” I too believe in the convergent zones being the places where the really good stuff happens. And from my own experience, this convergence is inevitable (as I pray all healthy happenings should be). […]

  3. […] This convergence of missional, liturgical, and monastic movements seems to be generating much of this emergent conversation. As we cross traditional boundaries we are becoming a learning community again, and in many locations a community of practice. The beauty is the possibility that we can learn and grow in creative new ways without abandoning the best of who we were. The future of God is among the people of God. […]

  4. […] Read David’s post.. what do you think? Is this kind of taxonomy helpful in understanding the different emphases out there? For an alternate taxonomy (asking different questions) of the conversation, check out “Missional, Emergent and Monastic: A Traveler’s Guide.” […]

  5. […] Missional, Emergent, Monastic — a Traveler’s Guide and The Younger […]