Thursday, March 13, 2008
Book Review: Rising From the Ashes
Becky Garrison's recent book, Rising From the Ashes, is significant in that it is the first book about the emerging church written by a female author. It is also unique in that it is entirely composed of interviews with over thirty worship leaders and others from the United States, Canada, and Australia. The demographics of the book are interesting too. Nearly half of the contributors are female, a quarter are based in New York City (and over a third are from the Northeast), nearly two thirds are Anglicans, and all but a handful are from liturgical mainline churches.

I bring up the demographics just to give you a sense of which slice of the church this book is addressing. Personally I found it to be a fascinating look at the ways the emerging movement is being played out in the mainline churches - a tradition I admittedly don't have much experience with. It is fascinating to see how many of their issues and concerns aren't quite the same as those of us coming out of an evangelical background. As Karen Ward said in her interview:
"I have a lot in common with my evangelical emergent brethren and we meet in the Emergent Village, but we're coming from different starting points. The mainliners and evangelicals are building bridges from the other side. We may meet in the middle, but we're attending to our side of it."
I have to admit that these differences in starting points did make it difficult for me to relate to parts of the book. I don't quite get the insistence on working within a church hierarchy and jumping through all the hoops and channels for instance; though perhaps I've just been burned too many times by the Spirit-stifling nature of church bureaucracy, even within my Baptist upbringing. And to be fair, there were dissenting voices on this topic represented among the interviewees as well. That is one of the strengths of this book - the multiple perspectives and answers to the same question.

I also really, really didn't get the devout dedication (by some) to the traditional liturgy. In fact, some of the interviews struck me as mere "coffee and candles" - basically making stylistic changes to a worship service and thinking that alone makes one "emerging". I suppose this was probably due to the fact that the books theme was primarily about worship, and especially worship services. I imagine that if Becky had decided to include more questions about mission, service, justice, community, etc. that a different picture of the contemporary mainline church would have emerged. At least, I think so. However, even when she did ask broader questions about some of these topics, the answers still tended to veer back to discussions of worship and liturgy. This leaves me wondering if there is just something about the mainline churches that I don't quite get as a former low-church Baptist - this sense that the received liturgy is somehow the most important aspect of church and that all of it's other tasks somehow revolve around and spring from that. I think I might disagree with that, though I need to hear more from mainliners to really understand them before I'm ready to engage with those ideas. For now I'm content just to listen and learn, and Becky's book is an excellent tool for doing just that.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 12:37 PM | Permalink |


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