What on earth am I doing?


I had my latest PhD supervision just over two weeks ago, at just under the 2.5 year point into my 6 year part time programme, with my first literature review chapter written. My supervisions have progressed from events that left me reeling with no idea of what I was trying to focus on, to times of major revisions to my focus, to what is now more a tightening and trimming of an outline, method, topic and thesis.

So much so that the next 3.5 years are scarily mapped out with reading and chapter writing goals, one per term for the next 7 terms/semesters. So trying to stand back and look at the bigger picture, what am I trying to do? This post is for my benefit and those of you who need some coma inducing reading.

And of course my outline below betrays the lack of focus and desire to do everything, that only a full time minister/pastor, pragmatic church pragmatic planter, and part time student could have in spades, and of course where my reach far exceeds my grasp.

Ecclesia Res Publica: At it's heart I am exploring how consumerism and secularism organise relationships, beliefs and practices, and what kind of people this makes us into and the implications of this for how we do church. Within this I'm diagnosing how my evangelical tradition has lost (if it had any in the first place), an idea of the public nature of church between the market and the home.

Church has been reduced to an optional club or society, unnecessary for Christian identity and formation, and if the modern evangelical church was captive to the market and consumerism, many of its new emerging forms of church, might continue to have more in common with consumer and secular identities than Christian ones.

And ultimately without this understanding, we'll continue to see fewer and fewer people convert to Christianity as a way of life with others. So I want to be honest to my church context and ask how has my evangelical tradition been complicit in a relationship with consumerism and the market, and does it have within itself the resources to respond to those problems. Rather than become post-church, post-evangelical, does my tradition have within itself the ability to renew itself?

Method:I'm locating my work within political theology, which takes the concrete nature of the church as it's focus, but then draws on ethical and theological reflection to understand that action. I'm particularly concerned that much of what passes for critiques of church is the application of social theory, and less to do with a traditioned, biblical and theological understanding of the church in history. I'm also trying to avoid over theologising of church, thinking about it in the abstract, producing great theories that have little or no connection to the real world.

So political theology attends to these problems, has within it the traditioned resources of the church in history, provides descriptions of the social and economic of life, and around issues that my problem area is about, the public nature of the church and christian life.

Chapter Outline - How I hope to do this: So lastly an outline of what I hope to do chapter by chapter to fulfill this.

Chapter One - What is the relationship of the evangelical church to consumerism and the market?: In this chapter I am going to explore the question of whether evangelicalism is a creature of modernity, and response to industrialism. I'll be trying to provide an historical account of how much the evangelical church is a carrier and distributor of the market.

I'll be trying to do that with a general historical account of the last couple of hundred years then some examples of specific cases studies of evangelical groups, such as methodism and the salvation army. I'll also explore how unlike these movements later renewal movements don't take determinate social forms.

In other words whereas previous forms of evangelicalism led to forms of church that ordered the rest of life, later renewal movements had no corresponding exploration of polity, or ceded that to the nature of the market and secularism. Or at least I'll be trying to see if that was the case. Ultimately I'll be asking if the emerging church ecclesiology lacks any determinative social forms, and if this is a continuing detriment to christian identity and formation.

This account, I expect will be a mixed bag, of how the church resisted the logic of the market and how it succumbed to it. Evangelicalism has an under-told story of it's relationship to the market, that I want to uncover.

Chapter Two - Understanding the relationship between the Market and Evangelicalism: Having provided an account of the relationship between the church and the market, I then need to find a way to understand that relationship.

In this chapter, I'll use the theological and philosophical resources of political theology. I'll be making my descriptions from social, philosophical and political theories to map the terrain in which the evangelical Protestant church now finds itself, and its historical and theological relationship to that environment. Writers I anticipate drawing on here for these descriptions are Karly Polanyi and Bourdieu, Max Weber, Vincent Miller, and Charles Taylor.

Chapter Three - A Traditioned Response?: Having given an historical account of the church and it's relationship to the market, and explored that nature of that relationship theologically, philosophically, politically and socially, this chapter will be one in which I formulate how I might begin to respond to the problems of the church surfaced in my research, and accounts I have made.

I'll be taking my lead from Alasdair MacIntyre, that we must start from the internal resources of our tradition to describe my problem and attend to it, a 'physician heal thyself'. Does my evangelical tradition and the larger traditions of the church have the resources to describe the problems we are in and also to respond to them?

I will seek to establish that there are three key and relevant discourses of 1) Augustinian/Reformed, 2) Anabaptist and 3) Anglican (Radical Orthodoxy) traditions that provide suitable descriptions of my problem areas and that offer implicit and explicit ecclesiological resources in response.

I will further establish for my method a theological trope for reading those resources, where using my work in chapters one and two, I will try to show how, within consumerism and secularism, 1) the anthropological locations (The Human Condition) lead to 2) an understanding of soteriology (what intervention and rescue must take place around that human condition), and 3) then how the ordering of human relationships takes place around that (that is, ecclesiology).

In other words, how do these three traditioned discourses provide a description of the human condition? What are their resultant soteriologies in response to that condition, and what are their explicit and implicit implications for the ordering of human relationships within ecclesiology?

Can these traditions read in this way reveal how consumerism and secularism function analogously to religious systems, how they co-opt and undermine Christian formation, and the implications for Christian conversion and identity, in the context of the political, the market and secularity? How is Christian identity therefore understood in light of the traditioned resources, and what kind of ecclesiology might better lead to Christian conversion and formation around these against the background of the market and secularism?

Chapters Four, Five, & Six - Traditioned Accounts: These chapters will contain the traditioned resources outlined in Chapter Three read against the identified trope of anthropology–soteriology–ecclesiology.

Chapter Seven – An Assessment of Current Ecclesiological Debates: In this chapter, I will ask what my findings from these traditioned resources have to say regarding current debates on ecclesiology, particularly dialogue on the emerging church, within which my Protestant evangelical tradition is located, being the initial area from which my research questions were surfaced.

I will offer an analysis of this current debate and key emerging-church figures in light of my research findings. In particular, I will take my preceding descriptions and diagnosis and ‘field test’ them against an emerging and ‘state of the art’ ecclesiology that typifies one such current ecclesial discussion.

In short I hope to explore how emerging church is perpetuating the problems of the relationship of the evangelical church to the market, and how it might be countering it, and what is taking place with regards to Christian identity, and formation, and ecclesiology. What is the ecclesiology of the emerging church and how is it helping or hindering its hopes and aspirations.

Chapter Eight - Implications: In my concluding chapter, I will provide a recap and summary of all my preceding chapters, outlining my implications for ecclesiology as it relates to my initial problem areas, and avenues for further exploration. In light of my findings, I will determine the implications for concrete mission and ecclesiology. What does all this mean for the public nature of church between the market and the home? What kinds of church self understanding, practices, and structures might help see more conversion and christian formation?