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Emerging Evangelicals

Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity

James S. Bielo
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Emerging Evangelicals
    Book Description:

    The Emerging Church movement developed in the mid-1990s among primarily white, urban, middle-class pastors and laity who were disenchanted with America's conservative Evangelical sub-culture. It is a response to the increasing divide between conservative Evangelicals and concerned critics who strongly oppose what they consider overly slick, corporate, and consumerist versions of faith. A core feature of their response is a challenge to traditional congregational models, often focusing on new church plants and creating networks of related house churches.Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, James S. Bielo explores the impact of the Emerging Church movement on American Evangelicals. He combines ethnographic analysis with discussions of the movement's history, discursive contours, defining practices, cultural logics, and contentious interactions with conservative Evangelical critics to rethink the boundaries of Evangelical as a category. Ultimately, Bielo makes a novel contribution to our understanding of the important changes at work among American Protestants, and illuminates how Emerging Evangelicals interact with the cultural conditions of modernity, late modernity, and visions of postmodern Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2323-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Conceptualizing Emerging Evangelicalism
    (pp. 1-27)

    “This is the way it’s supposed to be,” Larry averred from the top of the stairs. I turned to offer an appreciative nod. His face was beaming, framed by a neatly kept white beard.

    It was 4:30 p.m., mid-June 2009, and I had just finished a three-hour interview, preceded by two hours of talk, food, and coffee. The day had started with no anticipation of anything unexpected. I was to interview Aaron, a campus pastor in his late thirties. We had arranged to meet for lunch in Newport, Kentucky, just across the state line from Cincinnati. Aaron suggested a change...

  6. 1 Stories of Deconversion
    (pp. 28-46)

    I spent two hours on June 25, 2003 interviewing a man named Paul. He was in his late forties and a deacon at a rural Nazarene congregation. Paul was a conservative Evangelical, and there was nothing Emerging about him. I was doing fieldwork with three congregations, focusing on the circulation of moral discourses in local churches. Paul was an especially active member in several weekly prayer and study groups, so we arranged an interview about his experience with the church and cultural models of morality. I conducted fifteen interviews that summer, and always began by asking for a spiritual-religious life...

  7. 2 Ironies of Faith
    (pp. 47-69)

    March 25, 2008: East Lansing, Michigan. Tonight I witnessed one of the oddest scenes I can recall in eight years of fieldwork with American Christians. It was ten o’clock on a weekday night. A tall, lanky man stood in front of a pulpit. His hair was short and neatly trimmed. He wore nondescript glasses, and a plaid button-up shirt tucked perfectly into iron-pressed beige khakis. He did not look the part of a celebrity, but he seemed to be playing one. A throng of preteen boys and girls with arms extended surrounded him, all waving the same book. They were...

  8. 3 Ancient-Future I: Experiencing God
    (pp. 70-97)

    The December 2007 issue ofU.S. News and World Report,one of a few widely circulated news periodicals reliably perched in grocery store check-out aisles, was entitled: “A Return to Ritual: why many modern worshipers, including Catholics, Jews, and evangelicals are embracing tradition.” The cover photo hints at the story’s contents: priests in formal, brightly adorned robes blessing a sacrament in front of an altar, complete with sacred texts and a white stone, winged angel (Figure 3.1). The article suggests that Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim communities are increasingly attracted to older expressions of faith. To illustrate the Evangelical incarnation,...

  9. 4 Ancient-Future II: Everyday Monastics
    (pp. 98-117)

    In late October 2008 I waited in a coffee shop for Glenn. It was a Friday afternoon and the atmosphere was bustling, nearly frenetic. The activity was explained by the start of weekend socializing, the unseasonably warm, sunny weather and a fast approaching presidential election. Political talk filled the air alongside the permanence of coffee smells and the occasional, halting grind of an espresso machine. I had not talked with Glenn for over a month and was excited at the prospect of another follow-up interview.

    Glenn is an east Tennessee native and retains a thick, Appalachian drawl. It complements the...

  10. 5 Missional I: Everyday Missionaries
    (pp. 118-137)

    As a worship consultant Lilly is, relatively speaking, a success. She travels regularly as a paid speaker at conferences, churches, and workshops to help Christian communities develop ancient-future worship events. She coauthored a manual about creating sacred spaces, published by a major Christian press. Since leaving professional ministry, her consultant work has been the primary expression of her religious vocation. But in her own backyard, in Cincinnati, Lilly maintains a worry.

    Events like the journaling group are not uniformly appealing. Lilly recognized this fact, describing most Thinplace events as overly “cerebral,” noting the bias toward well-educated, highly literate participants. Reading,...

  11. 6 Missional II: Kingdom Theologies
    (pp. 138-156)

    I reviewed the diagram once more before holding it up to show everyone. For several minutes I had been sketching it in my field notebook. In the middle of the page was one word, in capital letters, “KINGDOM.” Curved and straight lines extended in all directions from this centerpiece. Capping the lines was a series of words: “Identity,” “Worship,” “Missional,” “Theology,” “Environment,” “Place,” “Politics.” I wanted to convey (however inartistically) the idea that so much of Evangelical thought and practice is connected to, if not derived from, kingdom theology: understandings about the nature — the what, when, where, why, how, and...

  12. 7 Church Planting I: A New Work
    (pp. 157-177)

    From the audience of about fifty people, a young man who looked to be in his late twenties asked, “When you have a team ready to plant, how do you find a church willing to mentor you?” Three of the four panelists answered him. Dustin, “lead pastor” for a 2005 church plant in the eastern suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky, assured the questioner that if he had the flexibility to move anywhere he and his team would be “snapped up in a second.” Following some advice from others in the audience, Rick, lead pastor for a 2006 church plant joked that...

  13. 8 Church Planting II: Sense of Place
    (pp. 178-194)

    Doing ethnography with missional church planters in Cincinnati proved to be fortuitous. Neighborhoods are the reason. Cincinnati—much like New York or Chicago—is a city defined by its collection of distinct neighborhood enclaves. When you ask Cincinnatians where they live—or for driving directions, or where an address is located, or where they would like to buy a house, or where the best place to (insert desired activity) is—they begin with a neighborhood. Rhoda Halperin, an economic anthropologist and former professor at the University of Cincinnati, used this social fact as an ethnographic starting point in her book,...

  14. Conclusion: Dialogic Evangelicalism
    (pp. 195-204)

    On Saturday, October 2, 2010, at 9 p.m. I was standing in the scene that opened this book, the neighborhood street corner in Norwood between 1801 and St. E. Looking in three directions the view repeated: silent streets, empty sidewalks, half-lit by dim street lights. Looking west, the view was much the same, save one difference: one porch, bright with candles and lighting, voices and laughter ringing, echoing against the otherwise sleepy backdrop.

    The porch was that of the Vineyard Central communal house, where Kevin, who had vowed stability in this neighborhood, lives with his wife and other residents. I...

  15. Appendix Ethnographic Consultants
    (pp. 205-210)
  16. References
    (pp. 211-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-224)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 225-225)