Make the institutional church history, says theologian - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
July 15, 2005

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Make the institutional church history, says theologian

-15/07/05

A Protestant theologian, who has written provocative books about Archbishop Rowan Williams and the disestablishment of the Church of England, says that Christianity must dismantle the concept of church and become a faith of spontaneous celebration and action.

Theo Hobson, who is also an Ekklesia associate, is author of Against establishment: An Anglican Polemic and Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on Church. Writing recently in The Guardian newspaper, he claims that ìthe dominant trend of contemporary Christian theology might be called ecclesiastical fundamentalism.î

Hobson criticises forms of church life that model top-down approaches to power, reproduce rigid thinking and exclude those who think or behave differently. He says that Christianity must move beyond institutionalism, taking the experience of Carnival as the appropriate contemporary idiom for Christian expression.

Perhaps recalling the dynamic of the recent Live8 events, Hobson writes: ìRowan Williams has expressed the hope that the church will capture the cultural imagination. It cannot: the average ageing rock-star has more chance. Imagine a huge rally staged by the leaders of our established religion. Why is that so unthinkable? Because this form of religion is tied to an institutionalism that turns the majority off, and provokes deep suspicion.î

Instead Hobson says that ìChristian culture needs to cultivate an anarchic lightness, a lust for freedom, a celebratory spirit.î He cites Glastonbury, Notting Hill and Gay Pride carnivals and Chinese New Year as having something of this ethos.

In recent years there has been a huge turn away from ëinstitutional religioní, especially amongst the young. Sociologists of religion often speak of the shift from traditional belief to new age style spirituality, and towards ëbelieving without belongingí. But there is also a significant trend towards ëalternative churchí and ëemergent churchí in the post-Christendom era.

Another writer, Alan Jamieson, has described the phenomenon of Christians who have stopped going to traditional churches altogether. Sometimes they form small groups, support networks or internet communities to express and explore faith. On other occasions they take Christian festivals like the big August Bank Holiday event Greenbelt (praised by Anita Roddick and others outside the church) as a rallying point.

The Church of England is unlikely to welcome the radical nature of Theo Hobsonís critique, but it is nonetheless keen to invest in alternatives alongside traditional parish life. Dr Steven Croft has been brought in as an adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, on ëfresh expressions of churchí, following a major Synod report on different approaches to mission.

The ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has also been running a countrywide programme called Building Bridges of Hope for a number of years. This looks at how both traditional and newer churches can renew themselves and forge better links into the community.

Earlier this year the UK theological think tank Ekklesia gave fresh impetus to the call for the disestablishment of the Church of England as part of a radical rethink about the role and style of the church today.

Theo Hobson ends his call to make the centralised church history by calling for Easter Day 2006 to take place in Hyde Park, London. He writes: ìThere will be drumming, dancing and parades. Letís have 2 million of you out there.î

If Hobsonís plea works, it might turn out to be the first mass expression of Christian community constituted by ëflash mobbingí, the spontaneous gathering of crowds through mobile phones and email. The original Pentecost happened in the pre-technology era.

Find books now:

Make the institutional church history, says theologian

-15/07/05

A Protestant theologian, who has written provocative books about Archbishop Rowan Williams and the disestablishment of the Church of England, says that Christianity must dismantle the concept of church and become a faith of spontaneous celebration and action.

Theo Hobson, who is also an Ekklesia associate, is author of Against establishment: An Anglican Polemic and Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on Church. Writing recently in The Guardian newspaper, he claims that 'the dominant trend of contemporary Christian theology might be called ecclesiastical fundamentalism.'

Hobson criticises forms of church life that model top-down approaches to power, reproduce rigid thinking and exclude those who think or behave differently. He says that Christianity must move beyond institutionalism, taking the experience of Carnival as the appropriate contemporary idiom for Christian expression.

Perhaps recalling the dynamic of the recent Live8 events, Hobson writes: 'Rowan Williams has expressed the hope that the church will capture the cultural imagination. It cannot: the average ageing rock-star has more chance. Imagine a huge rally staged by the leaders of our established religion. Why is that so unthinkable? Because this form of religion is tied to an institutionalism that turns the majority off, and provokes deep suspicion.'

Instead Hobson says that 'Christian culture needs to cultivate an anarchic lightness, a lust for freedom, a celebratory spirit.' He cites Glastonbury, Notting Hill and Gay Pride carnivals and Chinese New Year as having something of this ethos.

In recent years there has been a huge turn away from ëinstitutional religion', especially amongst the young. Sociologists of religion often speak of the shift from traditional belief to new age style spirituality, and towards ëbelieving without belonging'. But there is also a significant trend towards ëalternative church' and ëemergent church' in the post-Christendom era.

Another writer, Alan Jamieson, has described the phenomenon of Christians who have stopped going to traditional churches altogether. Sometimes they form small groups, support networks or internet communities to express and explore faith. On other occasions they take Christian festivals like the big August Bank Holiday event Greenbelt (praised by Anita Roddick and others outside the church) as a rallying point.

The Church of England is unlikely to welcome the radical nature of Theo Hobson's critique, but it is nonetheless keen to invest in alternatives alongside traditional parish life. Dr Steven Croft has been brought in as an adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, on ëfresh expressions of church', following a major Synod report on different approaches to mission.

The ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has also been running a countrywide programme called Building Bridges of Hope for a number of years. This looks at how both traditional and newer churches can renew themselves and forge better links into the community.

Earlier this year the UK theological think tank Ekklesia gave fresh impetus to the call for the disestablishment of the Church of England as part of a radical rethink about the role and style of the church today.

Theo Hobson ends his call to make the centralised church history by calling for Easter Day 2006 to take place in Hyde Park, London. He writes: 'There will be drumming, dancing and parades. Let's have 2 million of you out there.'

If Hobson's plea works, it might turn out to be the first mass expression of Christian community constituted by ëflash mobbing', the spontaneous gathering of crowds through mobile phones and email. The original Pentecost happened in the pre-technology era.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.