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Kester Brewin & Signs of Emergence (part 2)

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Kester Brewin, author of the upcoming emergent book Signs of Emergence, is a writer and pioneering church planter based in London, England. In emerging church circles he is best known for working with a collective of artists and city lovers to create the experimental, alternative worship group Vaux. Brewin has worked in an advisory role at Fuller Theological Seminary, helping them to think about new ways of training Emerging leaders.

In the previous post I tried to outline something of where the book Signs of Emergence came from. So what’s it about?

A few years ago, as Vaux, the group I was part of, was exploring different models of organization, I was given a book called Emergence by a New York science writer Steven Johnson. It’s a wonderful book, full of amazing stories of systems, both in the natural world and in our cities, that have no top-down hierarchy, that organize themselves. It is a principle that has more recently driven the idea of "the wisdom of crowds" with such projects as Wikipedia. Such systems are said to have "emergent" properties. Their wisdom emerges from the ground up, not from some distant hierarchy. They are highly flexible and adaptable.

The thesis of the book is simple: two thousand years before we discovered the science, God "re-emerged" in Christ. In the incarnation we see God doing away with the top-down, hierarchical system of the Temple, and being born as a tiny baby. God refused the cries of the people to rain down revolution in the form of a military messiah, and instead decided on evolution as the mode of change. Slow. Gentle. Adapted to the local environment. Networked.

This is what Vaux has been trying to do. We came from a place where “church practices were accommodations to a society that no longer existed”, and have slowly been trying to evolve into something different. It’s been no bed of roses, but I feel that with the institutional, national face of Christianity so widely derided the body of Christ in this time and place has a great deal to learn from this model of incarnation, of emergence.

By exploring the birth, ministry, and passion of Christ, the book thus explores what an "emergent" church might look like.

Signs of Emergence opens with some analysis of the current situation, and then pleas for us to stop and wait before acting, just as God metaphorically did in the inter-testamental period. There is then some thinking about what the character of an emergent church would look like, compared to a top-down church and a totally anarchic church. This is important: self-organization doesn’t mean no organization!

In the second half of the book, I try to look more closely at a few aspects of this emergent body of Christ, with reference to three key areas: the city, the gift economy, and dirt.

Finally, the book explores how Christ’s death and resurrection are perhaps the clearest signs yet of God’s passion for the emergent principle. We still celebrate this in the Eucharist: like Christ’s body, one centralized bread is broken and distributed. Its "disappearance" means it cannot be destroyed. The curtain is torn. The phial is broken. The virus of God has escaped, and we, the people of the Spirit are now called to live as the distributed people of God.

I hope you enjoy the book and, to continue the emergent principle, I look forward to continuing to engage the issues with you at the Signs blog: http://kester.typepad.com/signs

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