Signs of Emergence by Kester Brewin – A Literary Review
I basically start with my sense of the author’s thesis, followed by a
general overview of the book, and then I focus on themes that are
pertinent to my research. With that said, here is my review.
Brewin in signs of Emergence contends that the current demise of the church in the West is not to be blamed on the lack of personal holiness, but on old wineskins, and that the church must empower people (herself) to honestly face change and evolve, or become extinct.
Brewin looks to Fowler’s stages of faith, urban theory, the science of emergence as well as the story of scripture to help us consider how to evolve, so that we might “become wombs of the divine, allowing God to fertilize our creativity and give birth to newness” (67). Brewin calls for evolutionary change, not revolutionary change (43) and suggests that our first step is to stop. Like the season of advent, we are to pause. To rest. To wait. Just like a woman cannot speed up her pregnancy, the church cannot try and fix herself with a new program to make everything okay. After waiting he suggests that the church needs to be born again, that is the church needs to rebirth into her host culture and to re-emerge from the bottom up. He uses emergence theory to help describe the character of the emergent church, one that dances between the dangers or rigidity on the one hand and anarchy on the other. He then calls the church to discover God in the city, to learn to be a gift exchange culture in the midst of a consumeristic culture, and reevaluate our dirt boundaries, what we consider clean and unclean.
THEMES TO REMEMBER
I appreciate how Brewin intertwines the story of Jesus and our current post-world context in a way that frees us to imagine. He uses the scripture, poetry, and science to call us to evolve. By using the rebirth idea, he helps us to realize that “failure” is a natural part of evolution, “we must be aware of our expectations. The newness that will be born will be incomplete and immature. It will be newness not fully formed and unable to speak. It will be newness defenseless and unable to justify itself to its seniors. It will be newness that is born into a culture and therefore totally and naturally immersed in the codes, the language, this history and life of that which it comes to serve.” (67,68)
Brewin reminds us that just as Sabbath was man for man, and not man for the Sabbath, structures must serve us, not us serve them (46). Brewin also calls us to face the pain of exile and reminds us that it doesn’t matter if God abandoned us or we abandoned Him, “what is patently clear is that the church is experiencing separation, delamination, marginalization, trivialization, and exile from the world it seeks to service. And therefore it is experiencing these things from God too, for if the church is not connected to its host culture and society, it is not where God wants it to be, and therefore not where God is” (50). Drawing on Brueggemann’s study of Jeremiah, he reminds us that that the first step through the journey of exile is grief. Quoting Brueggemann he notes: “Indeed, he surmises that only through grief can newness become a possibility” (51). Brewin gives a lot of rich but uncommon advice that I can appreciate.
His thoughts on the character of Emergent systems is helpful:
1. Emergent systems are open systems
2. Emergent systems are adaptable systems
3. Emergent systems are learning systems
4. Emergent systems have distributed knowledge
5. Emergent systems model servant leadership
6. Emergent systems only evolve in places between anarchy and rigidity (97-117)
I found this chart extremely helpful in thinking about how to approach leadership today.
Chapter 6 where he calls the church to be a hub of gift exchange and chapter 7 where he calls us to redefine what is dirty and what is clean. If you get a minute, check out Kester’s blog.