January 23, 2005

Holy Holism

For a few months now, I've been searching for the root of emergent philosophy, for some common thread between the prolific writing of the various authors and pastors; I've been baffled the whole time.

I first thought it might just be a disdain for the modern church, but that's not entirely true, because many (not all) of them seem fairly supportive of the modern church's efforts at reaching a certain kind of person. Then I thought that maybe it was that they liked to talk about culture, because that kept popping up in their discussions on relevance, on connecting. That didn't seem to be the whole story, so I kept searching. Then I came upon what I knew must be the answer: relationships. They all talked about people having relationships, being in community and groups together, that sort of thing. But the modernists talk about similar subjects in a slightly different light. So that wasn't it.

But then it hit me. I was reading a book by Erwin McManus this afternoon and it dawned on me that every single one of the postmodern emergent writers I've read are holists. I couldn't believe it, because it's been sitting under my nose since last semester's project on David Wilson's book Darwin's Cathedral, and I ignored it. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

For those of you who don't know, holism is a philosophy that's recently emerged from ... well, just about everywhere. People are starting to think that maybe it's time to stop micromanaging and look at the big picture. This has a lot of applications. For one, it means combining a million and one various Christian traditions (both past and present) into one coherent faith, keeping the good parts (the ones that reflect scripture) and dropping the bad parts (the culturally-indoctrinated, non-Biblical parts), while also integrating new, culturally-relevant but Biblically-sound ideas.

Second, it means that one must look over the whole Bible when discussing a part of it. Holism, for one, states that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts." Christian Holists, for lack of a better name for these guys (no girls yet, but I heard about somebody named Sally Morgenthaler who sounded interesting), look at the Bible as a large, interconnected story, and not just as a collection of individual bullet points. In other words, every part of the Bible is relevant to every other part. This means that yes, Malachi is part of the greater work and just as important as, say, the gospel of John, just like Genesis, just like Revelation, and just like ... oh, pick any book you haven't read yet - it'll fit. Jesus is central to the story, but He's just as much the author as a participant and character. The Grand Story (or as C.S. Lewis put it, the Great Dance) is of ultimate importance to these guys; past, present, and future fit together like an ornate jigsaw puzzle (smacking of predestination theology), and yet freedom of choice is an integral part (free-will theology). As my friend Mike says, "you can't be a Christian and not accept paradoxes."

He's an emergent Christian.

I know, I know, I promised I'd never use the word "Christian" anymore, but it's getting harder and harder to avoid it; it takes more time to type out "Jesus-Follower" (involving more keys and key combinations). Yes, I'm a slacker. Stink.

Anyway, third, Christian Holists are concerned globally, for the world at large. They are just as interested in community growth as in individual spiritual growth. There's a tennet in holism called "organismic integration" which seems to apply here - holist philosophers look at every group as organisms. Wilson called it "mulitilevel selection theory" when he talked about natural selection, but this seems to be a concept that overflows into every field of study. A church is an organism the same way a person made of lots of cells is an organism the same way that humanity is an orgnaism made up of lots of other organisms. The same way the world is an organism made up of humans and animals and plants and dirt and rocks and insects.

And fishes. I like the fishes.

The last thing that these philosophers are very concerned with is balance. Most of them acknowledge that all of the concepts they talk about aren't that new - they're all in scripture, after all - but that they are merely pointing out concepts to which many in the older churches have blinded themselves, mostly out of a fear of change. Balance seems to be important to them for so many reasons: it's healthy, it's necessary for life to continue, it's built into creation, and the list goes on. From this comes a concern for many things, from the environment to personal health, from spiritual vitality to worship: every piece has its place, in such and such a proportion. Holists speak of the dangers of over-dependence upon technology, of being overly busy, of doing too much of one thing or another. Instead, they advocate moderation and balance, allowing the natural mechanisms that God built into creation to work. They don't claim that this is easy, only that it is necessary.

My apologies for such a long post, but I'm getting to the point where every new book I read confirms this view, and there's a LOT of information to talk about. I'm not quite to the point where I know where music fits into the grand scheme of things, but I'm getting there. Gotta balance my work load with my social life, I guess.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Chris... is it 'wholism?' as in 'whole' or as in 'hole'? other than that, you rock man! good find. I completely agree with your analysis. I think one of the most challenging parts of this emerging 'conversation' is the integration of ancient Christianity into a future context. This new experiment in the faith is diving back into the works of the ancient church and the medieval church, not to strip-mine them as we so often do with scripture, but to let those who have gone before us speak to us. I've heard our 20 centuries of spiritual parents called "the silent majority"... and that silent majority was thrown to the wayside when the plumb-bob swung to a 'me and my Bible' style faith. So often we throw the baby out with the bathwater in the church. "Tradition has overtaken scripture in importance, so let's get rid of all church history." Not smart at all. It's refreshing when reading McLaren and others that they find the good in modernity and seek to augment it, not throw it all away. I would worry if we were to retard ourselves to a time before modernity set in... and start believing again that someone with the flu is possessed by a demon. :) I think the only other thing that i notice across these new writers and thinkers of the faith is a return to straight-up Jesus worship. I see the modern church revering things other than Jesus at equal level with Jesus... if not in word, then in deed. We have begun to worship Paul. We've definitely idolized Scripture. And we're rather selective as to what we will preach from. if nothing more, these are all areas worth examining. But this is Chris' blog, not mine... sorry for the long commentary :)
Blessings to you and yours