Seeking Church, by Dyrness and Deurksen, is driven by questions that arose because of the “emerging” or “insider movements” that are increasingly being witnessed at the fringes of where Christianity meets unreached areas. These movements have led missiologists and ecclesiologists to wonder how the members of these movements fit in to the structures of the church.
Dyrness and Deurksen state that two convictions drive the argument of this book.
- We believe that the church of Christ has always reflected its social and cultural setting; it has read Scripture in terms of its cultural assumptions about community and human goods… [therefore, this] has led to a wide variety of possible social forms.
- We argue that the church in all of its expressions is necessarily an emergent phenomenon. That is the entities we call ‘churches’ emerge from their interaction of their cultural assumptions, their special historical inheritances, and their understanding of God’s revelation through Scripture. (ix)
Their book begins by arguing for the view that all instances of the church are in fact “emergent” entities that reflect their particular social situation. (25) They then move on to exploring several biblical models of the church. From there the authors apply the notion of emergence to examine various practices of worship, including the eucharist. They make—what some will take to be a rather provocative argument—that many articulations of these practices ignore the fact that such articulations “emerged” from a particular historical and cultural context. Thus, the theological sensibilities reflected in these practices are also “emergent.” Because they are emergent, there must be room for new forms and practices that reflect the significance of these worship practices. The end of the book presents a biblical theology of God’s purposes for his people. They identify the biblical church with the eschatological people of God.
Dyrness and Deurksen’s (D&D) argument in Seeing Church really hangs on the ideas they establish in chapter three. There they define the concept of emergence. They say,
For social theorists, emergence describes the process of interaction between a context and persons and what results out of that interaction. As Christian Smith explains, social emergence is “the process of constituting a new entity with its own particular characteristics and capacities through the interactive combination of other different entities.” (65)
What is the real significance of emergence for ecclesiology? For D&D the significance lies in the fact that the church does not stand above culture. The church emerges, or is a product of, its cultural situation and the values and practices of that cultural setting from which it emerged. Emergence is a dynamic process. They explain,
As people related to eachother and to the gospel from their own cultural situations, there often emerge new entities, including new ideas or understandings, new senses of togetherness and corporate identity, and eventually new social forms or institutions by which to sustain these. (82)
The significance of this idea is that when we are wondering about the state of insider movements we need to recognize that the church is an emergent entity in those settings. So, the church won’t look like it does elsewhere. When the people encounter God and the Gospel in their cultural setting new forms of church will emerge, that is why insider movements look so different from what many Christians are used to when they think about the church.
This does not mean that there aren’t marks of the church. In fact D&D list five marks of the church. Each of these, however, will look different based on cultural and historical context. The marks are:
- Wherever the story of Christ is heard and obeyed
- Wherever a community forms around this story
- Wherever this community responds to this story in prayer and praise
- Wherever this community seeks to live in peace with eachother and their wider community
- Wherever an impulse drives this community to witness to Christ and the transformation the Spirit has brought about. (151)
Where these marks are present, there, say D&D, “the emergent dynamic of the church is present.” (151)
This book will be of use to those who are interested in ecclesiology or missiology. It will also be of interest to those who are aware of the dynamics of insider movements and would like to think carefully about the nature of these movements. The book presents vivid stories of Christ following communities that could be labeled as “insider movements.” These stories are moving and might challenge your understanding of these movements. Their use of social emergence theory is innovative and seems to be quite fruitful.