I was intrigued by the blurb about Rising From The Ashes: Rethinking Church by Becky Garrison. A book about the potential synergy between the emerging church movement and mainstream churches? Sounded like just my thing. So I ordered it and started reading it as soon as it arrived – just jumped right in at Chapter 1 – Where Are We Now?
Well, Where We Are Now? didn't do much to answer the question, unfortunately. A rambling, incoherent picture emerged from the assortment of phone, in-person and IM chat interviews that failed to reveal any clear or even vaguely discernible picture. "Never mind," I thought. "All will become clear when Becky sums up the recurring themes…"
Except Becky never does sum up the themes. "Never mind," I thought. "All will become clear when we move on to chapter two and find out what Becky thinks…"
Except chapter two is The Gospel of the Kingdom, with exactly the same format. A quick skim through the rest of the book confirmed my worst fear at this point: it's all a collection of random interview snippets. This must have sounded like a really cool, "emergent" concept at the publishing house. It doesn't, however, make it a good book. Somehow, the words "book" and "author" imply a certain amount of care and, dare I say, "writing". "Transcribing" doesn't quite cut it.
Now, none of this need be the kiss of death if the content is fabulous. But, to be blunt, it isn't. The majority of it is more pretentious than The Matrix and less disciplined than Amy Winehouse. The cast of interviewees is not without merit, but the twee self-descriptions in the front of the book often fail to give any meaningful reason for the person's inclusion. Sometimes their role or place in the grand pantheon of Emergent becomes evident in the interviews, but far too often it doesn't. There are vague references to some possible relevance in there, but it's never made clear. More often than not you would have to know what obscure emergent community the interviewees are members of just make sense of what they say. So quite a bit of the book is people you don't know, whose role in the church is unclear, rambling about stuff that makes no sense. Maybe that's what postmodern is all about…
There are some good comments, but they are lost in a sea of randomness, with occasional icebergs of "wha?" One particular interview that stunned me (and not in a good way) was that of Tony Jones, the National Coordinator of Emergent Village, no less. In a mere page and a half Jones turns in an astonishingly belligerent phone interview, rife with testosterone fueled masculinity and potshots at the mainline churches (Anglicans quite specifically). I thought I was reading Mark Driscoll for a minute.
Not that the book is without merit. There's a long section by Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles here in Seattle that makes a lot of sense. And unlike Jones' rant against mainliners in general and Anglicans in particular, Cheryl Lawrie (Uniting Church in Australia) has a nice comment near the end:
How do you define church in the 21st century?
At its core the church is a community of people who are being faithful. The church has been around for over two thousand years and millions of people who have given their lives to changing the world and being faithful to the kingdom.I want to honor that.
To wrap up, the book is a carelessly slapped together collection of ideas and thoughts that may or may not (likely not) result in moving "the conversation" forward. As a mainliner interested in helping my denomination move forward in an "emerging" manner, I found the book singularly unhelpful.
One of my criteria for church related books especially is – would I recommend it or even give a copy to a friend? Sadly, this is not something I could do with this book. Something could have been salvaged with an index of contributors with real descriptions of what made them worthy enough to be included, cleaning up the writing (I mean, why include even the random breaks in IM chats? IM purity?) and perhaps even a brief synopsis of the ideas from each chapter.
In the self-congratulatory world that has become emergent, maybe it's time for somebody to point out that the emperor has no clothes.