Sunday, 5 August 2012

New Wine Re-circulating Wine

I've not been blogging much as it is, to be honest, in this a period of waiting between news items that draw comment; also I am recovering from a five minute relationship that got to the stage where I removed myself from dating websites and now have put myself back on them, all thanks to some better and past-related offer. You go through waves of frustration and re-enquiry afterwards and the annoyance of how well she suited, at least from my viewpoint.

Still, life goes on, and in the agenda area of this blog was a comment made at the Unitarians a few weeks ago, about an attractive female seen standing outside a New Wine church while many of her kind were going in to this place. It is not exactly the experience of a Unitarian church, and the Hull church has a side door.

(I'm grateful to Rachel blogging again on this subject to inspire me to comment, where she rates herself as fully into New Wine and its dispersal, also into Anglican (and other) evangelicalism despite a number not accepting women in leadership (and she was the only priested female present), and distant from the indaba-finding of difference and yet loving social commitment across Anglican Churches.)

The New Wine type church is sect-type or conversionist while trying to be anything but when it comes to contemporary culture. It is sometimes referred to as Third Wave because it is a born again Pentecostalism that connects with culture. New Wine is one of a number of such expressions, but it is denominationally a self-organising one. There are a number of theological individuals better known than others that have made contributions. One is John Wimber's Kingdom theology where God will act supernaturally to bring about a Kingdom through the believers as agents. Some of these signs and wonders were visible in the Toronto Blessing, in the 1990s, of animal-like behaviour, physical movements and uncontrollable laughter (apparently). In the 1970s at the Fuller Seminary in teh United States there was a deliberate conscious plan of combining fundamentalist type belief with sociological church growth insights that informed the New Wine movement, so that one of its most noted outcomes is the homogeneity of its gathered crowd - younger, tending to be middle class and with social aspiration. The fact that an attractive lass stands outside the door is no accident, though the origins of this may have been lost in the background detail. Not only was sociology used for church growth, but so was psychology: John White examined the revivals of the past and their psychology, with the intention of using such insights: the psychology of revival can be induced again via individuals.

To simplify all the above, the Kingdom theology and psychology is the belief that God works through the gathered individuals. There is thus a huge emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the collective driver of individual experience whilst, it would seem, the anchor is the retained biblical (more or less) literalism.

Some of its leaders and the Toronto Blessing have come in for ethical criticism, but the biggest criticism has been its claim to pull in new people. The bulk are people who have come from other churches. New Wine has been suspicious of research and its motivation from sociologists of religion despite its use (the use of which has been called Religious Sociology: with roots in French Catholic research for Church purposes). The potential for being regarded as socially deviant does not impress a group that is trying to have both its sectarian cake and eat it in an accepting public.

The question is how to understand the New Wine movement in terms of the various secularisation and pluralism and even postmodern hypotheses of life and meaning today. Clearly it is a non-structure structure, in the sense of both breaking free from existing formal Church structures as well as invigorating some congregations within Churches. It is clearly low barrier culturally - indeed it is an entertainment Church, drawing is mode of operation from the rock and pop culture, even dance culture in some cases, whilst then being high barrier for belief commitment including a previous culture of supernatural signs and wonders (and it would be interesting to see how individuals negotiate those - one way is to contact people who have left the movement to see how the juggled the demands made on them).

Most churches juggle these barriers. The Anglicans are, of course, all over the place. Some of the anglo-Catholic churches have a high cultural barrier when it comes to the speciality of ritual but low belief barrier in terms of what is required for acceptance in the congregation. Some post-evangelicals are attempting to lower the belief barriers in identifying the spirituality of low evangelism. In a liberal Church like the Unitarians or Quakers, there are very low belief barriers but high cultural barriers (plus behavioural for Quakers in their speciality of silence) - the surely realised view that the hymn sandwich is of the past and rather past its sell by date, and yet with no idea of what might replace it. Yes the newest book supplement has hymns more like songs, but it is a tweak on the whole. I like services where a central sermon is broken into fragments throughout the service, but again it is a minor change and not always relevant. Unitarianism isn't exactly New Age, and its future depends on how the liberal religious will circulate around the denominations. One might hope that the Church of England could shed a few as it seeks out homophobia and inequality, but if it ordains women as bishops it is more likely than not to get over this most difficult phase in its evolution.

Bizarrely, the more liberal Anglican also draws on the notion of the Holy Spirit: the one that reveals more, and different, the one that allows cultural and belief flexibility. It is not just the neo-Pentecostals. The point was put to me about Karl Barth after a lifetime's effort being a bit fed up with his own theological method, and what if he had moved on to do a theology of the Holy Spirit even from his perspective? It would definitely not be neo-Pentecostal, and imagine it running through the equivalents of say Hans Frei then: it couldn't then end up with a Lindbeck and his frozen Church culture of performance-recognition.

New Wine is not some fantastic outbreaking movement: it is simply a reordering of the Christian minority, and one that attempts to hold belief and the notion of signs and wonders while relaxing culture. The Internet has now levelled the playing field in terms of knowledge and outreach, so that Unitarians or liberal theologies in the mainstream will not be so unknown. Whether the shake-out will be thoroughgoing we wait and see, but the context of movements now are pluralistic choice, secularisation from old institutions, and ordinary and practical including technological ways of majority thinking that do not employ signs and wonders of the supernatural.

Assistance in materal from Hunt, S. J. 'Sociological Methodologies and the Changing Nature of Contemporary Fundamentalism' in Francis, L. J. (ed.) (1999), Sociology, Theology and the Curriculum, London: Cassell, 93-103.


Rach Marszalek said...

Yours is an approach here from sociology. It would seem that New Wine is indeed part of a third-wave movement whose distinctives are numerous “fillings of the Holy Spirit” after salvation, Speaking in tongues (optional), the “anointing of the Holy Spirit” for a specific ministry within the church body and an emphasis on ecumenism, working across denominations. When faith operates in this way, it can be very transformational, both for the believer and the community they are anointed to serve.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I would argue it transforms nothing. The sociology was in there at the start in that they knew what they were doing in terms of 'religious sociology'. It is manipulation by institution. I develop these ideas in the next blog entry.

Anonymous said...

"I would argue it transforms nothing"

how very open-minded and empathetic of you

the most dismissive, sectarian UU I have every come across

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

There is a difference between being open minded and accepting all opinions. The 'transformational' is subjective, the sociology was there at the start as manipulative as was the psychology. That's not transformative.

Rach Marszalek said...

When Jesus came to set the captives free he expected us as the body of Christ to be doing just that - Spirit-filled people have a God-given impetus to seek out unjust structures and get involved in doing something about it - it's all a lot simpler and more hopeful than you think.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

To me (obviously) that is so loaded with theological language. Jesus never 'came' but was born and died like everyone else. He didn't expect any 'body of Christ' but was an end-time preacher and healer within Judaism. He had beliefs of a supernatural change of the whole of existence, sweeping away the unjust, not about individuals doing social work.