In his above post, Dr. Berger continues a discussion he began in 1964 with his article “Marriage and the Construction of Reality” (Diogenes, Vol. 46). The social world is dialectical or dialogical. And the more primary or intimate the social institution — such as marriage — the more dependent on it for world maintenance. Thus, the erosion of the “Protestant parsonage” as a social institution by, say, wives of ministers
working in the commercial or government sectors weakens this plausibility structure.
Berger points out the weakening of religious plausibility in marriages that are partly or entirely outside the cognitive support of religious institutions. This empirical observation has vast implications for
the church growth movement (if not also for marriage counseling “therapy”).
One of the more recent salvage operations of Protestant Christianity is called the “Emerging Church Movement.” Two of the most influential proponents of
this movement, Episcopal seminarian Eddie Gibbs and “theologian-in-residence” Tony Jones both have been based at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California,
where I reside. So I have had opportunity to observe this movement first hand. Fuller is a former bastion of Evangelical Protestant Christianity.
The main think piece of Gibbs is his book “Emerging
Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures” (2005). Oversimplifying Gibbs, he advocates moving churches out of religious architecture buildings and into shopping malls, pubs,
and coffee houses to allay the decline of religious plausibility. But if the world is dialectic as Berger points out, this strategy is likely to fail or end up with the church co-opted by the pluralized cognitive structures of the secular world.
Tony Jones’ book “The Church is Flat: The Relational
Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement” seeks institutional salvation through a “relational ecclesiology” centered in the theology of German
theologian Jurgen Moltmann. Jones borrows his title from New York Times journalist Tom Friedman’s book “The World is Flat,” a rather ersatz “flat earth” sociological approach at understanding the complexities of modernization (i.e., globalization) without addressing counter-modernization and cognitive de-modernizing ideologies and
movements. To Jones, the Protestant Church can be
salvaged by traditional rituals and political and social justice engagement formed around a nebulous “relationship ecclesiology.” Jones’ “relational” church apparently wouldn’t look much different than today’s liberal mainstream church, which has bought
into the “high modernity” and totalitarian “nanny state” government paradigm entirely.
Berger’s intriguing observations about “joint family
structures” and “collective ministerial parsonages” perhaps sponsored by several denominations or as adjunct communities of seminaries, perhaps offers a
more sociologically viable alternative. But, of course, this presumes that Protestant ministers marry “correctly” in the first place!
Perhaps I should have added in my earlier comment that the Emerging Church Movement espoused by Tony Jones is also based on the sociology of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
Borrowing from Bourdieu, Jones notes that the Emerging Church Movement is comprised of mostly “white, better educated, and wealthier” churchgoers who have “the upper hand in the struggle for cultural capital” (in short: Berger’s New Knowledge Class but who comes from former Evangelical backgrounds).
Jones’ concern is that the Emerging Church Movement members will continue to embrace a “lifestyle of consumerism.” As such, Jones doesn’t seem to recognize that affiliation with the Emerging Church is a “consumer” choice in a religious marketplace.
As Dr. Berger has observed: take away “choice” (aka consumerism) and the pluralism of religions and world views that come with modernity would be reversed, including the “choice” of joining the Emerging Church Movement.
Following Jurgen Moltmann, Jones believes what makes the Christian church exception is “its responsibility to the poor, not because God grants the church special sacredness.” So to Jones, the Emerging Church would end up just another institution of social work. How the Christian church could perpetuate itself as an indistinguishable agency of social work is dubious.
Don’t the Hutterites already do this? That is, they already live in the equivalent of a “monastery of families”.
Would these communities be something like “The New Monastics”?