The other day I unpacked Punk Theology a bit ,talking about some principles involved in it. Quick note here that Punk Theology is seperate to the Theology of Punk which was blogged at Never Mind the Bibles. I am not seeking to disect punk and look at the theology and practice flowing from it, rather in working out how my own journey, (and that of others I know who aren’t emerging church but are something), I want give a name to a type of grassroots thing which has been happening and isn’t emerging but is something. Emerging Church and all that is has obviously impacted the mix, but this is something different. This relates to the practice of those who have consciously struggled with church, ethics and modern life and have built their own ways of staying in and staying sane. As Tall Skinny Kiwi has said over the last decade emerging has become accepted within the mainstream and so it is obviously part of the mix, but as I say I think there is a distinction to be made between Punk Theology and emerging church.
Here are a few of the things that I think make Punk Theology distinctly different to emerging type stuff. Firstly emerging church has been intentionally missional and has been pioneered, largely, by professionals within the church who want to find ways of reaching those outside the church. Reading through the appendix of Gibbs and Bolgers Emerging Churches one can see this. The pioneers of emerging church groups were generally staff members for youth ministry organisations or young priests newly out of vicar factory and often either professionally or as a hobby involved in the creative arts, (particularly musicians or visual artists). Punk Theology comes from “the grassroots” and is more to do with individuals, normally within or temporarily out of churches who want to live a lifestyle which helps to connect others and reflects Jesus at work in our messed up lives, but is not involved with things like church planting so much. We are more likely to be found getting involved in either community activities within our churches or networks outside of the church which may or maynot involve those who would regard themselves as Christians and may or maynot be electronic or physical, or often a mix of the two. Profession wise we are likely to be disproportionately found working in the public sector in careers like teaching, nursing or social work.
We are likely to get involved in odd acts of connecting with people and “mission” type stuff by thinking and acting outside the box in our everyday lives, subverting “the Christian subculture” and sometimes using it to our and our friends advantage, (note not for gain but to help others or bring about change to benefit people like us). We also look out for each other and contribute to helping each other when we can, whether you are Christian or not. Example of what I’m talking about here is from about a decade ago in my life now was when a group of us were going to Spring Harvest, we had a non-Christian friend with a few “issues” who needed a holiday and so we used our discounts, (most of us were students or on benefit at the time), to bring him along…not to try and get him converted to anything necessarily – it was clear he wasn’t expected to go to anything and could just veg if he wanted, more because we knew he needed a holiday and we thought mixing with a bunch of Christians for a week over meals and stuff would be a good thing.
Whilst the emerging church has often appeared to often skip the last 200 years in their searching for a historical model to reinterpret with Punk Theology we embrace the social history of that period.In our struggles with the church, and wrestling about fitting in, (particularly as many of us found ourselves moving out of the evangelical sub-culture but weren’t specifically post-evangelical), we have not rejected modernity. Rather we have used modern Christian thinkers to help us and connect us with the more sacremental traditions. Yes Celtic stuff, the desert fathers and mothers and things like that have been an influence but equally through the work of Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day and other 20th century figures we were able to break out of our sub-culture and particularly gain an affection for the work of the Catholic Church. Punk Theology, therefore, is not afraid to name 20th century Christians as heroes. Equally it is not afraid to acknowledge the positive aspects of late 19th Century Victorian religion. Whilst the repressive Victorian religion is trashed Punk Theology seeks to acknowledge and learn from the radical faith which many Christians, particularly first wave feminists were displaying at the time. Punk Theology has and does involve searching around for books, for anything that might be useful and give inspiration. Biographies and autobiographies have been key to this.
We have not been city based. Look around the history of the emerging church and you’ll find out that most initiatives have been city based. We were often, but by no means exclusively, living in small commuter towns or rural communities where we were on a limb. Punk Theology involves living it out on our own, connecting with others online or through social events or meetings. Greenbelt wasn’t / isn’t our church; it’s the place we get to meet face to face with alot of friends who’ve kept us sane and shared our ideas.
Punk Theology involves people being honest about the wounds the church has helped inflict on us and our mental health. Punk Theology has often involved saying I am on x, y or z anti-depressant and whilst the church, in the widest sense or sometimes local sense, isn’t to blame it certainly hasn’t always helped. The networking aspect has given us someone there to say “I so get where you’re coming from”. But, and this is a crucial thing, Punk Theology also involves people acknowledging we’re not victims or problems…we are people who happen to have certain health issues along side, often, challenging and rewarding careers. The fact many of us sometimes have to rely on the happy pills or whatever doesn’t stop us living full lives, but might mean we need to go and hide sometimes. It is during those hiding times many of us do our deepest searching and reading. Mental health issues aren’t just seen as something marginalising and for “the seriously mentally ill” and “nutters” with Punk Theology, they are seen as part of everyday life that lots of people suffer from quite invisibly. Being honest about our depression or mental health issues or for some of us things like our sexuality is an important part of Punk Theology because in talking about these things, appropraitely, we are dispelling the myths. Truth telling is part of Punk Theology….not to shock but to challenge the dangerous ways of steeotyping, thinking and making stuff invisible which has become dominant, particularly in churches.
I’ve gone on too much in this post I know, so will wait a while before unpacking some more of what Punk Theology is about.