I've had about 10 books going for awhile, and I'm trying of focus on finishing one at a time. I just finished reading The New Monasticism: What it has to say to the church, "an insider's perspective" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I've mentioned the new monasticism before, and I have a lot of respect for what they're trying to do. The New Monasticism movement reminds me a little bit of the way George Hunger III described St. Patrick's monastic project in the Celtic Way of Evangelism (a fabulous book, and a must read as far as I'm concerned.) He talked about how the early missionary monks to the Celts moved into their cities and rural sprawl and created a kind of monastic island in the middle of these people. These monastic communities had a strict rule of life, served the people in their community, offered hospitality to strangers, and sought to transform a culture from the inside out. I really appreciate the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism. Hartgrove gives a good basic understanding of how monastics have been a part of renewal in the church throughout various centuries. He writes about how monastics seek not to separate from the church or become an alternative, but to bring renewal and reformation to the church by returning to some key roots such as hospitality, sharing all things in common, prayer, and serving others. This is how Hartgrove begins, by sounding the call, "the church in America isn't living up to what it's supposed to be. Somehow we've lost our way." The point of monastic movements is to remind the church of its true identity, and that's true for the New Monastics as well.
I had a fabulous conversation with a gentleman from my church recently who's feeling the same way. He loves the church, and yet he feels like the church in America missing the point of the mission at so many levels by putting money and energy into too many things that are not the heart of the reasons for the church in the world on God's mission. In his words, "We've so boughten into the American dream, that we've forgotten what the church is supposed to be." Hartgrove writes about this very thing.
What's unique about this movement is that it takes seriously the renewal of the church and the ancient practices of monasticism in a way that is both inclusive of married couples and families and is also deeply embedded within the cultures of this world, particularly urban settings. These settings are often referred these days by many of us as "abandoned places of the empire," referring to those places, particularly urban, that have been deeply affected by the contemporary empire's of consumerism and progress. I've appreciated everything I've read and heard from the many in this movement and am already seeing how they are affecting the church in dramatic ways, Shane Claiborne being one of the key players here.
The New Monastics have also, like many people I respect, been deeply influenced by John Perkins. Years ago, I sent some students to learn from Perkins and his community, and it was a life-changing experience for many of them. Particularly, his 3 R's are foundational (Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation) for only only the New Monastic movement, but for other renewal thinkers in the urban settings as well (ie. Christian Community Development Association). The other thing I deeply value is people like this who are able to speak intelligently and passionately about justice issues, poverty, and concern for the least of these while also maintaining some of the evangelical commitments of the Scripture. More and more voices are emerging that are neither conservative nor liberal, fundamentalist nor mainline, republican nor democrat but hold together the biblical truths which cross such narrow, dualistic, and truncated views of the Scripture.
Good read for anyone who is thinking about the emerging church, renewal of the church and culture, poverty, urban ministry, community, and what some consider a more "radical" Christianity, which I think is probably closer to the identity of the early church than many of the churches in America today.
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