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The power of network theory can be summed up by the simple fact that interest in it has brought together physicists, sociologists, entrepreneurs, engineers, biologists, political campaign strategists, and market analyst, just to name a few. The sheer volume of books written on the subject in the past number of years evidences a eat desire to understand how the world is changing and how network theory can enlighten people to effectively engage the new linked-in world.
Network theory quite simply refers to research being done to understand relationship, how they are formed, how they are strengthened or weakened, and what effects they have on individuals, groups, and societies. At its most basic level, network theory can refer to two point, or nodes, connected by a line from one to the other. This line indicates the relationship between point A and point B. However, further inferences on what kind of relationship is happening between them can result in a variety of lines and arcs displaying mutuality, disagreement, commonality and proximity. Add a dozen or a hundred or thousands more nodes to these two at varying levels of complexity and you can see how quickly network theory books are needed if we are to make out the forest for the trees. And we must, for network theory is absolutely central in our quest to map the way ahead in the Great Emergence.
As we return to the question of authority, network theory gives us the Great Emergence’s first answer. Where now is the authority? It is in the network, running in between all the nodes and connectors, this way and that, in no particular pattern, and asking nobody for permission. Authority exists for the Church when the network, a collection of Jesus followers who are linked together, shares information back and forth about Scripture and faith. This is why Tickle suggests that an emergent would respond that authority now lies “in Scripture and the community.” This may be seen as a way emergent are reconciling the divorced parents of experience and Scripture. (Remember that experience was the foundational belief of modern liberal theology while a particular hermeneutic of Scripture was the foundational belief of modern conservative theology.) However, as Tickle describes, what we currently see in the Great Emergence is not a simple “patching together” of 1 + 1 but more specifically the emergence of something new, something greater than the sum of its parts. Emergence is not a bridge between the two warring houses of Scripture and experience. It is the demolition of both houses and the construction in its place of a highly networked web.
If we return to the concept of holism and the metaphor of a web of belief, which holds together what we deem true, then in the network theory world of the Great Emergence, there are multiple levels of webs, woven from the authors who wrote the Scriptures and people who experience the living God, the communities ho preserved their writings and stories, a history of people who affirmed them, contemporary individuals, churches and denominational institutions that continue to believe them, and on and one. Therefore, authority that rests in both Scripture and the community suggests a network of two thousand years of relationships. Authority is held by each and every relationship strand, and yet is strong enough to withstand strands becoming broken by the sheer volume of the web. I this way, Scripture and community are not completely separate entities, but rather both are a means by which faith has been passed down to use and for us and with us.
As is always the case, parallels can be seen in the wider culture. Consider, as one example, Wikipedia. Previously, encyclopedias were painstakingly researched and written by experts, bound in leather and carted (quite weightily) around from door to door. In a world where even the morning newspaper could be hours late on reporting a breaking story that was sent all over the world in mere minutes over the internet, the clumsy thick encyclopedia became the slowest turtle in the information race. It became impossible to keep encyclopedias up to date, for as soon as one was published the world had changed. Wikipedia has not only provided much needed speed and editing capabilities to encyclopedia information but also proved, perhaps more importantly, that painstaking research by experts was no longer necessary. Regular, everyday people, using their own free time and without any payment, write, fill, edit, and revise Wikipedia entries every single day. The network relationships relaying information has become more impressive than the information itself.
Questions to ponder:
1. What is most exciting to you about the idea of authority resting in the network of Scripture and community? What is most worrisome?
2. Tickle describes authority being worked out in how the message runs back and forth over the network hubs and “is tried and amended and tempered into wisdom and right action for effecting the Father’s will.” Have you seen evidence of this kind of action working in your own congregation How does this movement mimic the book of Acts?
3. Tickle suggest that emergents would define the Church as “a self-organizing system of relations.” (p. 152) How do you respond to this definition? How do you think previous eras would define the Church?
4. Tickle distinguishes between crowd sourcing and democracy, as crowd sourcing has flattened authority to a point democracy never dared. (p 152) Crowd sourcing, she continues, rejects anything less than full egalitarianism, rejects capitalism, and rejects individualism. It should not surprise us that these traits were solidly implanted during the time of the Great Reformation, and are being rigorously dissolved in the Century of Emergence. What does this do to the structure of the Church at ground level? At denominational level?
5. How does network theory inform Tickle’s discussion of the concepts of orthonomy and theonomy? Can correct harmoniousness be evidenced by holistic, networked, sustaining relationships? What role, if any, does the concept of the Trinity play in such an idea?
6. Throughout the book, Tickle suggests that the role of the Holy Spirit, and our understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit, will be essential in the unfurling of the Great Emergence. How do you see the Holy Spirit playing a role in the questions of authority, the radicalization of the priesthood of the believers, and the future of the Church?
7. How does the shift from the grounded set of “believe-behave-belong” to the center set of “belong-behave-believe” affect the Church’s understanding and practice of membership and evangelism? Of discipleship?
8. Another marker along the way of Emergence so far is the shift toward narrative. This is not limited to theology, though narrative theology, preaching, and the like is certainly evidence of it. I can also, and first be seen in psychology in the work of Jerome s. Bruner and Donald J. Polkinghorne, who have discovered, much like Joseph Campbell, the significance of story on the human psyche. How can story serve as helpful tool and guide for us in the Great Emergence? How can narrative theology disarm the difficulties and harmful carnage of the post-Constantinian Church?
9. As we move from an era of confessionalization to an era of collaboration, the concept of holism becomes central in describing how people and disciplines are shifting from the former to the latter. What once was held separate (whether one means the harmful distinctions between soul and body or the equally detrimental distinctions between humanity over and against the rest of creation, just to name two) is now moving toward one another, working to repair and re-network a relationship strand that had previously been severed. Holism is the natural paradigm of a world moving from one of competition and distinction to one of mutuality and collaboration. How does holism affect church practices? Doctrine? Structures? How does it connect us to a more Jewish worldview, over and against a Hellenistic one?
Questions to wrestle with through Scripture.
How does this possible way ahead through the lens of network theory change (or not change) the way in which we understand, live and practice the Great Commission of Jesus shared in Matthew 28:16-20?
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
How do you put all of this together in terms of your experience of the Church today? How the “former” Church is collapsing? How we’re unsure what the church is (becoming)?
How do you see elements of this discussion about the Great Emergence in our church? Relevant in our struggles to repair, re-invent and re-form the church for the 21st century East Bay World? What next steps might we consider as a church in our emergent journey? How will you commit to being part of it?
If you’re interested in reflecting upon the notions of crowd-sourcing and the global network of Wikipedia as a model or metaphor for the emerging church, listen to the recent interview with Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales on the blog “On Being” entitled “The Sum of All Human Knowledge” :: [interview link]