Gerardo MARTI and Gladys GANIEL. The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014. IBN: 978-0-19-995988-4. Reviewed by Michael McCALLION, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI 48206.
This book offers a comprehensive ethnographic study of the emerging Christian movement (ECM), and the author’s key lens through which to view ECM is that of deconstruction. In other words, ECM members try to achieve spiritual vitality by disassociating from its roots in conservative, evangelical Christianity in particular but really from all mainline religions in general. So the ECM is mostly a movement that defines itself against what most of us think of as “Church.” Authority and hierarchy are particularly held in contempt – for most members believe Christians should not be judging others (of course, many have left because of this stance as well).
69% of ECMS are under the age of 36. 95% or so have had some college, while half are single and two-thirds have no children. Most define themselves as exiles or refugees of established churches. Not only do the authors provide ethnographic data that assist readers in understanding the intricacies and nuances of this movement, but the demographic data as just described above help round out the profile of the ECM.
Chapter 1 defines the ECM with the concepts of religious orientation, deconstruction, institutionalizing structure, religious individualization, religious institutional entrepreneurs, etc. It also delineates five aspects of the ECM’s deconstruction – the first being the ECM Christians “characterize themselves as anti-institutional.” Chapter two characterizes the congregation of the ECM as pluralist congregations even though most members don’t like the term “congregation.” Chapter three highlights ECMs individual entrepreneurs of deconstruction, sometimes referred to as deconversion stories. Chapter four emphasizes the value of dialogue and the corresponding values of “meaning work.” This chapter shows how collectively or communally oriented the movement is as well as highly individualistic. Chapter five is about practices, especially how open and inclusive their practices are in an effort to say there are multiple paths to choose from when practicing faith. Chapter six is about how to do all this especially in the real world or how to follow Jesus in the real world, especially on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Chapter seven pulls it all together, arguing the ECM respects “a distinctive approach to religious individualization.” The concepts of cooperative egoism and collective institutional entrepreneurship are considered in-depth as well as the idea that the ECM is here to stay because it taps into broader social forces like individualism, pluralism, and secularism.Still, as Marti and Ganiel hint at, the question of ECMs’ staying power remains, given it is only about 15 years running, and given its focus on deconstruction. Is ECM just the latest phase in capitulating to post-modern culture? How far will cooperative egoism take one, let alone a community? And, does religious individualization ever become a perversion of the gospel? Can judgmentalism really be avoided; don’t you at some point have to engage issues of truth and falsehood? How can you be sure your gospel is right or just narcissism or another form of American consumerism? Basically, how are they going to keep this deconstruction, institutional entrepreneurism going? What about their children? I think scholars who study the ECM will continue to wrestle with understanding its historical significance because it is unknown whether or not ECM will endure.