Thomas Kuhn, bloggers and the emerging church: Is the paradigm shift in technology and media a cue for the church?

That is the question that I have been pondering all weekend, after attending a four day conference in San Diego at the Emergent Convention, which is hosted by Youth Specialties and Emergent Village.

Hugh Hewitt posted a blog yesterday making the following observation:

“And speaking of change, I attended my old church and a new church today. I went to Washington D.C.’s National Presbyterian Church to see an old friend in ministry there, and then took the Red Line to Union Station to attend the 11:00 service at National Community Church, which meets in the multiplex there. While the mainline denominations are striving to keep and build their congregations, the energy of the new churches, as represented by the two-location NCC, is phenomenal. As with every other institution out there, Christian churches have to adapt quickly to a new culture or decline just as quickly as audience share has for old newspapers and the big networks.”

Fascinating and insightful comments from someone whose vocation is not within the church, but rather in the Main Stream Media, and the blogosphere. As Hugh pointed out in his latest book BLOG, the paradigm shift of the Reformation was not just a matter of Martin Luther, but rather, a combination of many factors occuring at the right time. Luther had forerunners who had attempted reform such as John Wyclif and John Hus. But it was Martin Luther whose attempts at reform were ripened and came to fruition with invention of Johann Gutenberg’s printing press.

Does the church now find itself in a position, where it is in transition from one paradigm shift to the next, in hopes of reformation, and has the shift that has already occured in technology and media ripen it’s attempt at this reform?

Thomas Kuhn in his seminal work on paradigm shifts, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions observes the following:

“The pre-paradigm period in particular, is regularly marked by frequent and deep debates over legitimate methods, problems, and standards of solution, though they serve rather to define schools than to produce agreement…….Novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation.”

I very much see the church in a pardigm shift at this point, though as to where it is on the continuum from one paradigm to the next is anybody’s guess. Though I do believe the church has already moved from the pre-paradigm shift, into a more transitional period where it is waiting for a more cleary defined paradigm to come to fruition. This is something that we have seen already happen in the MSM (Main Stream Media), where the old guard of the major news affiliates and organizations has given way to a new reform by way of the blogosphere and the legions of bloggers. If one doubts this reformation, one only need to look at the statistics in Hugh’s book, BLOG, or to some of my more recent posts to see the demise of the MSM.

This was the first year at the Emergent Conference where there was a workshop held for bloggers, and the concensus coming out of that group (though it was somewhat biased) is that the blogs are driving the paradigm shift and the debates within the church as well. As a blogger myself, I want to humbly say that maybe the bloggers within the church might be overstating their case, but I doubt that is true since I have seen a complete technological reformation in the church in the last few years, from website design to blogging. If a church didn’t use to have a website (and they could afford one), I would have written them off with not concerning themselves with the issue of relevance. Either that, or they just don’t care. And to be the Church, a website is not required. I am now beginning to think that that is true of bloggers as well. If the church wants to continue to be relevant, and to enter into dialogue with the culture at large, which it is wanting to reform, then it must have bloggers within it.

This issue, and debate, is much too large for me to continue in one blog, but let me close with some thoughts about the Church as a whole:

Thought #1:
The Church’s hold onto it’s current or old paradigms, can often come from a position of arrogance, much like MSM’s arrogance in deciding which news it would, and would not report. I am sure the Catholic church was quite sure of its position as well, before a young, and vibrant monk posted his now famous 95 Theses’. What we praise as reformation in hindsight, is often more fearful when you are the institution that needs reforming.

Thought #2:
The Church, much like the blogosphere, is in transition from one paradigm shift to the next. I believe both have moved from the deconstruction phase, into a healthy reconstructive phase. “Only as experiment and tentative theory are together articulated to a match does the discovery emerge and the theory become a paradigm” (Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

Thought #3:
The Church’s fear in shifting paradigms, is often rooted in it’s inability to cope with undefined rules, and to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. I think people who prefer the mystery and transcendence of God are much more able to deal with this reality. “Rules, I suggest, derive from paradigms, but paradigms can guide research even in the absence of rules….Indeed, the existence of a paradigm need not even imply that any full set of rules exists” (Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). I think the Church, as well as the blogosphere, is being guided into the new paradigm, where the rules are not as yet clearly defined.

Thought #4:
The Church’s inability and refusal to reform is often a grasping for power and position that it does not want to let go of. That seems so in opposition to Paul’s words to the church in Philippi in Philippians 2:5-11, where Christ is the very essence of what it means to not grasp at power. We saw this in the MSM, as old powerful networks begun to be toppled by younger networks in an unwillingness to reform in hopes of maintaining power. Aren’t we the same people who espouse the priesthood of all believers? Yet we are afraid of reform because of what that may mean to our own position in the hierarchal structure, and because we fear and don’t trust that people can find truth on their own without us? I think that is often arrogance and power on our part.

Thought #5:
I believe that most people and institutions in need of reform, are more interested in security, than reformation. There are those who are insecure of reformation because they don’t want to lose their power, their status, or their job, because reformation may mean the ousting of them or their paradigm. And then there are those who have a healthy sense of insecurity and uncertainity of what the future will hold for them, as they are the ones driving the reform. But they know, that the new paradigm, is better than the old paradigm. “Because it demands large-scale paradigm deconstruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity. As one might expect, that insecurity is generated by the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out as they should. Failure of existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones” (Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

Thought #6:
The Church’s inability to want to reform is often related to it’s fear that without cleary defined rules, and air tight systems of theology, anything is up for grabs and seen as relevant. I would say that that is true. Anything is up for grabs in a transition period from one paradigm to the next, but that does not mean that you stop reforming. If the church did not continue to reform, we would not be where we are today. I think it is true, that those we hold up as reformers, we would also be against if we did not have the luxury of hindsight. This is true in American history, and it is true in church history. “In the absence of a paradigm or some candidate for paradigm, all of the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant” (Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

Thought #7:
Though bloggers and the “emerging church” relish their status as outsiders, and of being on the fringes, at some point an effort must be made to reform not only from the outside, but from within. There must also be an attempt to let go of some of the more deconstructive attitudes and personalities that often inhabit the fringes,and to make an effort to be constructive in hopes of finding solutions. (Note to GodBlogCon: I learned some important lessons about what we want to repeat and not to repeat at the conference).

I do not know if my thoughts are right on these issues, but I am simply observing what is going on around me. And I believe that it is time that the Church and people within the Church have some important dialogues and exchange of ideas, otherwise the Church may begin to find itself irrelevant to those around us.

Notice, I have never said that the “emerging church” or “emergent church” is the key to the new paradigm, but I think we are in need of a new paradigm. And I can say honestly as a Christian, that God’s Word is never irrelevant, but that we as Christians, as the Church, are given the task to present God’s Word in a relevant way to those around us.

In closing, I think the Church, and the blogosphere, are much better served when there is constructive thoughts, ideas, opinions, and debating allowed within its ranks, rather than the constant attack of people who are always feeling like new ideas and thoughts lead ultimately to heresy, and that they are the ones sent by God, or other institutions, on a mission to defend Him. And just as the printing press was crucial to the Reformation, I believe that the blogosphere is going to be an important tool in the reformatin of the church. It already is, and it’s going to grow in importance as the two continue to inform each other. I can not help but sit and wonder at what the Apostle Paul would have thought of the blogosphere, and how he may have used it to the advantage of spreading the gospel.

Stay tuned as I continue to reflect on this issue…

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