01: The changing nature of music in the churches is the theme of the Spring issue of Theology News & Notes, the magazine of Fuller Theological Seminary.
While much of its coverage–such as on “emergent” and hip hop services– has been reported elsewhere (including in these pages), the issue does discuss some recent developments. Roberta King notes that in the evangelical churches of North America there is a “growing trend for hymnals to include global songs and indigenous songs that arise out of the burgeoning churches in the Southern Hemisphere.“ Likewise, musical instruments, such as the West African djembe (hand drum), have become standard components of many contemporary worship bands.
She adds that the popular 1990s choral anthem from South Africa, Siyahamba, “launched many choirs into searching for additional anthems from the burgeoning church in the Southern Hemisphere.“ Another article reports that while organs have declined in use with the adoption of contemporary music, there has been a recent revival of organ music. An informal survey of church leaders and musicians finds that even megachurches with contemporary bands have made room for or even added organs. For more information, visit the magazine’s website, at:http://www.fuller.edu/news/pubs/tnn
02: Emergent or emerging churches, stressing a “postmodern” non-dogmatic ministry, blending contemporary and traditional liturgies, has become a worldwide phenomenon. The International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church devotes its March issue to documenting just how different these new models of congregational life are from conventional churches.
Part of the problem of sociologically describing and analyzing these churches is their intentionally fluid and experimental nature. Yet these churches have distinctive traits that are often replicated by church growth specialists and mainstream churches. The “post-evangelical” strain in these ministries is one such trait, with churches seeking an identity critical of the evangelical churches for their failure to address postmodern concerns.
An article on the Zero28 and ikon community in Northern Ireland displays such a critical stance toward the evangelical community for stressing personal morality over social justice. Sociologist Glaydys Ganiel suggests that the community has helped loosen oppositional evangelical identities and expand the focus of the churches beyond parochial Northern Irish concerns.
Another article surveys emerging church blogs and literature in the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand and finds a common theme of “deconversion,“ the turning away from a particular religious identity and the move toward a more ambivalent identity, though this journey can also be commercialized. For more information on this issue, visit the journal’s website at: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
03: The new interest and remaining ambivalence among the left about the influence of religion in politics are both captured in a special section in the winter issue of the socialist journal New Politics.
Harvey Cox is the most positive about a religion-left alliance, even as he is disillusioned by the growth of the religious right and the loss of traditional allies, such as liberal Jews and blacks, to more conservative causes (Israel and faith-based social services, respectively). Cox finds the most hope outside of the U.S, not so much looking to Latin America anymore, but to Asia, such as in the new peace activist stance of the Buddhist group Soka Gakkai. In the U.S., Cox sees the best chance of reviving a leftist religious movement on the labor union front. The Chicago-based Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is sponsored by a wide range of religious groups and is rebuilding the old alliance between religion and labor, according to Cox.
But the two other articles in the section demonstrate how leftists are far from leaving secularism behind. An article by increasingly popular French philosopher Michael Onfray seeks to revive the work of 17th century atheist priest and philosopher Jean Meslier and in the process shows Onfray’s own militantly anti-Christian atheism. The concluding article by Chris Rhoades Dykema considers the possibility of a left-religion rapprochement but rules against it. Dykema views evangelical commitment as “flighty, a distraction from material realities for desperate people,” while leftist influence has been squeezed out of Catholicism under conservative popes and “patriarchal monotheism.”
He concludes that, unlike during the Civil Rights and disarmament movements, today the left has little need for religion, which is “essentially. male-dominant, ascetic misogynist, and anti-democratic.” Anyway, according to Dykema, the changing family structure is an agent of inevitable secularization, making religion a non-issue.
For more information on this issue, write: New Politics, 155 W. 72 St., Rm. 402, New York, NY 10023.