Tony Jones Reports from Black Stump in Australia

I just spotted that Tony Jones uploaded a video onto Emergent Village from the Black Stump Festival that is currently underway down here in Sydney. It was curious in a way, overhearing the observations of others about us. Helpful too.

Tony notes that Australia is very similar to America in many ways, except when we say unchurched, we genuinely mean unchurched, not just dechurched. Yes, true, very true. Hopefully that observation will help more people understand why we place much more emphasis on mission and much less on welcoming post-evangelicals.

Tony also makes the observation that the word emerging is still widely embraced. Errr, not so sure about that, I would say wide embrace is still yet to arrive. I suspect Tony may be over-estimating the impact of the emerging conversation on Australian churches, at least beyond the Uniting Church. What would you other Aussies out there say about this? Are Australians conversant with the emergent church?

Oh, and in case any of you Stumpers are wondering, yes, I bowed out this year. Too much other stuff on. Oh, and guys, yes I heard about the rain last night. I’ll drink a nice warm coffee for you. Oh, and Naomi, if you’re reading this was that you hanging out in the background with the drums?

9 thoughts on “Tony Jones Reports from Black Stump in Australia

  1. Wasn’t an intentional wimp out Andrew, just a fortuitous one.
    I had a counseling assignment I wanted to get cracking on this weekend and a local church picnic scheduled for today so I decided to exercise some boundaries and spend time with my family with what time remained.
    So I decided to bail some weeks ago and I enjoyed sitting back and laughing yesterday arvo as my mate recounted the less than prepared camping efforts of his son and some of our other young adults (who were without adult supervision for the first time as the other adults planning to go bailed too). In short, his son forgot the tarp and they got flooded. LOL. They’ll know next time.
    Yes, I appreciate the value of having someone like Tony there. He can communicate it back to the US more effectively than I can. Its one thing for Aussies to say, hey Australia is dechurched; its another for Tony to say, hey it really IS dechurched. People overseas see Hillsong doing so well internationally and assume we’re exaggerating how much Christendom has collapsed here. But we’re not. I really am regularly dealing with people who don’t know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are. Who have no childhood experiences of church. Who have no Christian friends other than myself.
    Actually there was a funny moment when Tony was talking the other night and mentioned TV evangelists. Some were puzzled. One guy interjected, “Hey Tony, not even the Christians watch Christian TV over here.” We had a laugh, but it actually says volumes about the conversation down under. Yes, it is similar in many many ways, but there are some crucial differences, and that’s why these face to face exchanges are important.

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  2. Found the Tony Jones film had a lot of echo in it. A bit hard at times to clearly hear what he was saying.
    I network with a lot of Sydney churches and find that many people I come across have no little or no concept of what the emergent & or emerging church is yet.
    At one major Anglican congregation where a lot of 18-30 something people attend, which sees itself as contemporary and relevant, I met a number of current Moore College theological students who had never heard of the emergent church. They appeared quite open to learn what it was about when I spoke to them after their church service which I was visiting with my wife Lucy (her daughter goes there).
    Is that ignorance about a major missiological movement just a thing to do with Moore college conservatism or is it more widespread than that?

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  3. Moore seems the most actively resistant in my experience. They’re opening up to folk like Mark Driscoll and Steve Timmis, who can be presented as safely manned up and Reformed, but they draw the line there. As far as I know Moore haven’t even given Mike Frost an opportunity to speak, and he’s right on their doorstep. Mind you, even this is a step forward as far as I’m concerned as Driscoll unapologetically rejects cessationism and forthrightly promotes contextualization, messages the powers that be have previously proven resistant to. So yes, their conservatism plays a part.
    But so does their success. They’re one of the few growing Anglican dioceses in Australia. “Why change a winning approach?” seems to be the attitude I come across. Now, I would point to the much higher growth of Wicca and Hinduism in Sydney and challenge “Winning formula?” but that doesn’t seem to get me far. Within their denomination they are.
    Now, turning to us Baptists, the fact that many within the Baptist Union are ignorant of the emerging church when the 2IC of Morling Collage, Mike Frost, has written a widely popular emerging-missional text, well, that should prompt some deeper questioning I think. It suggests its not just the Anglicans who’re resistant, its Aussies in general. Alan Hirsch has pointed out how Americans are more entrepreneurial than Australians. I think that’s part of it too.
    Speaking of entrepreneurial, lets now consider that most entrepreneurial of Australian expressions of church – Hillsong. Are they interested in emerging? No. Couldn’t care less. That says something too doesn’t it?
    The only denomination that seems more widely open is the Uniting Church, and that seems to be because they’re the closest to collapse (and therefore more willing to try anything) and are more justice orientated to begin with.
    But you know, I think there is more to this, and I think a hint of it is to be found in the other thing Tony Jones noted as different about us, that our country is far more unchurched. America seems focussed on culture wars between fundamentalists and liberals. Australia has more quiety deconstructed Christendom and is well down the track of jettisoning both fundamentalist and liberal expressions of Christianity from the public sphere and everything in between. Consequently, the emerging conversation, with its focus on post-evangelicals and philosophy, just doesn’t seem to grab ordinary Australian Christians so much. Church in a pub? Dah, even the Sydney Anglicans been doing that for years. Pastors, wearing jeans and t-shirt? You’re kidding right, you think that’s an innovation? You want candles? Hey just go Catholic or low church Anglican. Remember, we’re more egalatarian and laid back to begin with. Why emerge when you can already do this stuff within the establishment? I know plenty of highly missional people who rejected the emergent label, not because they feared the conversation was too innovative, but because all it illicited was a yawn.
    So, I am not expecting a wide embrace, at least not here in Sydney. I think that, as it becomes more commercialized, we’ll see fad driven pastors fluffily embracing aspects of it for a season, as the new fad, then moving on to the next fad. I don’t expect to see hard core embrace beyond that, at least not across a wide spectrum of denominations. People who want openness aren’t settling for post-evangelicalism; they’re shooting off into post-Christian syncretism. As a consequence I think committed Christians in Sydney are after something that is far more evangelistic. I think that’s why guys like Driscoll are getting a better hearing, not only amonsgt the Anglicans, but even amongst the Baptists. We’ll have to wait and see of course, but I think it is pretty safe to say that what is emerging here is not a carbon copy of what we’re seeing elsewhere.

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  4. As someone who is part of the Moore College community I thought I’d add my two cents. Yes, I am doing my 4th year project on the Emerging Church in Australia and there are two of the faculty who are preparing a Masters level course on the subject.
    Contextually relevant mission is a subject that most are interested in, it is just they are not interested in the Emerging Church as a phenomenon. Missiology as a discipline does not have a high profile, but evangelism and church planting do.
    More broadly speaking, I find that there is interest in the Emerging Church, though many don’t understand what it is. Mark Driscoll stirred the pot significantly when he visited. There is much discussion of church planting and ways of engaging with broader society, but not a great deal of interest in what is happening in America. I think it is unlikely that there will be much interest in revising reformed theology. The focus remains on working hard on the Bible and how it works its way out into life and ministry.
    The emphasis is on primary texts of the Bible and theology rather than the trends and novelties that come and go in the church. That can be both a strength and a weakness. The here danger is sliding into irrelevance.
    I don’t think the Emerging church will gain great popularity amongst Sydney Anglicans, outside of Sydney I have heard of a much greater interest among Anglicans.
    I do think the general conservatism we see amongst many Sydney Christians will make Driscoll and others more attractive but even then, they are still foreigners.
    What I do see is most Sydney Anglican Churches do have mission very high on their agenda, and that is something to thank God for.

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  5. Thanks Brett, that pretty much matches the impression I’ve picked up from other Moore connected people. I hesitated to mention the “foreigners” issue, but yes, I have picked up some of that vibe too. All in all it adds up to one thing, if the two most influential protestant groups in Sydney, the Anglicans and Hillsong, are very interested in mission and contextualization but not in emergent, well I think what will ultimately emerge here will be distinctively different.

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  6. I was at Tony’s sessions at Blackstump and I can understand how Tony could draw the conclusion he did regrading ’emerging still being widely embraced here’. I suspect he got a clearer picture on that about 2 hours later when a bunch of people had a chat with him over coffee at Mars Hill Cafe. The use of the term emerging in Australia came up and the general opinion was that the only consistent use of the term was by Frost and Hirsh et. al. and then always in the context of Emerging-missional.
    I’ve reflected further on this since the weekend – http://brackishfaith.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-im-not-emergent-buy-one-guy-who.html
    You missed a good weekend Matt hope you get there next year.

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  7. Yes, and when a word has no meaning for them without being hyphenated, you’ve got to ask whether it has any meaning for them period. Notice how Frost and Hirsch manage to use missional without hyphenation. Honestly, I think the only reason they use the word at all is for marketing expediency. And I’ll be honest, its the only reason I held onto it for as long as I did, to signal that yes, the Aussie and American conversations are related. Lest it be assumed they are not.
    VERY interesting quotes on your post by the way. That certainly speaks of core differences. To have Driscoll and Jones actually agreeing on something and so many Aussies taking a different line. You many be right, I wonder how much of that just speaks of our unchurched context.

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