August 30, 2007

new misnomerism

I've been having some conversations as of late with those that would consider themselves a part of the new monasticism genre. I deeply appreciate the intentions and actions of this group from what I can tell. Those I do know include some of the people I most highly respect. But I wonder if using the term "monasticism" is a bit of a misnomer. Afterall, from what I know, most of those that commonly fall under this label do not practice whipping themselves, or some of the other more unpopular historical monastic practices. And if we follow our history, monasticism has not historically been about being a monk, it's been about returning to the essence of the church.

When I was speaking in San Jose I was asked several times if I thought our community fell under that label. I said I didn't think so. Not that I don't want to be associated with these folks, but because I think what we're primarily interested in is new ecclesiology. The term new monasticism relegates these communities to para-church status. It also weakens the threat it poses to the Christendom institution. So, maybe it's a bit safer. But if I were to evaluate most of the communities I've peaked around at on the internet, they're new ecclesiology communities just as much as new monastic. They proclaim by their common life, There is another way to be the Body of Christ... Although, if one starts spelling it wrong with u's and z's I have to wonder if they're more interested in aesthetic as opposed to essence.

Read up on new monasticism here.


Beth said...

Um... can you name any contemporary traditional monastic communities that practice whipping themselves? As someone who's hung out with traditional monastics for over a decade, this "reductio ad absudum" critique seems a bit cavalier and tangential to me.

Jason Evans said...

Hi, Beth. Thanks for stopping by. It isn't cavalier or tangential to say that there are questionable practices within the history of monasticism. That's a fact. But few histories (if any) are free of blemish and my intent is not to take away from the overarching benefit the church has had from the monastic tradition. I am simply stating that monasticism at its core is about being the essence of the church. And newer communities taking on this title may in fact be more practically speaking akin to early ecclesiastical structures as much or more as historical monastic structures. I am also curious as to whether or not the reason why some protestant/evangelicals are taking to this "new" monasticism is because it poses less threat to traditional church structures as opposed to saying that they are interested in new forms of being the church-which tends to stir up tension. Thanks for encouraging a better explanation of my point.

Beth said...

I've been reading your feed for several months, but don't think I had commented before. I think perhaps the core of the confusion here is your idea that monasticism is about being "the essence of the church" -- in my time of acquaintance with monastics this is not how most of them would descibe their call, and it's not really the vision one sees in monastic literature historically. I think in part this is because the monastic movement comes largely from a different ecclesiology, as you hint at in your post and your comment. If folks don't have an ecclesiology that is compatible with the generation of defined monastic movements over against a wider church with a more generic call, then your point that using the word "monastic" is misleading is something I pretty much agree with.

Of course there have been questionable practices within monasticism, as there have in pretty much every expression of every religious body. But it was the way you used one abberant and lurid practice to characterize an entire group of people that disturbed me. For example, what if I were to choose practices of other movements, and write

"I've been having some conversations as of late with those that would consider themselves a part of the charismatic movement.... But I wonder if using the term "charismatic" is a bit of a misnomer. Afterall, from what I know, most of those that commonly fall under this label do not practice having a shepherd that orders them to marry particular people or risk damnation."


"I've been having some conversations as of late with those that would consider themselves a part of Dutch Reformed stream of Christianity. But I wonder if using the term "Dutch Reformed" is a bit of a misnomer. Afterall, from what I know, most of those that commonly fall under this label do not practice enforced separation of the races."

I hope that helps clarify what concerned me about the language of your post.

Bill Cummings said...


I left a comment on this post through facebook, but I would like to pick your brain a little regarding the house churches you are involved in.

I liked your observations of Frank Viola's book. I have a relative who has been trying to get me to read his books and I get get myslef past the cheesy self-published look of them.

If you get a chance send me an email:

Bill Cummings

Bill Cummings said...

"I can't get myself past..."

Jason Evans said...

You use a lot of big words. I have to keep looking them up in the dictionary just to make sure I know what you mean. Clearly, you are much more educated than I. Beth, I appreciate what you are saying, but it was a very tongue-in-cheek statement. I apologize for offending you. It was not intended. Clearly, my dead-pan humor comes across as bad on my blog as it does in person. Realize that on this blog nothing is scripted. I write and post. I don't edit. And therefore things are often a thought in progress. I don't think you've changed my opinions but certainly made me more cautious on delivery. Thank you for that.

Unknown said...

Hey Jason --

I'm not sure that I quite follow your point here...

I absolutely agree with you that the Church is the main thing. But you say that "monasticism has ... been about returning to the essence of the church." So... what's the issue that you are drawing with the new monasticism?

I'm not convinced that new monastic communities have to be para-church groups. Reba Place Fellowship, for instance, (who has a strong relationship with the new monastic communities, even if they might not use that tag for themselves) is a community intimately connected with a specific church. Likewise our friends in Cincinnati, Community House, (to the extent that they are still a community) are a part of a specific church, Vineyard Central. obviously this is not the case for all such communities -- e.g., the Simple Way, but my point is that there is latitude in the new monasticism for a church (or housechurch) to be a new monastic community or for a NM community to exist within a specific congregation.

These are questions that we have wrestled with to some extent as a traditional church who is drawn toward intentional forms of community, but uncomfortable with the low ecclesiology of some of the NM communities. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove actually has a book coming out next year on the relationship of church and NM communities. I've read the manuscript and am very excited about it...

Chris Smith

Jason Evans said...

I don't a have a direct issue with NM communities. I think it's a good thing what they are doing. In this post I'm basically wondering if the broader Christian culture will "write it off" as a fringe, para-church thing. When in fact, the very existence of these communities threatens the established Christendom institutions. Which I applaud. And I think we/they should possibly even more directly position themselves this way if they are in fact going to have the prophetic impact they potentially could have... am I making sense yet? Geez, I really missed on this one didn't I?! :)

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