Old Wine is Best: A Sonnet for the Emerging Church image

Old Wine is Best: A Sonnet for the Emerging Church

Eight years ago I was twenty-seven, and I knew that two big things were going to dominate the next generation: the new atheists outside the church, and the emerging church within it.

Except that they didn’t. New Atheism fizzled out: look at the four self-styled horsemen of the apocalypse today, and you’ll notice that Sam Harris is a Buddhist, Chris Hitchens has sadly died, Daniel Dennett has gone rather quiet after being on the receiving end of one of the wittiest and most excoriating reviews of the millennium so far, and Richard Dawkins has turned into a rather strange septuagenarian self-parody, haranguing Christians, women, journalists, Jews, liberals and Muslims in virtually equal measure, in a pantomime manner worthy of a character created by The Onion. And the emerging church did what a huge number of new church movements do: it suffered for its lack of age (and hence depth), both individually and institutionally, and lost its key representatives one by one. The moral of the story? Twenty-seven year olds aren’t always as good at reading cultural trends as we think we are.

Anyway: since it’s summer, season of sonnets, I thought I’d express some of this poetically. Here’s to the emerging church:

Out with the old, and bring in now the new!
Long live the quirky, fresh, emerging church,
Which current trends and popular research
Have shown displacing organ, robe and pew.
They do what older churches cannot do,
And knock denominations off their perch,
By being that for which millennials search:
Authentic, fresh, hip, urban, deep and true.
What future now for draughty liturgists,
Their cassocks out of date, their words arcane?
What hope for seeker-led suburban splurge,
Their baby boomer ranks now on the wane?
Our city culture shows, demography insists,
That any church who would survive must first emerge.

But that was then. Now, in the ten years past,
The fickle fog of fashion has not cleared,
And consequently, as the sceptics feared,
Emergers have not had the depth to last.
As elder statesmen have looked on, aghast,
The leaders’ youthful hubris has appeared:
Rob’s Bell has tolled, Don’s churchmanship gone weird,
And Driscollusionment has set in, fast.
What happened? Was it neoliberal drift?
Did Brian, Doug, Mark, Karen, Don and Rob,
Contextualise themselves out of a job?
Perhaps. But more than that, the trend-obsessed
Were always going to underrate age as a gift.
New wine is good, says Jesus; but old wine is best.

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