In Pursuit of Proximity: A missiological study of four ‘emerging church’ communities in Sweden

Mattias Jesper Neve

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD Thesis - Research VU Amsterdam, graduation VU Amsterdam

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Abstract

The dissertation is a theological inquiry within the discipline of contextual missiology. The research is motivated by a desire to address the institutional and numerical decline of the church in Sweden in light of a changing cultural and religious landscape, contributing to the ongoing theological and missiological discourse about the future of the Christian church in Swedish society. The “Emerging Church” is an international grassroots phenomenon within evangelical Protestantism calling the church in the West to embrace innovation and experimentation in light of these challenges, by adopting new ecclesial forms, practices, and theological frameworks. The dissertation explores this phenomenon in Sweden and inquires in what ways these communities may contribute to shaping the church’s cross-cultural mission, action and reflection in contemporary Swedish society. The dissertation is divided into three parts. Part A examines the background and characteristics of the wider Emerging Church conversation by examining the developments in three contexts: the United Kingdom, Australia, and the USA. Part B examines examples of emerging churches found in Sweden. Four Christian communities are studied by employing a multiphase mixed method strategy. Part C discusses the shared ecclesiological and missiological themes of these communities. Three missiological themes emerge in the discussion: Mission as a witnessing presence, Mission as innovation, and Mission as the pursuit of cultural proximity. Stephen B. Bevans’ Models of Contextual Theology (2002) serve as a primary analytical framework for the discussion of the contextual practices of the four groups. The case study material establishes that the four communities adopt a particular kind of ecclesiological hermeneutic, informed by a specific set of convictions: Relational ecclesiology, Openness and inclusion, and Innovation and experimentation. These convictions significantly inform the missionary postures of these communities. The research also establishes that the contextual approaches of emerging churches are shaped by a specific hermeneutical process, involving aspects of critical auditing of Christian tradition, exegesis of culture, sampling of elements of Christian tradition and culture, and the remixing of these elements. The dissertation argues that a creative synthesis can be developed when combining the emerging and more traditional evangelical contextualisation models. The model presented, referred to as an “emerging critical approach to contextualisation”, combines Paul G. Hiebert’s Critical contextualisation model with the approach of emerging churches. The research conclude that emerging churches can assist traditional churches in Sweden to reimagine their identity and reconfigure their organisational priorities in order to better align with their calling to be a missionary people in this world, by serving as incubators for innovation and experimentation as well as to critically address inherited ecclesiological, missiological, and theological frameworks.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Paas, Stefan, Supervisor
  • Kirk, J.A., Co-supervisor
  • Parushev, P.R., Co-supervisor, External person
Award date11 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2021

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