New Urbanism and the Emerging Church

A few weeks ago, I was reading the new Metropolis and there was an article that got me thinking, so I thought I’d make a post about it and see if I can get anybody else’s thoughts.

Metropolis Magazine

There was an article titled “The Manchurian Main Street” talking about New Urbanist shopping districts. For those of you who don’t know what New Urbanism is, it is a style of planning that “promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other. New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. (from the new urbanism website).” To break that down a little, they seek to return to a time when development was a. multi-purpose b. easy to get around with out cars and c. aesthetically pleasing. For examples in Minneapolis, you can go to Grand Place on Excelsior Blvd or to “Main Street” in Maple Grove. Block E downtown also uses some New Urbanist architecture, but fails to follow through because it lacks multi-use tenants and also does a poor job of connecting to the street level. In Boston, there is a development near Beacon Street in Brookline and a shopping center called Mashpee Commons on the Cape that are good examples.

I’ve always been a fan of New Urbanist planning. In fact, when I choose a neighborhood to live in, the ideas behind New Urbanism are what I look for. I want to be able to walk, have public transit, shop and interact with my neighbors in my neighborhood. As I do not (nor do I plan to in the near future) own a car, these things take on even more significance. The only major difference is that I have always chosen to live in actual historical districts. If you take the average year that the building was built in my last three apartments, you get 1887. Despite the fact that New Urbanism seems to be the best planning out there right now, you still get the fact that they are only trying to copy something out of the past. To quote the article in Metropolis, it’s “a strategy that doesn’t solve the problems we’ve created so much as teaches us to forget them.”

I also see parallels between this and the post-evangelical church movement. Essentially, we are reaching back to our imagined past to try to overcome the real problems that we’ve encountered in mixing Christianity with modernism, however, the problem is the same, we’re not finding solutions to our problems, we are just going back to a time when we can forget that there were problems.

My question is, is this necessarily a bad thing? Like I said, it is all of the proponents of New Urbanist planning that I look for in a neighborhood. Does it matter if it was built in 1860 because it was the cutting edge or in 1990 because people wanted to forget the last 70 years of bad planning? But I have to ask myself, if we progressed from good planning in 1860 to bad planning in 1960 or from good Christianity in 1480 to bad Christianity in 1980, what is to prevent us from making the same mistakes again? Modernist planning and Christianity both grew out of trying to correct the problems of what came before, if we revert back, won’t we just be doomed to repeat the cycle?

on a completly unrelated note, I just rearanged my links to be from people who post the most to people who post the least. I also added Dugan, though let it be know that I do not support his content. I always think its good to hear both sides of the story...both right and wrong... and at least he's thinking, which is more then you can say for most people.


Chris Dugan 5:06 PM  

Thanks for adding me to your blog links. I know you love me.

I pretty much agree with your take on "new urbanism" and the whole "Emergent" thing.

Just because something is "old" or "traditional" doesn't make it virtuous in and of itself. I think that's the mistake a lot of pomo churchs' make. In their quest to make the church "relevant" some (not all) of these church's are sort of "creating" their own relevancy by merging the old and the new (often times the best of the old and the worst of the new, or the worst of the old and the best of the new, which just leads to mediocrity and then we are right back where we started).

In some emergent circles I also see a mixing of "new age" ceremony and ritual with Christianity, and that's just not cool.

onetenchelsea 9:13 PM  

where are these Porno churches? How do I join?

I should elaborate on what i am calling "emergant" a bit. I do not mean The Rock. Although they use a lot of newish bells and whistles they are essentally just the worst of the modern church dressed up a little. "Emergant" to me talks about a completly different theology which embraces both parts of modern christianity (protestantism) and older celtic and orthodox christianity and parts of christian mystism.

And you must remember, just as emergent christianity has mixed some new age ceremony, modern evangelism has mixed a lot of humanist rationalism. Neither is cool.

This isn't to disregard what you are saying, it's just to clarify.

But at the same time, if something old works (especially if it works better then something new we've been trying), why shouldn't we go for it?

Chris Dugan 1:09 PM  

Haha..."Po-Mo" not "Porno" (as in "Postmodern")...

I wasn't talking about "The Rock" at all. You seem to always want to bring up Evergreen/GCM for some reason every other time I talk to you. Just because I attend one of their churches does not make me a unapologetic follower and believer in everything they say and do. I'm aware of other congregations and movements going on in the church. I agree that "The Rock" is hardly a "postmodern" or emergent church and I wasn't suggesting otherwise. I'm not dissing them, but they really are just a modern Evangelical/Baptist-rooted church dressed up hip.

I'm curious as to what you mean by "humanist rationalism"...

onetenchelsea 3:17 PM  

Bringing up the rock had nothing to do with your post. It was just a place that i knew most of the readers would know. I do not nessasaraly equate the rock and evergreen as having the same problems nor do I think you are an unapologetic follower (in fact i know you aren't, other wise you would have ditched evergreen for the rock along with everyone else in your age bracket back in the day)

As to rationalism and the church: In the middle ages, Christianity was a very mystical religion (some might say superstitious) because most of it's adherants were extreamly superstitious. It was in an age prior to scientific understanding. As more people became literate and science began to boom, the church shifted it's focus. I don't think that it is a coincidence that the reformation and the reneisance happened at the same time. They were the secular and religious versions of the same changes in peoples mindset. This is when human beings started to believe "we can figure out everything." (read any christian authors between 400 and 1500 and you won't find this) At this point, much like scientists began adding to thier knowledge, christians began systemic theology. Essentally, we tried to explain everything in the bible, to tie up loose ends if you will. Although we gave lip service to the mysteries of God, we wanted to explain everything, from calvinism, to the end times, to how to explain the trinity to why we don't (or do) let women preach or don't (or do) make women wear headscarfs. You can even look at the architecture of our churches to see the progression, we went from marvioulous catherdrals that leave you awestruck to building "college campuses for jesus" (although many of them are architecturally cool as well, i'm not dogging the architects, i'm just saying the purpose has changed). I'm not saying that the belief that we can explain everything is bad by itself (i think it was completly nessasary for the time and still is for some, maybe even most, christians), but it isn't one of the componants of the original christianity. Before you get down on "new age ceremony" you should think about what you've added in to your christianity. What you perceive as giving in to cultural presure might be nothing more then the natural progression of a religion that would die without meeting peoples needs. What i am saying is that someone who believes in the laws of science would have had a hard time getting behind midevil catholism, just as a postmodernist who believes in mystery will have a hard time getting behind the cooly rational belief of the evangelical church of today (which one of the reasons that more "passionate" churches like evergreen or the penticostals are doing so much better then just plain old baptists or presbyterians).

Chris Dugan 5:42 PM  

I think I get what you're saying and I don't disagree necessarily.

When I refer to "new age" influence I'm not talking about embracing the spirtual, or as you put it—"passionate" aspects of Christianity. I have no problem with that and I too think it's a mistake for Christians to try to explain away everything. It's also a mistake for athiests, evolutionists, agnostics to try to explain away everything because no one can (and they do it just as much). There are certain things mankind will never know. Which is one of the reasons I believe in God...

What I was talking about are the overt eastern influences (transcendental meditation, some forms of yoga, hypnotism,etc) that ARE appearing in some "progressive" so-called emergent churches. These aren't simply scientific mysteries or misunderstands that may have been prevalent in the 1500's. Things that are doctrinely unsound or that go against the nature of the God of the Bible have no place among a body of believers—irregardless of how popular or "relevant" they may be.

I know of one such local "emergent" guru (I'm sure you can figure out whom) who is writing a book on different forms of "body prayer". As if sitting with ones legs behind their neck as they pray will make the difference as to whether God wills that their Grandmother doesn't die from cancer.

onetenchelsea 7:32 PM  

I think you left some things unfinished:

first, can you give any evidence that any of those things you mentioned "go against the nature of the God of the Bible" other then that we haven't been doing it? Where is thou shalt not yoga? I'm not accusing, i've just never seen it, so I'd be really interested.

second, I think you miss the point of "body prayer" completly. It isn't so that God will hear your prayer better, it is so that you will know you are praying. It isn't any different then folding your hands and shutting your eyes, or walking in the woods or lifting your hands palm up. Non of those things is Biblical. The point is, that by taking a position that you don't normally take you are reminding yourself that you are doing something other then the normal.

Anna 2:58 PM  

Wow! Did you just write all of this in the past few days? I've had no internet access and I feel like I've missed out on something major. I have so many things to say. . .
Z, I think you are right about the Body Prayer thing. Our Mpls Emergent Guru is NOT promoting Eastern Religion, I would also add that it is just another way to pray. In Eastern Churches and Catholic Churches, if I am not mistaken, posturing is an important part of prayer. What you do with your body is a form of prayer in itself. David was dancing before the Arc of the Covenent and that was pleasing to God. You can do things with your body that are prayerful and worshipful. Body prayer also helps you to focus your mind, relax and get in tune with God.
I think you had some interesting things to say about Emergent being compared to New Urbanism. Sometimes I wonder why everyone is always so focused on "getting back to early Church religion." Through out the centuries the church has always grown and changed. I think as long as we keep the constants such as the Bible, the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc, then there is plenty of room for growth as the Church changes to meet each new generation. Maybe I am sounding like McLauren here (I still have to read his new book), but it makes no sense to me that the Church needs to be a static thing.

Anna 2:58 PM  

Note: I changed my name from Grace to Anna. That is a step. Also, am I first on the list because I post the most on your blog or on my own??????

Anna 2:59 PM  

but the blog is still called Grace Freewill, I am just now posting as Anna

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