New Monasticism: Necessary or Pretentious?


RELEVANT Magazine recently ran a short piece on “new monasticism,” which seems to be the latest trend among Christian youths. The piece also includes an interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who leads a new monastic community in North Carolina. 

Author and "new monastic" Shane Claiborne meets with Ron Copeland and Brian Farrell.

 

First off, I don’t pretend to know a lot about new monasticism, but I feel like I’m relatively familiar with the overall “spirit” of the movement. If I’m correct, the movement promotes pseudo-communes of like-minded believers wherein participants can focus on “contemplative” and prayerful lives, while also ministering to the poor and the needy in their sphere of influence. 

I’ve heard several proponents of the movement point to Acts 2:44-47 as part of the movement’s inspiration: 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 As far as that verse goes, it sounds like something already going on in church communities across the country (and the world). So why is there such a big push toward something new? The new movement is supposedly distinguished by being primarily “urban” in nature, but there are plenty of urban churches and soup kitchens across the nation.

In the article, Wilson-Hartgrove says one reason the movement has gained traction is that it has more of a community focus than “normal” churches. 

“We have a pretty individualistic popular religion,” Wilson-Hartgrove says, “but the monastics have paid attention to community, and I think people are attracted to that.” 

Later in the interview, when asked if new monasticism is “a kind of antitheses to the megachurch movement,” Wilson-Hartgrove again says it’s more so a “response to individualistic and consumer driven Christianity.” 

Here is where I get (more) confused. I sort of get the whole appeal of imitating the original disciples sharing and caring and stuff. But what does he mean by “individualistic” and “consumer driven” Christianity? I’m at a loss as to what is detrimentally “individualistic” and “consumer driven” about the Church (as a whole).

What’s obvious is that Wilson-Hartgrove and others see individualism as something destructive to the church, but then again, it also seems that he thinks individualism and community-oriented living are mutually exclusive. I obviously disagree. 

But let’s pretend he’s right. Let’s pretend that a church can’t promote individualism and community at the same time. 

 When Wilson-Hartgrove laments “individualism,” does he mean that modern churches are focusing too much on an individual relationship with God as opposed to a communal relationship with God? If so, does he really believe a communal relationship with God is possible without successful individual ones? Or, perhaps he means that modern churches simply don’t share enough bread and butter with each other. If this is his argument, it’s a fundamentally materialistic one, and besides that, I can’t think of a church, especially not a megachurch, that doesn’t share its resources to a large extent.

Next, when he laments “consumer driven” Christianity, is he talking about various church strategies designed to “lure” people in like customers? Certainly such campaigns can be performed with poor taste, but is Christianity supposed to stop trying to appeal to its “consumers”? Besides, anyone who joins a new monastic community for the mere purpose of participating in better PR is simply making a consumer-driven choice.   

For these reasons, and more, the whole concept of new monasticism as a movement comes off as profoundly silly, but even beyond that, it strikes me as unnecessary, contrived, and pretentious. 

Don’t get me wrong. No church is perfect, and every church has problems. But if anything, we need more stable individualism in the Church, not the absence of it. Similarly, we need better communication of our consumer message, not the absence of one. To pretend otherwise is foolish and counterproductive. 

But why spoil their party? Certainly the Church should be flexible and not every church should be the same. After all, nobody is the same. This is true, which is why I am perfectly fine with individuals voluntarily joining together to create these so-called “monastic” communities. If you want to do it, go for it. If you feel like God has called you to it, then follow the call.  

My primary issue is understanding what the big difference is. To me, it’s just a different type of church — and one that’s been around for quite a while.

On a different level, I’m not sure how purely communal these so-called communes are in the first place. I’m also not sure how effective they are. These are things I hope to learn more about.

As of now, what are your thoughts on new monasticism? Are there any practicing “monastics” out there who can fill me in on something I might be missing?

   

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Remnant Culture

    New blog post on so-called new monasticism: "Necessary or Pretentious"? http://tiny.cc/liiep #monasticism #church #Christian

  • http://twitter.com/mattress Matt

    It sounds like they want to be christian communists while rebelling against the mega church suburban image.
    Communist philosophy emphasizing the whole over the individual is bizarre, if we're all 'one' or all connected or whatever, then a system where each individual works toward bettering himself would necessarily better the whole as well. Commies will generally reject such a system, as it seems Mr. Wilson-Hartgrove is doing.

    I would be much more interested in seeing a libertarian monastery where a group sets up a large farm/compound in the country side, devotes themselves to God, grows/hunts their own food, and removes their reliance on everyone other than each other and God. Abundance could then by donated to urban food pantries. I'd be interested in joining such an organization.

  • http://twitter.com/mattress Matt

    It sounds like they want to be christian communists while rebelling against the mega church suburban image.
    Communist philosophy emphasizing the whole over the individual is bizarre, if we're all 'one' or all connected or whatever, then a system where each individual works toward bettering himself would necessarily better the whole as well. Commies will generally reject such a system, as it seems Mr. Wilson-Hartgrove is doing.

    I would be much more interested in seeing a libertarian monastery where a group sets up a large farm/compound in the country side, devotes themselves to God, grows/hunts their own food, and removes their reliance on everyone other than each other and God. Abundance could then by donated to urban food pantries. I'd be interested in joining such an organization.