DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

To Junkspace and Beyond

Written by: on November 16, 2017

It can be extremely ‘heady’ stuff, and for those outside academia discourse on Social Theory is confusing, jargon filled, and completely disconnected to real life. Yet the proponents of Social Theory offer us an opportunity to recognize that “we live in new worlds of social and cultural organization.”[1] Anthony Elliott attempts to provide a thorough account of the development of Social Theory in an effort to demonstrate the variety of voices that have contributed to understanding society and its structures. As the text progresses it provides much in the way of historical foundation, clarifying the social construct evident in the present.  While some would suggest that the various theorists have only interpreted what may be occurring in society, in some cases their provocative interpretations have acted as a catalyst for the development of new awareness and direction, causing change in the surrounding culture. It must be acknowledged from the outset that Social Theory is largely a Western interpretation stemming from the Enlightenment and therefore any insights gained come from that perspective thus they are not necessarily universally applicable.

Being conversant in the historical underpinnings of social structure does help, in fact, clarify much of what is evidently occurring in society at present, marking the process that has brought us to this point. Its purpose then is “to assess the pace of change occurring in our lives today, as well as to critique the large-scale institutional forces driving such social change.”[2] Here is why Social Theory matters to us as doctoral students. In attempting to recognize a problem, research around it, and make an effort to suggest a new course it is imperative that the social constructs are accounted for and the implications of such are understood. Without that understanding it is likely we are simply spitting into the wind.

It is the rampant individualism that may be having the most telling effect on Western society, particularly in regard to the Church. Evident all around is the attitude that “people increasingly think only of their own private satisfactions and personal pursuits, which in turn weakens the spirit of active citizenship.”[3] Active citizenship can be equated with community, kinship, belonging, caring for others; exactly the characteristics encouraged within the body of Christ that may no longer be seen by a significant portion of society as important qualities worthy of pursuit. Allan Bloom builds on this idea and “has attacked what he terms our ‘culture of moral relativism’. People today, writes Bloom, are ‘spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone’.”[4]

The resultant condition is a disequilibrium, an inability to make sense of one’s surroundings suffering through a hedonistic lifestyle that according to Zygmunt Bauman limits morality to private determinations and “involves the renunciation of ethical freedom for the intoxications of consumerism.”[5] In addition, according to Rem Koolhaas responding to Frederic Jameson, this disequilibrium is a direct result of arriving in ‘Junkspace’, defined as “literally a no-place, one that cannot be grasped, following no decipherable rules.”[6] It is the “visual and spatial effect of global capital run haywire.”[7] Even our churches have developed into a form of Junkspace, cookie cutter programs, worship spaces, music and messages, offering little or no meaning by which to become oriented. This all in an effort to maintain relevance and grasp the last vestiges of Christian influence over society. It is in the ability to discern insights such as this that Social Theory has the power to aid our understanding, providing opportunity for introspection and meaningful dialogue about appropriately redeeming the culture around us.

As society continues to evolve so too our understanding of ourselves. In order for the Church to remain a meaningful place for people to recognize who they are it will need to be conversant in the dialogue of Social Theorists in order to stay abreast of the developing mindsets. One thing is certain, it has taken the Church years to recognize that they are “answering questions the world is no longer asking.”[8] If we are to continue to introduce people to the person of Jesus it will have to be done through the appropriate cultural context. While the church seems to continue to remain stuck in modernity in both structure and message, frequently providing simplistic answers to challenging problems, Social Theorists apparently recognize “that human experience is multiple, dispersed, fragmented, complex, contradictory.”[9] People in the present era in the West  “do not expect any more to find the all-embracing, total and ultimate formula of life without ambiguity, risk, danger and error, and is deeply suspicious of any voice that promises otherwise.”[10] Yet, the junkspace much of the Church seems to inhabit most readily provides exactly that voice.

Yes, it’s ‘heady’, confusing and jargon filled, but Social Theory provides the Church with language with which to dialogue and come to terms with the surrounding society. It challenges the Church to consider its own assumptions about the needs of society and how best to address them, and for those willing to do the work develop Christ centered communities that help individuals orient themselves to God even in the midst of the junkspace in which they live. Don’t give up on Social Theory just because it’s difficult. Make the effort to understand, that the message of the Gospel will be communicated in a way that impacts for eternity. Is this what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the church in Corinth;  “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”[11]

[1] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 7). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[2] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 14). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[3] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 28). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[4] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 28). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[5] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 280). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[6] Jungkeit, Steven. “The Dreamlife of Junkspace: Utopia, Globalization, and the Religious Imagination.” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 64, no. 1 (2013): 36-46. Accessed November 13, 2017. ATLA Religion Database [EBSCO]. P. 37

[7] Ibid p. 38

[8] Spong, Rev. Dr. John. “Postmodernism.” Speech, Wellington, New Zealand, 1996.

[9] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 253). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[10] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An introduction (p. 282). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, NRSV

About the Author

mm

Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

6 responses to “To Junkspace and Beyond”

  1. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Dan!
    Thank you for acknowledging the value of contemporary social theory and the church’s need to respond to it. This is a great post and there are several impacting statements. One of my favorites is: One thing is certain, it has taken the Church years to recognize that they are “answering questions the world is no longerasking.” This concept is profound and so true – although I may question if the church has truly figured this out yet… My question to you is – how do we get the church to recognize and value research, theory, and the need to meet a need (as defined by society)?

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Dan I so appreciated reading this. Thank you for sharing skepticism with me! I love and hate these highly academic topics

  3. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan,

    I am amazed at the quote you shared, “people increasingly think only of their own private satisfactions and personal pursuits, which in turn weakens the spirit of active citizenship.”

    I have seen two examples of this in my own church just in the last week! During this time of transition, selfishness is coming out as our church tries to select a new pastor.

    You have done well as you highlighted this, my Brother.

  4. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Dan, I have been stumped with a question of late that I think your post addresses. My question is how do we reinvent the church (so it’s not stuck in modernity) without compromising the gospel for totally cultural relevance within a context? It seems that much of the church I interface with are stuck in growing numbers or programs or both and some try to tip into the charismatic for relief/growth but without the necessary intellect behind it all. I am not sure if that all makes sense but I would like to hear from you on any solutions or questions you might have for me as I unravel some of what you’ve said in my own context.

  5. Great post Dan! I agree with your statement, “Even our churches have developed into a form of Junkspace, cookie cutter programs, worship spaces, music and messages, offering little or no meaning by which to become oriented.” I feel people are going to church to experience a meaningful relationship with God and not all the junk being offered without meaning. Curious what churches you have seen that have kept the junk out and the meaningful God stuff in?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *