the weblog of Alan Knox

Investigating the New Monasticism

Posted by on Mar 13, 2008 in community, synchroblog | 22 comments

This post is part of the March synchroblog. The theme to this synchroblog is Monasticism. It seems that most bloggers are discussing “New Monasticism“.

At first, I had decided to not take part in this synchroblog for two reasons: 1) I know very little about monasticism or new monasticism, and 2) The synchroblog would fall right in the middle of my series on early church meetings. However, I decided to take part in the synchroblog on monasticism for two reasons: 1) This post gave me a chance to investigate new monasticism and to link to other bloggers who know much more about (and even practice) new monasticism, and 2) Monasticism started in the early church, so this post actually fits well with my series on early church meetings.

New monasticism, or neomonasticism, is usually associated with emerging or missional groups of followers of Jesus. New monasticism demonstrates itself in many different ways. According to the wikipedia article, the most common principles among new monastic communities are:

  1. Thoughtful, prayerful, and contemplative lives.
  2. Communal life (expressed in a variety of ways depending on the community).
  3. A focus on hospitality.
  4. Practical engagement with the poor.

These “common principles” are scriptural principles which are specifically demonstrated by the early church in the first few chapters of the book of Acts. The main concern of new monasticism (like “old” monasticism) is that a monastic community can become inclusive. Of course, this is a concern for any type of community, whether that community is monastic or not.

However, “new monasticism” is not the same as “monasticism”. There is a new book by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove called New Monasticism: What it has to say to today’s church. The publisher’s note for this book reads as follows:

New Monasticism is a growing movement of committed Christians who are recovering the radical discipleship of monasticism and unearthing a fresh expression of Christianity in America. However, the movement doesn’t mirror traditional monasteries – many members are married with children and have careers, yet they live differently, often in community in once-abandoned sections of society.

Even more interesting is the publisher’s note about the author:

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (MDiv, Duke University Divinity School) is a leader of the New Monastic movement and cofounded the Rutba House community in Durham, North Carolina. An associate minister at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, he is also the coordinator of the School for Conversion, a partnership among New Monastic communities for alternative theological education.

So, this book is not a theoretical work or an ideal description of what could be. Instead, it is written by someone with a theological education who is also living in a new monastic community.

A couple of years ago, when we were looking for a house, we started looking near some friends. With other friends were looking for a new house, they started looking near us and other friends. Why? Because we understand the importance of proximity in building community. Of course, proximity is not everything, but it does help. Currently, there are several friends with whom we share our lives very closely. We see each other several times a week, spend time in one another’s homes, take care of one another’s children, laugh with, cry with, learn with, and grow with one another. Whether this is on the fringes of new monasticism or not, I do not know. But I do know that it seems to be heading in the direction of biblical fellowship.

A brother of a friend is contemplating moving to California in order to live in a neighborhood with other believers. This new type of “neighborhood abbey” is very attractive to me. I think that living in close proximity to other believers who are trying to live in community in Jesus Christ would be very beneficial. As the wikipedia article states, living in close proximity would aid in living a contemplative life, sharing with others, practicing hospitality, and helping the poor close to the neighborhood.

In the same way, I would also have a concern about living in proximity with other believers and only sharing our lives with those close to us geographically. It would be easy to spend all of my time with those believing friends, which would tend to cut me off from other people – those who most need to see and experience the affect of the gospel on a family’s life. Thus, the community would have to be intentional at reaching out to those outside the community, and encouraging others in the community to reach out beyond the community.

Like I said, I know very little about new monasticism. But, I have enjoyed the research so far. I’m also looking forward to reading more posts about monasticism and new monasticism.

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The March Synchroblog is on the topic of Monasticism. Below are links to other bloggers who are discussing monoasticism and new monasticism:

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Beth at Until Translucent
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
David Fisher at Cosmic Collisions
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian


22 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-13-2008

    On living in proximity… you might like to read A new way of living by Michael Harper (mentioned in my blog post) which describes people who did just that.

  2. 3-13-2008

    About three years ago I started connecting with a group of friends on a very intense level, it really resembled family more than friendship. There was a lot of community in it, but without the intentionality. The memory of it is also a constant reminder that it can be very easy to link up with a small group of people and forget the world.

  3. 3-13-2008

    Interesting! I strongly recommend the sight Jesus Manifesto (Mark van Stenwyjk and friends), which is the most interesting neo-monastic blogg I know.
    http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/2008/03/05/what-is-the-new-monasticism/

    /Jonas Lundström
    http://blog.bahnhof.se/wb938188

  4. 3-13-2008

    “site”, sorry.

  5. 3-13-2008

    Alan,

    Thanks for joining the Synch, and thanks for a thoughtful post.

  6. 3-13-2008

    Having somewhat attempted to do neighborhood Christian community and now living in community on a YWAM base, I’d say that, at least for me, there is a huge difference. When you still have your own “castle” so to speak to resign yourself to, you can avoid certain issues, people, etc. You don’t have to deal with complaining children in front of people who have no kids over the dinner table; you don’t have to figure out where to keep your belongings where they don’t create a muss for others, etc. It really is amazing how much you learn about submission and thinking of others when you put yourself in a community of people.

    I don’t say that to discourage what you have thought of, Alan; rather, I think it is a great idea, but I also want to encourage people to consider other ideas as well. One fantastic component of YWAM is that one can “try it out” in a Discipleship Training School for 5-6 months and then go from there. I think people really could take 6 months leaves from their regular lives and see where God might lead them. Of course, I also believe wholeheartedly that making such a leap must be at God’s direction, but all too often I think we are very quick to rationalize away such “rash” decisions.

  7. 3-13-2008

    Alan,

    It looks like you and I shared a common reticence about participating this time around, for similar reasons and reached conclusions that look a lot alike.

    Interesting.

    Nice post, as usual.

  8. 3-13-2008

    Steve,

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I’ll look for it in our library.

    Cobus,

    I think it is great to link up with people, and I think it is necessary to live in community with other believers. The key is to do this while not forgetting the world. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences.

    Jonas,

    Thank you for the link. I’ll look into the blog.

    Phil,

    Thank you for the comment. Also, thank you for kicking off this topic.

    Bryan,

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences with YWAM. I’m learning alot about living in community from you. I hope you keep sharing them with us.

    Adam,

    Yes, our posts were very similar. I’m glad that I participated this time, in spite of not knowing much about this subject.

    -Alan

  9. 3-13-2008

    I too was pretty clueless, but found it interesting that in some ways I was living what might be called a new monastic life. At the same time, it is ironic given the life my family led just 20 months ago. We were just “normal” Southern Baptist church goers, working professional careers, doing all the church stuff including teaching and leading, but really just being Sunday Christians, and God delivered us from it. We were scattered, in a sense, and in our scattering were redeemed mightily. I suppose I should write our story again some time because recent readers probably think I’m just a missionary or a theologian. :) the reality is that we are nothing but saved by Jesus and God’s story in us is amazing.

  10. 3-14-2008

    The main concern of new monasticism (like “old” monasticism) is that a monastic community can become inclusive.

    This is why I haven’t taken much interest in it thus far. I have taken notice of the fact that some folks involved in the new-monasticism movement are also liberal emergent types; and that means that there will be an implicit or explicit questioning of many historic Christian doctrines and positions; such as whether the Bible is infallible or whether we can know *any* doctrine with any kind of assurance and certainty.

    I certainly do not want to be difficult or hard to get along with, but if forsaking the truth of Scripture for the sake of promoting unity and community is part and parcel of the thinking behind some of those promoting new-monasticism, then this gets the cart before the horse. This is because you’re essentially attempting to re-create NT community *without* the necessary work of the Spirit which internally compels regenerated Godlovers to do God’s work (Phil. 2:13). Such thinking would be nothing more than a revamped version of the old, worn out social-gospel of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just some thoughts for consideration of the readers.

  11. 3-15-2008

    Bryan,

    I saw that you’ve posted your story again. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will soon.

    Dusty,

    Perhaps there is a connection between neomonasticism and a low view of Scripture, but I haven’t seen that connection yet. I do appreciate the emphasis on community that I’ve read from the new monastics. I think we can all learn from this.

    -Alan

  12. 3-15-2008

    Alan, it’s just a bit of the story… there’s so much to tell really – as it is His story in us. But i will likely write more in upcoming posts. Do please come read it as you have an opportunity. God is so faithful and it is only He to whom we can give the glory for all He has done in and through us.

  13. 8-22-2012

    New Monasticism is part of the emergent cult of progressive christianity.

    That says it all.

  14. 8-22-2012

    Donald,

    I try to be careful to investigate and learn from various ideas without dismissing them. I think that followers of Jesus can learn from one another, even when we disagree.

    -Alan

  15. 8-22-2012

    Alan,

    I can appreciate such an approach, but when that which you are considering/researching is rooted in a fraudulent belief in a Jesus that doesn’t exist Scripturally, I would caution you.

    A person doesn’t have to work at McDonald’s to know what a hamburger is, Alan. Once you scrape the feel-good surface of this New Monasticism, you will find it is the equivalent of covering a pile of dog feces in milk chocolate. It looks appetizing and makes you hungry, but inside it is just dog poop. You know what I am saying.

    I guard my faith furiously, and allow nothing to speak into it that does not line up with The Scriptures as properly revealed by The Spirit. This New Monastacism, while looking very pious and relevant, renders one open to folly and the pursuit of ideals rather than Spirit. Read Shane Claiborne and his take on Jesus and Karma and other religions.

  16. 8-22-2012

    Donald,

    I noticed in your post about Charismatics that you refused to dismiss all Charismatics because of the teaching and lifestyle of several prominent leaders. Yes, there are emerging/emergent people with whom I disagree. But, this is a huge group of (loosely organized and unorganized) people and many of them are true followers of Jesus Christ who have much to say to the church.

    -Alan

  17. 8-22-2012

    Alan,

    Point taken, and such a clever way to say it. I refuse to dismiss all of the charismatic school of thought not because I don’t think they are wrong, but simply because I have met charismatics who are solid and not hyper-charismaniacs. I see hope in the charismatic movement.

    Indeed, there might be ‘true followers of Jesus Christ’ within the emergent movement. I simply have my sincerest doubts about that. I have yet to encounter, in real life, an emergent that made a lick of sense. They are moreso emotionally, intellectually, and politically-driven than they are Spirit-led.

    Am I prepared to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to the emergent/progressive christianity movements? Yes. Yes I am. I neither see hope, nor have experienced hope, in and from emergents I have personally interacted with. It is a christianity that rivals New Age feel-good, touchy-feely spiritism, more than it is rooted in Truth.

    Just my opinion, mind you. I’ve no desire to chase this dog’s tail or argue with you about it. :)

  18. 8-23-2012

    Donald,

    Again, some could make the same claim about Charismatics. There are a couple of good books about and from those who identify as emerging/emergent that explains the breadth and diversity of the “movement.” If you’re interested, shoot me an email and I’ll give you the titles.

    -Alan

  19. 8-23-2012

    Alan,

    I loathe to confess this, but this is from Wikipedia (argh!):

    “The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism.”

    This is also an interesting read, that I believe you will glean much from, since you are a thinker (and I say this is a complimentary way!):

    http://didache.nazarene.org/pdfs/6-1_BlevinsEmerge.pdf

    As to pointing at Charismatics and seeking to compare them to the emergent cultists, I find that a bit of a stretch. Charismatics can be found rooted in The Scriptures and do not disbelieve them, whereas emergents define their theology by asking, “Did God really say that?” The last time someone asked, “Did God really say…..?”, it turned out poorly. Yes, that was a serpent/Garden of Eden reference.

    However, it appears I have violated mine own words here, in that I said I would not chase this dog’s tail any longer, and here I have done so. I respect you as much as I am able, Alan, for never having met you in real life, but I believe you and I ares imply going in opposite directions on this subject. Lest there would be a reason for the enemy to put a wedge between us, I am opting out of this thread.

    I know you understand what I mean.

  20. 8-23-2012

    Donald,

    You will also find people who identify as emerging/emergent who “can be found rooted in The Scriptures and do not disbelieve them.”

    By the way, it’s not always bad to ask, “Did God really say?” especially if God didn’t say it.

    -Alan

  21. 8-23-2012

    Alan,

    But if it is commonplace and predictable for me to ask, “Did God really say…?”, and to follow up each time with some challenge on the basics of our faith as taught by Jesus in lieu of a more post-modern, hipper translation, then it is a problem.

    The emergents I know have no issue with what God didn’t say. It’s what He has said that bothers them, since it doesn’t fit their ideals of who Jesus is supposed to be.

    Okay, no more, please. I’m done. I’m out of this thread. Thanks.

  22. 8-23-2012

    Donald,

    I believe you that the people you’ve met who identify themselves as emerging/emergent believe just as you say. There are others who do not, however. And, I think the church can learn alot from the questions that many of them as asking, because they are questioning traditions, not Scripture. As with the “heretics” of old, many are labeled as such today because they question traditions, not because they question “the basics of our faith.”

    Are there some among the emerging/emergent folks who have wandered away from “the basics of the faith”? I think so. But, then again, the same can be said of any movement or denomination.

    -Alan