Posted by: rogermitchell | August 22, 2012

The Fall of the Church CH4: biopower and the spirit

Chapter Four explains how all three of the currencies of sovereignty are coming together in a fulness which political philosophers and analysts call biopower and which I am suggesting that the Holy Spirit is both within and without. On the inside in what the Neo-Marxists call the potential power of immaterial labour, and outside in the egalitarian grace of Pentecostal outpouring, terms which the chapter will unpack for the uninitiated. The chapter explains how these two factors might activate the kind of seismic shift in the Western mindset required to break free from the sovereignty system at last.

Firstly, the chapter attempts a simple, ordinary language explanation of biopower and its raw material: life itself, or naked life. It shows how despite the oppressive commodification of life until human existence becomes little more than a prison camp, naked life is irreducible to this and can become instead the means to overcome the domination system from within. It explains that life itself is manifesting an inherent capacity to reinvent a new means to peace without sovereignty. The section maintains that although thinkers such as Agamben doubt the possibility of this happening without default back to sovereignty, the naked transcendence revealed in the voluntary embrace of victimhood by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveals an unsubsumed transcendence as the deep-structural magic concealed behind the world system.

Secondly, the chapter gives an account of what theologians have called the deficit of the Holy Spirit that existed from the fourth century until the twentieth. The correlation between the Fall of the Church in its embrace of sovereign power as the means to peace, the displacement of the testimony of Jesus and the deficit of the Spirit is pointed out and the ongoing struggle for survival or breakthrough for the love stream considered in this context. The Azusa Street event and subsequent outpourings are then described in terms of a divine resurgence of egalitarian transcendence with the capacity to restore the presence and politics of the gospel Jesus to the human experience of God.

Thirdly, the chapter explains that it is because of the vital connection between naked life and the egalitarian Christ of Pentecostal outpouring that so much contemporary church teaching and practice is problematic. The chapter underlines this in three ways:
i) the operation of authority, whether episcopalian, presbyterian or new church, generally carries the very structure of empire;
ii) much of the theology of God and salvation which provides the focus of its worship and liturgy does the same;
iii) despite the initial breakthroughs of the representative figures from the love stream depicted in the previous chapter, such that structure and liturgy must give place to love, and land and property give place to the stewardship of resources for the poor, the contemporary expressions of church, including Pentecostals and Charismatics, remain enslaved to the practices of empire.

Fourthly, the chapter asserts nonetheless that two crucial transcendent realities are on us, both in the wider society and in the church. These can resolve the conundrum of marginalities on which Chapter One focussed. The church sees itself as on the inside, squeezed out to the edge by the secular society. The secular world thinks itself on the inside being squeezed out by the church. The truth is that there is no inside or outside now, if there ever was. We are all outside God’s kenotic, life-laying-down love, save that he has come on the inside of our world in the terms of the testimony of Jesus. From this perspective he is here, with us, among the family of humanity. The Holy Spirit, as Acts has it, is poured out on all flesh.

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Responses

  1. Gosh, all this is gonna be painful to grapple with changing mindsets in myself and collectives of people. Currently I am with Sparks who says that in the end Empire is gonna getcha. Awaiting publication to see if there is hope……..

    • Thanks for the comments and encouragements, Matthew. Which Sparks are you referring to? The one from Broadwalk Empire? It will be great to have your contributions and collaborations as we do one anothers’ heads in. All in the cause of hope!

      • This chap is Kenton Sparks, an activist thinker who began a grassroots enablement of local believers to get out of thir own building in ones and twos, link with others from other chuches in pursuit of their callings to serve and impact others locally (not just falliing in line with the leader’s vision and instructions).
        He really put significant money where his mouth is. A proponent of watching the (inevitable?) progression of
        wo/man with a vision: becomes a movement: develops into a machine: that ossifies into a monument.

  2. very interesting ideas. i think i agree with a lot of what you’re saying. may i make a suggestion – i think that for your ideas to work in practice that you need to present in concrete terms some models of what actually does work. what do you want us to change TO and how. human beings, for simple survival, tend to revert to what is known, the familiar. what we need is some instructions on how to get back to the real factory settings, how god designed us. one advantage of a movement like “the house church movement” is that in the absence of a clear theology we had something simple to act on – meet in houses, which in itself helped us break from some unhealthy traditions without always even realising we were doing it. baptists baptised people, levellers levelled out social structures, brethren treated everyone as brothers which again levelled out the leadership structures. methodists were methodical – wesley gave a brilliant structure, a model that people could run with.

    ie and i know this sounds cheap, but i think you need a gimmick. i cant believe i’ve just said that. for the intellectuals and initiated the idea “kenarchy” does the trick, but i think you will need one that will help the ideas spread in a constructive way to a wider group, that will help those who agree with you to be able to explain what they are up to. otherwise we will just end up with another “down with -” movement, down with imperialism, as opposed to an “up with – ” movement – . up with nice church for example 🙂

    • Good shout Liz. You highlight well that it is easier to develop a ‘down with’ energy and that a handy distilllation or tag will help popularise the ideas.
      I think such things are often generated towards the end of the birthing and writing process so there is still time.

    • Thanks for this Liz. These are exactly the practical issues we’re grappling with. A few of us met last night to put together the practicalities of a Kenarchy Course where we can guinea pig some of this. We hope to begin in the new year, pehaps with a monthly overnighter here in the North West, involving folk travelling from further afield and then rolling it out themselves. The catchy phrase or gimmick isn’t easy because we’ve had so many, too many! One thing I came up with was ‘politics for everyday’, because that’s what discipleship is really. But it’s may be a turn off for some!


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