Being Church': agency and authenticity in a Protestant revival movement in Scotland
This thesis explores Protestant mission, discipleship, and church reform in urban Scotland. It builds upon fourteen months of ethnographic research on Cairn: a Christian movement launched in Edinburgh in 2015/16 which aspires to “radical and tangible” revival and “transformation of every sphere of culture”. In this thesis I argue that Cairn’s revival effort hinges on “intentionality”: an emic construction of agency that represents not only the capacity but also the imperative to act in building God’s Kingdom. Cairn’s intentionality is complicated by the movement’s ethic of authenticity which calls followers to submit their agency to God. Through its training programs, Cairn seeks to form subjects who are responsibilised individuals, undertaking methodical practices of self-reformation which will scale-up to reform the nation. Cairn’s training environments are suffused with strategy and organisation. However, this intentional, agentive approach sits in tension with Cairn’s aspiration for transformation which is organic and unmanufactured. While Cairn’s followers are to take responsibility and act intentionally toward a goal, they also desire change which is authentic: ultimately God-authored and beyond their direct control. Essential to Cairn’s model of authenticity is the individual’s direct, prophetic relationship with God through which they learn their role in His plan for revival and work to ensure His will is undistorted by human agency. Cairn holds Scotland’s established church responsible for its own steep decline over the last sixty years, largely due to its mishandling of agency. The church institution is accused of holding too firmly to traditions which elaborate upon God’s intentions and breed stagnancy. The Cairn movement’s high valuation of the divinely gifted disciple sits in stark opposition to traditional configurations of agency which prioritise exterior authorship and fixity as authoritative. Examining a case of Cairn’s church reform efforts, I demonstrate that this core disagreement maps opposing ideals of church, affecting everything from leadership structures to dress codes. Emphasis on the disciple over the church institution shapes Cairn’s approach to evangelism and mission too. With personalisation and relationship prized as authentic and therefore effectively evangelical, disciples are charged with “being church” for the post-Christian Scottish public through forming spiritually transformational relationships. This logic of personalization extends to an understanding of the local as authentic such that effective mission requires adaptation to the cultural particularities of each neighbourhood. I show how Cairn localises its revival efforts through auditing processes which serve to spatially map God’s Kingdom. Cairn’s bid for transformation which is organised and organic, raises the question: is it paradoxical to strategize for a spiritual revival? Through exploring this, I demonstrate the need to approach agency as culturally constructed. I argue that Cairn’s seeming paradox of agency and authenticity, which both embraces and eschews the power of the individual, serves to propel the movement. This thesis therefore complicates discussions of religious agency which oppose intention and submission by showing how they can work together in productive tension.