At Last… The Emerging Church Defined

mssnl-1.jpgIt seems that the body of Christ is having a tough time naming its latest protuberance. What is this soft mass we’ve been calling the Emerging Church? It has been said to mean many things. It has been said to defy definition. It has been said to be so new (emerging) that we don’t know what it is yet.

Well, I believe I have it figured out. You are welcome to join the conversation. Here is the essential glossary of the emerging church.

An Essential Glossary of the Emerging Church

Emerging Church: n. comp. That which Christians do when they graduate from the youth group and wish to avoid the hymns in the big church. Synonym: “the intermediate state;” a.k.a., “childlessness.”

Conversation: v. intr. 1. Insistence that grown-ups listen to a relentless critique of institutionalized Christianity–which critique never occurs in conversation with grown-ups. 2. Refusing to reach a conclusion. 3. A period of silence and guided breathing. 4. See “sermon.”

Emerging Church Leader: n. prop. 1. A multiply-pierced soul-patched male who facilitates the “conversation” [q.v.]. 2. Could theoretically be a female [see “egalitarianism”] but none of national stature have “emerged” [q.v] to date.

Truth: [term not found]

Sermon: pron. see “conversation.”

Emergency: n. pl. emergencies. 1. The net effect of the emergent church. 2. A participant in the emergent church conversation.

Gospel: adj. 1. That which sets us free from the “tyranny of certainty.” 2. That which gives no offense. 3. It is expected, however, that emergencies [q.v.] give massive offense to generations of Christians who sacrificed to build the facilities in which emerging churches meet for daring to build buildings and orphanages and hospitals and missions. See “institutionalism.” Preaching the gospel: hugging somebody.

Jesus: n. pr. The westernized, parochial version of the way to God, though he himself was mideastern. Essential but optional. Already but not yet. Nothing can be said with certainty about his life except that we should imitate it but not insist that anybody else imitate it because that would be cramming our views down their throats. See “conversation.”

Salvation: adv. 1. Deliverance from institutionalized Christiandom into anti-establishment emergentism. 2. An arrogant claim to a connection with a posited supreme being, whoever he or she may be. 3. That which all nice people have regardless of religion, culture, faith, creed, or number of holes in their jeans.

Institutionalism: see “Unpardonable sin.” Synonyms: Modernism, modernist.

Postmodern: adj. “Spoiled,” as in “The postmodern person delays the onset of adult responsibility.”

Nu-monasticism: a way for churches to not pay their pastors a living wage, thus forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for their kids’ medical expenses through programs like Medi-Cal to the glory of Jesus.

The Cross: v. The act of clenching one’s fingers together and touching in sequence: a) one’s forehead, 2) one’s sternum; third) one’s left chest [except among the orthodox, in which case one’s right chest; last) one’s opposite chest.
Heaven: interj. 1. Earth. 2. The kingdom of God on earth. “Going to heaven:” having your needs met on earth. “Helping someone to go to heaven when they die:” making sure people are clothed and fed and sheltered.

Death: interog. 1. Why are you so focused on the next life that you’re no earthly good? 2. People aren’t asking that question. 3. No one is worried where they go when they die, and your looking up this definition only shows how you’ve corrupted Christianity into something about the next life instead of this life which is all-important.

Orthodoxy: pron. A fluid and all-inclusive set of non-beliefs, which, if held with passion, becomes evil, but if held “generously” would become God’s truth if he had communicated any truths, but he hasn’t so we have to keep the conversation going, because 2,000 years of study and dialog have not been enough to reach any conclusions with certainty. If you are not orthodox, you are a “modernist.”

Satire: the use of humor, irony, and exaggeration to critique a topical issue. Okay, now, let’s lighten up. As I’ve said before: Emergent theology: Not so hot. Emergent Methodology: Yes! I am Pro-Candle! Every generation needs to be evangelized on its own terms. Our kids will hate our church-style… we can’t afford to drive them away. So we have to encourage them and resource them to do church in their own language, their own style, wrapping the old-old, unchanging truths of Scripture in their own culture.

I just read: Mark Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus! One of the best reads on Jesus I’ve read in a long time. Two thumbs way up!

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Col 2:8.

convo01.jpg
Advertisements

43 thoughts on “At Last… The Emerging Church Defined

  1. Actually, this is pretty helpful as well as amusing. You have also managed to maintain your Protestant cred while speaking of the sign of the cross. (Westerners do it left shoulder then right shoulder and Easterners, the opposite.)

  2. You might kill me for this one but I was reading some of those definitions and thinking, “Right on!” as in “that’s what I want to be involved in”.

    Eeek ?

  3. You had me chuckling, but then scared when I thought you might actually be serious…

    …thanks for clearing it up at the end!

  4. Hi, I found your blog while doing my usual ‘wandering’ around the internet and decided to stop for discussion.

    I am honestly very offended by your depiction of emergence. I realize you’re shooting for hyperbole with your depiction, but some of it is absolutely unfounded and other aspects are just plain lies that are being propagated throughout Christianity.

    The idea that those emerging are solely those who are in a phase between youth and adulthood does not account for the fact that most of the most vocal ‘leaders’ in the movement are over the age of 35 with children ie. Driscoll (although I don’t think he calls himself emerging anymore), Jones, Pagitt, McLaren, etc. I think characterizing a paradigm shift as ‘youthful rebellion’ is very dangerous. Demonizing new ideas is what created the Reformation, and 16th century Catholics were very sure their dogma was accurate as well. I’m not saying that Brian McLaren should be equated with Luther, but I am saying that demonizing WILL cause a division- and I think that division will hurt both sides significantly.

    ‘Post-modernism’ is far from a denial of truth, it is merely a new perspective on it. 16th century reformation Church had little interest in ‘spreading the Gospel’, they believed that ‘the Great Commission’ was a charge solely to the apostolic Church and carried no responsibility for them. Today the Church views that biblical passage as the ‘passing of the torch’ from Jesus to the disciples and onto each generation following. So either truth changed or the reformation was mistaken on their interpretation. The problem is that if they didn’t know ‘the truth’ how can we assuredly say that we know it now? I’m not trying to undermine the authority of Scripture, I’m simply saying that ‘post-modernism’ just admits that perhaps we don’t have everything perfect. Our theology probably isn’t any more perfect that Luther’s or Greggory the Great’s or even Clement of Rome’s. Admitting weakness seems more a sign of maturity than immaturity to me.

    Depiction of the ’emerging’ Gospel as purely ‘social justice’ is rather insulting as well. Admittedly, I think McLaren makes an unnecessary dichotomy of Social Justice vs. Ethereal Salvation- the Christian walking ‘in the Spirit’ should be concerned with both aspects. The New Testament clearly depicts a message of hope after death to persecuted peoples (1 Pet.) but it also clearly depicts and obligation of co-redeeming the world from the effects of sin. Even Mathew 25 displays that, at least in the mind of Mathew, a facet of ‘righteousness’ was social justice. The ’emerging church’, as a whole, is simply trying to bring balance back to theology. In the minds of many the Church, as a whole, is so focused on Jesus’ return tomorrow that they’re overlooking those who are starving today. Now I readily admit that ‘service’ is becoming just as cliche as contemporary worship, it seems like 20-somethings create a new ‘organization’ to feed/clothe/rehabilitate someone everyday, but they’re making a spectacle doesn’t negate its necessity as part of our Gospel.

    I’ll cut it short because I didn’t mean to type this much, this blog has a very demeaning vibe to it. I by no means think you need to be emerging, I don’t even consider myself to be, but to belittle something different as childish without actually interacting with it (your blog post shows you have, at best, a an understanding of only one facet of what ’emerging’ is).

    Labeling fellow Christians as ‘lowbrow’ based on appearances or their desire to live their faith in community (‘missional’) is very derogatory. It seems hypocritical that Christians should have to belong to a ‘highbrow’ society to follow a Savior that spent all of his time with whores, thieves and lepers.

    I look forward to your response.

    Earl

  5. Earl….
    Ummm, I don’t know what to say, actually. I don’t think you caught the spirit of the satire, and I said nothing about “highbrow” or “lowbrow” and I actually plugged Mark Driscoll’s latest book (if you made it to the end of my posting), which I think is great. And I think you’re right that Driscoll no longer calls himself “emerging”, though in his book he refers to the “emerging universalists”. Nor did I say that the emergent movement is “solely” for young people… etc. It’s okay to critique the movement, and satire, parody, etc., are valid forms of the critique.
    Yes, I made a glossary. And yes, I took the worst of the definitions and ran with them (e.g., my emerging definition of the Cross).
    You acknowledge the hyperbole, and then attacked me as if it were all literal, and more than literal. Aaargh.
    I visited your site and like it, though I might not agree with everything on it. That’s the beauty of the Internet… freedom to not read stuff that offends you.
    Can we agree to disagree?
    Bill

  6. Bill,
    I apologize for the excess of emotion. I honestly was trying to be productive with the conversation. My ‘lowbrow’ comments came from the picture opening the post. My acknowledgment of your satire was genuine. I understood that you were attempting to over-exaggerate your point. My was attempting to dialogue (although my emotion may have prevented that) with the perspective that birthed the exaggeration.

    You did give a nod to Driscoll, but in discussions of theology you could substitute ‘MacArthur’ for ‘Driscoll’ and rarely have a discrepancy.

    It appears as though you believe there’s a kernel of truth in at each of those definitions,(probably more than a kernel or it wouldn’t have made it to the blog). It was those beliefs I was trying to dialogue with moreso than the post itself, although you did characterize the movement as ‘childlike’-
    “Emerging Church: n. comp. That which Christians do when they graduate from the youth group and wish to avoid the hymns in the big church. Synonym: “the intermediate state;” a.k.a., “childlessness.”

    And you did characterize ‘postmodernism’ as childlike as well:
    “Postmodern: adj. “Spoiled,” as in “The postmodern person delays the onset of adult responsibility.”

    I’d say the picture at the top is what was the most offensive, but I respect your right to an opinion. I agree that I have the freedom to not read stuff that offends me, but I also occasionally use that freedom to communicate my offense to those within Christianity who choose to publicly discredit or mock the faith of others.

    I apologize for taking so much of your satire as such a personal issue, the picture at the top really hit a nerve. Thank you for responding and engaging in some dialogue.

    Agree to disagree.

    Earl

  7. Thanks, Earl,
    The picture at the top and bottom are part of a very funny and yes, biting, series at philjohnson.blogspot.com.

    Thank you for your gracious response.

    Yes, there is a kernel of truth in my definitions….
    But is it not true that there is a universalistic streak in some emerging churches?
    And a reluctance to state definitive conclusions?
    And an appeal to the younger generations far more than to the older?
    And a criticism of the institutions of Christianity?
    And a mystical streak? And an Eastern Orthodox streak? And “kingdom of God on earth now” streak, in opposition to heaven? Here’s an example: Brian McLaren–whom you mentioned, not me–writes this in his article on John 14:6 from his website: And I quote…

    “His message was not about
    going to heaven after history, but about the
    kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.”

    In context, there are 3 sentences in a row with a “not” this “but” that stucture–the fallacy of the excluded middle–and each statement tries to pull the message of Jesus (and Jn 14:6) down from life after death to the here and now… this is a pattern in the emergent theological movement. It can be critiqued, and I think it should be.

    Anyhoo, yes. I admit it. Many kernels of truth.
    And that’s what makes it funny.
    And I’m glad we can dialog on it.
    I am an ally of the Emerging Church… in methodology, but not in theology.

    I applaud the Emerging church methodology of reaching younger and/or disaffected generations for Jesus.
    I’m just nervous about what we’re reaching them with. What enduring truths. What clear doctrines.

    It’s funny that you would put MacArthur and Driscoll in the same category, since MacArthur criticizes Driscoll as vulgar. I think both of them… and I would include myself… are simply old-fashioned evangelicals in our THEOLOGY… Driscoll and I, but not MacArthur, are open to radical new METHODOLOGY.

    Just don’t go moving the biblical doctrines around on me.

    Bill

  8. The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth…. wow, I heard A LOT about that at Trinity. Like, that was almost the only thing they preached. New students were required to read “Heaven is Not My Home” before even attending the school. I really thought it was just another Calvanist thing. They have arguments for it. That God is going to provide for the earth a New Creation, or a second creation, and yeah they taught it in direct conjunction with social justice.

    Anyway, I really don’t think it’s an Emergant Church thing, although maybe they adopted it also? Because all of my even insanely conservative, fuddy-duddy professors taught it. I think it’s been around for a little longer than the emergent church. I think it’s actually part of Calvinism, at least, at Trinity they teach it in direct conjunction with Calvinism.

  9. “‘Post-modernism’ is far from a denial of truth, it is merely a new perspective on it. ”

    Earl, I have to say I dont see it that way. A major feature of postmodernism is to relativize morality and true. Anyone hanging his hat on this will lose his faith in short order. As a Catholic, I affirm the reality and limited accessibility of truth. This is, after all, the point of Romans 1.

  10. Not being well versed on the “emerging” church, is this the natural outgrowth of the “seeker-sensitive” church? Jesus did not make His Truth a negotiable item, but types of worship do seem variable to me. The church I attend in the far NW Chicago suburbs appears to be an “Emergent” church (candles, pastor in blue jeans, etc). The only difference is that our pastors come from a church tradition and respect that. The message of Christ should never (and never will) change, but the delivery may.

  11. Hi Bill,

    I’ve seen all the satirical pics of the EC that you referenced. I’m an evangelical. Raised very conservatively, about to graduate from a fundamental evangelical Bible college. I am conservative, but am not satisfied with the fundamental church as it is today. I understand the qualms that the EC has with fundies and the church, but I also definitely understand the beef fundies have with the EC. I think there has to be a balance between the two.

    What I mean is, church and faith in Christ should not be tied to modernism or post-modernism. It should be above that. It should transcend that. I am not saying the church should be Mennonite, because that is tied to culture as well. It’s culture that mixes pilgrims with the 21st century (and several other possibilities), but it’s still a specific culture.

    Ministering to post-moderns is great. We should do that. But being a follower of Christ means we have a completely different thought process than do moderners or post-moderners. It means we have the mind of Christ. In my opinion, the idea of mega churches have a modernistic mindset. The EC has a post-modernistic mindset.

    Just as a random thought, I don’t see what good satires do. It’s like sarcasm. It can be funny to those that agree with you, but someone is always going to get offended or hurt. I wasn’t offended by the satire, but I’m not surprised someone from the EC was (or at least leans that way).

    But that is just my opinion. L8r Bill!

  12. Folks,

    The church are those who are recipients of the New Covenant.

    Originally, this segment of believers (literally, “those called apart”) were Jews (Acts 2). Since the corporate Israel yet rejected even the REOFFER of the Kingdom of God (Acts 2:14-36 and 3:12-26) or New Covenant, this offer of salvation went to the entire world.

    In almost all New Testament books, there is some reference to “calling” or “those called” to salvation.

    What does “calling” have to do with the New Covenant…?

    There are four main passages in the Old Testament that concern those “called” into the New Covenant… Deut 30:6; Jer 31:31:-34; Ezek 36:26-27; and Joel 2:28-29.

    In each of these passages, Yahweh (God) does the “calling” — that is, he provides the GRACE to bring us into his salvation. In other words, he calls us out of sin and death. Each of these Old Testament passages have Yahweh (God) “calling” those who will receive the New Covenant. He does this through the direct intervention of His Spirit on the hearts of men. The Law (Old Covenant) did not call anyone. Either you were born into Covenant relationship or not. Very, very, very few people in the Old Testament converted (a good example of a convert would be Ruth the Moabitess or even Uriah the Hititte).

    Those who are “called out” to the New Covenant are therefore termed “church.” The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” which means just that — literally — i.e., those who are “called out” or “called forth” (by God).

    The Old Covenant (Old Testament) of Moses failed because the Inner Mess was forced to comply with God’s standard of holiness — the Law — and without any supernatural help — that is no permanent indwelling Holy Spirit in the believer! It was all Law-based living.

    In the New Covenant, we have the Spirit of God inside of us — just as the Old Testament passages on the New Covenant presaged (See Acts 2:17-21). God’s nature, or Word, is now “written” on our “hearts of flesh” — which were “circumcised” into new life. (In the Old Covenant, the Law spoke to the “heart of stone” — therefore, under this imagery — the Law was like a nagging school marm aggravating people into line [See Galatians 3:24-25], since there was no divine nature — or indwelling Holy Spirit — present within to counter the Inner Mess).

    That is what led the Israelites to the sacrifices — God’s graceful provision for the restoration of fellowship with him. In other words, the Law taught the Israelites that they were indeed sinners. The solution was to believe, or trust, Yahweh that he would “save” the Israelites by “passing over” their sins. (By the way, please note that Old Testament salvation was therefore by faith, not works!) The image of Passover began when sacrificial blood was used to deliver the enslaved Israelites from Egypt. They believed their salvation/deliverance was imminent, and so their out”work”ing of faith was placed in the blood (on the doorposts of their homes). The Day of Atonement — Passover — was the most holy day of the year unuder the Mosaic Law. Abraham’s faith is also why the Israelites circumcised their (you-know-whats), because the result was going from death (Abraham incapable of having children) to life (birth of Isaac and thus the fulfillment of the promise of God to have descendents). I could talk about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (act of faith), but let me keep moving faster ahead — i.e., back to the emerging church.

    By the way, did you know that the Old Testament = “Old Covenent,” and the New Testament = “New Covenant”…?

    [Bill — A good topic for the next blog would be something like, “Is the church the replacement of Israel of the Old Testament…?” That is, “God has not rejected His People — Israel — has He…?” (Romans 11:1).]

    To sum up — the emerging church are those who receive the gift of eternal life by faith, and thus receive the blessing of the New Covenant — the Holy Spirit — who “circumcises our hearts” for eternal life and provides us the Divine Nature (2 Pet 1:4) in order that we might FULFILL the Law by Love (Fruit of the Holy Spirit), and so be the witness to the world of the existence of God and his plan to save the world through his son (1 Jn 2:2).

    Grace.
    Joe

  13. Hi Jacob,
    Thanks for stopping by. Offending religious people with satire is a noble endeavor, don’t you think? Actually, the give and take of theological dialog can be intense, and sometimes satire (poking fun) works better. Other commentors, some of whom I would consider emerging church leaders, thought it was funny. To each his own.

    Donny,
    Double Eeeks. But I can understand… so that’s why you’re where you’re at in your studies right now, right?

    Bill

  14. McLaren’s vision for Christianity is NOT post-modern in the proper sense. He is an example of how, as a movement ages (modern Christianity) it becomes simultaneously a distilled essence and a perversion of itself. McLaren does not speak for a thorough-going post-modern Christianity.

    Emergent Church tends to just mean consumerist, a la carte church practices. I’ll take a little of this history, a little of this technology, a little of the ritual and some soft-serve philosophy.

    If you are interested in a more measured and academically rigorous post-modern exploration of Christian life try these authors out:

    James K. A. Smith (Start with “Who’s afraid of post-modernism”)
    Katherine Pickstock (check the spelling on that…)
    Stanley Hauerwas (start with “Resident Aliens”)
    John Milbank (He’s almost impossible to understand, but he’s very influential)

    I find the major problem with so-called post-modern understandings of truth is that they assume a false dichotomy: either we have intuitive, unmediated access to Truth in an objective way, understood via an ocular metaphor (Knowing is something like “taking a look”) OR there is no Truth at all.

    My favorite post-modern thinker is a Jesuit philosopher and theologian named Bernard Lonergan. He presents an argument that just because the modernist epistemology went belly up (and I’m convinced it has) does not mean that Truth is lost. He says that was never how we went about knowing in the first place. He provides a cognitional theory to ground his new, post-modern model of objectivity.

    If you’re interested, check out his series of lectures “Understanding and Being”

    Godspeed,
    Jon

    P.S. I hope this will be taken in the helpful spirit its intended: the “satire” felt a little mean spirited from this end. Like it was meant to shame PoMo’s and ECers out of their beliefs. Though I’m sure the intentions were noble, that’s how it read to me.

  15. Huh??????

    You guys lost me WAY back there, with all these “definitions,” etc…

    I prefer to read the B-I-B-L-E and stay away from all these authors who think they know what’s going on. The more I read, the more it seems everyone has his or her opinion, and, of course, they’re correct in their opinions! We should LISTEN to them!! That’s what I meant by saying they’re a little too smart for their own britches – knowledge is OK, but wisdom from God is the ideal!

    Not that I don’t read other books than the Bible, but my preference it that precious Book and my teacher is the Holy Spirit!

    Now Dr. G, don’t go and get your feathers ruffled too much now that you’re going to be a “published author.” I still loves ya!

  16. Bill –
    I agree whole heartedly that there are pieces of the movement in each satirical depiction. That was why I carefully chose what definitions I addressed, because I honestly think that much of the emerging church is on a pendellum swing from conservativism. Not as much those ‘leading’ the movement but those following.

    I think your description and critique of McLaren’s view is ‘spot on’. That was specifically who I had in mind when I wrote:
    ” I think McLaren makes an unnecessary dichotomy of Social Justice vs. Ethereal Salvation- the Christian walking ‘in the Spirit’ should be concerned with both aspects. “

    But I do think its unfair to judge a group by its most outspoken member. I think we’d all be very upset if we were discredited by someone outside the faith because of the ramblings of Jon MacArthur or even Jesse Jackson. I think taking issue with individual theology is NECESSARY. I’m one of the few ‘postmoderns’ I know who believe this, but you can go too far.

    1 John gives a clear warning to its recipients about going too far and walking outside of the teachings of Christ. I think where that line stands I think is a communal decision that needs to be made each generation based on all the information available- but no theology should ever become unquestionable dogma.

    All that aside, I think separating the EC’s method from belief is basically just relevant methods. Why even bring the EC discussion into it? Save yourself the trouble. does that make sense?

    You’re completely right about Driscoll and MacArthur, I don’t especially care for the ideology of either so I tend to unfairly paint them with the same brush, which is a touch hypocritical on my part.

    Lastly, which doctrines are unmovable for you? I doubt that all are unmovable, so for the sake of dialogue which may be incomplete or inaccurate?

    Fr. J – I will get back to this later today. Ironically I have a full day tattoo appt. in 20 min.

    Earl

  17. Earl,
    I really like Driscoll’s book on Jesus; I also like that he’s using the Wesminster catechism as a basis for teaching, though I wouldn’t classify myself as a Calvinist. I just believe in strong adherence to the doctrines & fundamentals of the faith.

    Bill

  18. The difficulty I see, Bill, is that the “doctrines and fundamentals” of the faith are so widely and (often) intelligently disagreed upon. You might reply that you believe in the Scriptures, but which interpretation? What grounds that interpretation over others? Rationality? Tradition? Conventional Authority? Authority rooted in Power? Subjective prompting of the Holy Spirit? The free play of cultural making?

    They all have their fair share of problems.

    As the diversity and incommensurability of Christian accounts “emerges” as conspicuous in Christian culture, people will be drawn to those voices struggling for a solution, however hasty or those voices that nostalgically attempt to return to when the problem lurked only in the halls of the Academy.

    Opponents have a funny way of validating the legitimacy of their opposite.

  19. Bill – I wasn’t trying to bait you into an argument, more hoping to bounce off of your response to answer Fr. J. later. But thank you for communicating clearly that you aren’t up for discussion on the issue of doctrine. I’ve had Driscoll’s book recommended a couple times now, I’ve vehemently disagreed with the last two books I read but perhaps the third time is a charm.

    Fr. J. –

    “Earl, I have to say I dont see it that way. A major feature of postmodernism is to relativize morality and true. Anyone hanging his hat on this will lose his faith in short order. As a Catholic, I affirm the reality and limited accessibility of truth. This is, after all, the point of Romans 1.”

    I cannot speak for anyone beyond myself here, because I haven’t done enough research to justify speaking for the majority. BUT… if by relativization of morality and truth you mean accomidation of new information I’d say that any faith not rooted in that is ignorant dogma, and very dangerous to both the Christian community and those the Christian community interacts with.

    John Calvin testified against a man (unfortunately the name escapes me) who denied the Trinity and was subsequently burned alive for failure to recant the belief. Should we burn Brian McLaren at the stake for, what I would call a ‘bastardization’ of the Gospel? Of course not.

    Right and wrong has changed. We don’t need to discuss why to see the point.

    Discussing actual doctrine, if ‘truth’ is static why has the theology of the Church evolved so much over the past 2000 years? I think that there is an absolute correct answer for every question, but I reject any answer that says it has that absolute answer. I reject it because people have said they have ‘truth’ for 2000 years. Luther said it, and 500 years later the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul his definition of ‘justification’ is widely accepted as ‘truth’. And in 200 years someone else will come along and say the same thing all over again, because our thoughts, thought processes and subsequently our theology is, in part, shaped by the culture we are raised in.

    My thinking is let’s be proactive and stop declaring that we have the absolute answer. I personally draw a line in the sand at the Apostle’s Creed and a refusal to disagree with a clear statement devoid of cultural baggage presented in Scripture. Doctrines will change, they always have and always will- the answer seems to be how to participate with God in the redemptive process rather than being concerned with having the perfect answer.

    thoughts?

    Earl

  20. Earl,

    Hope your tatt turned out well.

    Have right and wrong changed? That is news to me.

    Your points sound to me like and Evangelical version of what we Catholics went through after the Second Vatican Council–“the Spirit of Vatican II.” Everything was regarded as up for grabs. It was a complete disaster. And those who called for the most change were the first to leave whether that change came or not. Folks getting hooked on novelty is a dangerous thing in the long run because it cannot be sustained. And the very idea that morality has changed leaves me scratching my head. What do you mean by this?

  21. Fr. J. – I appologize for my lack of knowledge of Catholicism. I have periphery knowledge, and I’ve skimmed all of Vatican II, but I can only pull on protestant history for evidences because of my ignorance.

    My concept of ‘morality changing’ was something I took from your quote and then attempted to show that morality had changed. In the 16th century it was viewed as completely legitimate to kill someone for their beliefs. We would call that murder today (I know I would anyways). In the 16th century is was ok to kill someone if the majority agreed their beliefs were wrong, for them that would have been ‘truth’. Morals are always relative to the culture. I honestly think that’s a big part of the Gospel as well. Each person has a personal decision to choose to ‘love their neighbor as themself’ and that will almost always be a relative decision. I’m not promoting anarchy, we still need structure and societal agreements on how to live- but i think the details should be left up to the individual, at least in America today.

    As far as everything being up for grabs, that is the spirit of Protestantism as a whole. Our roots come from questioning everything, so its only natural that given enough time we’ll question the new system as well. I think this is a pivotal time for Protestantism as a whole, I’m very interested to see what will happen over the next 40 or 50 years of my life.

    “Folks getting hooked on novelty is a dangerous thing in the long run because it cannot be sustained.”

    I agree completely. That’s why I’m curious to see what happens over the next 40 or 50 years. I came to my beliefs on my own, I found out what the EC was after the fact- so I know that I at least am not jumping on the bandwagon, simply trying to live my faith in an integrous manner.

    So do you see what I meant by the statement that ‘right and wrong [have] changed’? I believe there are absolutes, but every generation draws the line in a different place.

    Earl

    ps- the tattoo came out amazing. I’m sick as a dog from getting jabbed with neeedles for that long though.

  22. Earl:

    You might enjoy spending some time investigating St. Thomas Aquinas’ virtue theory. It has its roots in Aristotle’s ethics and it is a very old idea that plays to the difficulty you are pointing out in the moral life:

    There is always a right action for every situation. Its “rightness” is absolute. However, to quote Aristotle, “ethics is a science that does not admit of certainty.” That is to say, moral and ethical rules are rules because they are true most of the time. They are insufficient too the stringent demands of true morality, in all of its particularity. (think about those last two sentences. It should seem counter-intuitive, given our post-Kantian moral space.) We just can’t know for certain exactly what is required of us morally in every instance with the kind of certainty that, say, geometry provides of the interior angles of a triangle.

    Instead, what we ought to develop is the kind of character or “virtues” that enable us to recognize the right actions as we encounter particular moral situations. In order to have that kind of character, we must “habituate” ourselves in good and right actions. The best way to do that is to be in relationship with people who already have that character we desire (in our case, as Christians, that can mean both our Church community and directly w/ Christ) and to model our habits on them until we are sufficiently virtuous to then disciple someone else.

    Think about it in terms of sports or music; you don’t know how to do X activity and when you try to participate, you do poorly. Its a struggle just to keep up, let alone excel. So, you find a coach, someone who knows X activity intimately. You watch them, you learn from them and you try to emulate them. Eventually turning a double play or playing a Gmaj scale are like breathing, but it took developing the virtues proper to baseball or the guitar to get that kind of spontaneity. Aristotle and Aquinas’ think morality is the same way.

    Aquinas has the benefit of the Christ as our mentor and coach, and not just some schlubby citizen of Athens.

    Godspeed,
    Jon

  23. Anyone read Obama’s book ‘The Audacity of Hope’? The chapter on ‘Faith’, I think, is the epitome of the views you’re poking at here, Bill – perhaps with an even slightly more liberal edge to it.

    As you’ve indicated, there’s always been this kind of mysterious fog around emergentism. Obama’s book crystalizes and summarizes the nebulousness more clearly than I’ve seen it before. He even references Jim Wallis (whom I’ve mentioned here before) as one of the ‘good guys’ who’s doing religion right (by helping people without offending them) – so, again, some interconnectedness there.

    Not trying to turn the conversation political here. I don’t believe our country’s leader has to be a Christian, and I’m not demonizing one party or another. But if you’re going to call yourself a Christian and devote a chapter of your book to ‘Faith’, it’s fair game for people to look at what you’re saying and determine if they feel you’re legit.

    Bill, if you wrote a book identifying the main points of this foggy theology that you disagree with (as far as it’s possible to grasp or nail down any of it) – and showed, using Scripture only, (anything else isn’t going to anchor heavy enough), why it’s not legit… I would buy copies in bulk and distribute them to everyone I know. The message has always been around… but I believe it’s now in the most widely palatable, and potentially deceptive, form it’s ever been in. If we don’t already have it on, it’s time to don the Ephesians armor…

  24. Right on, V!! I’d buy a truck load too.

    Get busy, soon-to-be-published awfor! (I told you all, I do read some books…)

  25. Donny,
    Double Eeeks. But I can understand… so that’s why you’re where you’re at in your studies right now, right?

    Bill

    Yeah, it’s like being a young college kid again. Gettin’ all idealistic and excited and the “new and fresh” stuff I read about. Thing is, I realize that some of these feelings may pass like a fad and others might stay around. Only time will tell. 🙂

    I reserve the right to change my mind. Hee Hee. 🙂

  26. Max,
    I read this blog accidentally as I was looking at art images of the crucifixion and one picture lead me to you.
    I am grateful for your satire, it is truthful. My husband and I are part of a small fundamental church, he is the pastor actually. We came out of a church we served in for 20 years because it (and the denomination) began to embrace “emergent” philosophies and techniques which completely deny the (dare I say it) fundamental truths of scripture. As you say…and this is no joke…Jesus has become optional in churches that purport to worship Him. Universalism has replaced faith in Christ alone and grace is worthless, as is the sacrifice of the cross. I’ve lived the horror of being belittled, ostracized and demonized for holding to those truths, by people who spout false “love” while calling you “stinking fish” that must be removed from the church like a cancer.
    I’ve worked with young people for 20 years, we have Bible study in our home every Saturday night and it is consistently well attended by college age (and others) people who want to study scripture. They are not to stupid to understand God’s Word (the Spirit is sufficient is He not?) and they love the Lord. They do not embrace the pseudo-intellectual babble that constitutes the emergent conversation…in fact they are fleeing it.
    I think that your definitions are dead on. I’m sure I’ll hear some very interesting “conversation” regarding my post…no matter, I’ll continue to draw strength from my Lord, Jesus Christ and continue (as long as God allows) to do “my” job as a believer, holding forth the Word of truth for Him to use as He changes hearts and lives.

  27. Sorry, I lost a little of my spelling technique in my passion – I do realize that “too” is spelled this way as well as a couple of other mistypes. Ah well…

  28. Earl,

    Thanks for your follow up comment. Sorry I was a bit slow on the uptake with your comment. Yes, now I see what you are getting at with morality changing. What concerns me, though, with the Emergent Church movement is that it is far too elastic, eager to borrow from specious sources, and too ready to make peace with the world.

    Prior to Vatican II (1963-65), Catholicism was very separate from the world. We Catholics had built our own neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, universities, businesses etc in order to separate us from a world hostile to the Catholic faith. In the wake of Vatican II there was a new openness to the world. By 1970, we saw a young generation go to public schools, join the sexual revolution, and leave the Church. there were movements to democratize the church to uproot old style pastors. Men left the priesthood in droves. New theologies emerged: liberation, black, feminist theologies, not to mention process theology. All of these skewed the Gospel. It has taken us nearly 40 years to get over the chaos of those years. Fortunately, JPII and Ben16 are strong orthodox theologians and have returned us to the right course.

    My point is that if Emergent Church is not careful, it will follow the same path to disintegration.

  29. Fr. J –
    Based on the history you’ve provided, I’d say conservative Christianity is headed for similar reformations to what the Catholic Church endured. Static faith and theology is never plausible though, so I guess the question I’m left with following our interactions is ‘am I part of the problem or the solution’.

    Thanks for the exchange of thoughts.

    Earl

  30. Wow, Bill, you stirred the nest…

    I am still wanting to hear your take on Wright. I am in the middle of Surprised by Hope and his series Christian Origins and the Question of God.

    Surprised by Hope is dealing with the topic of what precisely the Christian ought to hope for (at least according to what the New Testament authors wrote), which, according to Wright is ‘resurrection’ not ‘heaven.’ He would say that ‘heaven’ does not mean today what it meant to a first century Jew.

    If you are going to engage in conversation with Emergent Christianity, I think you are going to have to be familiar with Wright. His understanding of history and theology are quite influential in the ’emerging’ church, even amongst those who wouldn’t necessarily know that the ideas they hold are the things Wright is claiming.

  31. Steve,

    You make some interesting points. I am amazed that evangelicals are picking up on Lib. Theo. which was a Catholic fad that died in the 80’s. In Catholic circles, “black theology” of the mid to late 60’s was a kind of appropriation of MLK in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

    Lib. theo. was a Latin American response to Vat. II’s call for a reading of the signs of the times. Gustavo Gutierrez wrote “A Theo. of Lib.” in 1972 using Marxist analysis to explain the socio-economic reality of Lat. Am., the OT prophetic tradition to ground a movement of social change, and Catholic Social Teaching to ground it in the Catholic Church. It was brilliant, but had many flaws. The movement it spawned was partially condemned by Ratzinger in the mid 80’s. The 2007 Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict is considered by many to be the last blow to Lib. Theo. by properly orienting the Church toward heaven and not to a simple renewal of the earth.

    I was raise in all these ideas and they formed my view of Christianity as a young Catholic. As a priest I have come back to the orthodox position on all these matters. So, I am positively shocked that Emerging Evangelicals are now dabling in this stuff. It is unfortunate that there will be no authority to pull them back from the abyss. Were it not for the pope, Catholicism would be complete chaos and theologically off the rails in every direction. Is this the destiny of the evangelicals who dabble in errors they are unprepared to critique?

  32. Steve,

    You make some interesting points. I am amazed that evangelicals are picking up on Lib. Theo. which was a Catholic fad that died in the 80’s. In Catholic circles, “black theology” of the mid to late 60’s was a kind of appropriation of MLK in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

    Lib. theo. was a Latin American response to Vat. II’s call for a reading of the signs of the times. Gustavo Gutierrez wrote “A Theo. of Lib.” in 1972 using Marxist analysis to explain the socio-economic reality of Lat. Am., the OT prophetic tradition to ground a movement of social change, and Catholic Social Teaching to ground it in the Catholic Church. It was brilliant, but had many flaws. The movement it spawned was partially condemned by Ratzinger in the mid 80’s. The 2007 Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict is considered by many to be the last blow to Lib. Theo. by properly orienting the Church toward heaven and not to a simple renewal of the earth.

    I was raise in all these ideas and they formed my view of Christianity as a young Catholic. As a priest I have come back to the orthodox position on all these matters. So, I am positively shocked that Emerging Evangelicals are now dabling in this stuff. It is unfortunate that there will be no authority to pull them back from the abyss. Were it not for the pope, Catholicism would be complete chaos and theologically off the rails in every direction. Is this the destiny of the evangelicals who dabble in errors they are unprepared to critique?

  33. Fr. J – I realize you were talking to steve, but I really wanted to pop in and comment on your question.

    I agree with your assertion that Emergent, and honestly Protestantism as a whole, has no formal authority to tell it when it has gone ‘too far’. I’ve found, especially in emerging circles, that there is a great amount of ‘arm-chair’ theologians but very, very few legitimate scholars yet. Any religious movement that is not concerned with fundamental tasks (ie. scholarly research, parsing of Hebrew and Greek vebs, etc) is eventually in danger of wandering ‘too far’. I’ve started working on a way of encouraging local communities to recognize the intellectual gifting within their congregations and encourage those people to become trained and become congregational theologians. For the catholics I don’t think this will be a revolutionary idea, but in many protestant circles (especially the farther you go from established, liturgical churches) ignorance is bliss. Somehow the concept of ‘Sola Scriptura’ has been made to mean ‘all we need is Jesus and our Bibles’ and they forsake sound doctrine, historical theology, and anything that remotely exists above their ability to comprehend (ie. if the idea is too complex for them to fully understand it must not be from God). I wrote a paper to get my idea started and I’d love to get your opinions on it for improvement.

    you can read it here.

    Earl

  34. Earl and Fr. J:

    I sometimes fear that evangelicalism (and emergent-whatever is included as a divergent sub-set thereof) is hopelessly oblivious to the real theological and philosophical problems it faces. The not-so-short list includes;
    – Objectivist epistemology that treats the Bible like a text-book, instead of a dynamic revelation.
    – Willful historical ignorance that allows already vanquished problems to resurface again and again (i.e gnosticism).
    – a naive 19th century hermeneutical method that psychologizes texts instead of reading them (Bill, you’ve heard my issues with the “authorial intent” method).
    – an atheistic (or deistic at best) understanding of how the sacred relates to the secular. see also; nature/grace problem, the.
    – an unquestioning adoption of liberalism’s unwarranted hostility to the mediating authority of earthly institutions.

    Oh, I could go on and on.
    Ultimately, I fear that if we don’t adopt more radically holy lifestyles and start engaging in the monastic virtues of “prayer, labor and the love of learning,” evangelicalism will collapse. I agree, we need congregational theologians. I also think we need to discover a new devotio moderna. If we are really going to claim a priesthood of all believers, we can’t keep leaning on our church leaders to engage the practices of Christian life for us.

    Though I don’t think much of the emergent church movement’s direction or rhetoric, I am given hope by their dissatisfaction. I’m given hope by the dynamism manifested in their often-misguided scramblings for answers.

    Fr. J: Have you read any peter kreeft? If you haven’t, I reckon you’d like him. Very smart catholic thinker. Teaches Aquinas at Boston College. Up your alley, from what I can tell.

  35. Johnathan H.

    I am familiar with the lines of thinking you are expressing regarding logical positivism and authorial intent. But there must be a middle way between absolute logical positivism and modern skepticism and hermeneutical deconstruction. I believe that project is being taken on by Pope Benedict himself beginning with Jesus of Nazareth and it continuation due out in the fall. I have not read a wiser book that finds the faithful middle ground.

    I have never read Peter Kreeft, but I had him for two classes in undergrad at BC, Aquinas and C.S. Lewis. Does that count? He is nothing less than brilliant.

  36. As a BC student, I assume you’ve heard of Bernard Lonergan? He’s my philosophical hope for a middle way. I’m actually waiting to hear from Boston, where I’ve applied for the Philosophy PHD program.

    I’ve not yet had time to read Benedict’s encyclicals, but I’ve sure loved everything I’ve read by JPII. Theology of the Body is a beautiful work. Made this oft-disgruntled evangelical really respect Catholic hermeneutics.

    Shoot me an e-mail, Fr. J. I’d love to learn more about where you’re coming from. jonathan.heaps@gmail.com

Comments are closed.