Posts Tagged 'conservative'

Paradoxy: Paradigm Pathways

I met Ken Howard at a party at my house last month – a Big Tent Christianity kegger wherein we raised funds to put a Raleigh homeless couple into a home. There were like 100 people here (at least it felt that way!) but we hit it off despite the din. Ken’s a priest in Maryland; he wrote a book that I’d already begun to hear good things about. He asked me to participate in a blog tour & I said “sure!” I haven’t been disappointed.

Ken Howard’s Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them opens up with a premise strikingly similar to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (see? Even the titles sound similar): The Church is being torn apart by dissonant voices; we need to move forward in a creative ‘third way’ direction that honors our deepest values while laying aside our addiction to our niche. Beyond this starting point, however, the two books diverge pretty significantly. While Belcher (to some people’s acclaim, and others’ disdain) desired to create a ‘mere Christianity’ essentialist orthodoxy that nods toward emergence while drawing out the best of his PCA Presbyterian tradition, Howard attempts to craft three ideologically-neutral terms to re-frame old verities and serve as self-identifiers of where you are as an individual and congregation:

  • The conservative way we will call Doctrinal-Propositional Orthodoxy or Orthoproxy
  • The liberal way we will call Ethical-Practical Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy
  • The emerging middle way we will call Incarnational-Relational Orthodoxy or Paradoxy

In chapter 8, my stop along the tour, we’re looking at where particular faith commuities fall along this spectrum. It’s here that Ken offers a 14-question congregational self-inventory. Here are two samples:

Which statement best describes your church’s view of religion?

a. Ultimate truth is found in one religion (Christianity is the only way).
b. Deepest truth is shared by all religions (Christianity is the only way for me).
c. Religion is irrelevant for following Christ (Christ is the way, the truth, and the life).

Which statement best describes your church’s understanding of the process of including newcomers?

a. First conversion, then fellowship.
b. First full fellowship, then fellowship catalyzes transformation.
c. Community offered with few conditions, then the inner faith experience leads to the person’s change of heart.

Curious how your responses to these questions place you along the Orthoproxy-Orthopraxy-Paradoxy continuum? I was – and the answers surprised me. Paradoxy is a book that conservatives and progressives can read together with mind and heart, grappling with issues of pluralism and inclusion on the one hand and the integrity of our faith and conviction on the other hand. It’s an excellent meditation on our quest for a generous orthodoxy that is, indeed, both generous and orthodox. I recommend it.

Check out the rest of this tour:

Foreword and Introduction: May You Live in Interesting Times
Brian McLaren on brianmclaren.net
Ken Howard on Beyond Us and Them

Chapter 1: The End of the World As We Know It: Collapsing Paradigms
Bosco Peters on Worship Blog

Chapter 2: Constantine’s Ghost: Christendom
Amy Moffit on Without A Map

Chapter 3: Reality Ain’t What it Used to Be: Foundationalism
Jana Reiss on FlunkingSainthood

Chapter 4:  Hanging by a Thread:  Christianity as Religion
Tom Brackett on Church Planting Central
 

Chapter 5:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities That Might Have Been
Sarah Dylan Breuer on SarahLaughed.net


Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come: Promising Principles for a New Way of Church
Joel Borofsky on Christian Watershed

Chapter 7: A New Middle Way? Characteristics of an Incarnational Orthodoxy — a.k.a. Paradoxy
Andy MacBeth on Faithfully Reading

“I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes

Frank Viola and Len Sweet’s book  Jesus Manifesto remains in the Amazon Top Ten today, and my interview with them yesterday has stirred a lot of interesting conversation. Among conversation partners is my friend Jeff Straka, who airs some honest thoughts and frustrations that inspire me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Jeff wonders:

While Brian McLaren has endorsed both these authors’ books in the past, his name is glaringly (to me, anyway) missing from the list on this new book. Nor did I find any endorsements from other names considered more solidly in the emergent movement (and not just in “conversation” with). Am I reading too much into this or is this shaping into a “spy vs. spy” manifesto?

Also, are the subtitle words “the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus” a helpful choice of words as they seem to imply then that other religions are flat-out wrong or false (ala Franklin Graham)?

Well Jeff, we know that Brian rarely eats or sleeps, but even he cannot endorse everything. 🙂

But seriously. I think there is a difference between divergent views and hostility. F’r instance, it was apparent that Mike Wittmer didn’t merely have differences with Brian’s presentation in A New Kind of Christianity; he was pretty hostile toward Brian, both theologically and personally.

I’m almost certain that this isn’t the case here. While there are doubtless differences between Len and Brian (as the Sweet piece you cite demonstrates), I see them as iron-sharpening-iron differences and not iron-jabbing-your-opponents-eyes-out differences. Both Len and Brian have been accused of various grevious heresies by the self-appointed watchdog ministries; I doubt Len wishes to inflict that pain on anyone else, even if he disagrees with them theologically.

So: Does JM say some different things than ANKoC?

Yes.

Is it possible to enjoy both books?

Yes, I think so, though natural predispositions being what they are, readers might naturally gravitate toward one perspective or the other.

Here’s the fascinating thing, as an aside: Brian in ANKoC and Richard Rohr in The Naked Now (which I’m presently reading) both write out of a conviction that Jesus has become in the hearts and minds of Christians too remote and too ‘divine’ to be of any earthly good, or connection with his followers today. Rohr specifically indicts contemporary Christians of the heresy of gnosticism, saying that while Nicea (or was it Chalcedon? I always forget…) technically settled the matter of Jesus being fully human and fully divine, “most Christians are very good theists who just happened to name their god Jesus.” By contrast, Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.

Sweet and Viola, by contrast, are observing an opposite trend: People following the human Jesus, but neglecting the exalted Christ. They wish to reclaim the grandiose language of the Epistles, which speaks of a Christ who fills all-in-all. This is different than a John Piper or Franklin Graham approach of brow-beating the planet earth with a jingoistic Christ, in my opinion.

To begin with, ‘supremacy’ is used in a mystical sense, inspired by T. Austin Sparks. And the divinity of Jesus championed by V&S isparticipatory divinity: We have become partakers of the divine nature through Christ. It’s a perichoretic divinity: The expansion of the dynamic life of the Trinity into communities where this Trinitarian life is made welcome, and thus radiating into the earth. (See Viola’s From Eternity to Here and Sweet’s So Beautiful.) To be honest with you, not counting Rohr, I miss this kind of unbridled mystical-devotional dimension in much of the emerging church. I too agree that everything must change and I don’t share Len’s antipathy with liberation theology (I don’t see how anyone can read Leonardo Boff or James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez, or know the story and plight of the Base Ecclessial Communities in Latin America, and dismiss liberation theology as simply re-hashed Marxisim), but I will paraphrase anarchist Emma Goldman here: “I don’t want to be part of any Jesus revolution without a perichoretic dance.”

I want to see an emerging conversation that makes room for neo-liberationists and neo-pietists, Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Manifesto. We need neo-pietists in the Conversation to remind us just how revolutionary Paul was, and the Epistles are – that participatory divinity linked to the monotheistic God was truly a new phenomenon in the first century, and can be just as much so today. We need the neo-pietists to remind us of a good, strong, Lutheran-esque Gospel of God’s gratuitous grace and favor toward us, and how we can’t be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ unless we’re connected to the authority and animating energies of Christ our Head.

And so: I hope that in the next year, emergents and missionals, organics and liturgicals, conservatives and progressives, can stop writing each other off. If I have to stop calling it the ’emerging’ conversation in order to help missional and neo-pietist folk feel more welcome at the table, I will. Because I think that’s what Jesus – the whole, living Christ – wants.

Further Atonement Thoughts: Late to the Party

[he_qi_crucifixion.jpg]Earlier this week, kicking off Lent, Tony Jones pointed his readers to some reflections on Jesus atonement, including my recent pieces “Beyond Liberal and Conservative” and “Possible Reconstructions.” The resultant comment-conversation is largely quite encouraging, and worth reading. One of the highlights from me was this helpful summary of atonement models by Brian:

(1) Substitutionary atonement (Calvin) – Christ’s voluntarily suffers and dies on the cross as our substitute. In other words, Jesus takes the punishment of God for sinners by representing us.

(2) Satisfaction (Anselm) – Christ’s voluntary sacrifice of his innocent life pays our debt to God so God’s justice can be satisfied. In short, Jesus makes restitution for us.

(3) Ransom (Origen) – Adam and Eve sold humanity out to the devil, so God had to trick the devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom so we can be free. In the end, the devil is tricked because Jesus got resurrected after we are freed.

(4) Moral influence (Abelard) – Jesus’ life and death are characterized by his exemplary obedience to God’s love, therefore demonstrating to humanity the love of God. So, Jesus should awaken sinners to God’s reality and inspire us to be obedient to God.

(5) Governmental (Grotius) – God demonstrates God’s anger toward sin by punishing Christ. Here, God is understood as a judge who demands divine justice for sinners. In the end, Jesus suffers in order that humans can be forgiven and God’s justice can be upheld.

(6) Liberation (Boff) – Jesus’ life and death demonstrate God’s solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed. So, Jesus lives a life of care and compassion – and his crucifixion demonstrates how perverse and violent human injustice can be. In other words, Jesus lived obediently to God’s care for the poor, which brought him into conflict with an oppressive empire that killed Jesus. In the end, Jesus was unjustly executed through crucifixion by the Roman Empire. Therefore, the oppressive and violent people in the world were exposed as ungodly and immoral. In this theology, Jesus died because of sin, but not for sins. Therefore, in imitation of Jesus, ministry is about empowering the oppressed and helping the poor.

(7) Decisive Revelation (Riggs) – Jesus is the widow through which we see God. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn about God and what God values. Some people experienced God-in-Christ and became faithful to God. But other people were offended and threatened by Jesus and wanted to kill him. In the end, Jesus was murdered by people who hated the values and influence of God. Despite his crucifixion, the presence and ministry of Jesus continues through the lives of Christians. God is still beckoning us into faith and faithfulness. In this theology, the purpose of ministry is to share the good news of God’s love that was decisively revealed through Christ, so more people can develop a relationship with God.

(8) State Execution (Crossan) – Jesus and his disciples invited people into the Kingdom of God and out of the Kingdom of Rome. The Empire of God was about God’s love, justice, and mutuality. The Empire of Rome was about humanity’s individuality, greed, and brutality. Jesus and his disciples were rebels against Rome by living out the values of God. Romans became angry that Jesus was undermining their way of life. So, the brutal Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hung Jesus on a cross to humiliate Jesus and terrorize his followers. Despite Jesus’ traumatic and unjust execution by the state, Christ’s presence and God’s Kingdom continues to invite people to live by God’s values – and be assured of God love. In this theology, Christians are empowered by God’s love to live out God’s values of love, justice, and mutuality.

Brian’s series on Lent & Crucifixion is well-worth reading too:
Journey of Lent (#1): “Crucifixion of Jesus as Unresolved Grief and Trauma”
Journey of Lent (#2): “Grieving the Crucifixion to Heal Our Memories of Jesus”
Darrell Grizzle’s Atonement and Emergents is great too along this theme. And finally, The Contemporary Calvinist & Friends think we’re taking a blowtorch to the Bible – alas.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Recommended Atonement Reads

https://i0.wp.com/www.bradjersak.com/images/stricken-cover-new-5-web.jpgMy reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ atonement are far from finished. I think such multifaceted and rich dimensions of the life of faith rarely are. This year, as I’m able, I’m going to be reading through the following volumes in my library, books that have been recommended to me as valuable resources on reconciling messages of Jesus with messages about Jesus. Most of these I’ve read at least partially before, but I’m gonna buckle down! Here they are:

Stricken By God? An incredible anthology edited by Brad Jersak, featuring Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, and a ton of others, it has been a most enjoyable read this past year.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green & Mark Baker

Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters An anthology – Hard to find in the U.S.

The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver

A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight

Saving Paradise by Rita Brock

This Book Will Change Your World by Kevin Beck

I’ve had this one recommended to me, but haven’t recieved one yet – Saved from Sacrifice by S. Mark Heim

In addition to books, here are a few free online resources I’m working through:

The Day God Turned His Cheek by Graham Old

The Cross: Cure Not Punishment by Wayne Jacobsen (audio)

Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence by Walter Wink

Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes by David Heim

Clarion Journal of Spirituality & Justice articles on atonement

The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement

…so what resources would you recommend?

https://i2.wp.com/www.eerdmans.com/shop_products/9780802832153_l.jpg

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions

Wow. After all the spirited dialogue on yesterday’s post, I feel like my Part II is somewhat anti-climactic. Seriously. I took time to reply to each & every one of you who commented yesterday; if anyone has the time & patience, you should definitely check out the back-and-forth. It transcends the sadly-typical blog comment disrespect and opens up into some great dialogue. I’ve always thought that I have the best readers. https://i1.wp.com/www.msgr.ca/msgr-4/dali_christ_from_the_apocalypse_of_st_john_1958_lg.jpg

So…gulp…without further ado, here are some of my Possible Reconstructions of atonement meaning. I’m well aware that people far smarter & more thorough than I have attempted what I’m attempting, and do it better…but again, for my own wholeness’ sake, I’ve been re-reading atonement in Scripture afresh, with the aim of charting a faithful way forward. As I implied in my last post, my goal in reconstructing atonement is to be faithful to both the message of Jesus, which I take to be the Gospel of Peace, the message of God’s in-breaking Kingdom, and the message about Jesus – what he has done on our behalf in forgiving, cleansing, and empowering us, not to mention relationally indwelling us. Working with this latter aspect, messages about Jesus, is invariably working with images of sacrifice. While ‘penal substitution’ is tracable to Anslem’s work Cur Deus Homo in 1098, sacrificial imagery to describe Jesus’ death is undeniably tracable to the New Testament itself. I don’t want to sideline this imagery, but I do feel like I need to get a better grasp at the meaning(s) of sacrifice in Hebrew religious understanding. Here’s where I’m going right now…

  • The Cross isn’t salvation by violence; it’s salvation from violent living, and God’s ultimate repudiation of violence, absorbing it all unto himself rather than fighting back.

  • This absorption is not as a passive victim, but as transforming sustainer. Rather than transmitting pain, as we humans so often do, Jesus transformed the world’s pain/sin/death, creating instead sustaining nourishment whereby we can become partakers of the divine nature.

  • Jesus’ death can be rightly seen as ‘sacrifice.’ But in the Hebrew faith sacrifice is not centrally about killing; it’s about giving your best – representative of your all. By freely giving a symbolic portion of your sustenance – the very food you eat, grain and meat – God meets the collective people with all that God is, giving away God-as-sustenance. (Which makes sense of Jesus speaking of his death and resurrection as real food & real drink in John 6)

  • Jesus, as a symbolic representation of the whole of humanity, is given for all. But this giving began with Jesus’ birth, and didn’t end with his death. Jesus’ response to the cross stands out as the most vivid declaration of God’s eternal heart toward humanity & the cosmos – rather than retaliate in kind and mount the hordes of heaven (or an army of all-too-human zealous followers) in vengeance, Jesus forgives his tormentors, forgives the thief, and puts the powers of violence and oppression to an open shame in the manner of his dying and in resurrection by the Spirit’s power. The sacrifice that occurs is not the Father slaying the Son, but Jesus’ own sacrificial, creative-culture life, which he lived to one of its logical (and tragic) conclusions. Any theology of the cross that celebrates the execution without first mourning it is sub-Christian.

  • Because Jesus’ execution by the collusion of the State and Religion is first of all a tragedy, a mockery of justice, and not something unusual but mundane in the litany of the fallen powers, we should not speak primarily of God’s desire for this to have happened. Jesus was ‘slain before the foundation of the world’ does not have to mean ‘before all time began,’ or some such thing. It can simply mean ‘in front of the foundation of the world,’ in a cosmological sense. This was an ordinary event – the officially-sanctioned killing of undesirable elements – projected by God onto the stage of the universe. In the midst of this most humiliating moment, the Father exalts the Son, and thus, by extension, exalts the suffering of all criminals, terrorists, innocent, guilty, perpetuators and victims alike. He who knew no sin became sin for us, displaying all of our tragedies and inconsistencies and lifting them up to Abba God’s forgiving, reconciling embrace.

So I’m going to make a bold claim: I’m not sure that the killing of Jesus changed anything metaphysically in the universe. I don’t think that God was unable to love us until God saw some spilled blood and suddenly his disposition changed. (‘Cause, y’know, John 3:16 is pre-death) Make no mistake: I fully affirm Paul’s writing in Romans 5:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life!”

The question is, what did Paul mean when he spoke of “dying for”? He zooms out the lens from Jesus himself, to whom “anyone” might (or might not) die for – but it’s clearly in the context of a rescue mission – not a human sacrifice, which would be unconsciable for any Jew. To be sure, Jesus’ blood speaks, declaring righteous – but this doesn’t mean the act that sheds the blood is somehow righteous or just. After all, the blood of Abel speaks in Genesis too, crying out and accusing. And in this, another senseless and tragic murder, Jesus’ blood meets the cry of Abel’s blood, comforting it at last. Perhaps the wrath we are saved from is our own.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Beyond Liberal and Conservative

https://i2.wp.com/i139.photobucket.com/albums/q295/sheepnose777/dali1Christ.jpgAbout a year ago, I wrote a post that became one of my most controversial to date: Spilled Blood & The Cosmic Christ: Atonement Dissonance. In my youthful zeal of last year, I expressed myself in some ways that I wish I’d stated differently. Given my newfound ROM-and-centering-prayer perspective, I think some of my thinking is clearer and more precise. Let me see if I can better lay out the perils and promises of atonement models as I see them.

Simply put, it’s exceedingly difficult to take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and peacemaking seriously while also taking seriously a punitive model of Jesus’ atoning death. Penal Substitutionary views of atonement (a fancy way of saying that Jesus died in my place so I don’t have to, because God requires the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins) just don’t square with the God of Jesus Christ, who encourages us to not remove an eye for an eye, or plot against our adversaries. Sure, ‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ but we cannot be sure what God repays. As Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch say in ReJesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.” (pg. 12) How would a Christ-like God redeem humanity?

To place this in a larger frame, it’s difficult to hold with integrity both the message of Jesus (that is, change your living for God’s in-breaking, all-encompassing Kingdom is at hand) and the various messages about Jesus that have been promulgated in the millennia after Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I’m honest, it’s even difficult to square the message of Jesus in the gospels with some of the messages about Jesus even later in the New Testament. Not trying to be a reverse-Marcionite or anything…just sayin’.

And yet! One of the tasks before me, as an emerging Christian, is to hold liberating truths in creative tension. As a follower of Jesus in this era that many of us believe is one of ‘great emergence,’ I feel like our task – not in some lofty way, but simply for our individual & collective spiritual sanity – is to not repeat the mistake of the 20th-century modernist-fundamentalist divide. The Church of 100 years ago was being met by a flourishing of science, the arts, and scholarship. They were also, we now know, on the cusp of meeting the full impact of the darker side of full-on modernity: eugenics, total war, entangling geopolitical alliances, racism, environmental degradation on a massive scale, and the full industrialization and compartmentalization of everyday life, from cooking to entertainment.

In the face of all of this change and sensory input, the Church in the West fissured (as we Western Christians often do). The fundamentalists forged a retreat from the promise and terror of the modern world, from its evolutionary science to its weapons of mass destruction. They chose the messages about Jesus, the good news as told by his friends. They dismissed the message of Jesus as too utopian for this life; it must be referring to far-off heaven, to the world that awaits us after this corrupt place breathes its last. Thus did the message about Jesus become in vogue for fundamentalists and later evangelicals; thus did the good news about Jesus become distorted beyond recognition.

But that isn’t the whole story of the split. The modernist Church, by contrast, saw much that was amenable about modern culture. They wanted to engage this culture, and be relevant. There was heartfelt concern about the viability of major components of the modernist project, and the teachings of Jesus were, in a fashion, brought to bear on these problems – poverty, for instance, and other forms of injustice. But where science or critical scholarship brought into question some of the tenets of Christian belief – the actuality of cherished confession and experience – the modernist Church was quick to capitulate, feeling that earlier generations probably didn’t know what they were talking about when they were ‘strangely warmed’ by amazing grace.

By contrast, I want it all. And so do you, I think. I don’t want an Ockham’s razor minimalist faith, that attempts to strip down to the “real” or “historical” Jesus. Faith has ways of knowing that sight simply doesn’t know. So I wish to embrace the good news of Jesus and the good news about Jesus. But my problem, my struggle, is that the good news about Jesus needs to be ethical, it needs to be loving, and it needs to square with what I’ve apprehended of Jesus’ own life, message, and depiction of Abba God. And frankly, most of the atonement metaphors in vogue today seem to be about an evasion of justice, a glorification of violence and victim-hood, and a denial that the message of Jesus really has the power to work in our day and age.

I want to affirm the historic Christian faith (and reality!) that Jesus saves us. More specifically, I want to joyously experience Jesus’ incarnation, life, teachings, signs & wonders, death, resurrection, ascension, and indwelling as saving us.

The crux of the question – both for followers of Jesus and the world at large – is how Jesus saves us, and from what Jesus saves us. Tomorrow I’m going to try and articulate how I’ve been processing this lately.

To be continued in Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions.

Why We’re Not Emergent? An Inviation to Kevin & Ted

A few weeks ago, my friend Wayne Jacobsen stayed with us. It was a great time of fellowship and we talked about all sorts of things. Our chats kept circling back, though, to the emerging church conversation, and why it seemed so important to me to express my spiritual journey in ’emerging’ ways. I told him that it wasn’t, not really–that I’ve been on a journey in, through, and toward a Christ-transformed reality before I began naming it in this way, and will likely be if and when this way of articulating things ceases to be helpful. But right now, that I do find it helpful. This was fine to Wayne–he really wasn’t trying to nit-pick–but there was still some dissonance I think, between what I mean by ’emergent’ and by what he means as ‘relational Christianity‘ (which is itself a label, but I digress…) He’s not the only bright person I esteem asking questions of emergent Christianity.

223 Emergent CoverThis weekend (amidst relocating closer to our house church community) I’ve been reading Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), a lively-but-respectful critique of emergent faith expressions written by two Reformed guys. As I’ve mentioned before, I was Reformed once, a PCA assistant worship and ‘small group’ leader. But it was always a less-than-comfortable fit; I never fit into the conservative Calvinist mold, was rarely excited by the things that excited them. Don’t get me wrong–finding joy and delight in God as the center for living was (and is!) right up my alley–it just felt like their desire was continually thwarted by their reductionistic methodologies; at the end of the day, I found more spiritual nourishment and guidance from the Catholic contemplative writers.

In intervening years, being ‘Young, Restless, & Reformed‘ has become all the more in vogue among passionate semi-intellectual Christian 20-somethings–looks like I really missed the bandwagon! What I like about Why We’re Not Emergent is that the authors–one a pastor, one a sportswriter, barely out of their 20s themselves–seem to be aware of the fact that ridiculous groupie-ism isn’t only present among some emergent leaders, but amidst Reformed demigods as well. So far (I’m about 80 pages in), they kind of smirk at the John Piper, DA Carson, CJ Mahaney, RC Sproul, Mark Driscoll, etc., groupies, and some of the “Reformed cool” that’s developed. This helps me take in the even-handedness of their critique.

What I’ve enjoyed most about the book so far is its rexamination of the journey/pilgrimage motif, one that’s been around at least since ancient Catholic pilgrims and popularized in recent years by we ’emergent’ types, but perhaps best known (in the Protestant world at least) from the Calvinist pen of John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. Now PP is not my fave–sorry–but I get it. And I get what Kevin and Ted are saying–it’s not only that the journey itself matters, but the destination itself has gotta matter too. Pilgrim (the protagonist) was indeed making progress toward life in God, and we can too. I still think Kevin and Ted need to listen to emerging/postmodern voices that exalt the value of the journeying itself–it very much resonates with Jesus’ injunctions to live in the present moment, consider lilies, and all that jazz–that the journey itself is important is biblically-rooted, thank you very much. But it’s okay to have some sort of end in mind too–like the apostle Paul, finishing that race of his.

Some of the book makes me exhausted reading it, quite frankly–during one point, I felt physically nauseous while turning its pages. And this comes right in the midst of what I like. Namely, their absolute certainty that because there the emergent conversation might be ill in places, their tradition (in this case Reformed, but it could be written by virtually anyone in virtually any tradition) held the cure lock, stock & barrel. It started with David Well’s introduction, which I found to be supremely arrogant (he even admitted that this was a possibility)–likening Calvinist doctrinal revelation to several-centuries-old buildings in Hungary that outlasted the 20th-century Communist-built buildings, Wells articulated the idea of a changeless foundationalism that is the Gospel itself, which will outlast the vain ideas of men–Communism and, apparently, the emerging church.

But back to Ted and Kevin. They really want us to see that The Journey has a Point to it, and that God’s self-disclosure in Jesus really does count as intelligible communication, therefore we should approach the postmodern skepticism of the efficacy of language with skepticism. They’re mad at what they see as a “just give me Jesus” mentality within emergent circles preferring “Jesus alone” over “beliefs about Jesus” (something I see far more of in house church and charismatic circles than in emergent ones per se, by the way), and they want us to esteem Scripture’s inspiration in the way that they do. And they don’t like the agnosticism-is-chic trend they feel is developing where not believing is cooler than believing.

Okay…points well taken. Really. I’ll think about all of this, brothers. But seriously, you can’t expect me to buy contemporary American conservative Calvinism as the answer. Been there, bought that. Got a refund. F’r instance, y’all’s critique of an aimless journey got me thinking and praying and wondering…but not in Reformed terms. Specifically, I’m wanting to put Dallas Willard and Richard Foster in conversation with James Fowler and Ken Wilber–to see what stages contemporary apprenticeship to Jesus would look like. I don’t know if anyone would be pleased with this (you, my Reformed friends, might cry heresy, and my more pomo peeps might find generating conceptual development maps as too dang modern), but I for one would be fascinated…and would be willing to give a couple years of my life to following this out in practice.

At another point, in seeking to reassert an absolutist view of Scripture (after quite rightly acknowledging that Christians everywhere love and esteem the Bible, regardless of the confessional language they adorn it with–or don’t), they attempt to call us back to a point of clarity, asserting “The Bible settles our disputes.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m sorry, brothers, if you feel like I’m about to be a postmodern (or worse yet, lib-er-al) cliche by stating that the Bible as such as never settled any disputes, and in fact often functions (as our Quaker brethren have stated) like a “paper Pope” upon which we hang our most passionate beliefs and ugliest prejudices. I treasure Holy Writ, but the only way I feel safe with it is amidst conversation with caring friends (aka by some as ‘the faith community’) where the guidance of Holy Spirit is sought and acknowledged in our midst. To me this is the only sane approach to some very volatile writings. For a pointy-headed explication of this very same idea, I’d check out fellow Reformer Kevin J. Vanhoozer‘s The Drama of Doctrine.

I hope it comes across loud and clear: While it’s not for me, I don’t wish to silence the Reformed voice. (I enjoy Tim Keller and Steve Brown and Shayne Wheeler and am looking forward to good things from Reformergent–may their tribe increase!) In fact, Ted and Kevin, I’d say your published foray makes you official participants in (dahn-dahn-dahn) the conversation. So congrats…for taking a respectful (and not shrill) tone, you’re now in this, whether you’d like to be or not. 🙂 And as an editor with The Ooze, I officially invite you to submit an article or two, and commit a little time to monitoring our discussion boards for a couple of weeks to share and converse. We’ll give you face time side-by-side with the infamous (tee-hee) Spencer Burke, ’cause he may be heretical, but at least he’s hospitable. Whaddaya say, brothers?

Related: Two interactions from Dan Kimball and Daryl Dash and Andrew Jones

Update: Official website


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Abolish Slavery – Join the Movement Today!

  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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