Friday, June 03, 2005

Am I Emergent?

Long morning post. I probably should've gotten caffeinated first.

I don't know if you've been following the discussion in the blogosphere over the "emergent church" or not. Of all the voices out there, one of the clearest and least-judgmental is from Andrew Jones. At TallSkinnyKiwi, he's posted a poll of sorts on what the "emergent church" might uphold and how closely an individual may follow it. I've cut/pasted his questions here, and include his conclusion at the bottom. Good stuff - if we could meet at Starbucks over coffee most of these "differences" would fall away, wouldn't they?

[sidebar: here's a PDF-formatted response to many critics of the EC movement, hosted at Doug Pagitt's blog. Here is a response to the response at the EmergentNo blog. My only hope is that the conversation rises above where it is now on both sides.]

Common Distinctives of the Emergent Church From Theopedia

1. Postmodernism.
As a rule and a philosophy, no - I do not adhere to postmodernism. There are aspects of the deconstruction process that tear down too much, taking alot of the good with it. However, it's openness to story, and the way it has forced us within the church to "know what we know and why we know it" has been a plus, at least in the way it's worked through me. But it's rejection of anything absolute and its tendency to see all things from a vague and relative point-of-view is a real problem.
Verdict: NO.

2. Absolute truth is either non-existent or unknowable
I've written on this one before: why do we need the descriptor "absolute"? Isn't that a bit redundant? I believe truth is absolute, and that in relationship with God it's knowable (He's the only one with that absolute and infinite perspective). My issue is with the tendency to focus so much discussion on "absolute truth", when "meaningful truth" might be a better way to look at things...?
Verdict: NO.

3. Narrative Preaching.
Yes - this is the way to go, teaching and sharing in parables and personal anecdotes. It's the way most of the Bible was written, and the way Jesus taught so many times in the Gospels. C'mon - gotta love a good story!
Verdict: YES.

4. Irrelevance of expositional preaching.
I don't think expositional preaching negates narrative preaching. Most of the expostion needs to come in the way of story and metaphor and imagery. I'm all for a verse by verse, chapter by chapter exposition of what the Bible is saying, who it's saying it to, how it speaks to us now. If anything, a tendency to be too topical apart from the context of what the Bible says and how it is being said has been a shortcoming that's needed correction.
Verdict: NO

5. Corporate Inclusivism
Definition : "Inclusivism posits that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for one to be saved."

I loved Andrew's response to this one:
Now this is a sticky one. When I prayed to receive Jesus as a teenager, I didnt have all the facts about Jesus and his pre-existence and attributes. I just knew a little bit . .. enough, I guess, to respond to in God's estimation anyway. Does that make me a Corporate Inclusivist?

I needed more help on this one so I read on to see who lined up on either side of the fence. According to Theopedia's definition, famous/popular proponents of inclusivism include: C.S. Lewis, Matthew Henry, J.I. Packer, John Stott - Now hold on . .. J.I Packer wrote "Knowing God" which was a staple of my Bible College education. And John Stott was one of the major figures behind shaping the Lausanne Covenant, which is what I suggest ALL emerging church networks read, understand and abide. Now if these guys were corporate inclusivists, then I guess I might be one, if I had to be. Certainly better than being an Exclusivist. which does not describe me.

Verdict: YES . . But wait - I might be an Exclusivist: "Exclusivism is the belief that only certain religions contain teachings which, if followed or believed, lead to salvation, or eternal bliss in some sense. To say that a sect or religion is exclusivistic is usually to say that it does not believe members of other sects or religions are going to have eternal life, though sometimes it might also allow for salvation in a clearly limited number of other groups."

Well, I believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. But that is different than saying "Except through my religion". Which religion? Are we saying here that my Pentecostal friends dont have the truth and my Fundamentalist/Dispensational friends do have the truth? Now this is getting weird and I feel myself shifting away from this word "exclusivist" and towards the lesser of two evils.

Revised Verdict . . I don't really know. I'm sorry. I am trying to wear one of the hats but cant decide - and you know i like HATS!

Final Verdict: For the sake of the poll, I am going to reluctantly throw my lot in with Packer and Stott. YES
I'm going to leave my answer at an I DON'T KNOW and count it as a half point. One good line from McLaren's The Last Word... : "I'm not a universalist, but a part of me hopes that God is." I want my view of "who's in and who's out" to be as wide and as welcoming as possible, and I want that perspective to lend a merciful and still grace-giving weight to evangelism in my life. I would lean towards Stott's and Packer's version of "inclusivism" - how's that?
Verdict: I DON'T KNOW

6. Open Theism
Open Theism, Theopedia says is "the teaching that God does not know all things."
No, I can't buy into that - and that's where the deconstruction does more harm than good. Just because something doesn't fit logically into a scenario doesn't mean that it's not possible. God is infinitely more than we can imagine, and this thinking boxes Him or us into something less.
Verdict: NO

7. Apophatic Theology.
Definition: "this system only defines God negatively in terms of what He is not (i.e. God is not finite, not sinful, etc.)." No, I think God is defined more by His positive qualities than by negating everything.
Verdict: NO
Here's Andrew's outcome:
Right. Lets add them up. The inclusivist one is still confusing, but if John Stott went that direction . . ummm. How about I get half a mark for being a tempered inclusivist. No - I will go for a full mark so i can participate in the poll.

OK - 2 out of 7. And that is how I (Andrew) voted.


Either I failed the test and am not a heretic - or even worse - I passed the test and am NOT part of the Emergent Church - or - and I have to ask the question: Is how I am perceived, is how the emergent church perceived ACCURATE or do we have some work to do in mending bridges, communicating a little better (and in the right language)
Andrew's "2 out of 7" becomes my "1.5 out of 7" because I don't mind leaving the ambiguity on the inclusivism/exclusivism issue. But here's the thing that rubs me wrong: most of the folks speaking out against it have an inaccurate picture of what's going on, where it's going, the value and worth of a movement that's bringing some very good things to the table. I would call myself "emergent", and agree with Andrew that the communication needs to be worked out, along with possibly a change in attitude on all sides of this comversation.


Blogger MaryAnn M said...

doug pagitt has a post today containing an article he and some others have written as a rebuttal of sorts to the criticisms of "emergent"

3/6/05 8:43 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

thanks, maryann - i just added a link to that PDF. i thought it was very thorough, very kind, very peaceable in responding to those who are so staunchly against what's going on.

3/6/05 10:48 AM  

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