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The Emergent Church


BeachOfEden
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Here's that Great artciel that GreenParty gave us a link to. Let's examine it....

 

What Are We Talking About?

 

At the heart of the Emergent Church movement—or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the “conversation”—lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is “emerging.” Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation.

 

Gosh. This discribes what's SO wrong with JW's.

 

What Characterizes the Movement? Protest

 

It is difficult to gain a full appreciation of the distinctives of the movement without listening attentively to the life stories of its leaders. Many of them have come from conservative, traditional, evangelical churches, sometimes with a fundamentalist streak. Thus the reforms that the movement encourages mirror the protests of the lives of many of its leaders.

 

 

The place to begin is the book Stories of Emergence, edited by Mike Yaconelli. Most of these “stories of emergence” have in common a shared destination (namely, the Emergent Church movement) and a shared point of origin: traditional (and sometimes fundamentalist) Evangelicalism. What all of these people have in common is that they began in one thing and “emerged” into something else.

 

This gives the book a flavor of protest, of rejection: we were where you were once, but we emerged from it into something different. The subtitle of the book discloses what the editor sees as common ground: Moving from Absolute to Authentic.

 

I relate to this statement!

 

 

An example may clarify what the book is trying to accomplish. Spencer Burke used to sit in a plush third-floor office, serving as one of the pastors of Mariners Church in Irvine, California—“a bona fide megachurch with a 25-acre property and a $7.8 million budget.” Every weekend 4,500 adults use the facilities, and the church ministers to 10,000 people a week. But Burke became troubled by things such as parking lot ministry. (“Helping well-dressed families in SUVs find the next available parking space isn’t my spiritual gift.”).

 

He became equally disenchanted with three-point sermons and ten-step discipleship programs, not to mention the premillennial, pretribulational eschatology on which he had been trained. Burke came to realize that his “discontent was never with Mariners as a church, but [with] contemporary Christianity as an institution.”

 

Agreed.

 

 

Burke organizes the causes of his discontent under three headings. First, he has come to reject what he calls “spiritual McCarthyism,” the style of leadership that belongs to “a linear, analytical world” with clear lines of authority and a pastor who is CEO. Spiritual McCarthyism, Burke asserts, is “what happens when the pastor-as-CEO model goes bad or when well-meaning people get too much power.” These authority structures are quick to brand anyone a “liberal” who questions the received tradition.

 

Here, again, I can say this is one of the fundamental flaws to be found with the whole JW organization.

 

The second cause of Burke’s discontent is what he calls “spiritual isolationism.” Under this heading he includes the pattern of many churches moving from the city to the suburbs. Sometimes this is done under the guise of needing more space. Nevertheless, he insists, there are other motives. “It’s simpler for families to arrive at church without having to step over a drunk or watch drug deals go down in the alley. Let’s be honest: church in the city can be messy. Dealing with a homeless man who wanders into the service shouting expletives or cleaning up vomit from the back steps is a long way from parsing Greek verbs in seminary.” Indeed, megachurches out in the suburbs sometimes construct entire on-campus worlds, complete with shops and gyms and aerobics centers.

 

 

The third cause of his discontent Burke labels “spiritual Darwinism”—climbing up the ladder on the assumption that bigger is better. The zeal for growth easily fostered “a kind of program-envy…. Looking back, I spent a good part of the 1980’s and ‘90s going from conference to conference learning how to ride high on someone else’s success.” To shepherd a congregation was not enough; the aim was to have the fastest-growing congregation. “It was survival of the fittest with a thin spiritual veneer.”

 

 

In 1998 Burke started TheOoze.com. The name of the active chat room is designedly metaphorical: Burke intends this to be a place where “the various parts of the faith community are like mercury. Try to touch the liquid or constrain it, and the substance will resist. Rather than force people to fall into line, an oozy community tolerates differences and treats people who hold opposing view with great dignity. To me, that’s the essence of the emerging church.”

 

Protest Against Modernism

 

The difficulty in describing the Emergent Church movement as a protest against modernism is partly one of definition: neither modernism nor postmodernism is easy to define. Even experts in intellectual history disagree on their definitions.

 

 

Yes, we seem to be discovering this.

 

The majority view, however, is that the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology—i.e., how we know things, or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective which, in turn, breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control.

 

Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we “know” is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right.

 

Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is “antifoundational”) and insists that we come to “know” things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses upon relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion.

 

 

How then do those who identify with the Emergent Church movement think about these matters? The majority of emerging church leaders see a very clear contrast between modern culture and postmodern culture and connect the divide to questions of epistemology. Some think that we are in a postmodern culture and therefore ought to be constructing postmodern churches. A few acknowledge that not everything in postmodernism is admirable and therefore want to maintain some sort of prophetic witness against postmodernism at various points while eagerly embracing the features of postmodernism that they perceive as admirable.

 

 

Brian McLaren, probably the most articulate speaker in the emerging movement, has emphasized, in both books and lectures, that postmodernism is not antimodernism. The telling point for McLaren and most of the other leaders of the Emergent Church movement is their emphasis on the discontinuity as over against the continuity with modernism. When McLaren speaks through the lips of Neo, the postmodern Christian protagonist of his best-known books (the New Kind of Christian trilogy), he can use “post-” as a universal category to highlight what he does not like: “In the postmodern world, we become postconquest, postmechanistic, postanalytical, postsecular, postobjective, postcritical, postorganizational, postindividualistic, post-Protestant, and postconsumerist.” These books show how much what McLaren thinks “a new kind of Christian” should be like today is determined by all the new things he believes are bound up with postmodernism: hence “a new kind of Christian.”

 

 

Much of McLaren’s aim in his writing and lecturing is to explode the certainties that he feels have controlled too much of the thinking of Western Christian people in the past. But there is a danger in constantly exploding the certainties of the past: if we are not careful, we may be left with nothing to hang on to at all. Recognizing the danger, McLaren takes the next step by providing us with two definitions.

 

 

In other words, if you become OVERLY far left then spiritual liberalism becomes religious mythicalism....everything we know and hold true is merely a positive fairy tale.

The first of his definitions is of philosophical pluralism, the stance that asserts that no single outlook can be the explanatory system or view of reality that accounts for all of life. Even if we Christians think we have it, we must immediately face the diversities among us: are we talking about Baptist views of reality? Presbyterian? Anglican?

 

And which Baptist?

 

Philosophical pluralism denies that any system offers a complete explanation.

 

 

Ahhh..ok..now I am know that 'I" must a Pholosophical Pluist...

 

The second definition is of relativism. It is the theory that denies absolutism and insists that morality and religion are relative to the people who embrace them. Lest Christians think none of this applies to them, McLaren draws attention to the ethnic cleansing of the Old Testament, to David’s many wives,

 

BeachOfEden: Mormons in the Past?

 

"to injunctions against wearing gold rings."

 

BeachOfEden: Seventh-Day Adventists?

 

 

If both philosophical pluralism and relativism are given free play, McLaren asserts, it is difficult to see how one can be faithful to the Bible. Yet absolutism cannot be allowed to rule: the criticism of absolutism is too devastating, too convincing to permit it to stand. So perhaps a culture plagued by absolutism needs a dose of relativism to correct what is wrong with it—not so much a relativism that utterly displaces what came before, but a relativism that in some sense embraces what came before, yet moves on. If absolutism is the cancer, it needs relativism as the chemotherapy. Even though this chemotherapy is dangerous in itself, it is the necessary solution.

 

If absolutism is not the answer and absolute relativism is not the answer, what is the Christian way ahead? Here McLaren finds himself heavily indebted to the short work by Jonathan Wilson, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: Lessons for the Church from MacIntyre’s After Virtue. This is surely what we want: we want to learn to live faithfully in a fragmented world. Absolutism plays by one set of rules. Real pluralism is like a large field where many games are being played, each game observing its own rules. This sort of pluralism is coherent. But we live in a fragmented world: we are playing golf with a baseball, baseball with a soccer ball, and so forth. This is not real pluralism; it is fragmented existence.

 

 

"Doubtless a few small, coherent, communities exist—Hasidic Jews, perhaps, or the Amish—"

 

BeachOfEden: JW's

 

"....who manage to play by one set of rules, but the rest of us are mired in fragmentations. As a result, there is no coherence, no agreement on where we are going. Our accounts of what we are doing maintain the lingering use of the older absolutist language, while we find ourselves, not in genuine pluralism, but in fragmentation."

 

In North America we have a memory of absolutist totalitarian Christianity and experience fragmentation. So our choice is whether to go back to this absolutist heritage or forward to something else.

 

Can we weave a fabric that is not totalitarian and absolutist but avoids absolute relativism? The former returns us to the barbarities and is unconvincing in a postmodern age; the latter simply leaves us open to the marketers, for there is no coherent defense against them.

 

BeachOfEden: Can we avoid the extreme right's error is claiming they have all "THEE TRUTH"? Yet can we also avoid the far extreme left in which the Bible is just merely viewed as a positive collection of fairy tales and where Jesus was just a nice guy who died along time ago and can't help us today?

 

 

The way ahead, McLaren suggests, is very helpfully set out in David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Toward the end of the book, Bosch lists eight perspectives that speak to our situation and give us some direction:

 

1. Accept co-existence with different faiths gladly, not begrudgingly. It is not their fault if they are alive.

 

BeachOfEden: Can we do this withOUT resorting to calling them names like "CULTS", "APOSTATES", "HEATHENS," or GENTILES,ECT???

 

2. Dialogue presupposes commitment to one’s position, so it is surely not a bad thing to listen well. Dialogue should be congruent with confidence in the gospel.

 

BeachOfEden: Progressive Christians do NOT claim to have all theee answers..but conservatives claim to have all the right answers...and so how can you communicate with those who claim they have all their understandings right while you have yours all wrong?

 

 

3. We assume that the dialogue takes place in the presence of God, the unseen Presence. In such dialogue we may learn things, as Peter does in Acts 10–11. Similarly, Jesus learns from his interchange with the Syrophoenician woman.

 

4. Missional dialogue requires humility and vulnerability. But that should not frighten us, for when we are weak, we are strong. It is surely right, for instance, to acknowledge earlier atrocities committed by Christians, even as we remain careful not to disparage those earlier Christians.

 

BeachOfEden: So like you can say i don't like that or I don;t agree withOUT claiming someone's a cult or a heathen?

 

5. Each religion operates in its own world and therefore demands different responses from Christians.

 

6. Christian witness does not preclude dialogue.

 

That would be nice.

 

7. The “old, old story” may not be the true, true story, for we continue to grow, and even our discussion and dialogues contribute to such growth. In other words, the questions raised by postmodernism help us to grow.

 

8. Live with the paradox: we know no way of salvation apart from Jesus Christ, but we do not prejudge what God may do with others. We must simply live with the tension.

 

EXCELLENT!!!

 

I have taken this much space to summarize McLaren’s views (articulated at a recent lecture) for a couple of reasons. One is because most sides would agree that McLaren is the emerging church’s most influential thinker (or, at the very least, one of them). Another reason is because while most leaders of the Emergent Church movement set up a relatively simple antithesis—namely, modernism is bad and postmodernism is good—McLaren is careful in this piece to avoid the obvious trap: many forms of postmodern thought do in fact lead to some kind of religious relativism, and McLaren knows that for the Christian that is not an option. He clearly wants to steer a course between absolutism and relativism, and he is more careful on this point than some of his peers.

 

Nevertheless, for McLaren, absolutism is associated with modernism, so that every evaluation he offers on that side of the challenge is negative. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a single passage in any of the writings of the Emergent leaders that I have read that offers a positive evaluation of any element of substance in modernism. But McLaren does not connect relativism with postmodernism. He appears to think of relativism as something more extreme (perhaps postmodernism gone to seed?), while postmodernism itself becomes the uncritiqued matrix in which we must work out our theology. So while he dismisses absolute religious relativism (it cannot be said that he critiques it; rather, he recognizes that as a Christian he cannot finally go down that avenue), I have not yet seen from McLaren, or anyone else in the Emergent Church movement, a critique of any substantive element of postmodern thought.

 

Protesting on Three Fronts

 

The Emergent Church movement is characterized by a fair bit of protest against traditional Evangelicalism and, more broadly, against all that it understands by modernism. But some of its proponents add another front of protest, namely, the Seeker-sensitive church, the megachurch.

 

 

The degree to which this element stands out varies considerably. It is certainly present, for instance, in Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. His recent book is praised by not a few pastors in the Seeker-sensitive tradition, doubtless because Kimball casts his work, in part, as the way forward to reach a new generation of people who have moved on, generationally and culturally, from the kinds of people who grabbed the attention of the Seeker-sensitive movement three decades ago. Although there are differences, the Emergent church leaders, like the Seeker-sensitive leaders in their time, are motivated, in part, by a desire to reach people who do not seem to be attracted to traditional approaches and stances—and the Seeker-sensitive movement is now old enough to be one of the “traditional” approaches. Pastors in the Seeker-sensitive tradition, then tend to see in the emerging church leaders a new generation of Christians doing the sort of thing that they themselves did a generation earlier.

 

 

Kimball’s book sets out how to go after the post-Seeker-sensitive generation. Much of his material goes over common ground. He offers a kind of popular profile of what he thinks postmodernism embraces: it accepts pluralism, embraces the experiential, delights in the mystical, and is comfortable with narrative, with what is fluid, global, communal/tribal, and so forth. Kimball then turns to how we should go about things rather differently. This includes an appendix on post-Seeker-sensitive worship. Here we must have much more symbolism and a greater stress on the visual. We should have crosses and candles. There might be an entire communion service without a sermon. The entire geography of the room may be different, with the possibility of different groups within the assembly engaging in different things at a time, and perhaps someone going off for a while to a quiet desk for a bit of journaling. The entire experience should be multisensory; the prayer corner may well burn incense. “Worship in the emerging church,” Kimball writes, “is less about looking out for what is on the cutting edge and more about moving back into our spiritual center with Jesus as our sole focus.”

 

 

Kimball offers us antithetical visions of modern preaching and postmodern preaching. In modern preaching, the sermon is the focal point of the service, and the preacher serves as the dispenser of biblical truths to help solve personal problems in modern life. Sermons emphasize explanation—explanation of what the truth is. The starting point is the Judeo-Christian worldview, and biblical terms like “gospel” and “Armageddon” do not need definition. The biblical text is communicated primarily with words, and this preaching takes place within the church building during a worship service.

 

 

By contrast, Kimball writes, in the postmodern Emergent Church movement, the sermon is only one part of the experience of the worship gathering. Here the preacher teaches how the ancient wisdom applies to kingdom living; the preacher emphasizes and explains the experience of who the truth is. The starting point is the Garden of Eden and the retelling of the story of creation and of the origins of human beings and of sin (cf. Acts 17:22–34). The scriptural message is communicated through a mix of words, visual arts, silence, testimony, and story, and the preacher is a motivator who encourages people to learn from the Scriptures throughout the week. A lot of preaching takes place outside the church building in the context of community and relationships. Such preaching will be deeply theocentric rather than anthropocentric, and care should be taken not to insult people’s intelligence.

 

 

What cannot be overlooked in Kimball’s book, I think, is how much of his analysis is specifically directed against churches in the Seeker-sensitive tradition. For example, some of his suggestions—such as insistence that sermons should be theocentric and not anthropocentric, that they should not insult the intelligence of the hearers, that instruction in the Word should go on throughout the week and not be confined to public services on Sunday, and what we should aim for in kingdom living, one could easily find in Reformed exhortations, perhaps in the pages of a magazine such as this.

 

 

Other parts of Kimball’s advice, of course, could not similarly be aligned. Yet the fact that so much of what he has to say can be aligned with many serious voices within traditional Evangelicalism suggests that most of the time the “implied reader” of his book is not the more traditional evangelical church, but Seeker-sensitive churches. In Kimball’s view, they too are out of step with the culture and fall under the curse of modernism. Moreover, if, as we have seen, several of Kimball’s individual suggestions as to the way ahead are reminiscent of stances taken within parts of traditional Evangelicalism, the structure of his thought, taken as a whole, is distinctively postmodern.

 

What Should We Be Asking?

 

This is but a sketchy introduction to the Emergent Church movement. What have we learned so far and what questions should we be asking?

 

 

From these summaries of the stories of many of the leaders of the emerging movement and the survey of some of their publications one point stands out rather dramatically. To grasp it succinctly, it is worth comparing the Emergent Church movement with the Reformation, which was, after all, another movement that claimed it wanted to reform the church. What drove the Reformation was the conviction, among all its leaders, that the Roman Catholic Church had departed from Scripture and had introduced theology and practices that were inimical to genuine Christian faith. In other words, they wanted things to change, not because they perceived that new developments had taken place in the culture so that the church was called to adapt its approach to the new cultural profile, but because they perceived that new theology and practices had developed in the church that contravened Scripture, and therefore that things needed to be reformed by the Word of God.

 

By contrast, although the Emergent Church movement challenges, on biblical grounds, some of the beliefs and practices of Evangelicalism, by and large it insists it is preserving traditional confessionalism but changing the emphases because the culture has changed, and so inevitably those who are culturally sensitive see things in a fresh perspective. In other words, at the heart of the emerging reformation lies a perception of a major change in culture.

 

 

This does not mean that the Emergent Church movement is wrong. It means, rather, three things.

 

 

First, the Emergent Church movement must be evaluated as to its reading of contemporary culture. Most of its pleas for reform are tightly tied to its understandings of postmodernism. The difficulty of the task (granted the plethora of approaches to postmodernism) cannot exempt us from making an attempt.

 

 

Second, as readers will have already observed from this short survey, the appeals to Scripture in the Emerging Church literature are generally of two kinds. On the one hand, some Emergent church leaders claim that changing times demand that fresh questions be asked of Scripture, and then fresh answers will be heard. What was an appropriate use of Scripture under modernism is no longer an appropriate use of Scripture under postmodernism. On this gentler reading of Evangelicalism’s history, traditional evangelicals are not accused of being deeply mistaken for their own times, but of being rather out of date now, not least in their handling of the Bible. On the other hand, the Emergent Church’s critique of modernism, and of the Evangelicalism that modernism has produced, is sometimes (not always) so bitter that Evangelicalism’s handling of Scripture can be mocked in stinging terms. This is not meant to imply that this is true of all emerging pastors.

 

 

Third, granted that the Emergent Church movement is driven by its perception of widespread cultural changes, its own proposals for the way ahead must be assessed for their biblical fidelity. In other words, we must not only try to evaluate the accuracy of the Emergent Church’s cultural analysis, but also the extent to which its proposals spring from, or can at least be squared with, the Scriptures.

 

To put the matter differently: Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new Emergent Church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?

 

See, this question is THEE FEAR of faith groups that ARE fundamental in nature. This IS, for example, the JW org's FEAR.

 

 

Even to ask the question will strike some as impertinence at best, or a tired appeal to the old-fashioned at worst. I mean it to be neither. Most movements have both good and bad in them, and in the book from which this article is taken I highlight some of the things I find encouraging and helpful in the Emergent Church movement.

 

" I find that I am more critical of the movement because my “take” on contemporary culture is a bit removed from theirs, partly because the solutions I think are required are somewhat different from theirs, partly because I worry about (unwitting) drift from Scripture, and partly because this movement feels like an exercise in pendulum swinging, where the law of unintended consequences can do a lot of damage before the pendulum comes to rest.

 

BeachOfEden:

 

But he can be MORe precise on what he means by this? For example is he worried that some individuals may enjoy attending an Emergent Church who do not embrace the tradtional Evangelical view on the trinity? Or maybe that some Progressive minded christians may enjoy attending an Emergent Church of whom may hold a conditional interpretation of the nature of hell? Or maybe that a Liberal Luthern may join an Emergent Church who may completely REJECT the whole Evangelical belief of Pre-millennialism and it's who "Rapture' belief system? Might these by some of the traditionalists, consevrative and fundamentalists' FEAR?

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Beach - I just skimmed, but I'll speak for Altheia (I think  :D ) and myself saying again - read Brian McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy"  I think it will answer your questions.

 

Sojourners.com will likely answer any others!!!

 

:D I just posted a link to McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian" BLog on the other thread.

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It is a good article. Obviously the modern/post-modern philosophical issues are things I've thought a lot about. I chuckled a little bit about the reference to the Jonathan Wilson book, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: Lessons for the Church from MacIntyre’s After Virtue, because I wrote my undergrad philosophy thesis on After Virtue, back when I was a card-carrying post-modernist. Since then, I've really come back to more balanced "critical modernism," where I still recognize the value of communities and traditions carrying on relatively independently of each other, and the inescapable debt we have to non-rational forces in the holding of our beliefs; but I'm optimistic that we can still find a place to stand from which to adjudicate historical, or philosophical, or theological, etc. questions both within and across traditions. Without at least some form of critical foundationalism, it seems hard to find much of a vantage point from which do this.

 

At the same time, as I was skimming the whole thing over, I also felt a kind of apathetic detachment from it all. In many ways, the whole phenomenon feels a lot like an attempt to preserve a mostly evangelical mode of Christianity in a postmodern context -- i.e., without foundations, without exclusivism, and without all the grandiose claims to absolute certainty. It reminded me a lot of my philosophy days at Wheaton -- wanting to take the criticisms of foundationalism into account, wanting to respect and value philosophical insights from other cultures and traditions, but at the same time not lose our distinctively evangelical identity in the process. Indeed, as the article points out, most of the movement's leaders have "emerged" from evangelical Christianity, and so it still bears that imprint very strongly. It's just that I no longer have much attraction to evangelical Christianity in any form -- not even a culturally-sensitive, inclusive, postfoundationalist one -- so the movement really feels somewhat beside the point for me.

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Fred:

 

Indeed, as the article points out, most of the movement's leaders have "emerged" from evangelical Christianity, and so it still bears that imprint very strongly. It's just that I no longer have much attraction to evangelical Christianity in any form -- not even a culturally-sensitive, inclusive, postfoundationalist one -- so the movement really feels somewhat beside the point for me.

 

I can not deny that the mere fact that these individuals all emerged from EVANGELICAL and even FUNDAMENTAL backgrounds (of Protestantsim) makes me cautious. But then again, haven't nearly all of us Progressive Christians come from some sort of previous fundamental background? This can either lead to a great insight for a Progressive Christian...or it could serve only for some to be a great false front to try and trick others into more far right thinking merely packaged in "Seeker-Senistive" wrapping paper.

 

However..the fact that this whole movements states that is does NOT claim absoltues...is reasuring. I mean will you ever hear such fundamentalists as the Southern Baptists Convention, Assembly of God or JW's state that they believe that there is NO ABSOLTUTES? This very concept would be impossible for such groups...Still, such doctrine debates like trinity are SO ingrained in the Evangelical tradition..that even if one claimed to fuly emerged beyound egocentritic absoute claims...could they they accept non-trinitarians into their emergent groups? Could they accept a Liberal Luthern who does not accept the rapture belief and so on? It is an interesting question to consider...

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But then again, haven't nearly all of us Progressive Christians come from some sort of previous fundamental background?

Come from, yes -- but we differ on how much evangelical distinctiveness we still incorporate into our way of being "progressive."

 

However..the fact that this whole movements states that is does NOT claim absoltues...is reasuring. I mean will you ever hear such fundamentalists as the Southern Baptists Convention, Assembly of God or JW's state that they believe that there is NO ABSOLTUTES?

Well, be careful with your terminology. Emergent folk aren't saying that there are no absolutes -- they're saying that we have to be a lot more humble about them, because there are many factors that influence, and limit, our knowledge. So the emerging church (as I understand it from my own experience and what I've read) is saying: Yes, we believe in the Trinity, yes, we believe that the Bible accurately tells the story of Jesus, etc. -- but we're not pounding our pulpits at you if you have honestly and faithfully reflected on the matter, and come to other conclusions. We faithfully stand in our theological tradition, and allow it to shape us, but we realize that absolute certainty, resting upon unquestionable foundations, is simply not a reality.

 

Maybe this distinction helps: it's not that there are no absolutes, but that there is no purely rational, objective certainty about them.

 

...Still, such doctrine debates like trinity are SO ingrained in the Evangelical tradition..that even if one claimed to fuly emerged beyound egocentritic absoute claims...could they they accept non-trinitarians into their emergent groups? Could they accept a Liberal Luthern who does not accept the rapture belief and so on? It is an interesting question to consider...

I think it's likely that such a person would be accepted; the question is whether that person would feel spiritually and theologically at home. And that depends on the person, and how far they are located from the theological distinctives of the church. For example, a person who believes the gospels are essentially biography, but contain some theological embellishment, will probably feel at home. However, a person (like me) who believes the gospels are essentially allegorical and symbolic of spiritual realities (especially the key texts, like the virgin birth, baptism, temptation, passion), but contain some historical references, will probably not. Not because I'd feel unwelcome, but simply I wouldn't be sharing some very basic assumptions.

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I've been reading posts and articles on the McLaren board Aletheia posted (www.anewkindofchristian.com), and honestly, I find myself unable to resonate very strongly with either emergent Christianity or the conservative criticism of it.

 

I guess in some ways I have a kind of unique perspective. This whole idea which is now becoming culturally more widespread, was already in full swing at Wheaton and other similar evangelical Christian colleges ten years ago. The 1995 Wheaton theology conference was, in fact, dedicated to the very topic of postmodernism in theology, and to what extent there was common ground between theological postmodernism (which also went by postliberalism) and evangelicalism. Many people in conservative Christianity were welcoming the postmodern antifoundationalist turn, because it freed them from the "burden of proof" that modernism placed upon religion in pretty much all forms. In a postmodern context, evangelical Christianity could now freely and justifiably carry on in its distinctive belief structure without the need to appeal to rock-solid epistemological foundations like warrant, justification, rational criteria for validity, etc.

 

Most of the criticism of the "emergent" or "postmodern" movement in theology, of course, comes from more conservative folk who feel that it undermines a more solid defense of the difficult claims of orthodox Christianity -- and by that I mean the rationally difficult claims, not the personally or ethically difficult ones. The interesting thing is, I criticize it for the opposite reason -- because it severely weakens the possibility of a solid critique of the claims of literal Christianity, that, if it weren't for their "inspired" or "inerrant" status, would be seen as transparently mythological and allegorical in nature. The problem is that the collapse of epistemological foundations can often result in the return to a premodern naivete about beliefs, which no longer tries so hard to distinguish superstition, fact, and truth -- a naivete which I witnessed among droves of eager, young, and otherwise incredibly bright and rational evangelicals.

 

I want to be able to intelligibly argue that much of the content of literally held Christianity falls into the category of superstition, but postmodern theology responds by saying that this is modern secularism overstepping its boundaries, and encroaching on religion. That's a cheap out. Science and reason, while not perfect or beyond criticism, still give us the best available frameworks for defending or rejecting physical or logical claims. We need to use them critically, but we still need to use them.

 

Alright, that's enough ranting for today. B)

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Fred-

 

Just curious....as I asked Alethia last week, as of today, can you explain "where you are?"...with this whole God/Christian thing. I know that can be a huge question...and a very poorly worded one. I'm not looking for your 10 point doctrinal statement, or any set of labels, necessarily. I know that alot of your thoughts are still developing, as well, so I'm not looking for a bunch of absolutes. :)

 

Just curious because you're obviously very well read, have been in several groups/denominations if I remember well :), and know alot about philosophy, religion, went to seminary, etc. Have you come to any personal conclusions? Do you find yourself closer to answers, or further away? And I realize in asking the question, that for many here, concrete answers aren't the goal anyway.

 

I realize, again, as I look at this, how poorly I'm asking this question. I'm just always curious, after all the talk of fractals, right/left, responsibility, fate, etc., etc., do people have a basic set of core beliefs that drive them, sustain them, prod them, etc.

Edited by darby
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Fred -- greatly appreciate your thoughts and critique!

 

 

I've been reading posts and articles on the McLaren board Aletheia posted (www.anewkindofchristian.com), and honestly, I find myself unable to resonate very strongly with either emergent Christianity or the conservative criticism of it.

 

I guess in some ways I have a kind of unique perspective.  This whole idea which is now becoming culturally more widespread, was already in full swing at Wheaton and other similar evangelical Christian colleges ten years ago.  The 1995 Wheaton theology conference was, in fact, dedicated to the very topic of postmodernism in theology, and to what extent there was common ground between theological postmodernism (which also went by postliberalism) and evangelicalism.  Many people in conservative Christianity were welcoming the postmodern antifoundationalist turn, because it freed them from the "burden of proof" that modernism placed upon religion in pretty much all forms.  In a postmodern context, evangelical Christianity could now freely and justifiably carry on in its distinctive belief structure without the need to appeal to rock-solid epistemological foundations like warrant, justification, rational criteria for validity, etc.

 

Most of the criticism of the "emergent" or "postmodern" movement in theology, of course, comes from more conservative folk who feel that it undermines a more solid defense of the difficult claims of orthodox Christianity -- and by that I mean the rationally difficult claims, not the personally or ethically difficult ones.  The interesting thing is, I criticize it for the opposite reason -- because it severely weakens the possibility of a solid critique of the claims of literal Christianity, that, if it weren't for their "inspired" or "inerrant" status, would be seen as transparently mythological and allegorical in nature.  The problem is that the collapse of epistemological foundations can often result in the return to a premodern naivete about beliefs, which no longer tries so hard to distinguish superstition, fact, and truth -- a naivete which I witnessed among droves of eager, young, and otherwise incredibly bright and rational evangelicals.

 

I want to be able to intelligibly argue that much of the content of literally held Christianity falls into the category of superstition, but postmodern theology responds by saying that this is modern secularism overstepping its boundaries, and encroaching on religion.  That's a cheap out.  Science and reason, while not perfect or beyond criticism, still give us the best available frameworks for defending or rejecting physical or logical claims.  We need to use them critically, but we still need to use them.

 

Alright, that's enough ranting for today. B)

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The interesting thing is, I criticize it for the opposite reason -- because it severely weakens the possibility of a solid critique of the claims of literal Christianity...

 

I've been chewing on this all day, but I'm no closer to understanding WHY the emergent church movement weakens the possibility of solidly critiquing the claims of literal Christianity. If anything, I see it as bringing the Evangelical branch of Christianity into dialogue with "Traditional" Christianity (which is what Generous Orthodoxy is all about: dialogue and understanding). Traditional Christianity isn't liberal by any means, but it IS less literal and more mystical.

 

I haven't read anything from any "emergent" author except Brian McLaren, and I've never gotten the impression that he is hyper literal in his interpretations. Actually, he has a book coming out next April that has me a bit nervous, called (if I remember correctly) The Secret Jesus or something to that effect. Why nervous? Because I really don't want him going down the "Gospel of Thomas path." Elaine Pagels and others have covered that completely, and I'm actually very happy that McLaren has been sticking to a somewhat historical/critical method. I appreciate his desire to ground Christianity in a historical way, while allowing that Scripture is not inerrant, and uses history, metaphor, allegory, parable, poetry, and song to convey spiritual truth.

 

:)

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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I've been chewing on this all day, but I'm no closer to understanding WHY the emergent church movement weakens the possibility of solidly critiquing the claims of literal Christianity. If anything, I see it as bringing the Evangelical branch of Christianity into dialogue with "Traditional" Christianity (which is what Generous Orthodoxy is all about: dialogue and understanding). Traditional Christianity isn't liberal by any means, but it IS less literal and more mystical.

I agree with that assessment. Based on the issues he's addressing, the folks he's interacting with in interviews and letters, and his generously long subtitle to Generous Orthodoxy, he seems to be squarely located within mainstream Christianity. Obviously you've read more of him than I have, so I can't comment too much on him personally. But you can't get too much more conventional or evangelical than the belief statement from his church:

 

http://www.crcc.org/content.php?ContentID=877&OID=1938

 

Anyway, my comments are coming more from my own background in postmodern theology and worship, which I do happen to think the current emergent movement has grown out of -- and this is where I feel the possibility for critique is weakened. Essential to postmodern theology is that debate and dialogue can only take place within some kind of shared understanding of basic assumptions, i.e., there's no neutral place to stand from which to compare claims across completely different belief systems. And so this gets used as a kind of get out of jail free card for continuing to stand on very challengeable foundations, rationally, scientifically, historically, etc., with nothing for an apologetic but "come and see for yourself," "the new Christianity is based on relationships, not propositions," and so on. I might say I was exaggerating, if I hadn't been a part of it, and embraced it myself, for so long.

 

Oh well, take it for what it's worth. :)

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QUOTE(BeachOfEden @ Dec 19 2005, 11:32 AM)

However..the fact that this whole movements states that is does NOT claim absoltues...is reasuring. I mean will you ever hear such fundamentalists as the Southern Baptists Convention, Assembly of God or JW's state that they believe that there is NO ABSOLTUTES?

 

 

FredP:

 

"Well, Emergent folk aren't saying that there are no absolutes -- they're saying that we have to be a lot more humble about them, because there are many factors that influence, and limit, our knowledge. "

 

Understood. But even this is a great improvement, don't you think?;)

 

Maybe this distinction helps: it's not that there are no absolutes, but that there is no purely rational, objective certainty about them.

 

It does help and I for one could surely embrace this as a vast improvment.

 

QUOTE(BeachOfEden @ Dec 19 2005, 11:32 AM)

...Still, such doctrine debates like trinity are SO ingrained in the Evangelical tradition..that even if one claimed to fuly emerged beyound egocentritic absoute claims...could they they accept non-trinitarians into their emergent groups? Could they accept a Liberal Luthern who does not accept the rapture belief and so on? It is an interesting question to consider...

 

 

FredP:

 

"I think it's likely that such a person would be accepted; the question is whether that person would feel spiritually and theologically at home. And that depends on the person, and how far they are located from the theological distinctives of the church."

 

True.

 

"For example, a person who believes the gospels are essentially biography, but contain some theological embellishment, will probably feel at home. "

 

Like a Progressive leaning towards Moderate.

 

"However, a person (like me) who believes the gospels are essentially allegorical and symbolic of spiritual realities (especially the key texts, like the virgin birth, baptism, temptation, passion), but contain some historical references, will probably not. Not because I'd feel unwelcome, but simply I wouldn't be sharing some very basic assumptions."

 

Makes sense. It may be like the Christian UU's I spoke of and how they discribed feeling at the liberal but deeply pro-trinity-based Episcopaian churches...I 'might' also feel this way if I was attending.

 

 

FredP:

 

" I've been reading posts and articles on the McLaren board Aletheia posted (www.anewkindofchristian.com), and honestly, I find myself unable to resonate very strongly with either emergent Christianity or the conservative criticism of it."

 

Hey Fred, what do you think of the idea of posting some of these artciles on that site as threads on here? Or maybe just choose the main quotes from them on here and then we can all comment on them? I would really find that an interesting conversation, and also we'd learn alot about the Emergent church and how it 'might' or 'might not' compliment Progressive Christianity.

 

FredP:

 

"In a postmodern context, evangelical Christianity could now freely and justifiably carry on in its distinctive belief structure without the need to appeal to rock-solid epistemological foundations like warrant, justification, rational criteria for validity, etc."

 

Humm..that is true that all conservatives seem to do this.

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Just curious....as I asked Alethia last week, as of today, can you explain "where you are?"...with this whole God/Christian thing. .... Have you come to any personal conclusions?  Do you find yourself closer to answers, or further away?  And I realize in asking the question, that for many here, concrete answers aren't the goal anyway.

Well, I didn't go to seminary, but having been a philosophy major at Wheaton, I may as well have. B)

 

Yes, I've come to many personal conclusions, and I feel more solidly rooted in a belief structure than I've ever been in my life. A little while back, I posted some unstructured thoughts in the "Progressive/Conservative Typology" thread about the main "topics" in Christianity, which might be a good starting place to find an answer to your question. I really enjoyed coming up with it, and was genuinely hoping for some feedback, but it seems to have gotten lost in the great electron bucket:

 

http://tcpc.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopi...=6280#entry6280

 

Anyway, I imagine you'll find a lot in there to agree with, and a lot to disagree with. Probably our key disagreement is that I regard the core stories and images of Christianity to be fundamentally allegorical and symbolic of the spiritual and metaphysical structure of reality, and put practically no historical weight on them whatsoever. As such, these stories and images have monumental and far-reaching importance, but their revelatory significance is as objects of contemplation -- looked through, rather than at. This makes Christianity in my view primarily two things, that nevertheless influence and flow into each other: 1) a contemplative tradition embodying practices of spiritual awakening, purification, and transformation of the self and society; and 2) a system of philosophical and theological reflection on ultimate reality in light of these stories, images, symbols, practices, etc.

 

That's probably enough for now. Thanks for asking. :D

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Fred-

 

Thanks. The link to your earlier post certainly clears alot of things up...not sure how I missed that. I would respond to that thread, but you probably know what my responses would be. :)

 

You are correct about our key disagreement. It's interesting, however, that we are both "more solidly rooted in a belief structure than I've ever been in my life."

 

Thanks for sharing. As my wife peers over my shoulder sometimes and asks, "now, what does that person (Fred, Alethia, etc.) believe?", I often don't know how to respond. Now I do, at least in your case.

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:) NO....

 

I meant in both of your cases! Basically, those I have asked, as opposed to the others on the board. After your answer, along with your many other postings, I feel like I have a pretty good view of your beliefs and views.

 

BTW, I realize when I ask that on this board, some don't want to be pinned down to certain positions, etc. It's just hard to know someone, or where they are coming from, if you don't know at least a little about some of their core beliefs.

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I was pretty sure that was what you meant, but I have to yank your chain just a little sometimes. :P

 

As far as my "core beliefs," I'd say I'm still in the process of figuring those out. One day I lean a little to the left and the next day I lean a little to the right. One day I'm philosophical and metaphysical and the next day I'm practical and pragmatic.

 

:huh:

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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i appreciate the discussion in this thread. i've always felt that the "emergent" movement, even though it did form some needed criticism of the evangelical church, really did not point a way forward. it gives a "this isn't your father's church" look to evangelicalism that excites many people

 

however i do think that the basis for the emergent church is mainly philosophical and not ethical or even theological - not that there have not been positive movements ethically and theologically within some emergent congregations - or would i dare say that many of those who attend "emergent" churches would understand or realize the philosophical trends that fed the movement

 

in saying this i do not think that a change in church life necessarily has to be "pure" to be positive - for example the reformation was as much about nationalism as it was about theology if not more so - the Germans, Bohemians, Swiss, English etc. as a people were ready to move away from the control of the Italian(sometimes French) church

 

i just think that post-modernism taken to its end will end up with something that has no foundational basis at all - this foundational vacuum will be taken up by the istitution that is being created right now - there will be some type of way for the emergent church to define who is in and who is out. i think that the "emergent" movement has already begun assembling its institutional structure that the next church movement will come around to reform what we are seeing now

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jasn

 

Martin Buber is one of my favorite writers, especially his book on good and evil in which he analogizes evil as the yeast in the dough that makes the whole rise.

 

He tends to look at his subject matter as whole pictures and then tries to make sense of them, which, IMO, is a very contemporary approach to looking at realities.

 

flow....:)

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"now, what does that person (Fred, Alethia, etc.) believe?"

 

 

This brought up an interesting memory... I'll summarize something I learned while in seminary, Israel, and post-seminary (particularly while attending Synagogue).

 

We should be less concerned about what people believe and more concerned about what people do.

 

Sadly, Christianity has been corrupted by western thought and has lost its focus. We focus so much on orthodoxy and not enough on orthopraxy. Jesus was much more concerned with orthopraxy.

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Hmm, I believe actions can be beliefs. Let's take love for instance. Nice squishy softy on the "belief" side but take out love in the world and really act it-- and don't just act it for your friends (that's easy), act love for everyone--friend, enemy, someone of an opposing belief, etc etc. Now there's a TASK!

 

If there's something I believe that's it. Do I do that? Well not hardly-- I come up pretty short, but that's imo the most important thing.

 

Thanks for all your provocative, never nastily worded, always questioning in a positive way comments, darby.

 

--des

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Hmm, I believe actions can be beliefs. Let's  take love for instance. Nice squishy softy on the "belief" side but take out love in the world and really act it-- and don't just act it for your friends (that's  easy), act love for everyone--friend, enemy, someone of an opposing belief, etc etc. Now there's a TASK!

 

If there's something I believe that's it. Do I do that? Well not hardly-- I come up pretty short, but that's imo the most important thing.

 

Thanks for all your provocative, never nastily worded, always questioning in a positive way comments, darby.

 

--des

 

 

eh?

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