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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Highlights from Why We're Not Emergent

I just finished reading Why We're not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be and I commend it highly. I am not reviewing the book, but wanted to give some highlights of why I enjoyed the book so much.

1. I liked how the authors showed how many emerging writers can be very dogmatic with their particular beliefs while at the same time question the dogmatic beliefs of others, especially Protestant Evangelical ones. The following is an excerpt from pages 43-44.

What bothers me is all the other times McLaren chastises us supposed moderns for being too linear and too persuaded of our own fallible interpretations, when, at the end of the day, he reaches his conclusions like every other mortal studying the Bible. He asks, "Does this make sense with the context? Does this fit together with other parts of Scripture? Does this piece together a myriad of readings without contradiction?"

We can know some things after all, then. We are not trapped in a hermeneutical spiral pulling us down into the morass of "all we have are our interpretations." There is meaning in the text. There are bad interpretations and good interpretations. Bell may list a series of stumper questions about the Bible to convince us that "the Bible is open-ended (Velvet Elvis, 46)," but he is certain that the first three miracles in the book of John are directly related to Dionysus, Asclepius, and Demeter, and that the reference to women being saved in childbirth is a direct reference to Artemis, and that the first chapters of Revelation follow the sequence of the Domitian games (Velvet Elvis, 64-65). It appears that the dance of uncertainty is fun but hard to keep up for a whole book, let alone a lifetime.

2. I liked how the authors showed how emerging and non-emerging churches are often times doing many of the same practices and disciplines, the only real difference is the language the emerging crowd are using to pump up their own and play down others. The following is an excerpt from pages 153-154.

The supposed radical difference between modern spirituality and postmodern spirituality is often nothing more than semantics. For example, many of Kimball's side-by-side comparison charts are especially guilty of hyperbolizing the differences between the modern church and the postmodern. Kimball says that preaching in the emerging church "teaches how the ancient wisdom of Scripture applies to kingdom living as a disciple of Christ" while the modern preacher "serves as a dispenser of biblical truths to help solve personal problems in modern life (The Emerging Church, 175)." Those two sentences would say the same thing if not for Kimball's choice of language, employing uninspiring words like "dispenser" and "solve" for the modern church instead of cool words like "ancient wisdom" and "kingdom living." Similarly, in the modern church "the Bible is a book to help solve problems and means to know God," and discipleship is based on modern methodology and helps." Conversely, in the emerging church, "the Bible is a compass for direction and a means to experience God," and "discipleship is based on ancient disciplines (The Emerging Church, 215).

Meanwhile, Pagitt says we must distinguish between storytelling and testimony time. "sharing our stories is not the same thing as giving our testimonies.... While not sounding like 'testimonies' in the traditional sense, these stories of the way God bubbles up in others' lives serve as testaments to who God is and how God acts in our lives. Telling and hearing these stories shapes us and forms us (Reimagining Spiritual Formation, 56-57)." So, let me get this straight. They aren't testimonies, just stories that serve as testaments to what God is doing in our lives. Sounds like a testimony to me.

3. I liked how the authors showed that when you reduce or conflate orthodoxy into orthopraxy you get something that looks very much like old liberalism. Here are two excerpts from pages 177-178 and 111-112.
According to the piece, "the movement's innovations go beyond worship and extends to theology. McLaren isn't preoccupied with hell--who's in and who's out." It seems to me to be the proverbial Wide Gate, and for a movement that has generated so much controversy, is completely un/controverisal. As an addendum, the paper lists nine characteristics of emerging churches: 1. Identify with the life of Jesus. 2. Transform the secular realm. 3. Live highly communal lives. 4. Welcome the stranger. 5. Serve with generosity. 6. Participate as producers. 7. Create as created beings. 8. Lead as a body. 9. Take part in spiritual activities.
Out of curiosity and for the sake of comparison, I looked up the guiding principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association on the UUA Web site: We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote 1. The inherit worth and dignity of every person; 2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; 3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; 4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; 5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; 6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; 7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Both lists, for the record, are full of good and noble things; however, there is nothing said in either list of guiding principles about Jesus' death and resurrection and the need of both for our salvation...Hell is tricky because, though I may not be preoccupied with it now, when it is time to be "in or out" it may be too late to engage the topic.

Rob Bell is also suspicious of orthodoxy, putting it several notches below orthopraxy. For example, Bell admits that he believes in the virgin birth, but it is not as important as living for Jesus:

"What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if as you study the origin of the word virgin, you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language a that time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being born of a virgin also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live (Velvet Elvis, 26-27)."

This emphasis on right living over against right belief is nothing new. It is, in fact, quintessentially modern, Adolf Harnack, the brilliant and popular promoter of Protestant liberalism, said the same thing at the turn of the last century: "True faith in Jesus is not a matter of creedal orthodoxy but of doing as he did."


Terry Delaney said...

Just so you know, the font size on this particular post is like a 2.

Jason Morrison said...

Thanks for the heads up on the font. It looked good last night. I always seem to have problems with font in blogger.