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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Response to Recent Criticisms (of Emergent)

If you don't frequent www.theooze.com you may have missed a interesting article a few weeks ago called Response to Recent Criticisms. It was co-authored by Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, and Chris Seay. They are among the more prominent emergent leaders.

I think this article shows some of the fault lines that exist between the emergent folks and the broader Evangelical community. One of the things I found interesting in this article is how explicitly these guys do see themselves as an extension of Evangelicalism. My hope is that the whole emergent thing becomes an extension of nothing other than the mission of God in the world.


At July 14, 2005 3:32 PM, Anonymous will spotts said...

It would be helpful (to me) to have a more firm grasp of what "emergent" entails. It may be that I am in need of more information, or it may be that the movement resists such description. I know I am not comfortable with labels -- I have never been much of a joiner when it comes to identifying by these movement names.

The problems I have had with some groups that use the label emergent are more theological -- i.e. the rejection of truth, for example. While the authors of the post on the Ooze deny that, (and for them it is likely not the case) it is something I have actually encountered.

My concern with that is this: the Christ portrayed in Scripture was not accomadationist on issues of truth. By post-modern standards, the New Testament is quite narrow and intolerant. Yet the mainlines and those whose worship is more traditional are equally likely to accomadate to the dominant culture's values.

For me, the trappings of the service are far less important than the committment to Christ. Perhaps, rather than emergent and evangelical a more helpful distinction might be based on commitment to truth and to Christ, as well as to opposition to the dominant virtues of This world.

At July 14, 2005 10:48 PM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

I share some of your concern. I do think that the authors make a valid point in saying that Emergent isn't an organization and, as such, no one truly speaks for the whole. I too, have run into some pretty whacky stuff but would you or I like to identified with everything the PCUSA says and does? I think there are some rebellious types who enjoy tweaking the establishment by saying and doing outrageous things. It is not my sense that most emergent types are this way.

I don't think there is general desire to dismiss doctrine but rather to avoid reductionist thinking that presumes we can encapsulate truth into neat linguistic formulas. There is rational/linguistic knowledge but there is also emotional knowledge, experiential knowledge, divine revelation and so on.

There is the possibility of becoming overly reliant and cocky about rationalistic constructions to talk about God and to think that because we can parrot them we know God. On the other hand, we can not function with out language and communication. The battle is to maintain a level of humility about our own ability to understand the truth while at the same time seeking truth and being accountable to it. At one extreme is the tendency to think we own the truth because we can formulate it and at the other end is a libertine spirit that says there is no truth so I will live as I please. Neither of these are postures of living under the truth. I think most of emergent types are trying to hold this tension in balance. For those of us who are steeped in linguistic/rational approaches to faith (and the most definitely is the Presbyterian tradition) the attempt at balance sounds like the linguistic/rational approach is being outright rejected. Am I making any sense?

Personally, I connect with this project. I don’t know if I am reading my own biography into the Emergent phenom, but it is something I identify with.

At July 15, 2005 12:33 AM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Yes, this makes sense. I think I have a similar tension to keep in balance.

The rational/linguistic approach often leaves out the actual experience of things. That is one of the things that causes me to gravitate toward some emergent ideas -- there is a genuineness to be found there that seems missing in the solely "theological/rational".

This can be true both positively and negatively -- words don't quite serve to express some things. God definitely resists my "definitions". Human experiences also seem to. Solzhenitsyn wrote (in One Day) "The man who is warm cannot understand the man who is cold." This is true for my experience . . . and I think it is a factor we often overlook in some of the issues that we debate in our denomination.

At the same time, the issue of the possibility of communication is very important to me as well. I think the problem I have is when ideas are logically contradictory. (For example, either Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, or He isn't -- an approach that says, well, He's your Christ, but not someone else's can't work for me.)

At July 15, 2005 10:59 AM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

"For example, either Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, or He isn't -- an approach that says, well, He's your Christ, but not someone else's can't work for me."

Exactly! This is nonsense. But how then do I communicate the gospel to one in this mindset? Insistence on absolute truth is useless. How do I become “all things to all people?” I expect to write some thoughts on this a little later.

We live in a post-modern era. My aim is to be disciple of Jesus Christ first and foremost and not be co-opted by any "ism" including modernism AND postmodernism. There are useful and destructive aspects to these “isms.” I am a “post-modern Christian” because I live in a post-modern era. That is the context where I must live out my discipleship. I am not a “post-modern” Christian because of prior commitment to post-modern philosophy and attempting to shoehorn Jesus in.

Also, there is “post-modernism” as rigorous philosophical discipline versus being “post-modern” because I grew up in an environment dominated by “post-modern” thinking. I have met few people who qualify in the first case but many who fit the second case. I have been making the case that illusions need not be airtight; just capable of diverting most of the people into semblance of meaning most of the time. I think most people are in this kind of post-modern boat.


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