Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Emergent Conversation ...

... is not merely about a misunderstood application of 'becoming all things to all men', as if it were just a matter of accommodation to present cultural trends (though all accommodate to one or another). It is, in its best moments, about the urgently necessary and continued reformation of the church in its ministry, method and message.


At 12/13/2007 11:23 PM, Blogger TheGreatSwalmi said...

...and candles. It's also about candles. and labyrinths, and goatees.

At 12/14/2007 12:59 AM, Blogger Jim said...

and many other bizarre, culturally driven and andro-centric rather than theocentric rubbish. Emergent Christianity is to the modern church what gnosticism was to the second century church.

At 12/14/2007 1:24 AM, Anonymous Arni said...

The emergent church is the best thing to happen to Christianity since feminist theology.

At 12/14/2007 7:15 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Jim..... [grimacing in your direction].

Exactly the opposite, it is the response to an overly gnostic Christianity that is more about what you know that what you live.

I'm not overly romantic about the Emerging Church (that is my area of research though), it could use a lot of guidance. But at the same time the impulses that drive this conversation are the same that have always been at the faithful edge of the Church. This is the energy that can spark reformations. And it is a hell of a lot more grounded in reality than the crazy crap the other response to postmodernity (fundamentalism) has to offer.

At 12/14/2007 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the emergent movement and fundamentalism seem to have a lot in common. They both tend to presume that the rest of the church sux.

I reckon one should be slow in the call to reformation - at least insofar as that call is a criticism of others. Unintended results often follow (like extreme disunity in an already divided church).

P.S. What, Jim, do you mean by "theocentric rubbish"

At 12/14/2007 2:39 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

I think you are being a bit too hasty Anonymous. Emerging Churches actually tend to see themselves as just different expressions of the Church, not better or even worse. And not as a reformation. But that is the energy. What you are commenting on is the initial start of dissatisfaction that is characterised by post-anything language, commentators on the EC have noted that this language is present in the first couple of years as a way to distinguish themselves from what they are emerging from.

To the contrary the EC actually crosses denominational boundaries in some pretty amazing ways, drawing from the richness that is the Church (capital C). Church doesn't suck to them, it is just configured in a way that isn't useful for engaging culture the way they would like - so they innovate.

At 12/14/2007 5:23 PM, Blogger Jim said...

i agree with arni if by best he means worst.

At 12/14/2007 5:32 PM, Anonymous Dr. John MacArthur said...

C'mon guys. Let's keep this "real simple." I found the previous discussion on this site much easier to follow.

At 12/14/2007 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As he did with Charismatics in his book(s) on the subject, the Rev. MacArthur mischaracterizes Emergents, creating straw men and making invalid and broad-brushed criticisms.

Why am I not surprised.

At 12/15/2007 10:06 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Frank (one of freedom), you took the words from my mouth.

At 12/15/2007 10:08 PM, Anonymous Moses said...

Thanks "MacArthur", I wish someone had said that to my main conversation partner on that mountain, all those years ago!

At 12/15/2007 10:09 PM, Anonymous Apostle Paul said...

Indeed, Moses. I wish "MacArthur" had said that to me before I wrote Romans. Would have saved quite a bit of time.

At 12/15/2007 10:10 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

A wise man once said that theologians do not invent complexity - it is in the text.

At 12/17/2007 9:51 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

hullo, new to this blog, but it looks like fun.

I'm basically of the approach that if someone feels a conviction about how they want to do church and be in relationship with God AND what they're saying isn't heterodox, then I support them and try not to judge them.

But, the EC seems to believe something I think is important to disagree with. It seems to favor a belief in a radical, cultural subjectivity over a belief in objective truth. Because of this, the EC thinks that a problem with the Church is that it’s working in an out-of-date paradigm (Rationalism) and failing to communicate to 21st Century people.

This is where agree with something McArthur said, which is that God’s truth is transcendent, and transcends culture gaps. So, to me, at best, trying to accommodate culture can be a waste of time, at worst it gives an excuse for not doing the basic Christian thing which everyone knows is offensive and difficult, and that is telling the truth that people think they don't want to hear.

I know there are times to be all things to all men that, so I’m not saying no accommodation is ever necessary. But I think the EC may get lost in the means while losing the ends.

At 12/18/2007 1:31 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Hey Kenny, welcome to Chris' blog.

This is a common mistake made by those mourning the loss of Christendom - to assume the postmodernity means somehow being anti-truth. I find that folks like McArthur refuse to do their homework, they have judged the EC unfairly. The other big issue is that there is an assumption that the EC is some easily definable movement that gets painted with a number of unfortunate stereotypes. You talk about accomodating culture and that would characterize more of a seeker sensitive model than an EC model. The EC models vary in their approach (depending on what traditions they emerge in and the cultural matrix of the adherants) so sure there are some accomodations. But the primary motivator is to find an authentic expression of Christianity within specific and often unique contexts. This is not something new. All of our movements have been there at one point or another.

Just to give another point of disagreement with McArthur (can you tell I'm not a fan?) is this idea that obviously culturally embedded truths are the same truths that transcend culture. I think his analysis is much too simplistic and fundamentalist to be useful. The primary acitivity of the EC is to incarnate the timeless truths of the gospel in a way that is an authentic witness to the presence and love of God. But because this challenges the sacred cows of the fundamentalists and those mourning the loss of Christendom it gets branded as heresy. A few more years down the road and the EC will likley be doing the same with the next movement to incarnate the gospel in their context. I just hope we will be more generous than McArthur.

At 12/18/2007 5:14 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

I don’t mean that the EC is anti-truth (but I could see how what I previously wrote could sound that way). What I’m alluding to is a deeper philosophical discussion about how much culture affects people’s ability to perceive truth or, in other words, how objectively ascertainable truth is. Some people think of religious truth as objectively ascertainable, like 1 + 1 = 2; but others think you can never escape your community and cultural context, and that this strongly biases your ability to understand and interpret religious truth. I think the EC tends to be in the latter group, as one of its messages tends to be “we’re in a big paradigm shift, and the church needs to adapt and learn to speak the language of this new paradigm.” So, I’m not saying EC doesn’t believe in truth, but that they’re more concerned about how much culture affects people’s ability to apprehend religious truth. I’m more of the variety that religious claims are more like 1 + 1 = 2 propositions, relatively objectively perceivable propositions about which the only real issue is whether you agree or disagree, but not so much whether your sub-culture is making it impossible for you to understand what’s being said.

I agree, nevertheless, that McArthur could have been more charitable.

At 12/18/2007 7:16 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

That puts me squarely in the suspicious of objective truth claims category, especially where those supposed truths are held entirely within tautological frameworks. But really that is a critique that is needed of the current state of evangelicalism and the biggest roadblock to their intellectual development. When all the intellectual energies are bent towards preserving a tautology then there is nothing left but defensiveness and suspicion for anything else.

But I think another finer point needs to be made. I'm not buying that the EC is trying to give ground to culture. To say that misses that culture is itself an act of truth authentication (try Volf, Exclusion and Embrace) for a group of people. And it isn't culture that is the enemy here, in fact that is the biggest insight of the EC, namely that postmodernity is an incredible opportunity for the gospel. But still this isn't done by partnering with culture, but rather by doing truth authentication in the context of culture even when that goes against the culture.

Each generation does this, and they do it differently (the genious of the gospel as transcultural truth), but also each previous generation, the ones that fought hard for truth, suspects the work of the next generation. The modernist framework held and worked for a modernist generation. The EC church doesn't want to take that away from the modernist church, in fact the EC builds on the foundation preserved in the modernist church. But the modernist church is dying, at least in North America. It is not able to cope with the insights of our age (its flounderings on cosmology are evidence enough of this) and while we owe a debt to the modern evangelical church, we must diversify or die.

A great read on this is Mark Noll's the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, he is a good academic and generous (he is after all an evangelical).

At 12/18/2007 9:30 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

I don't know what tautological frameworks you're referring to so I can't respond to that.

I'm also not sure what you mean by culture being an act of truth authentication, but if you'd de-jargonize this a bit I'd be glad to try to respond.

I don't see any evidence that the church in North America is dying.

I don't buy the longevity of the postmodernity, which is why I don't buy the longevity of the EC since, as you say, it's primary insight is about PM. I'm glad that some Christians see in PM an opportunity for the Gospel, and I think that's the right attitude and I don't doubt they're right about there being an opportunity. However, the rhetoric the EC tosses around about being in the midst of a paradigm shift the likes of which haven't been seen since the Reformation or the Enlightenment or whatever just seems not true (and a little bit self-aggrandizing).

At 12/18/2007 9:48 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Tautology is a self-referential belief structure. The authentication of each part relies on the internal other parts. Christianity is often reduced to a tautology in evangelicalism - something you just accept by faith, and by faith it is meant belief in the internal presuppositions.

About culture, what is culture? If it is a group mentality or a group psyche then it has to have specific rallying points. So you can ask what does a culture hold as true and begin to understand what is unique about a culture. I'm not talking purely about religious truths, but about cultural markers that exist as guiding values for the community. Does that help?

It is interesting that you have doubts about postmodernity. What is correct about the claim you mention is that PM is something we haven't seen since the Enlightenment (I don't make a connection with the Reformation which is basically a use of Enlightenment epistemology). That is a shift in the way that we understand ourselves and our world. There is a radical shift in the Enlightenment and this effected how we do academics. PM is also a shift and it is effecting how we are doing academics - but this is a shift we are in the midst of. It is a greatly contested shift. But it is inevitable, as inevitable as the Enlightenment follows Copernicus. Shifts take time, but this one has been underway for quite a while now.

At 12/18/2007 10:11 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

I had to go get my kids from the bus.

The problem with my comments on postmodernity is that it uses the same tools of knowing that modernity does. The biggest difference between modernity and postmodernity is the starting place. Modernity has this incredible energy around the project of humanity. We can measure anything, so we obviously can master anything. But in postmodernity, and this is why there is no going back, this metanarrative is lost. One needs only look around at the inability of technology to solve the big issues of our day (in fact technology is much of the reason we are in such predicaments) to see why the myth of progress is being rejected.

Now, unfortunately, reformation Christianity is quite humanist. That is it places most of its hope in the capacity of humanity to work out our own salvation. We've even adapted (perverted) modernist epistemology to our own ends. And it is this aspect of Christianity that the EC is trying to disentangle from authentic Christianity.

Hope that is clearer. I'm curious why you think postmodernity is a passing phase? What will replace it? The metanarratives have crumbled, they only hold where the tautology has been so fiercly guarded - but who takes those people serious anymore?

At 12/19/2007 2:07 AM, Blogger kennyching said...

One of Freedom,

I know what a tautology is; I asked which ones tautologies you were specifically referring to.

I've noticed that you've somehow misread each of my posts in one way or another--perhaps this is simply the haste of interacting in the blogosphere, but perhaps less haste, less waste.

Your points on culture are totally unclear to me, but having reviewed what we've written on that subject, I'm not convinced that we're having a substantive disagreement: you say 'culture's not the bad guy,'; I say 'fine, let's move on.'

As for PM, here's a blurb from Wikipedia: "Benhabib argues that postmodern critique comprises three main elements: an anti-foundationalist conception of the subject and identity, the death of History (and notions of teleology and progress), and the death of Metaphysics defined as the search for objective Truth."

Basically, I reject all three of these elements, and frankly I tend to think that those who embrace them (although not necessarily on purpose) are caught up in what Paul describes in Romans 1 as "becoming futile in their thinking" and "professing to be wise, they became fools." The reason I think PM is but a blip is b/c I don't believe anyone doesn't actually believe in objective truth. This is illustrated by the English professors who say that a text can mean anything, and that the author doesn't exist---yet when it comes to their employment contract, their salary, their benefits, they are quite certain of the texts objective meaning.

At 12/19/2007 5:35 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...


You are confusing conviction with objective truth. Which is exactly the problem postmodernity addresses. You are right though, I'm responding a bit hastily becuase I'm supposed to be writing my last exam (take-home). Sorry.

But that quote from wiki is a bit funny. A critique doesn't announce the death of anything, but critiques something. So in the case of history and progress, the postmodern critique is that our sense of progress (our understanding of history) is flawed. It also critiques grand metanarratives, but this is a response to plurality as much as a rejection of objective truth.

Postmodernity is an attempt to deal with life on lifes terms rather than to impose an artificial set of terms on life.

At 12/19/2007 3:58 PM, Blogger Kenny said...


You keep telling me that I'm confusing things, yet then never explain how. So, how have I confused objective truth with conviction? (Also, here are some of your other unsubstantiated claims: the church in N.America is dying; modern Christianity is based on tautologies.)

The rejection of objective truth is fundamental to postmodernism:

Stanley Grenz in 'A Primer on Postmodernism':

[Postmodernism] affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate . . . There is no absolute truth: rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate. Richard Rorty says the same, so does Hillary Putnam, and so does everyone who teaches PM.

Given such a flawed core, there's little reason to proceed into parsing buzz phrases like "culture being truth authetication" and "critiquing metanarratives." If you believe in objective truth (which everyone actually does) you reject PM.

At 12/19/2007 4:10 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Also, here is the metanarrative that has always been here and will still be here when PM (and probably EC) is gone: God's redemption of his people.

At 12/19/2007 8:12 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

That is where you are confusing objective truth with your own convictions. How do you establish truth? The funny thing is that the groups that affirm an objective truth all have a different objective truth. Again I would direct you to Miroslav Volfs discussion of truth in Exclusion and Embrace, it is most excellent. And here is exactly where the tautology of Evangelical Christianity lives and breaths - in its truth claims. What external evidence are there to these claims? They are completely internally validated and supported. I'm not saying that they aren't true, I'm just being honest about why we say they are true and that they are true to the communities of faith is a valid claim, saying they are absolute irrefutable objective truths is not.

But we are convinced of them - so they are convictions. Convictions are specific to the individual. You mentioned contracts being true - well they are only true so much as the parties involved give them that quality. That is not objective, it is subjective.

As for your metanarrative, it is only functional in a narrow group of people. Also what is critiqued is the unspoken worldview implicit in that statement. What do you mean by redemption? One group will insist a flight away from creation, another an exodus in creation, still another an endurance in creation. Like other postmoderns I find the adherance to such metanarratives without reflection to be an ideological nightmare. Something to be resisted as much as fundamentalism. I'm sure there will always be those who hold to an unreflected faith life, but I have hope that leveller heads will prevail.

At 12/19/2007 10:25 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Freedom, thanks for being more specific this go around.

There are so many problems with PM ideas.

It appears you have conceded that you don’t believe in objective truth, or at least its ascertainability. But it’s not necessary to obtain 100% irrefutable truth in order still think and act based on approximations of objective truth. Humans are finite, so is our knowledge—but we can at least make good approximations of objective truth.

The fact that there are disagreements about objective truth doesn’t mean there isn’t such a thing. For example, it’s well known that eye-witnesses to car accidents are bad at recalling how the event occurred. That doesn’t mean that the event didn’t occur a certain way and that there aren’t reliable means of getting at what actually happened. This goes for objective truth generally and for the metanarrative of God’s redemption of His people—the fact that people have divergent interpretations doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct version.

A lot of your argument against metanarratives and objective truth seem to boil down to the fact that people disagree about them—but that’s where you should start doing careful reasoning to figure out the right answers instead of abandoning the field of objective meaning.

As for epistemologies, there are lots of them that give us valid information. Reason is one (1 + 1 = 2); empiricism is another (try putting your hand over a fire and tell me it’s not objectively hot); revelation is more disputed, but still a very interesting source of knowledge. Christianity stands on all of these epistemologies, and I don’t have a clue what you mean when you say there is no external evidence for Christians’ truth claims as there are boat loads of external evidence.

Perhaps by tautology you mean that all knowledge boils down to intuitionism, that is, it isn’t proveable, and this is true. For example, basic mathematics (Peano’s Axioms) is not proveable. However, such intuitionism is validated by its successes, for example science and technology. So when the space shuttle blasts off, it suggests the intuition-based knowledge that went into such an event was correct; meanwhile the notion that the shuttle took off because the NASA community vested meaning in the event is absurd.

As for contract, the fact that people bring their subjective experiences to the table doesn’t mean those parties can’t come to an objective agreement. Subjectivity is a problem, of course, but that’s why they write it down.

Finally, PM is self-undermining. It purports to say “there is no objective truth,” but this statement itself purports to be an objective truth.

You should read this article and see if you can answer the questions at the end:

At 12/21/2007 6:33 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Hey Kenny,

Interesting Willard article. I found he missed something halfway through but I'm not familiar enough with his work to put my finger on it. However, I'd like to look at your response. You said, "This goes for objective truth generally and for the metanarrative of God’s redemption of His people—the fact that people have divergent interpretations doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct version."

But you must admit that just because there is an ultimate truth, you are simply relying on your own convictions as to what that truth is. The problem I see with your position is that it starts by assuming you are right. That basically ends the conversation. That is why I am insisting that Christianity is most often a tautology (not institutionalism). What evidence? It all boils down to how you want to interpret the data. If there were such evidence then there would be a real legitimate polarity of choice here. I just don't see it.

But I think the bigger fish is the bugbear of objective truth. See it isn't that there isn't truth. I don't know any ECs that are anti-truth. But it is a recognition that we, as humans (a highly symbolic species) mediate truth through various frameworks (especially linguistic/symbolic frameworks) and so the idea of an individual having a market share of objective truth is an illusion. PM is a realism, IMHO. It takes this reality seriously and cautions us to tread carefully on the minefield we call truth. This is so needed in the realm of sacred truth.


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