The Water Tunnel of MegiddoHow do you carry on a conversation discussion when most of the words you can choose from are so loaded?

As a spectator of sorts to the emergent/emerging vs. traditional church debate (since I would probably place my background and my church family somewhere in between), this past week has been interesting, to say the least.

On one side of the debate, the emerging one, we’ve got a large number of folks wanting a “conversation” which engages their evangelical/fundamental/traditional (pick one) brothers & sisters. In that conversation, though, there seem to be some wingnuts who really don’t want resolution on many topics buy clomid online without prescription where can i buy nolvadex online, order lioresal. , clomid online. – which frustrates me and the “traditionalist” folks. There are many, though, who do seem to honestly want to seek Christ and how to apply him and his teachings into everyday life. Unfortunately, they tend to walk into minefields in trying to describe their thoughts. The words they use are terms or phrases which are “loaded”, thus allowing their critics to twist their words to mean something apart from the original intent. Additionally, because the ‘emergent/emerging’ movement is SO diverse, their critics tend to lump them all together and then use the wingnuts to describe the whole.

On the other side of the debate, the “traditionalists” (which seem to be overwhelmingly Calvinist, and tend to get caught up in lots of discussions around ‘faith’ and ‘works’) also have their wingnuts and sensible folk. The wingnuts just spend their time screaming loudly into the cyberspace about how the emergent church is ushering in the antichrist. Most folks on this side of the debate seem to have problems engaging in any sort of conversation without succumbing to the need to either set terms (’you have to agree that Catholics are going to hell/free will is a crock/etc., or I’m outta here…’) or call the salvation of the ‘emergents’ into question. (Of course, that requires that they actually engage in the conversation in the first place, which is not all that frequent.)

[Just to state my bias in this topic, I have seen the 'emergent' folks as much more willing to try to assess and work through differences, while the 'traditionalist' folks tend to fall into the role of bomb-throwing, name-calling and castigation of the person while avoiding the questions at hand. To be fair, though, this is only an observed trend, with many exceptions.]

A couple weeks back, Mark Driscoll, a pastor many consider to be one of the most conservative of the ‘emergents’, stepped into the crosshairs when he accepted an invitation from Dr. John Piper to speak at the Desiring God Conference on the subject of relevance of the church in post-modern culture. Many traditionalists were up in arms with Dr. Piper for inviting Driscoll in the first place, and Driscoll caught flak from all sides when he used the loaded term ‘incarnation’ in describing the key philosophical differences between the ‘relevant’ emergent camp and the ‘traditional’ Evangelical/Fundamentalist camp. In his seminar, he was addressing the ‘emergent’ emphasis on Christ’s humanity and the ‘traditional’ emphasis of Christ’s God-hood, and how each has a place, apart from extremes.

Today, Bob Hyatt (another ‘emerging’ Christian) in Next-Wave magazine started catching flak for attempting to touch on this philosophical difference.

The first thing that drew me to this whole deal was a renewed emphasis on the Gospel. Not that we were rediscovering it, but that we were digging away some of the cultural accretions, remembering some forgotten aspects…moving back to something Kingdom-centered and away from the simplification of the Gospel down to basically the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. Notice I didn’t say tossing out that view of the atonement, but simply recognizing that there’s more to the Gospel. [emphasis his]

Wow – the literalists on Slice pulled out the long knives to attack him for ‘making the gospel complex’ and ran with it from there… Once again, the emergent folks held out what seemed to be an olive branch, only to get spanked with it.

So what is it to me?

I think I see the key difference, as Driscoll, Hyatt and others have tried to define it, and the current book I am reading – The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation by Brad H. Young – which has nothing to do with this subject, may describe in Jewish context the crux of the argument. Young, founder of the Gospel Research Foundation and highly respected Christian scholar, states:

The Jewishness of Jesus is related to faith in the one God of Israel. Too often faith in Jesus completely overshadows the faith of Jesus. The religion focused on Jesus as the object of belief overwhelms the deep convictions of Jesus. he was a reliqious Jew in the context of first-century Israel. He piously practiced his beliefs in pious devotion. He preached from the Torah and the prophets, not from the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. Jesus was consumed with a message of God’s compassion, which he discovered in the prayers of the synagogue and the readings of the Torah portion, rather than the hymns of the church and the NT lexionary. [...] Religious faith in Jesus should never obscure Jewish belief and practice during the time in which he lived. [emphasis mine] p. 27
The emphasis of Jesus message was not death and the hearafter (though imminence was key in parts of his teaching), but in how his followers should live. His teaching was centered on the Kingdom of Heaven, which is rightly understood in its context to mean the ‘Reign of God’, which begins when Jesus is placed in authority in a person’s life and extends past death into eternal perfection. As such, an importance is placed on good works – primarily caring for the poor and the oppressed – not for the purpose of saving one’s soul from hell, but out of eternal gratitude for God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.

It is this balance between ‘faith’ and ‘works’, and between the temporal and eternal where I think we belong. It is at the extremes, where many Christians (myself included) tend to act so un-Christlike.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 10th, 2006 at 8:14 pm and is filed under Emergent Church, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Comments so far

  1. Chris L. on October 11, 2006 12:43 am

    Wow, I hadn’t read through all of the comments on the Slice post I referenced. It seems that it has been playing out almost exactly in type as in the archetype I descibed in my post.

    Here’s a comment from ‘don’ – a rabid anti-EC poster on Slice:

    Is Slice now becoming a useful forum for change agent new age emergents ?

    If so…

    Count me out

    Never dialogue with the devil….

    Posted by: don at October 10, 2006 07:16 PM

    What a beautiful, loving response, as taught by our Rabbi…

    Just in the case that it may be erased, there was one other comment that amazingly described how the ‘traditional’ approach to this discussion seems to go:

    This posting and most of the comments thereafter are a perfect microcosm of this website. It is very difficult to argue with this kind of logic:

    “I know what the scripture says and how to interpret portions that others disagree about or struggle with. God has told ME clearly what is right and wrong. The Holy Spirit has revealed to ME what is truth and heresy. Anyone who disagrees with ME (because God has told ME these things) is therefore in disagreement with God.

    “No one has a more revealed, truthful perspective than ME, and if anyone disagrees with ME then they are obviously disagreeing with God. Knowledge of Truth is only obtained through methods I know about and agree with and if I disagree with your methods, it must be because God disagrees with them. God’s logic is perfectly understandable to me; it has become my own logic.

    “God spoke to certain historical men clearly and completely, but He does not speak to other men clearly or completely today, unless they are men whose perspectives agree with ME. I read the Bible literally except where God has revealed deeper meaning to ME.

    “If you are a person with whom I generally disagree or if you are associated with another person or movement whom I have already deemed to be heretical, then I will examine your statements and tell you what you mean, even if my interpretation was not your intended meaning. If we disagree, I will not give you an opportunity to answer questions, but instead I will immediately begin proclaiming your heresy from the highest rooftops. I know what you mean better than even you know what you mean, because God has revealed this all to ME.

    “If you and I disagree, I am obviously right because I know God better than you know God. I know God’s nature, methods, and Spirit better than you know those things. God has given ME and those who agree with ME the ultimate discernment to pronounce Truth and denounce heresy. I will quote Scripture and tell everyone if God has shown me your interpretation of the same Scripture is incorrect.

    “I will make generalizations about people and groups because God has revealed to ME their true natures. I will see the motives of people’s hearts just as God sees those motives, and I will tell everyone what I see. Perhaps you do not even know your own secret motives or deceptions, but I can see them and I will reveal them to you because God has revealed them to ME.

    “I will be the champion of the faith and preserve the traditions that God has shown ME to be correct.

    “Do not disagree with anything I have said, because the Bible is MY final authority and if you argue with ME, you are disregarding the Bible’s authority and are, therefore, a heretic.

    “You are obviously not correct, but I AM.”

    [ASIDE: Is this not the ultimate pride? If I hold these inflexible views, do they not place me in violation of Commandment #1? Perhaps having no other God before God does not include the God of SELF, when I proclaim that my own understanding, logic, and truth are those of God himself?]

    “If you post something on my website which disagrees with ME or anyone with whom I agree, I will delete it as God has labeled it a dissention among our bretheren.”

    I guess we’ll see how long this stays posted.

    Posted by: seanno of the Word at October 10, 2006 08:10 PM

    (Apparently, seanno has noticed Ken, as well…)

  2. Henry Frueh on October 11, 2006 11:14 am

    The number of Biblical subjects about which Calvin, Luther, Wesley, (et. al.) disgreed and sometimes discussed (argued) over are legion. So discussion and disagreement have always been a part of the evangelical experience, so Chris you either miss the point or misrepresent it. Many of us believe there are subjects that are “without controversy” as Paul said in preferenced the “God was manifest in the flesh” verse, and who Jesus is and how one becomes His follower are two of the afore mentioned subjects.

    Does it not prove our point when men like Piper, who has iconic status among the reformed group, invite a borderline guy (my term) like Driscoll to a conference and “BOOM”, he substantiates our worst fears in an open forum among men he knows are listening very closely. So how loose do you think Driscoll is with his theology when speaking to guys in the EC movement?

    And since this is the first generation of the EC movement, in 100 years if Jesus should tarry, Driscoll’s great grandchild will stand to speak in a conference and proclaim that the incarnation was a metaphor! Even this guy “Monk” who I visited was shocked, so even if you do not agree, you must see what some of us are worried about!?

  3. bob hyatt on October 11, 2006 11:42 am

    I’m just glad that when you called me “an ‘emerging’ Christian” you put “emerging” in quotes… and not “Christian”!

    Thanks for the shout out!

  4. Chris L. on October 11, 2006 4:17 pm


    I’m not talking about traditional experience in discussing/arguing (Calvin, Luther, etc.) – I’m talking about the current lack of traditionalist willingness to discuss. Yesterday’s Slice thread was almost a case-in-point illustration:

    The first few posts took one or two sentences from Bob Hyatt’s article, twisted it into something far beyond the context of the entire article, and then proclaimed him a heretic. Then, a few folks came in to question the dog-pile-on-Bob. Then, there was a little bit of back and forth, with Chris P as about the only ‘traditional’ view with any willingness to talk. Then, distressed by the lack of fireworks, Don jumped in a few times to explain we shouldn’t ‘dialogue with the devil’ (i.e. actually discuss something which don considered “without controversy”). Then, there was a bit of browbeating by the ‘traditionalists’ back and forth with calls for civility from the ‘emergents’, and then Chris P shut it down about 100 posts too soon…

    As for Driscoll last week, after the initial hubub died down and folks took what he said in full context and not prooftexted from a live-blog of the oration, I’ve read generally good things having come from him being invited by Dr. Piper. We also have Dr. Piper’s word if he could do it over again, that he would invite Mark Driscoll ‘in a second’. As for substantiating the worst fears of the traditionalists, it seemed to me that the whole controversy came about because the people looking to substantiate their fears were willing to take a single sentence (which could/should have been worded better, omitting the loaded word ‘incarnation’, while still retaining its intended meaning) and run with it in the absolute worst light possible (which does seem to be a habit…)

    Whether we want to or not, our culture is moving from a ‘modern’ one to some form of ‘post-modern’ one. We can complain bitterly about the darkness being so dark and lament the movement, or we can find a way to be light in the darkness, no matter its origin. Like First Century Judaism, post-modernism relies more on experience than definition, and so it is that to preach Christ in a post-modern culture, one must act out what Christ taught before your words will mean anything. This is one reason why so few Jews have come to know Christ in modern times – in their culture, you understand what a rabbi is like, what he teaches and what he holds most important by his actions and by those of his disciples. We, as Christians, have been proving to them for at least 1700 years that our rabbi is not one they should follow. Shame on us. Will we do the same to today’s youth?

    There are many things that you and I consider ‘without controversy’, but I am still willing to discuss them for the purpose of identifying what is truth and what is cultural/traditional baggage (and not giving an inch from the truth). Jesus had to do this with the ‘hedges’ created by the pharisees, and we have to continually do this today.

    We need to understand how to follow God’s will in our culture, and that may mean scrapping some traditional ways of doing things. It may mean scrapping systematic theologies that made sense in past cultures, but were, nonetheless systems created by men to explain scripture to the culture they lived in – and redescribing them in ways that are relevant to our culture. The truth does not change, but its application may. It may mean that I have some preconceived notions I may have to jettison because they are not scriptural, but cultural (like Jesus being a carpenter, or that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ begins now and goes into eternity instead of being only relevant when I die).

    To the traditionalists, I would say ‘the gospel is not a fire insurance policy’ (thanks John K).

    To the emergents, I would say ‘the gospel is not a religious food stamp program’.

    To all, I would remember the words of Solomon: The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

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