Amongst evangelical christians it seems we are manufacturing consent (amongst fundamentalists)/dissent (against paradigm-pushers). This is my posting on it. It is rather lengthy.
Wrongly or rightly I’m a contrarian – I’ve always been that way. Maybe it’s nature that imbedded it within me, but in having two older sisters I’m thinking it’s more nurture – I was provoking reactions at it’s most enjoyable. Fast forward to the present and I’m a protesting-Protestant who protests the old tried and not-completely-true ways of the Christianity I grew up learning and living. The old way was founded in modernity and in the enlightenment, and it’s purpose was to classify every piece of information contained in the Bible so it was all nice and tidy and made perfect sense to the masses. The ‘correct answers’ were contained in some file box that we could reference when someone had a question. Ummm…not everything in the Bible makes perfect sense if you ask me. I feel comfortable with the mystery in the Bible and not understanding every verse. If we as Christians reclaim the mystery and accept the mystery of the Bible then we can live with more graciousness and humility and not arrogance and pride of know-it-alls. (That’s not the only benefit of reclaiming mystery, but I’ll save that for another blog) Today I have more questions than answers about Christianity and I’m ok with that.
Labels are sometimes frustrating. But they are what they are, so allow me to attempt to muse on: biases affecting information, some common misconceptions about a particular label, and finally what that particular label means to me. This will not be an all-encompassing dissertation, but just some quick tidbit thoughts to point out. Maybe it’ll help clear up some ignorance on the topic, maybe it won’t.
The particular label:
What a fun, hopeful, controversial, threatening, divisive, and misunderstood word these days in the world of theology.
As much as I might try to ‘explain’ emergent thoughts and tendencies it won’t be wholly accurate because emergent is a very nebulous label. Imagine light shining through a prism. You can see countless reflections of beautiful colors shining on a wall that look different when looking at it from different viewpoints. But there are certain key components which allow the reds, blues, yellows and greens to shine beautifully – the prism and the light.
Biases come into play.
I’ll be explaining why I appreciate emergent from my viewpoint – my bias.
I was in jury duty the other day and the defense attorney started his voir dire (jury selection) by saying, ‘we all have biases’. This is an absolutely true statement. As much as we may try to put our biases aside and be objective our biases still come up and cloud our interpretations.
The oh so cheesy statement of, ‘let go and let God’, is meant to say that God acting is and doing as he pleases separate from our interaction, which is true, but the saying also includes us interpreting his actions of what he’s doing. Let me try explaining it this way. Sometimes people say, “Let’s just allow the scripture to speak for itself”. My response would be, “Ok, that’s cool…but we still have to interpret the scripture.” Our biases always come in to play.
All that to say that, our biases will cloud how we view a topic. I think these biases have played a major part into some of the misconceptions of emergent.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain
Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Misconceptions – we are lazily ignorant.
After 9/11 a Viet Nam veteran went to a local Target store and asked if Target would like to support a local Viet Nam war memorial with a monetary donation. The local store declined and then soon after an email was fired all over the place, by an un-named source, saying that Target is against the military. (you might remember receiving an email about this) At the time emotions ran high for our military and it looked very bad for Target and was not a beneficial p.r. scenario. The actual situation was that to receive a donation an organization needs to go through their corporate office. Bureaucracy? Yes, but very similar to other corporations. Against the military? Not necessarily. The point is, is that the email was fired all over the place without people checking the actual facts. This is similar to what I hear from some of my friends (and from some I’ve been de-friended) about emergent. Reading one book by one ‘emergent author’ does not give you enough information for what emergent might believe. There are many different beliefs.
People now side with Martin Luther and even named a denomination after him, but when he was asking his questions and making his public declarations he was viewed as a heretic…so either we’ve figured God out completely (that’s some mighty powerful kool-aid) and have nothing further to add to the painting or we are now no longer allowed to ask questions and proffer statements about God and continue painting our beautiful faith. I, myself, want to add to the painting.
Don’t dismiss an idea because it is new or unfamiliar to you. One of my favorite books is, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, by Thomas Kuhn. Buy it, read it, appreciate it. This speaks of how we react to paradigm pushers; I’ll just say we don’t react warmly, nor with open arms to people who challenge our worldviews. We fight the new ideas because we don’t like change, we like to be comfy and be sure of what we know. The Sun is the center of the universe. You’re a heretic. Say it ain’t so, Joe. The world is round. You’re a heretic. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
What concerns me is when people form finite, unchangeable opinions off of hearsay about emergent. People are obviously free to form their own opinions about different topics. But what aggravates me (not only about theology, but all areas of life) is when bad information and incorrect information is disseminated as fact. Sometimes people are too lazy to find out all the information.
Another common misconception is that emergent is unbiblical. I can’t disagree with this more. I’ve heard Brian McLaren speak in public – he was completely Biblical. I’ve heard Doug Pagitt speak in public – he was very biblical. I’ve read Rob Bell’s writings – they are very biblical. I’ve read Tony Jones’s writings – they are very biblical. I’ve read Tony Campolo’s writings – they are very biblical. Part of this references back to our biases. But just because someone has a different biblical worldview than yours because they interpret the Bible differently does not make it unbiblical. They just might not completely share the same views on Biblical interpretation as you.
Emergent being beautifully inclusive – and why I want to be included.
With all the authors and innovators in emergent sometimes it’s hard to speak of emergent b/c there are many varying degrees of belief. Take me for example; I’m a bit of a paradox – I’m a conservative GOP’er but would also label myself as emergent because of the complimentary nature of beliefs within emergent. For more specific information on why I value complimentary beliefs see my posts titled, “calcio and an open mind”, “playing frogger with a nebulous endline”, and “harmoniously dissident orthodoxy”.
Politically, I have a friend who is as liberal as I am conservative. I have another friend who is in-between us. So we’re all on different levels politically and a bit theologically but we’ll sit at Creegan’s enjoying beer and cigars and still revel in the powerful, merciful God we serve.
Verse to ponder on Romans 2: 14, 15
I believe in hell, some within emergent do not, but I’ll be damned if I’m so narrow-focused on my beliefs to not allow C.S. Lewis (if he were alive) to teach at the church I’m attending solely because he’s an inclusivist. (which I think I am an inclusvist if it were not for it being a label) We need to learn that while we might not particularly agree with someone that we can learn from them and they can help us grow in our faith.
Instead of expounding further since this has been a very long post, (but it was asked for by some people) I will sum things up by saying that I appreciate emergent thoughts because it allows me to say, “I believe in hell and here’s why. I know you don’t believe in hell and you’ve told me why. We’ve never traveled to hell so we don’t know everything that goes on after death. We worship God. God loves both of us. I am an inclusivist (even though I’m not a fan of that label) and here’s why. I know you’re an exclusivist and you’ve told me why. We’ve never died so we don’t know everything that goes on after death. We worship God. God loves both of us. Emergent values context in biblical interpretation instead of willy-nilly picking verses out to make us feel good. I value context in biblical interpretation instead of willy-nilly picking verses out to make me feel good. Emergent values learning from others – including Catholics, Lutherans, Buddhists, etc. I value learning from others – including Catholics, Lutherans, Buddhists, etc. Emergent revels in the mystery of God. I revel in the mystery of God. Emergent recognizes and appreciates grey areas. I recognize and appreciate grey areas. Emergent compliments me and I believe I compliment Emergent.
I still don’t like labels, but I love God.
Even though I will probably always be a contrarian I still value the genius of Calvin from ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ when he said, “Provoking a reaction isn’t the same thing as saying something significant”.
Cigar recommendation – I have a Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve staring me in the face that I think I’ll have later tonight. I’ll check back in and let you know how it is.