Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Emergent Church - Part 3 - Guest Blogger: Katie Williamson

Another mantra of the Emergent Church is that doubt is the essence of faith. In his book, How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins says, “In contrast to the modern view that religious doubt is something to reject, fear or merely tolerate, doubt not only can be seen as an inevitable aspect of our humanity but also can be celebrated as a vital part of faith” (Rollins, 33). There are an endless amount of verses in the Bible that speak to the topic of doubt. Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22, NIV). If Christians are told to have mercy on those who doubt, then why does Rollins want to celebrate it? Doubt is obviously something that ALL people are going to encounter. According to the Bible doubt is a struggle that needs to be overcome not celebrated. In Mark 9 Jesus heals a boy that has an evil spirit inside of him. A crowd of people come to Jesus and the boy's father tells Jesus about the evil spirit. Jesus responds by saying, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” Jesus goes on to tell the father that he MUST believe. The father responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”(NIV) Jesus was not in celebration about the unbelief of the father, in fact he was rather irritated by it. In John 20:27 when Thomas is doubting Jesus, He says to him, “Stop doubting and believe”(NIV). It is as simple as that, stop doubting. In James 1:6 James tells the reader that, “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”(NIV) The Bible does not celebrate doubt.

“Ultimately our church pedigrees, spiritual experiences, or creedal affirmations do not impress God. St. Peter will not be asking us at the pearly gates which church we belonged to or if we believed in the Virgin birth” (Tomlinson, 70). Emergent Christians are tired of doctrine and dogma. It is not necessarily true that they hate doctrine and want to abolish it completely, but they want to become less dependent on it. Mclaren even acknowledges that “sound doctrine is very, very, very important” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 36). Mclaren believes that doctrine is what God says to DO rather than beliefs about who and what God IS. It would be unfair to say that the Emergent circle has destroyed doctrine altogether. They are, however, attempting to rid Christianity of orthodoxy as a set of absolute theological assertions.

Orthodoxy is not warmly welcomed in a postmodern era and certainly not in a postmodern Gospel. Brian Mclaren believes that our orthodoxy should be a “generous” one. One that allows all people everywhere to agree. Agreement is nice, but it does not equal truth. When Jesus was confronted by the disagreeing Pharisees, he did not respond with generosity, but rather with dogma. Numerous times in scriptures Jesus responds to the Pharisees by aggressively calling them hypocrites. Look at Matthew 23:25-29 (NIV):

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence...Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

These verses are two of seven “woes” that Jesus gives to the Pharisees. Jesus is not at all gentle or “generous” with his words. He is absolute and He is dogmatic. This is not to say that dogma is ALWAYS right. There is absolutely a time and a place for it. But it is not something that should be completely ruled out. Jesus was gentle and He was meek, He loved people and He was a servant. Emergent Christians probably understand this better than most. Christianity today is beginning to lose the servant heart that Christ introduced to us 2000 years ago. But Christians must not abandon EVERYTHING they have ever said or thought to become the humble servants we are called to be. There must be a healthy balance of dogma and humility. “All we need is Jesus”, Erwin McManus cries, “not these doctrinal formulations. (Sweet, 248)”

If Orthodoxy and Doctrine are taken out of Christianity then Emergent Christians are probably right, the culture WILL be more accepting of it. If someone offers a person a piece of cake made exactly how they like it then of course they are going to want it. People hated Christ AND His message. Christ tells the disciples in Matthew 10:22 that, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” If the goal of Christianity is to make the world embrace Christians then the glory of the Gospel will never be seen. Emergent Christians believe that if the church can get back to the way of Christ, then Christianity could make a “come back” in the world. The only problem is that the way of Jesus is not culture-friendly and it never was. In Luke 12:49 Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” People were often intrigued by the words of Jesus, but not always attracted to them. In fact, most people wanted him dead. Christians are called to love Christ and to proclaim Christ. Loving Christ equates to loving people. Proclaiming Christ means knowing what he said about who He is and proclaiming it. Jesus creates a healthy balance for the apostles in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Timothy J. Stoner wrote a book titled, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith. The Book is an effort to create the balance previously described. On the jacket of the book the question is asked, “is there any room for middle ground?” Stoner thinks so. In the prologue of the book he discusses Peter Kreeft's, Three Philosophies of Life. Kreeft addresses three books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes-life as vanity; Job-life as suffering; and Song of Songs-life as love. During the book Kreeft “drops the little bomb” and says that the meaning of life is war. Stoner responds:
We are called to love the world and hate it. We are to lay down our lives for its blessing but cry out for God's vengeance. We are to be in the world and for the world but not of the world. After all, the captain of the heavenly hosts is both a Lamb who was slain and a Lion laying claim to the whole jungle. There is a war, but there is so much more. For our God is a God who smiles and sings. But He is also a God who smokes (Stoner, 15).

There must be a balance. God will not only smile and sing, He must also smoke. A postmodern Gospel is not Christianity's answer to a postmodern culture.

In his book, Why We're Not Emergent, Ted Kluck describes a conversation that he had with a philosophy student at Michigan State University, Neil. Neil had made a post on The Ooze, a popular Emergent Web site run by Spencer Burke. He told Ted, “there was a lot that I would bring up, just to see where people were at, mainly to see if there is any importance in theology.” Neil described a discussion he had with another Ooze member, who accused him of using propositional language when talking about Jesus. “I asked him to describe his relationship with Jesus without using propositions,” he told Ted. “The guy wrote back and just said, 'relationship, relationship, relationship- its all about relationships.' Which on one hand is true, but on the other hand you can't have a relationship with someone without knowing about- and wanting to know more about- that person. I mean, we worship in Spirit and truth, and I think they're willing to accept the Spirit part, but not as much interested in the truth” (Kluck, 138).

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