Emerging Concerns Part 1 – Introduction

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When some friends of mine started reading some books by leaders in what is now termed the “Emergent Church” several years ago I was curious and started to read some of the books, listened to interviews and read some blogs. Over the past four years I have watched several conferences on the subject and considered what was being said. I have decided that it is time for me to throw my hat into the ring. In a few previous articles I touched on some talking points but I feel that now is the time to address the topic more formally and more thoroughly. The underlying principles of the Emergent movement find their roots in post-modern philosophy. Before we can address this topic I think it would be helpful to look at post modernism in general and then look at a few ways it might be encountered in the church. At its highest level we are all seen as nodes in sets of social/cultural systems that form a frame work or context within which we live and interpret experience. The table below attempts to define and compare the difference between Theism and Post-modernism as they relate to key philosophical concepts.

Concept1

Theism

Postmodernism

REALITY

An infinite personal God, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good. Reality is both material/temporal and spiritual/eternal. A finite physical cosmos was created by God from nothing to operate with a uniformity of cause in an open system. The cosmos had a beginning and will have an end.

Reality is subjective, relative to one’s experience. Reality does not take a universally perceivable form. Reality must be interpreted through our language and cultural “paradigm”. Therefore reality is socially constructed and physically experienced; any spiritual or eternal aspects are secondary.

HUMANITY

Created in the image of God to possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality and creativity. Through the Fall the image of God has
become defaced, though not so ruined as to be incapable of restoration.

Humans are nodes in a cultural reality – they are a product of their social setting. The idea that people are autonomous is a myth but individuals are free to participate in the current context and/or work to frame or form a new context.

TRUTH / EPISTEMOLOGY

Truth is knowable and expressible. Truth about God and the spiritual world is
ascertained through general and special revelation. Truth about the physical cosmos is ascertained from revelation and the senses in conjunction with rational thought.

Truths are mental constructs meaningful to individuals within a particular cultural paradigm. They do not apply to other paradigms. Truth is relative to one’s culture. There is no source of universal or absolute truth.

MORALITY

Values and ethics are transcendent; the objective expression of
an absolute moral being.

Values are part of a social paradigm. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values.

HISTORY

History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to
the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity

History is one or more linear stream(s) of socially constructed events. Each social reality ends up constructing the next social reality. Reality has no meta-narrative or underlying coherent story.

ETERNITY

For each person death is either the entrance to life with God or
eternal separation from the only thing which will ultimately fulfill human
aspirations. Christian Theism: The
work of Christ redeems humanity and begins the process of restoration; anyone
may reject redemption.

Eternity is a social construct that is not as important as the present social reality.

Lets explore two major tenants of Post-modern thought;

  1. Truth is relative to one’s context, there is no over-riding meta-narrative or over-arching story but many stories where meaning is given or imbued to words and the experience relative to the context.
  2. The present physical experience and context takes precedence over any eternal state (eternity doesn’t really matter).

I want to consider these two ideas while pulling back from specific examples. There will be time to look at more specific examples in other articles. I don’t want to get these concepts muddied by personalities and preferences.

The first concept surrounding epistemology or the nature of truth and how we come to know it is I think one of the most misunderstood parts of post-modernism and its “Judeo-Christian” Emergent form. It is less straight forward and more complex of an issue. It would just be easier if those espousing the view just said they didn’t believe in truth or denied all absolutes. But they are not denying that truth can be known they are proposing that it is somewhat in flux relative to the cultural context. Since truth has such a fluidity to it the movement generally avoids direct assertions. In the emergent form it generally takes a suggestive or interrogative form. Albert Mohler has termed it theology by suggestion. This is not really something new. A similar world view was held by a school of philosophy popular in Jesus time. The Sophists essentially held a fluid view of truth captured in their use of the Greek word “doxa” or culturally shared belief over and above individual opinion.

A man cannot know anything and if he could he could not describe it, and if he could describe it no one would understand. … How can anyone communicate the idea of color by means of words since the ear does not hear colors but only sounds? – Gorgias of Leontini, 485-380BC, Sophist/Nihilist

The problem is that a teacher or pastor holding to this view may say that they believe X or believe Y but essentially hold to a different underlying set of presuppositions and definitions then what might traditionally be understood as comprising X or Y. Someone might say they believe in heaven but mean something different from what is traditionally understood. In the writings of many Emergent leaders you have to keep asking where they are going with this line of thought or questions because in post-modernism meaning is granted relative to the context so they will not say this is true or this text means this or that, they lead in a direction through suggestion. Sophists were known to use rhetoric and teach rhetoric to young aristocrats desiring political advancement. The emphasis of their rhetoric on the practical over the truth gained sophists a bad reputation and even to this day the term is a pajorative. Which leads us to the next tenant that the present physical experience or context takes precedence. The most important pursuit or goal is that which practically builds the present context or culture.  We can see this in some of the teachings of Saul Alinsky and other philosophers of the last century.

“Moral rationalization is indispensable to all kinds of action, whether to justify the selection or the use of ends or means…. All great leaders invoked ‘moral principles’ to cover naked self-interest in the clothing of ‘freedom.’… All effective actions require the passport of morality. … An organizer … does not have a fixed truth — truth to him is relative and changing.” – Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

In the emergent movement you will see this building of the current context talked about in terms of the Kingdom of God.  While the church historically recognizes the Kingdom of God as here but not yet the Emergent Church has as Mark Driscoll puts it “an under realized eschatology”.  The emphasis is on the building the kingdom of God here on earth to in some way bring heaven down to earth.  This is emphasized many times to the detriment of truth and morality while social programs are proposed to offset the effects of sin.

Historic Christianity on the other hand holds to a view of truth before results.  We believe that truth is transcendent and that God can speak truth across cultural and generational boundaries.  We believe in an over-arching story and purpose to history in which we play a part.  We believe in the Kingdom of God but the “most important thing about the Kingdom is having the right King”, Jesus. 2

If Satan can’t make us pessimistic about truth he tries to make us pragmatic rather than idealistic. He paints truth as relitive or personal. (This not to say that truth is not practical.) He even takes that which is true and alters it through expansion or contraction and elevation or detraction. Truth is then altered such that it is deception leading to death. Truths by their Nature have both a degree of importance and applicability. By altering these Satan can change the very nature and affect of truth.

I am not interested in the council of anyone going through adversity who does not find the solution to that challenge in the truth. If he wants to give me other kinds of council and abandon the truth in order to survive I turn away from that council – Charles Spurgeon

Albert Mohler is a commited teacher and head of Southern Baptist Seminary and he has turned much around and is a voice to be trusted along with John Piper and also Mark Driscoll. I would recommend watching the 2006 Desiring God National Conference and the 2007 Contending for the Truth conference.

2006 Desiring God National Conference

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/by-conference/2006-national-conference

2007 Contending for the Truth
http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/orlando_2007_national_conference/

A more middle of the road book written by pastors coming out of the emergent movement the book “Deep Church” gives a good, balanced understanding of the emergent movement and tries to learn some things from the movement looking for a third way. Some still in the emergent movement recommend this book so I would say this book adds some balance to understand what is going on and for the most part I was in agreement with it when I read it.
http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Church-Beyond-Emerging-Traditional/dp/0830837167/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1301885386&sr=8-1



1 Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: a Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009. Print.
Many of these concepts and definitions for Theism are extrapolated from The Universe Next Door. The definitions for Post-modernism are a combination of my observations from Sire’s book, conferences and evaluations of the movement.


2 Driscoll, Mark 2006 Desiring God National Conference; Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World.

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About Devin Adint
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

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