"Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity.
We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
"Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world." - Todd Littleton
"I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see." - Anon
"Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all." - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
"Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals." - Jim Forest
"People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." - Anon
"... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all." - R.E. Slater
"An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst." - R.E. Slater
"Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics." - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated." - Emil Brunner
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Are You Missional or Are You Emergent? Is There a Difference?

 
"... Certainly the love of God has made fools of us all."
- R.E. Slater                                            
Voices of Dissent - Unfolding God's Love Within the Heart and Conscience of Humanity                            
 
 
During the past 2 years I have found myself working at defining just what Emergent, Postmodern Christianity might be - as versus what many people think that it is, including Emergency's own circle of "inner disciples." My interest was to define Reformed Christianity and its Classic Theology into more sustainable forms of biblical witness - one that would bring the best of biblical thinking and missional practice into focus. Initially (as can be read in my first six months of blogging) I was interesting in determining what Emergent (or, Emerging) Christianity was not, when played against louder evangelical  voices offering their own cross-flicted opinions as to what transformational Christianity for the 21st Century should be. But immediately after this time I become convicted to speak of a Christianity on a more positive, broader plane of endeavor that could embrace all kinds of people and Christian faiths.... To find a Jesus that reached out to everyone, and not just a select few who happened to hold the "right" views of the Bible.

I also became quite concerned as to how to discern the Scriptures in a very high sense while allowing other human academic disciplines to come alongside to help in understanding God's Word in approaches that might lean towards an "anthropological hermeneutic." As such, I was not put off by trying to "contain" the free speech and insight of "unsanctified others" (per the many alarmed denunciations of my evangelical movement) - even if those voices, in some cases, arose from within anti-God, or atheistic contexts. I realized very early that part of this reconstructive effort would necessarily involve de/constructing "official" Christian-understanding and dogmatic platforms across a wide variety of church doctrines and dogmas. The other effort would be fraught in re/constructing (the preferred theo/sophical term is "reinterpreting" per Paul Ricoeur, the noted French Theologian and Philosopher) the Bible's revelatory structure of multi-vocality as seen within its many ancient narrative stories recounted by both pagan and believer; its lost linguistical backgrounds contained within very ancient socio-personal contexts that we think we understand but probably don't based upon the many varied opinions by scholar and exegete; and, the Bible's overwhelming variety of interpretive hermeneutics as evidenced by personal, societal, and religious restatements recited across its well-leafed pages. Especially as it was relevant within our own contemporary, post-modern, post-secular epoch underscored by a rapidly spreading, social media technology, being flung across a wide variety of formerly culturally-contained, pluralistic, multi-ethnic global societies seeking communication with with one another (whether fairly, or equitably, is another question left for another time). Throughout most of this transitionary period I had this strong sense of the Spirit of God pushing me forward into new, unfamiliar, expansive theological landscapes, while at the same time helping me to resist spinning backwards into the safer, traditional, paradigms of propositional Christianity bounded off by offsetting Christian sentiment and-or willful prejudicial platforms.

Nor did I wish to recreate a Christian faith or theology that was exclusivistic, legalistic, or active in some new form of separatistic conservatism. No. It had to be incarnational (Jesus for today), missional (God's Kingdom for today), expressive (relevant in word and deed), and universal in message and medium. Meaning that no one should be excluded from God's good news in Christ. That no one should be excluded from God's redeeming love. That no one should be left standing out on the byways of the Church of God. That the love of God demanded valuing one another in such a way that it created charitable communities of generous fellowship and goodwill. These latter expressions of worth and value are especially of high interest when working towards expressing an expansive, contemporary Gospel... Especially when viewing Playstation and X-box games filled with blood, killing, and uplifting self against the world. Or in the daily portrayal of our world at war with itself, as it consistently refuses peace and goodwill while always in pursuit of nationalistic agendas, unjust sociological promotions, or the ecological rape and pillage of the Earth. Contrary to man's agendas and interests is God's agendas and interests that promotes charity, worthvalue, and community. This, to me, was the good news of the Gospel worth proclaiming against man's own agendas of monopolistic greed ushered under the thin veneers of adjudicating democracies or totalitarian regimes.

So then, words like post-positional, post-attractional, post-universal, post-Christiandom would not be words that would put me so easily off - or at a disadvantage - but would cause me to "double-down" in locating discussions and fellowships that could intelligently discern what was meant by these terms. Especially when flung cryptically through the ether from the more traditional pulpits I was familiar with that fled to the refuges of past, out-moded Christian doctrines under new words like neo-Calvinism, neo-Reformed, Radical Orthodoxy (which is distinctly different from Radical Theology, which is a postmodern, emergent term, describing the general future direction of Christian theology), or even various shades of "progressivism." If Christianity was to flourish, and become a message embraced by all people everywhere, than Jesus must be its center; our faith be returned to a child-like state freed of adult fears and socio-political boundaries; and, God's divine love and atoning redemption needed to be better understood.

Hence, to claim a "prodigal Christianity" as David Fitch has, as a re-incarnated form of a more "progressive" contemporary Christianity (ala Anabaptism), wasn't the direction I really was looking for when learning of the term "missional" being bantered about by many well-read evangelics across the worlds of evangelicalism by banner, headline, or punchline. Nor did I suspect that it had become God's newest form of ministry to the world at large. Though it may be more antiseptically palatable to traditional congregations unwilling to de/construct their personal beliefs, and religious platforms, it doesn't really challenge the traditional church to change its old ways and views... only to cling to them all the tighter while pretending itself to be epistemological "progressive" and contemporarily "relevant" in its global witness. Overall, I like the emphasis Anabaptism places upon ministry, witness, worship, and prayer, but I also fear that it would not allow its congregants great enough latitude to grow beyond the boundaries of traditional Christianity while mis-believing themselves to be "progressive" in tone and temperament. Certainly it seems like a "big" move forward, or as a way out of the "evangelical-box" that has been created in the name of Jesus, but it still brings a lot of traditional, classical baggage with it requiring "reformation" in presentation and discussion, attitude and approach, work and deed. A reformation that Emergent Christianity already had started in the early 1990s, and is even now resetting once again in light of conflicted social platforms and transparent postmodern movements (meaning that Emergent Christianity is changing as a movement, just as we do ourselves as people, from decade to decade, life stage to life stage, as it matures in message and content).

Hence, my understanding of a relevant Christianity must be one that includes re-visioning and re-imaging the church.... A church which might have to be burned down before it can arise up again from its denominational ashes like that of Jesus life and ministry (which more-or-less is classic Emergent doctrine). But unlike the past, today's new Emergent Christians must be willing to push forward beyond Evangelic Christian doctrines in a positivistic sense of health and healing. For not all can remain ashes for long. One must begin anew rebuilding a theologic house in which to live... but importantly, one that is Emergent in temperament, and expansively relevant to today's societies. And importantly, one must remember the ashes we've come from as a movement - if not having already learned to live uncomfortably within - by holding onto faith's holy elements of doubt and mystery (as versus more popular religious folklores expressing hardlined biblical certainties) when thinking of all things God.... For anybody who has experienced their epistemologic views of the world being burned down, you will understand what I mean. Unfortunately, we too-quickly-embrace the next new-and-more-promising doctrine, dogma, or movement, which unfortunately can end up not unlike our first epistemological marriage that burned down earlier in life (kinda like a quick "second' or "third" marriage, poor examples though they may be). My sense is to caution one from rebuilding their life too quickly. To trust God with the anarchy that exists in our lives before attempting to move on too soon lest we build more structures on sand that are not theologically (nor existentially) sustainable. Why? Because there can be had valuable insight learned from these times of doubt and skepticism, fury and anger, that cannot be obtained at any other time in our lives. And mostly, it is because we ourselves must first be broken down by the Spirit of God in order to see the living God again in the lights of His all-healing love and redemption. And so, as hard as it is, do not run from these times of foundational upheaval - be they personal or institutional. But learn to embrace them, to accept them, to allow God's fullness to dwell within them as He guides us towards a complete(r) restoration as only our Lord can provide in His love and wisdom (I think this was profoundly expressed by David Guetta's, "Titanium ft. Sia").

And please understand that Emergent Christians are ones  who have been born out of the ashes of their old worlds of faith-belief. Who fear to return to their former ways and life unwisely. Wishing to hang onto God's mystery and paradox, as much as to investigate just what good doctrine might portend, when unleashed from the codified docks of indefatigable declarations, deceptive assurances, and Christian platitudes. The Christian message is simple. God is God. God has done all things because of His love for creation. Jesus is God's supreme expression of love (and misunderstanding, and hate, and death). We each bear value to God as to one another. We each were built for community and fellowship, both with God, and with one another. Anything which tears away at these truths does so to its own peril. Anything which lessens the impact of these truths cannot survive. Anything which wishes to demarcate itself from these truths does so to its error. For those who wish to be "missional" God bless you. But in your "missional outreach" be receptive to being broken and remade in the image of Christ so that all your worlds become like sweet incense to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

And as for my fellow Emergents... do not be afraid to rebuild again. Its something we must do. If not, than another will, and perhaps less vigorously, if not unwisely. Though we live as broken people we must also live towards restoration of faith and hope. And if the attitudinal perspective of Emergent Christianity is to survive than this task must be our pledge and banner. For I look to an expansive, embracing, borderless, Christianity - more than the one I was born into and trained within. One that is broken. That is as much institutionally, as it is personally, transformational. That is less sure about things. But whose center is truly Jesus in all things, conformities, ministries, and goodwill. Which is at all times at work discriminating itself. One that is more open to our faithful Redeemer-Creator's revelations of Himself for this day and age. A Christian faith which can openly re-envision classic church doctrines and missional practices for postmodern ministry. A faith that challenges religious beliefs to the radicalness of the new gospel of Christ as first set forth by our Lord in the Scriptures.

From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, yea verily the church must proceed. But within these redemptive ashes of burned up lives may there beat hearts of living gold and silver. Not works of tinkling brass and conforming dogmas decrying whose "in" and whose "out" of  God's holy love. Where the wheat of God's living Word is bravely proclaimed and wisely discerned beyond the dark creeds and confessions of disempowering denominations and overweening scholars. Where its life-giving bread is eaten and consumed giving strength to the life of faith and belief. Where the leavening yeast of dithering words and spoiling feast be culled from the dying vineyards of gaping mouths fed by pulpit or press,  to be then burned upon an altar's rising infernos of the dying dead. Where may be found receptive schools of unified fellowships not only proclaiming the word missional, but seeking within their bodies politic to be truly transformational. No longer seized upon Christianity's pre-packaged structures and stanchioned beliefs presented to the pandering public listening between the gaps of our ostracizing words and spurning deeds. And if unwilling to be transformational, than claim not the banner of missional, for it deceives a church's congregants providing title where there is no life of the Spirit. For the church has entered once again into a spiritual period of Reformation not unlike its rebirth out of classic Medievalism 500 years earlier, causing it to e-merge from Modernism's timorous fears and pilavorous claims as it became transformed by e-mergent spirit and enlightened inquiry. Listening to the words of her Lord afresh through the many eyes and ears of those surrounding it - be they friend or foe - who had discerned the gospel's proclaim to its sin and transgression. Yea, even so, as God's holy love is missional may our charitable forbearance be as well. A forbearance that seeks all men to dwell in the shadow of the divine before the Father's grace of mercy and forgiveness, hope and charity, as we now enter upon new worlds to come filled with Son and Spirit promising challenge and conflict to the tension of faith's apprehension.

R.E. Slater
June 21, 2013
 
 
Is “Prodigal Christianity” Sustainable?
A couple of weeks ago, Tony Jones posted an introductory video [(see below)] to a new book by Geoff Holsclaw and David Fitch called Prodigal Christianity. I posted my initial thoughts, and then began a conversation with Geoff about the book via email. I told Geoff that I would read the rest of the book, and then try to write a review. But, once I got the book and starting reading it, it felt like I was being taken back in time three years. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, so let me explain:
 
When my family and I left “the church,” I had spent the previous several years heading in a certain direction theologically. The understanding of gospel and mission that I was attracted to – and what I felt best represented what the Bible was all about – was influenced by Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, Chris Wright, Tim Keller, Michael Goheen, Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, Brian Walsh, and many other similar thinkers. But, for me, theology was not a solely intellectual thing. I had made a commitment to not only learn things but to embody them. So, while I was on staff at a large neo-Reformed church, I was also teaching classes and leading a community group in our home, trying to live out the kinds of things I was learning with a group of people.
 
Reading through this book has been a sort of deja vu. I’m not sure how different the authors’ understanding is from where I was three years ago. If I would’ve come across this book back then, I’m sure I would’ve endorsed it wholeheartedly, and it would have become part of the “curriculum” for my own teaching and practice.
 
I have sat down several times and tried to write a review of the book. If I could put it all together, I have several posts worth of content. But, to be honest, it’s been so weird for me to have this experience that I’m not sure how capable I am of doing that. Or how helpful to anyone it would be. So, rather than doing that, for now, I’m just going to take a couple of posts and respond to a couple of things in the book.
 
This first post is a response to an idea in the book that suggests that what loosely goes under the names “emergent” or “emergence” or “emerging” is not “capable of providing direction” as a “way of thinking about church in mission.” Basically, the authors are trying to recognize and praise the influence emergent has had on their thinking, while wanting to encourage their readers in a different direction. Thus the term “Prodigal Christianity” in contrast to Emergent or Emergence Christianity.
 
I’m sure that the authors would admit that their exposure to Emergent has been limited [by their background and traditions - res]. None of us has a God’s-eye-view on anything. We can only speak from our experience. And, they may have some legitimate critiques of many aspects of the movement. But, from my perspective, I don’t think they’re seeing the bigger picture. What I am seeing (and hoping) to be the case is that emergent has a truly sustainable structure and ethos that no other movement within (Western) Christianity has. I think the future of Christianity, at least in this part of the world, is actually to be found among those who go under the broad umbrellas of emergent or progressive Christianity. This movement has even made space for atheists/agnostics/skeptics (the “nones”) like myself who can no longer believe in much of what orthodox Christianity requires, but who nonetheless find much common ground with emergent. Honestly, I don’t see how any of us could “exist” within the traditional structures of orthodox Christianity.
 
So, how have I come to these kinds of predictions?
 
Western culture has shifted – and will continue to shift – to such a degree that much of what passes for traditional/orthodox Christianity is not going to remain within the next few decades. That which does not evolve will become extinct. It used to be the case that slavery was considered “normal”; now, it is pretty difficult to find reasonable people who think it should not have been outlawed. I think many other beliefs and ideas within orthodox Christianity will increasingly be seen as archaic, oppressive, ridiculous, etc. “The church” can either embrace this shift as “the new normal” and “reform” itself, or it will likewise become entirely irrelevant to the majority of people. Those who are trying to “go back” to some different time or place are simply building the walls of their own museum.
 
Much of what goes on under the umbrellas of “evangelicalism,” “neo-Reformed” and many other related movements (including “missional”/”incarnational” visions) will morph into what the culture at large will continue to perceive as “the new fundamentalism.” It seems that the main distinction is between those who see the Bible as the primary source of knowledge/truth, and those who don’t [this mainly cuts across how we think of the Bible - as a revelation from God about Himself, His message, His plans, or as an "All-in-One" Book that can ignore scientific discovery which also can tell us about our Creator Redeemer - res]. Even those who reject the modern concept of inerrancy fall into this same fideistic trap. Now, of course, the Bible is an amazing and interesting set of documents; I think we ignore it at our own cultural and literary peril. But, the future of Christianity will be open to diverse sources of knowledge from many different streams.
 
Finally, no matter how much “relationship” is established between people coming from very different perspectives, the majority of people will not “convert” to those archaic forms of Christianity – at least not permanently. Of course, there are always waves of change, but in the long term, I think we will see a lot more people rejecting Christianity altogether rather than embracing a “bibliocentric” way of life. People have become a lot more aware of these subtle but sophisticated conversion techniques (missional as evangelism), and will be on guard against all attempts for someone to turn them into a project – a means to an end – via bait-and-switch hidden agendas.
 
I, for one, am very hopeful for the future of Christianity. But, the kind of Christianity that I think will remain, the kind that will benefit the most people, will look very different from many of the loudest voices who claim to speak for Christianity in our culture today. I hope to continue to lay out out my own vision for what that kind of Christianity might look like through my personal blog.
 
 
Prodigal Christianity - Why This Book? by Fitch and Holsclaw
 
 
 
 
Some Honest Talk about Labels (Emergent, Missional, Etc.)
 
by Tony Jones
February 20, 2013
 
I was interested to see the above video, promoting the new book by my friends David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. It was particularly interesting based on how they used some terminology in the promo video. They repeatedly used the terms “neo-Reformed” and “Emergent” as opposite poles, and they used their own preferred term, “missional,” as the middle way between those two erroneous options.

That was most intriguing to me is that I first met both of these guys at an Emergent Village Cohort. Indeed, Geoff ran the Chicago cohort for many years — it was, under his leadership, one of the strongest cohorts in the country. Meanwhile, Fitch was injecting his own missional-Anabaptist theology into the emergent movement in a powerful way. Fitch has gained an audience for his theology in large part because of his generous engagement with the emergent movement.
 
In other words, these guys are among the most responsible people for the growth and development of the emergent movement, from which they are now trying to verbally distinguish themselves.
 
I’ve written before about the term “missional.” It bends a lot of ways. It’s a term that basically anyone can use for what ever purpose they want — from a stalwart Southern Baptist neocon like Ed Stetzer to an Anabaptist pacifist like David Fitch. And then you’ve got the neo-Barthian camp like Darrell Guder and John Franke. They’re all “missional,” and so are a dozen church planting networks like TransForm, Forge, and the Parish Collective.
 
So here’s a test. Imagine a Christian leader saying this: “I’m not missional.”
 
No one’s going to say that. Not a PC(USA) pastor, and not a PCA pastor. Not a just-war Augustinian, and not an Anabaptist pacifist. Scot McKnight will say he’s missional, and so will Brian McLaren. So will the pope. So will I.
 
You might say you’re not Presbyterian or you’re not emergent. But you’re not going to say that you’re not missional.
 
Meanwhile, we all know that the term “emergent” has been redefined by conservatives. As hard as we tried to use it as an open-handed term for an ongoing theological conversation, the theological police jumped up and down screaming that “emergent = liberal” that people started to believe it. Publishers, for instance, once loved the term; they now want nothing to do with it.
 
So my prediction is that people will keep using the term “missional” and defining it in their own ways. And I think that’s fine. But let’s all remember that with such a broad term that “missional” — like “evangelical,” or even “Christian” — what it really means lies in the definition of the speaker, and the interpretation of the hearer.
 
Would you say that you’re a “missional” Christian? Or would you say that you’re not?



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