Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DAISYs, TULIPs and Open Theism


by RE Slater
April 21, 2011

Pertaining to that system of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity known as Calvinism and Arminianism, I have applied Dr. Olson's interview with Homebrewed Christianity to Calvinism's flaws (part 1, part 2) for the direct and immediate purposes of showing the logical consistencies that is found in Arminianism but which is so poorly understood by today's evangelic rank-and-file. In my estimation, it is one of the reasons why emergent Christianity is disliked by traditional evangelicals who mis-understand Arminian doctrine which perfectly balances God's Love with Man's Free Will.

These discussions are provided in hopes of persuading our evangelic brethren to better behave their tongues and speech when loudly declaring Emergent Christians as heretics (found exquisitely verbalized in reaction to Rob Bell's book Love Wins). Dr. Olson gives to the reader a very clear idea as to the illogic of Calvinism and, I think, of the demeaning popular charges of false doctrines being lumped upon the Love Wins readership who wish to discover the beauty and necessity of God's Love for all mankind.

However, Emergent Christianity's seminal ideas and missional message has been uniquely expressed through Love Wins... that God loves His creation and is actively involved in loving His creation. This is the heart-and-soul of the good news found in Jesus Christ who is the Incarnate God become fully man and fully God,  as He messages God's love to this, our fallen, wicked world. Who atones for our sin, propitiates for our offenses, justifies our repentance, and is resurrected to place stamp-and-seal upon our glorification into the Father's name in this life and the next.

Thus, I would direct the reader towards investigating the tenants of Arminianism's DAISY system and its doctrines of "God's Love" and "man's free will" to help more fully digest and appreciate Dr. Olson's separate discussions presented on Calvinism's major flaws. In addition, I have added here my own several observations that I think lend credence to the Arminian claim of logical consistencies.


Arminianism's DAISY System

First, for the uninitiated, the moniker DAISY, stands for, among other things, something that simply makes me want to crease my eyes and smile when I think of the open, sun-drenched flower of the field we call daisies - each so friendly and inviting to the heart-and-soul as to whisper good cheer and love to all, who gather and look upon its crowned head.

Otherwise, as a doctrinnaire system it stands for:
D - Depravity of all

A - Atonement for all

I  -  Inclusion of all

S - Salvation as gift to all

Y - You, or anyone, may accept or reject

It revolves around the idea that "God's love is for the purpose of creation and not simply for God's greater glory" as Calvinism would state. That God is glorified because God loves, not because He banishes His love from the non-elect, the undestined, the hell-bound. No, God is glorified because he seeks all mankind, loves all mankind, receives all mankind. This is how God gets glory and is glorified - not simply for who He is, but by what He does because of who Hhe is. As Irenaeus would observe, "The Glory of God is man fully alive" and we can rightly say that God's love is the purpose for creation.

Further, God's (prevenient) grace is always resistible (vs. Calvinism's "irresistible" dogmas) and when it's no longer resistible than it becomes salvific grace.

Alongside this concept is that of common grace which is not salvific but holds back the worst effects of the fall so that man may create just societies - great societies - societies that worship and honor the Creator God. Common grace is given at the very act of creation and is distinguished from God's attribute of mercy that is given to man at Adam's imputed Fall.

Because man is fallen (we call this total depravity) the initiative must be from God, which then avoids the semi-pelagian (sic. pelagianism) monikers Calvinists heap upon Arminian doctrine that it is man-centered. For it is not man who first reaches out to God but it is God who first (and continuously) reaches out to man through his prevenient grace (grace that is given to man in his depraved state, in his pre-decision state of being). Thus, salvation's initial (and initiating) act, reciprocating act, and final act is always God-centered.

Too, God's grace is a gift that we do not earn nor merit but is accepted upon the basis as a gift. Nor does the very act of exercising free will invalidate its reception as that of a meritoriously-earned gift. For it is in the nature of man's free will to chose, and in this case, to chose God's grace gifts of love and mercy. Calvinists claim that Arminianists "earn" God salvation by the exercise of our free will, however, the Arminian claims that man is simply "endorsing" the gift God has already presented to him through His grace (in this case, Himself, His love, and His eternal life in all of its sin-departed fullness). Salvation by it's very nature is a transactional GIFT which is "unearned" needing only to be "endorsed" (much as a $100 check given to us as a Christmas or birthday gift requires our signature to cash it in) . A personal grace gift which we may receive, or refuse, but which is totally unearned by its recipients).
Lastly, the Arminian doctrine of free will guards and protects the character of God from becoming seen as a monster who elects or (double) predestinates a large portion of mankind (but not all of mankind) to hell. Whom God professes to love and yet casts into hell's deep away from His very essence that professes love to His creation. Moreover, Calvinism's TULIP system makes God out to be a kind of devil who lies about who He is, His intentions and purposes. That shows God to be defective and not good, nor all-wise and all-loving, by declaring purposes of "limited atonement" whilst at the same time deceptively declaring His love for all mankind. 

The Five Points of Calvinism's TULIP System

T - Total Depravity - man is born into, and enslaved to, sin thus causing man to be totally unable to seek or love God because man is evil in every portion of his being.

U - Unconditional Election - God elects men unconditionally by mercy alone and apart from any foreseen virtue, merit or faith in those elected. Conversely, God has chosen from eternity that He will withhold Himself from the non-elect, those men and women whom He will condemned to His eternal wrath.

L - Limited Atonement - or "particular atonement" asserts that Jesus' work at Calvary's cross is limited, and applied, only to the elect of God who will be atoned my Jesus' death. Hence, Jesus' atonement is theoretically given to all mankind but practically limited only to the elect of God.

I -  Irresistible Grace - God's saving grace is only effectually applied to the elect so that over time the elect can no longer resist God's grace and must submit to His will of saving grace. A grace which is determinative and co-op's man's free will to effectually cooperate, believe, repent, or obey. In effect, man becomes an automaton and not a free willed agent. One who is elected and therefore bade to enter into God's elective grace.
P - Perseverance of the Saints - God is sovereign and cannot be frustrated by any human or human agency, nor by creation itself. Those whom God calls into communion with Himself will continue in faith until the end, whereas those who are not called will fall out of the faith. Conversely, those who fall away either never had true faith to begin with, or, were not effectually called by God. 

Variants to Calvinism's 5-Point TULIP system

Supra-Lapsarianism, or High-Calvinism - the Fall allows God to chose some to salvation and some to damnation.

Infra-Lapsarianism, or Low-Calvinism - the Fall was indeed planned but without reference to whom will or won't be saved.

4-Point Calvinism known as Amyraldism or (hypothetical) Universalism - where limited atonement now becomes unlimited atonement.

Hyper-Calvinism, that states that not all men are called by God's grace to salvation, but only the elect few.

Neo-Orthodoxy, Neo-Calvinism, Christian Reconstruction, and modern-day Calvinism are all variant responses in the Reformational faith movement to the Age of Enlightenment in its scientific, social and political imports. These deal more with the process and applications of the beliefs of Calvinism as a church culture and as a religion.

I should lastly note that by-and-large, evangelicalism is based upon Reformed theology and that Calvinism's systematic doctrinal TULIP system does not fully define Reformed theology. Rather, Reformed theology is a very large, very consistent, hermeneutic dispensing with the approbation of the Scriptures through covenant theology and all its particular details related to the covenantal ages of the bible.  And because of this, has given rise to many other systematic points of departure within Protestant faith communities, associations, denominations these past 500 years. But this is for discussion at another time. 

Some Observations about Open Theism

Within Arminianism has grown a new branch known as Open Theism that says the future is unknowable because God doesn't know the future decisions of his morally "free" creatures (Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, John Cobb, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell). This concept, and related arguments, are based upon the nature of time rather than on the nature of God. And so, this is not a declaration against God's sovereignty and omniscience. Rather, it is an observation about the nature of time being "unknowable" (see references here). - R.E. Slater
"For the future is composed of some  things that are already settled, and, some things that are possible and not already settled. And that God knows them exactly as they are in that way so that God's knowledge is co-extensive with reality. As such, God knows all true facts of the past, the present, and the future." - Roger Olson  (in an interview with Homebrewed Christianity)
Further, says Olson in his interview, "Arminians are traditionalists when it comes to understanding God's foreknowledge, that God knows the future exhaustively and definitively so that it is not necessary to push Arminians into Open Theism as claimed by classic Calvinists (who seem to simply not like Arminianism and wish to push it off into whatever direction that will get it into the most trouble)." - Roger Olson

But rather than get into the particulars of this any further, I will publish at a later date more extensive articles on the eschaton of God, his foreknowledge and that of man's freedom and relationships as relates to all three groups. To this we should also discuss Universalism and its implications. - R.E. Slater

Final Observations on
Biblical v. Systematic Theology

Overall, I find myself to be a "systematic" eccleticist who tends to critique systems and take the best out of all of them; who purposely and objectively re-frames logical philosophic discussions towards what I think is the overall intent and meaning of the Scriptures. And since deductive logic and syllogistic systematic theology is a specialty of man and not of God's narrational Word per se, we may do this. Man's words are not God's words, and we may agree to debate one another's logicisms and fallacies of internal doctrines, finding in each argument its strengths and weaknesses.
However, in the end, we do not wish to work from a systematic theological viewpoint that I have here presently focused upon within this section. But from a biblical theological viewpoint that is rigorously defined while left open-ended to the changing societal perspectives, needs and apprehensions of the ages of man over time.
For within the field of systematics we may only expect to uncover theological paradoxes, logical frustrations, and philosophic debates. Whereas, within the heart of biblical theology we may find the expression of the mystery of the Godhead, of creation and the salvation of man, his hope or his demise. That we can speak to these tender issues with sublime wonder, thanksgiving and humility. Which, I think, is the heart-and-soul of a new form of Christianity currently known as Emergent, or Emerging, postmodern Christianity.
And it is through biblical theology, not systematic theology, that we can do this task - and do it very well indeed! - through the study of biblical theology as applied to the Scriptures. But when we do we must know why this is, and how we must proceed, as the only sure course of apprehension and expression of our Christian faith, according to the will of God and the power of His Spirit. 
For More Information


Fatal Flaws in Calvinism - Part 1

The first fatal flaw in the Calvinist system revisited

by Roger Olson
October 2, 2010

Recently I wrote about flaws and fatal flaws in theological systems. All have flaws. Some also have fatal flaws. One I mentioned that I see in the Calvinist system (as articulated by some leading Calvinists) is the dual claim that everything without exception is foreordained and rendered certain by God for his glory and that certain heresies (probably all heresies) detract from, diminish, demean God’s glory and rob God of his glory.

Some respondents here have attempted to defend these two claims by arguing that God’s glory is eschatological or that (and this seems to amount to the same) certain things that detract from God’s glory are foreordained by God because they are necessary or helpful for his full glorification. I’m not convinced that these defenses relieve the contradiction. Here’s why

I will use an analogy. Imagine a husband whose wife has been diagnosed with a terrible cancer. The doctor tells him that the only cure is a three step treatment of chemotherapy and that the first two will destroy her health while the third, which cannot work without the first two, will cure her. After the third step of the treatment she will be cancer free and completely restored to health. The doctor asks the husband if he agrees to the treatment in spite of the fact that it will make his wife extremely ill at first. The husband jumps to agree–Yes, of course, start the treatment!

The doctor sends the wife to a clinic where they begin the first step and the wife becomes gravely ill. The second step makes her worse, bringing her to death’s door. She is in such suffering the husband becomes angry with the clinic and technicians who are adminstering the treatment but does not withdraw his permission to continue the treatment. He still remembers that all this is necessary for his wife’s full recovery.

However, during the second step he puts pen to paper and writes a letter to the CEO of the clinic and to the American Medical Association and to the local newspaper’s editorial pages editor blasting the second step of the treatment as doing great harm which is against the medical community’s code of ethics. He brings charges against the nurse who is administering the therapy and the clinic where his wife is staying during the treatment.

Strangely, however, he doesn’t bring charges against the doctor who ordered the treatment. He is still grateful to him and sings his praises everywhere.

The husband continues his emotional crusade against the clinic and the treatment administered there because it is making his wife so ill, all the while knowing this is necessary to make her well.

Finally, a friend takes the husband aside and says “Aren’t you being illogical? I understand your inner turmoil over your wife’s suffering, but you know the medicine that is making her so ill is necessary so the next medicine they are going to give her can cure her. And you aren’t withdrawing your permission to keep treating her. Don’t you think you’re being unreasonable to keep up this crusade against the clinic?” The husband looks at his friend and says “My wife’s cure is future; right now she’s suffering terribly. There’s nothing unreasonable about fighting what is making her so ill even though I know it is necessary so that eventually she’ll get well. Someone has to point out how toxic this second step is.” His friend says “But you know its toxicity is exactly what is necessary for the third and final step to work.” The husband replies “Yes, I know that.” The friend just looks at the husband and shakes his head in bewilderment.

In my opinion that is an exact analogy to the illogic of those Calvinists who claim (often vehemently) that some heresy detracts from God’s glory or diminishes God’s glory or robs God of some of his glory (etc.) all the while confessing that God foreordained it for his glory (i.e., as a necessary step towards his full glorification). Just as there is a fatal flaw in the husband’s thinking and acting in the story, so there is a (the same) fatal flaw in Calvinism’s polemics against heresies. I cannot take them seriously. I can only, like the husband’s friend, shake my head in bewilderment.

Olson is a professor of theology at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, he blogs, and publishes a bunch of books….including ones for a general audience.
Proceed to Part 2 -

Fatal Flaws in Calvinism - Part 2

Another fatal flaw in the Calvinism

by Roger Olson
October 4, 2010

The second fatal flaw (that I will describe here) in (at least some) Calvinism is worse than the first because it touches not only logic but God’s reputation.

Many Calvinists claim that God loves all people. The only way to make this work within the TULIP system is to redefine love so that it loses all meaning.

THE crucial question facing Calvinism is why God does not save everyone rather than “pass over” many damning them to eternal suffering forever (when he could save them because election to salvation is unconditional).

As Wesley said, “love” such as this makes the blood run cold. There is no sense whatsoever of “love” compatible with being able to save the loved one from eternal loss and suffering and not doing it.

The usual answer offered by Edwards-inspired Calvinists (the majority among evangelical Calvinists today) is that hell is necessary for the full manifestation of God’s glory because all of his attributes, including justice, must be displayed without prejudice to any.

As I have said before, this demeans the cross as if it were not a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice.

Another way in which many evangelical Calvinists attempt to resolve this conundrum is to say that God blesses the reprobate during their earthly lives. He showers many blessings on them which shows his love for them.

However, this is simply to say he gives them a little bit of heaven to go to hell in. That does nothing to rescue the truth that God is love and loves everyone from being qualified to death.

Calvinism simply cannot account adequately for the love of God; this God (of double predestination) is not a God of love and does not love everyone.

One leading evangelical Calvinist bit the bullet on this and said famously “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.” Really? What love is compatible with being able to rescue someone from absolute, total, everlasting torment but refusing to do it?

The most important fatal flaw in Calvinism is that it departs from the biblical portrayal of God as loving and not wanting any to perish and falls into self-contradiction by saying that God loves everyone but refuses to save them even though he could.

Of course, some Calvinists will argue that for his own reasons God can’t save everyone. But why? Is not no sovereign and omnipotent? Is his love shackled by his wrath?

Others (and some of the same) will argue that God’s “love” is different from ours. Read evangelical Calvinist Paul Helm’s treatment of this in his book Providence; he rejects that notion most pointedly. (But then, in my opinion, falls into contradiction himself.)

Some Calvinists argue that God actually regrets having to damn anyone. Why would he if it brings him glory? And the same Calvinists explain God’s choice between the elect and the reprobate as “according to his good pleasure.” Why would something that brings him pleasure cause him regret?

One leading evangelical Calvinist offers an analogy from the American Revolution. According to this analogy George Washington signed the death warrant of a young officer for cowardice. He wept as he signed it, but had to sign it to keep order among the troops.

Well, that analogy simply doesn’t work. To make it work, Washington would have to have condemned the one officer to death while pardoning another officer who committed the same offense. Also, Washington, presumably, did not foreordain or render certain the condemned officer’s acts of cowardice.

Some Reformed theologians solve these fatal flaws (reducing their fatality) by amending the Calvinist system in favor of so-called “single predestination.” Presumably that is what revisionist Calvinists like G. C. Berkouwer and James Daane (to say nothing of Karl Barth, Hendrikus Berkhof and other continental Reformed thinkers) have done.

Some Reformed theologians such as Alan P. F. Sell amend Calvinism so far as to make it compatible with Arminianism (although they do not say so). For a Reformed systematic theology that is fully compatible with Arminianism I recommend Sell’s three volume Doctrine and Devotion (2000) the first volume of which is God the Father. Sell, by the way, was at one time theological secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Olson is a professor of theology at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, he blogs, and publishes a bunch of books….including ones for a general audience.

Continued from Part 1 -


The Future of Evangelicalism

The Great Emergence (of) Christianity: Changing the World

By Phyllis Tickle
posted on August 09, 2010

Phyllis Tickle is a renowned author, editor, and lecturer. Once the academic dean for the Memphis College of Art, she became a trailblazer in the fields of Christian publishing and ministry, as a founding member of the Canterbury Roundtable and the founder of the Religion Department for Publishers Weekly. Winner of several of the most prestigious awards in the publishing world, and holder of two honorary doctorates, she has authored over two dozen books in American religion and spirituality, including a series on fixed-hour prayer and her recent book, The Great Emergence, documents the appearance and development of emerging forms of Christianity in the postmodern context.


“Emergence Christianity” is changing the way we see politics, obedience, the kingdom of God, and even the Trinity. The Age of the Spirit has dawned.

No short piece of commentary can hope to speak with either credibility or utility about the future of Christianity globally. Even to speak of the future of Western Christianity in so attenuated a fashion as this is suspect; but at least one has a somewhat increased hope, if not of hitting the mark, then of coming a bit nearer to it.

Whether one chooses to speak of Western culture or first-world culture or, more accurately, of those parts of the world that practice Latin or Latinized Christianity, the truth is that the cultures and societies that are so denoted pass, about every half a millennium, through times of major upheaval. Every aspect of their common life, be it economic, political, intellectual, or sociological, undergoes massive re-structuring; and that storm of pervasive change always involves, as well, a re-structuring of the forms of religion(s) that hold hegemony at the time of shift. We are in such a time now.

Is There One Evangelicalism? (C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 3 On the Dire Need for the Imitation of Christ)

The upheaval or tsunami we are passing through in the 21st century is the Great Emergence; and just as the Great Reformation of 500 years ago gave us the rise of the nation-state, the birth of capitalism, the growth of the middle-class and, oh! by the way, Protestant Christianity, so the Great Emergence is giving us Thomas Friedman's flat world and the globalization of its cultures, the ‘mergonomics' of the world's economies, the non-nuclear and/or extended family as a norm, the ascendancy of information and technology as the basis of barter, and, oh! by the way, Emergence Christianity (not to mention emergence Judaism as well).

Like its most immediate sibling of Protestantism, Emergence Christianity is composed of many member parts. If Protestantism presents in real life as Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Methodists and Evangelicals, etc., so Emergence presents in real life as Emergings, Emergents, Missionals, Neo-monastics, Hyphenateds, Fresh Expressions, etc. And as was the case with Protestantism, so it is with Emergence. All the member-parts may be distinguishable one from another, but they all are held together and seen as belonging together, because they all share with one another a basic set of sensibilities, a similar world view or context, and a common mode or timbre of conversation. They all are (and know themselves to be) kindred member-parts of a new form of Christianity that is birthing now and here in the same way that Protestantism birthed from within Roman Catholicism 500 years ago.

Institutional Skepticism – Political, Social, Religious

When we set out, then, to discuss so opaque and laden an issue as the future of even just Western Christianity, we first must take care to engage without prejudice all the member-parts of the ecclesial and doctrinal mix. Given that, and because the Western Christianity of the right-here and the right-now is in the midst of so major a re-configuration, perhaps all we can responsibly do is name as predictive some two or three of the more deeply embedded characteristics of Emergence Christianity as it assumes its place beside Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Christianity and begins to react to, and interact with, them. [I think of emergent Christianity as a flavor or a character of these mainline denominations and not as its own denomination or sect – skinhead].

1. Whether one speaks of Emergence Christianity or of one of its member-parts, one is still referring to an entity that has been born out of the pervasive and abiding fear in our times of any institution, regardless of whether that institution is social or political or religious.

1a. When Dietrich Bonheoffer spoke, decades ago, about religion-less Christianity, he may have intended, as can be argued, something other than what is forming among us now, but that does not make him any the less prescient or his term any less applicable. Emergence Christianity, like every other part of Great Emergence society, is deeply persuaded that the institution -- any institution -- by its very nature must strive to preserve and further itself. It therefore follows that the institution -- any institution -- will always argue passionately and often monomaniacally that the greater good is best served by its own continuation at all costs.

1b. Emergence Christians, because they are dwellers in Emergence times, will argue, on the other hand, that it is the community that takes precedence, the gathered community out of which direction and order must come, the community in concert as the source of authority, except . . .

2.  . . . except that, even while sharing that general fear of institutions, some Emergence Christians fear as well (and will continue to fear) the tyranny of the group, the risk of error inherent in unfettered immediacy, the lack of economy patent in having constantly to re-invent all the courses of life.

3. Those who share these reservations and who wish to find some common ground between the suspect, self-perpetuating emphases of institutions and the vitality of the autonomous community will, by definition, be hybrids. As such, they can reasonably be expected to exert a considerable and perhaps aggressive influence on the question of just where authority does lie and/or is going to lie in the church of the next half-millennium. In scripture?

4. Then what is the nature of that authority? What are its exercises and what is the existential nature of its being? With the passing of Christendom, how far into political and civil affairs does that authority verge? And how far, even, into ecclesial ones? These are the questions that will occupy the next half-to-whole century of Latinized Christianity and that will, by the way, bring it into direct conflict with its non-Latin siblings.

Strong Focus on the Trinity, Especially the Holy Spirit

If one of the principal hallmarks of Emergence in general is a chariness about institutions, then just as surely an increasingly more Orthodox or eastern understanding of the Trinity is likewise a principal hallmark of Emergence Christianity in particular. That is to say that Emergence Christianity is far nearer to the position of a co-eternal, co-equal triune, indivisible Godhead than, in all probability, has been any other form of Western Christianity in a thousand or more years; and that shift will have enormous repercussions for the Church, including its validation of an increasing Pentecostal and charismatic form of praxis and belief. The Age of the Spirit has come, just as many of the mystics had promised it would. Authority will rest not only in scripture, as Luther and Protestantism had argued, but also in the intentions of the Spirit as they are revealed to, and discerned by, the devout in prayer and in congress with one another. It is a shift of historic proportions.

Living in the Tension of the Kingdom of Christ (the Church) As Here, But Not Fully

Perhaps the most dramatic change, however, is in the conceptualizations of "kingdom" that have entered the conversation with the coming of Emergence, changes in how "kingdom" itself is to be understood or envisioned. If God is a perichoresis that dances in us human beings and through us and with us, then the dance is not about us. It is about the Whole, about some mystery that is palpable but not subject to dissection or even to naming. It is not about any particular one of us as separate from, or independent of, any of the rest of us. It is all of us in aggregate, for none of us is in any other way than in aggregate. It is the dance, and we are both the dancers and the music.

Within this understanding, then, only radical obedience, like radical Trinitarianism, makes sense. To not lose all for the sake of this perichoresis is to be unworthy of it, just as we were told by Him 2,000 years ago. Nor is the kingdom some kind of top-down, political structure. Such, Emergence Christianity says, is indeed the false imaging that has strangled the faith and the faithful for long enough. No, the kingdom is a lacework of inter-connected and equi-connected nodes or pods, like a spider's web that vibrates when any one of its strands is touched . . . like the internet when any one of its sites makes contact with millions of other nodes, and reality is changed thereby. The kingdom is horizontal, not hierarchal. It is here, and it is now. Most certainly, it is not over there and later.

The Arising Formation of a New Christian Anthropology

Such a re-definition of the kingdom is a direct challenge to the established definitions of many Western Christians and communions. Moreover, because it is a self-aware and well-argued challenge, it will also be a provoking one that demands engagement from older communions within the larger body. Inevitably, of course, each one of those older communions will be changed to some greater or lesser extent by the very engagement itself. More to the point, however, at least in terms of the Latinized Church's near future, is the fact that shifts in understanding or belief about the Trinity and about the Kingdom both rest upon, and demand, a new anthropology. One of the ironies of Emergence, both civil and sacred, is that we have come into a time when we no longer know what a human being is. We can neither describe consciousness or its etiology nor even justify its ancient claim to being imago dei.

Descartes' famous Cogito ergo sum may have consoled 400 years of our recent cultural and religious history, but it is now jestingly referred to as "René's Folly" or the "Cartesian Error" for good reason. And knowing not who we are or how constructed, nor by what means organized, makes us more like unto Adam in the Garden wearing a fig leaf out of new-found modesty than Christians have been for many a century. It ultimately may be, then, this questing for a new anthropology that history will later say of us was our greatest burden and our greatest gift as the Church marches into yet another new millennium.

From Modernism to Post-Modernism

From modernism to postmodernism: evolution vs. accommodation


Rachel Held Evans
posted on May 2008

A reader recently contacted me with a good question about a topic I address on this blog and in my book:

“While reading, I noticed you made the correlation that Christianity has evolved from modernity and now must evolve again into post-modernity. I suppose I would question, ‘Why are we evolving from one cesspool to the other?; I think understanding our philosophical presuppositions is important when addressing Christian Theology, but at the same time I think it's time Christian's stopped playing by culture's philosophical rules. We have to realize we can't rewrite the scriptures (or even grossly re-interpret them in error) just to follow another culture's philosophical trend.”

This is a good question, which I attempt to address in the introduction of my book.

Whether we like to admit it or not, whenever the world changes, Christians instinctively change with it, and my “theory of evolution” is that God actually created us that way. It seems that whenever followers of Christ begin to inadvertently fundamentalize things that are not, in fact, fundamental to the faith (like geocentricism, the church’s authority to sell indulgences, the separation of the races, etc.), God allows our environment to challenge us and force us to evolve. He might use a telescope, 95-theses nailed to a door, or a March on Washington, but the result is always a re-thinking and reassessing of what it really means to know and follow God.

Evolution is just the painful process of distinguishing the true fundamentals of the faith from those we have invented along the way and adapting our beliefs and actions accordingly in order to survive in a changing environment. Sometimes we evolve because our environment disgusts us, sometimes because it challenges us, but always because the legitimacy of our faith depends on it. The same adaptability that allowed Paul to become all things to all people applies to the Church collectively. The ability of the Body of Christ to change-to grow fins when it needs to swim and wings when it needs to fly-is what keeps it alive and vibrant and relevant in this ever-changing world.

Now when I talk about the influence of culture on the Church, my metaphor of evolution should not be mistaken with accommodation. Accommodation is the opposite of evolution. Accommodation happens when the Church simply gives up and gets eaten up by the culture, when it fails to evolve as a unique creature and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the world.

In the Middle Ages, when the papacy abused its power by waging the Crusades, selling indulgences, and issuing simony, church leaders had accommodated to a culture of greed and violence. Likewise, when Christians in America succumb to our environment of materialism, we risk losing the humble, Christ-like attributes that are supposed to set ups apart from the rest of the world.

In times like these, true disciples may become endangered species, but by the grace of God, they have never become extinct. The Church is forever indebted to those prophets and prophetesses who have, at critical times in history, spoken out against popular accommodation, often sacrificing their reputations or lives in an effort to preserve the integrity of the Church. (I think of John Wycliffe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr., ) In fact, some of the greatest accomplishments in history, such as the abolition of slavery, resulted from counter-cultural action from the Church. Evolution can only occur when there is a distinction between allowing the culture to inform and influence us (as it inevitably will), and allowing it to control us. The trick is knowing the difference, and therein lies the struggle.

When it comes to modernism and postmodernism, I don’t really think one is worse than the other or that they are inherently good or bad. They just are.

Modernism brought with it great advances in science and technology. It helped Christians more reasonably articulate their faith, and provided a framework that supported their efforts to abolish slavery and make progress on major human rights issues. At the same time, the Enlightenment’s emphasis on intellectual autonomy and rationalism has led to the assumption that in order for Christianity to be intellectually viable, God’s existence must be proven empirically. I think the evangelical community has gotten to a point where it is so steeped in modernism’s emphasis on rationalism that it is obsessed with apologetics, emphasizing orthodoxy (right belief) over orthopraxy (right action).

The advantage of postmodernism is that it draws attention to the fact that all knowledge must be taken on faith. However, postmodernism, (though less defined), has its problems too, particularly as it is (mis)interpreted by popular culture. For example, when people say all religions are “more or less the same,” I worry that we’re moving to a point where we fail to recognize the unique differences between world religions and the things that distinguish the gospel of Jesus from other belief systems.

The thing is, it’s pretty much impossible not to be influenced by one’s culture. To assume that, as Christians, we can stand outside of our own interpretive communities and interpret the Bible and our culture objectively is actually a very modern way of thinking. It’s just not that easy to “rise above” one’s place in time and history in order to render a judgment about it.

I don’t think we are moving from one cesspool to another, just one age to another. There are things we can learn from the culture. There are things we should challenge about our culture. But I think it is inevitable that we will be changed by our culture.