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
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)
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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Reformational Theology vs. Emergent Theology

"Classic Reformational Theism vs. Emergent Christian Post-Theism"

When comparing Emergent Christianity to classic Reformational Christianity commonly practice within the halls of Evangelicalism one can see the direct influence of the one to the other, and within that correspondence understand the necessity for Emergent Christianity to continue moving away from Evangelical Christianity in a way that is deeply "reformational" as found within the Reformation's originating charters 500 years ago. In the sense that Emergents are revisiting every area of Reformed theology - much like Luther and Calvin had done with the Catholic Church's practices and dogmas - and updating it first in practice (orthopraxy), and secondly, in theological observations (orthodoxy), by de-emphasizing a soteriology of justification by faith and re-emphasizing a Christology of Jesus-first and the Kingdom ethics of benevolence and love.

One of the main disturbances to Evangelicalism is the Emergent doctrine of God's love and grace that somehow became lost in the Evangelic rhetoric of man's sinfulness and certain judgment of death-and-hell. As the latter ideas were lifted up God became more and more distant to the plight of human existence until man was fully regarded as damned and condemned, unworthy of salvation, and dismally lost. And though true, and without dispute, the Emergent Gospel re-emphasizes the first purposes of a God who creates and superintends in love and devotion to mankind; who seeks to impart grace and mercy to mankind's existence; who intends to invade heaven into man's hellish experience of sin and evil. Distancing Himself only from a church not preaching Jesus' Gospel of love and grace.

Moreover, as Emergent Christianity continues to evolve there is a renewed effort to revisit and critique every Reformational doctrine towards a Jesus-of-the-Gospel's rightness and orientation that when followed and practiced can only become deeply disturbing. Upsetting many of the church's current practices and teachings like Jesus did of old when questioning the religious establishment of His day as the Pharisees and Scribes shined-and-polished pet doctrines-and-beliefs. Consequently, Emergents have been questioning not only Luther and Calvin, but the Reformed Father's Grand Progenitor centered in Augustine hoary observation many centuries earlier. Questioning all of Reformed Theology's fundamental doctrines and teachings of Scripture that has created an Evangelic culture of a bible-within-a-bible (e.g., known as Biblicism); a religious subculture within what was intended to be a pervasive, globally-necessitated Apostolic Christian faith; and unnecessary dogmas filled with restrictions, harshness, callousness, set within a minutia of religious Reformed laws.

Partly, this effort is due to postmodernism's critical analysis of secular modernism begun during the World Wars, and again with Vietnam's institutional insurrections. And partly, to Evangelicalism's waywardness from New Testament Kingdom teaching of love-in-action to those in need, impoverished, and unempowered by society. Who are held in the affliction of misery, disease, desperateness, race, gender and lifestyle prejudices. But under a fresh re-reading of the Gospels in light of all these developments, then the Jesus discovered within them (especially as related to His Kingdom teachings) would de-emphasis a Reformed Pauline doctrine that has become too Calvinised by the church. Which then creates the consequential reaction to re-right the Reformed churches' Pauline understanding of the Gospel through the Christ event once again however paradoxical this may seem (for more on this area, please refer to the article Paul, whom I love, and other articles found within this website's sidebar entitled Pauline Theology).

It is submitted then that the only thing holding Evangelicalism together is not Reformational Theology but Emergent Theology's broader scope of God's love expressed through Jesus Christ that builds upon Reformational Theology's first principles of faith (vs. today's emphasis on justice 500 years later). Without Emergent Christianity's important new insights and emphasis for Jesus-first Christological practices, and a radically new re-interpretation of the Bible perceived through the Gospels themselves, Evangelicalism would continue to centralize itself within its own Reformational theologies blinded by their need of a Jesus revolution. Creating then a Calvinism of dogmatizing rhetorics and strict sectarian practices that are excluding the larger part of mankind from any form of acceptance and sympathetic outreach by God's overwhelming love. That would rather wish to see God's justice displayed in judgment-and-wrath upon a wicked world than to stand-in-the-breeches with a lost mankind beseeching Jesus' followers to preach-and-practice a God of loving justice who, when coming, will first sweep out His own house, to their own harm and destruction. Thus, is it more "just" to proclaimed-and-enacted God's love or to preach an unloving rhetoric of God's justice filled with hypocritical legalisms and self-righteous duties? Didn't Jesus say this same thing to the Pharisees of His day? Whose priests and scribes had tipped the theological cart towards an ungracious Judahizing of the Law than to a just-and-loving Gospel of God's benevolence to a lost mankind? Today's Calvinism stands in this same vein unless it re-discovers Jesus' faith declarations to go back to its first tenets and throw out all of its resultant rhetorical baggage built up over the past 500 years in the name of Reformational theology {see NT Wright, Simply Jesus  (October 2011) and How God Became King (March 2012)}.

Consequently, it is important to remember what Reformational theology has brought to modern day Christianity by reciting an older interview of Dr. J.I. Packer to a Baptist journal many years ago.... In an article from the Spring of 1994, Packer speaks to Reformational theology's God-centeredness, particularly as it relates to the themes of God's sovereignty (classic theism); the deep set nature of sin and man's complete inability to save himself, even down to the lowest levels of revelatory illumination (depravity and election); and the radical and transforming power of Jesus Christ to redeem sinners by his saving grace (redemption). To this Emergent Christianity is updating classic theism through it's own inquiries into open theology (also named open theism) and process theology and hopefully towards an admixture of both that this blog here is calling relational theism (see sidebars again).

Packer goes on further to recount his fear of (1) a modern-day humanism filling the evangelical church; (2) of arighting any Christian doctrines oriented towards a me-first, man-centric interpretation of subordination; (3) that God serves man's glory of religious entitlement and indifference to the plight of a lost mankind rather than man serving God's glory through practices of love and justice to the same; (4) of a God who exists for man, and not man for God, despite Reformational rhetoric that would protest otherwise while dunning its ears to the injustices filling the world around itself; and, (5) that God simply exists to serve at man's beck-and-call when in need of help and desperation. In response, Emergent Christianity is rewriting these  same observations from a relational understanding through all its liturgies, practices and doctrines using deconstructive / reconstructive terminologies and postmodernistic framing.

Packer then notes how modern Evangelicalism has splintered into various organizations emphasizing specialized goals beyond that of declaring the gospel of Christ and curiously declares that "the only thing that can unite evangelicalism is a bigger, broader, deeper, wider, and more-generally-agreed-upon theology that he only finds in Reformational Theology." In response, we see today an effort to re-declare these same doctrines through neo-evangelic and neo-reformed movements counter to the broader movement of Emergent Christianity seeking to go beyond the Reformation back to the days of the early Church's proclamations of Jesus teachings and Kingdom ethics. Hence, Calvinists and Emergents are at loggerheads with one another when we should be joined together in purpose and proclamation - one vying for traditional protestant legacies while the other is vying for early 1st Century church practices yet unformed, apostolic, refreshingly new, and built upon Jesus. One which emphasizes the singular doctrines of salvation (justification by faith), law (with an emphasis on rituals and dogmas), and political kingdom (enforced nationalism) while the other seeks an early Christology the affects the whole of soteriology, eschatology, anthropology, and wishing to bind these seamlessly together. Consequently, when these same doctrines are built upon Jesus they have a completely different flavor founded, and seasoned, by God's love in matters of faith, trust, devotion, worship, and affecting popularly preferred religious doctrines by turning them upside-down and inside-out.

Lastly, Packard rightly notes the need for Christians to better learn of their Christianity. To not only read their Bibles but to study and know its theological truths. Truths that relate to everyday wisdoms, personal behaviors, insights, philosophies; that practically give to us godly direction and thinking. Which is the very reason and purpose for this blog journal. To recite Emergent doctrinal differences from the recent past and declare the Christian faith in fresh, new ways that unwraps past denominational creeds and legacies in postmodern truths of enlightenment and understanding. Striped from religious folklores, dogmas and offences to the more liberating ideas of God's love and grace that were somehow misplaced over the past 500 years of post-Reformational doctrine and enlightenment.

Curiously, Emergent Christians would practice this kind of faith first-and-foremost apart from the dominant Evangelical / Reformed churches more popular dogmas of restrictive grace - which doctrine of faith was ironically the very foundation stone upon which the Reformation began! But to these same Emergent Christians, as to our Reformed brethren all-too-well-steeped in systematic doctrinal distinctions, it is as necessary to discern the faith that we practice as it is to know it. This is all the difference between studying a static biblical theology and discerning it into its various fashions of contemporary biblical theology. Consequently,  Orthopaxy and Orthodoxy must stand together as Siamese twins, and not as opposing opposites. Each one sharpening the other just as the conjoining Christian groups of Emergent Christian can do with our "entwined" Evangelical / Reformational brethren - and similarly, they to us. Not in a spirit of dissolution and synthesis, but in the spirit of true transformational - even radical! - change that could revolutionize our current contemporary theologies in a renewed Reformational movement of grace, truth and justice that may last for another 500 years! Let this be our prayer for unity and discernment.

R.E. Slater
January 9, 2011
Revised: September 24, 2013

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Founders Ministries

Dr. J. I. Packer
Spring 1994

Question: Dr. Packer, you have done a great deal of writing and speaking on the subject of the need for a new reformation, a new awareness of the sovereignty and grace of God in our day. How do you assess the condition of the state of evangelicalism as it presently exists, and what do you think we can do about that condition?

Augustine (4th-5th Centuries)
Packer: I see evangelical strength needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions. If you do not see deep into the problem, you do not see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth of the human problem. And actually, the Reformation itself was a recovery of the tremendous contribution that the great St. Augustine made back at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries. He was the man who, more than anyone else in Christendom, saw to the heart of the real problem. He saw how much damage sin had done, how completely we were oriented away from God by nature. He is the one who left us that phrase 'original sin' which he got from the text of Psalm 51:5:

'Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.'

He also saw in response to our sinful condition, how great a work of transformation was needed by the grace of God in human lives. The sixteenth-century Reformers stood on Augustine's shoulders at this point. Of course, they clarified the great truth that justification by faith is the way in which the grace of God reaches us. We need, even today, a Christianity that is as deep and strong as that. And this, it seems to me, is where modern evangelicalism is lacking.

Question: Would you say that there is a connection or a similarity between the man-centered theology of evangelicalism and the general humanistic spirit?

John Calvin, 16th Century
Packer: Yes, although I think that it is an indirect connection. Secular humanism, you see, is very man-centered. It encourages every individual to regard his or her own personal happiness as the supreme value. And the kind of evangelical religion which does not challenge this self-centered, self-absorbed standpoint, but, rather, reinforces it by making one's religious experience the most important thing in the world, or God's gift of personal contentment, happiness, joy, good feelings, or that kind of thing, is simply echoing the tenets of this type of modern humanism. A Reformational emphasis, however, challenges this by asserting that God is the centre, not man. We must recognize that he is at the heart of things and that we exist for his glory, that is to say, we exist for him, not he for us. And it is only as we set ourselves to glorify him as the one who supremely matters that we are going to enter into the joy and fulfillment which being a Christian brings. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it so well: 'What is the chief end of men?' answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The enjoyment comes as we set ourselves to glorify God. But if our concern is with the enjoyment, then we won't be glorifying God.

Question: Dr. Packer, you mentioned just a moment ago, in referring to the proliferation and growth of evangelicalism, the lack of any real significant power of the cross and the gospel. Do you believe that modern evangelicals have lost their grip on the biblical gospel?

Packer: Well, in one particular respect we have got it all wrong. We are inclined to believe that God exists for us, God is waiting for us, God is there to make us happy. But in the gospel, God does not play the role of a butler. In the Gospel we are told that God, the Creator who made all things for his own praise and glory, has gone into action as mankind's redeemer. We human individuals are impotent of spiritual response, that is, response to God in any shape or form; but God first of all sends us a Savior to make atonement for our sins, and then he sends the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and make us willing to see and respond to Christ. Now, if we do not appreciate that our salvation is God's work in that absolutely radical sense, that is, God sends the Saviour, God gives us the gift of faith to respond to the Saviour, then we will not even be able to tell people what the gospel means. You see, we ought to be telling people that they are helpless, that they need Christ, and that they must ask God for new hearts and for the ability to trust Christ. In other words, you have got to tell them of their own spiritual inability right from the start. If on the other hand we forget this and go around saying that God is just there to help you, and that you call on him whenever you need to, that he is a sort of cosmic bell-hop, well, then we are misrepresenting the gospel in an absolutely fundamental manner. Until the gospel is understood as a message that obliges us to say that we are hopeless, helpless, lost, and ruined, requiring also that God does the work of salvation from start to finish, then we are not presenting the gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament.

Question: Given the current trends of the evangelical movement, what do you see for the future?

Packer: I think that there is a big risk of fragmentation. Modern evangelicalism is simply too worldly, and the influence of the world is usually always a fragmenting influence. I think perhaps that evangelicalism has not yet learned the way of unity on anything except the outward trappings of united evangelistic efforts. And that in itself is only a shallow uniting factor because the gospel as understood by some doesn't correspond to the gospel as understood by others. And when it comes to all goals and objectives beyond evangelism, then I think that evangelicals are very seriously divided. There are some tightly connected with right wing politics, yet their are others, because of their emphasis on end times speculations, who really do not think that involvement in society is important at all. There are some who are only interested in the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit, such as faith healing or speaking in tongues, while others seem only interested in the implementations of psychology or self-help type programmes. So I see grave risks of fragmentation down the road. The only thing that can unite us is a bigger, broader, deeper, wider and more generally agreed upon theology. And I find that theology only in the Reformation heritage.

Question:If the theology is the only thing that will unite us, do you really think unity is at all achievable? Because from our perspective, the average evangelical, indeed the average Christian, it seems, is intimidated by theology.

Martin Luther, 16th Century
Packer First of all, theology simply means the study of God. This is something that every Christian needs to realize. I think the way that the word has been used in the past has frightened many Christians away from it, even though they never stopped to consider what the word actually meant. People got the idea somewhere that theology is the business of the seminary professors and the clergy, but has very little to do with the day to day living of the Christian life. It's something people seem to think you can get along without, provided that you read your Bible daily and think one or two guiding thoughts from your passage to keep you on the rails. I do not believe it is at all like that. But theology means the study of God, and if we are to love God, as we are commanded, with all our 'minds' them we need to be in the business of theology. So when I speak of theology, I am referring to the truth that God has given us all in Scripture which we all need to learn and digest. It is truth for life! Now, I am a professor of theology, but I must tell you that in all of my teaching and writing, I am trying to show that theology is supremely practical. If this could be seen, then I think people's fear of theology could melt away and they would appreciate, and benefit from, serious theological instruction. Again, if you will allow me to beat the drum once more, this is a Reformational emphasis. If you actually get around to reading the Reformers, such as Luther or Calvin, you will find that they did all their work from a pastoral standpoint, and at every point they are applying truth to the lives of people. What they were trying to do throughout their earthly lives was to build the people up in God's truth so their lives might bring glory to their Creator and Redeemer. It's as practical and down to earth, and as pastoral as that. That's what we need to get back to first, I think.

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