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On defining a praxis

posted by xscot mcknight

Evangelicals define different parts of the Church by theology. The Emerging Movement is not cooperating, and hence Evangelicals are doing what they can to get it to — and the tug of war will continue until one of two things happen. Either Evangelicals will let the EM define itself as a praxis or the EM will offer a definition of its theology. I sense some resistance at both ends — the EM likes it liminality on the issue of “its theology” and Evangelicalism doesn’t want to surrender to another paradigm for identity definition.



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Justin

posted November 24, 2005 at 6:16 pm


Well the way I see it, EM is very, very, very loose — and it’s easy to leave something so loose undefined. So I’d see the issue being: will the EM tighten itself … or remain loose. I think a lot of Evangelicals don’t like the loose factor (of course the same could be said for just about any ‘orthodox’ sect.)
Frankly, given how loose the EM is — I see it more as a buzz word then a definable thing. It can be applied in so many ways, I’ll be interested to see if the EM community stays open to such looseness.



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Matt Glover

posted November 24, 2005 at 6:21 pm


…Or they’ll just keep arguing forever!
It’s a shame given that both sides have so much to offer each other. Perhaps we’ve forgotten we’re connected to the same vine.
Great blog.
MG



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 7:19 pm


Justin,
The “loose” thing is precisely the point: “loose” (as you are suggesting) theologically is of little concern to many in the EM (though they clearly affirm being part of the orthodox tradition — so just what can “loose” mean?). The issue is that the term “loose” is being used to define the movement theologically, when they’d rather be defined by praxis and communal commitment and loving God/others.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 7:21 pm


Matt,
While I think you are saying something important, remember it is the Evangelical movement that finds both Orthodoxy and Catholicism as unbelieving, while the EM wants to affirm the faith of any Christian. So, while I see problems at times with EM’s divisiveness, at other times I know it is attempting to forge allegiance with the entire Church at the level of praxis within the shape orthodoxy leads.



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Justin

posted November 24, 2005 at 8:18 pm


Scot,
By “loose” I mean there aren’t many key things I would see to set the EM apart from Evangelicals — mainly because there is so much diversity. From the many people I’ve spoken to throughout the EM, I get a whole boatload of different answers.
I don’t mean to say EM isn’t ‘orthodox’ in faith — rather that for the most part ‘orthodox’ is defined as ‘adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith’ — now unless I’m confused this is exactly what the EM is trying to breakout of, a stale, stiff Christianity.
However, how can the movement be sustained as a whole, given the intrinsic differences in the praxis ‘habitual or established practice or custom’ — unless you define ‘praxis’ differently?



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Shawn

posted November 24, 2005 at 8:27 pm


As I understand it right praxis flows from right belief, which is why many Evangelicals, myself included, are skeptical and have questions about parts of the EC.
On the point you just raised Scot, a small but growing number of Evangelicals have been reaching out to Catholics and the Orthodox long before EC came along. My own tradition, the Vineyard movement, has been taking an inclusive “whole church” stand since its beginnings, again well before EC came along, so I’m not sure thats a fair statement.
Plus, the Roman and Orthodox churches will have exactly the same problem with EC that Evangelicals do, that right belief comes before and creates right practice. The Orthodox in particular understand this, and are likely to be less than impressed with a movement that appropriates icons and candles from other traditions but cannot make a simple and clear statement about what it believes.
I have twice in recent weeks come across comments, one by a well known EC internent presence, that the Holy Trinity is a doctrine that we no longer need. Comments like this do not bode well for the EC.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 8:57 pm


Shawn,
The notion that practice flows from belief is inferred from the Pauline letter paradigm — which is rarely stated so directly by Paul. It can be proven and disproven — plenty of us do right in spite of bad ideas, and many do wrong with plenty of sound ideas. The process from good idea to good practice can be “constructed” with words and articulations, but there is no necessary connection of good ideas and good practice. (I would not affirm the other — some bad ideas directly lead to bad practices.)
Any idea that we can dispense with Trinity is simply inconsistent with the Christian story “we all find ourselves in”.
But remember: my point is that the EM does not want to be defined by a theological articulation but by its consistency in following Jesus — and I find this to be a breath of fresh air that smacks dead-on with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus castigated those who called him “Lord” but did not “do” what he said. There can be just as much an imbalance in the EM when it summons people to ortho-praxis, but I affirm the attempt. We need more of it.
Balance, let it be said, is sometimes an indication of deadness.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 9:00 pm


Justin,
I see the EM’s thrust to be exactly what your GKC quote on your blog. Precisely the point — and he did not deny orthodoxy one bit.



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Matt Glover

posted November 24, 2005 at 9:18 pm


Perhaps it has something to do with context/country. I’m on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia and certainly where I live boudaries are being broken down and diffeent denominations/movements are talking – and we’re all better off for it. We have much more in common than we do that’s different.
The conversations and shared mission that we now experience is life giving and refreshing, and nobody really seems to care if you’re evangelical, catholic, orthodox, emerging or whatever. More and more the only label that is used is “chirstian” or “Follower of Jesus”.
Thee’s still a long way to go though. With much theological reflection required. We’ll get there….



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 9:29 pm


Matt,
Thanks for this reminder. Each of our context does shape our conversation. I’m seeing this cooperation all across the world. The Romanians are holding serious conversation now between Evangelicals and the Orthodox. Similar learnings to speak to one another, trust one another, and find the gospel that can keep us together is what I’m dedicated to myself, and hence Embracing Grace and Jesus Creed. This is much less shameless huckstering than heart-felt passion that the way of Jesus can be found and we can walk in it.



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Justin

posted November 24, 2005 at 9:44 pm


Well indeed I don’t see how one could say Jesus gave any sort of ‘Systematic Theology’ or, realistically Paul for that matter. But if I were to label myself as part of the EM, what exactly am I saying?
My major issue here is there are many aspects of the EM I whole hearty agree with, and yet a good deal of others I don’t agree with. Within the EM itself there are, at points, such wide diversions of views that I’m just not sure how to bring it all together.
I realize given the nature of human institutions it’s silly to think there would be any group I could agree with 100% — yet still given how wide ranging the EM is — it’s hard for me to want to signup, when I’m not sure exactly what I’m signing. Does this make any sense?
Well the food is ready, and I’m off to eat it. Happy Thanksgiving, to all who celebrate it!



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Scot McKnight

posted November 24, 2005 at 9:49 pm


Justin,
I suggest you look at Emergent Village’s website, under Order, and say “Is this where I am?” It is about as central a point as you’ll find — but the inherent ambiguity about such things is part of what makes it tick.



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Nate

posted November 24, 2005 at 10:07 pm


Justin,
In the hacker community we talk about how Hacker is never a title you claim, it is something bestowed on you by other hackers. Most people that try to claim the label hackers are just posing or following a crowd.
Perhaps people would be better not trying to sign up for a movement, or claim a label by agreeing to some theological confession and instead seeking to follow the way of Jesus in the middle of the context they find themselves in, and let the labeling of who is part of this “movement” be worked out by historians 50 years from now.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 26, 2005 at 1:35 am


Scot,
You stated, “The issue is that the term “loose” is being used to define the movement theologically, when they’d [the EM] rather be defined by praxis and communal commitment and loving God/others.” My question is why not be defined by praxis, communal commitment, loving God/others, AND by theology? Is doctrine not an important part of the Christian faith?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 26, 2005 at 8:28 am


Tim,
One more time, let me ask you to look at Emergent Village’s website, under “Order” and you’ll see perhaps as much as there is right now. It is not a theologically-defined movement, like the Vineyard movement or the Seeker-church movement or other similar movements. It is movement across the borders. We need to accept what it “is” and not ask it to be what it is not. That seems fair to me.



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Pat

posted November 27, 2005 at 10:21 pm


Scot, this is a fantastic point. I was just emailing a friend of mine, who also happens to be a big piece of the Off-the-map stuff and of Brian McLaren, about this topic.
It amazes me to see how frequently McLaren’s theology is challenged as not-orthodox, or at least un-orthodox. But I have yet to see a single critic look at his church’s praxis.
It seems to me that we’re moving from a foxus on orthodoxy and trying to blend that with orthopraxy. That does seem to ring true with Jesus’ call to action, not simply proper categorization of beliefs.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 27, 2005 at 10:29 pm


Pat,
The quest for an orthopraxy must be harnessed, but it must also be set free to what it should be.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 28, 2005 at 5:31 am


Scot,
I just revisited the Emergent Village web site, and to be honest I found the statement of order and rule to be lacking. For example, the value of “Commitment to God in the Way of Jesus” sounds great, but without defining who Jesus is it can mean anything. Is it the way of the Jesus who was a great moral teacher but not divine, the way of the Gnostic Jesus, the way of the Jesus who is both God and man, the way of the Jesus who is Michael the archangel? I don’t expect the EM to have a detailed statement of theology on every issue, such as women in ministry or the character of the end times, but it is not unreasonable to expect ANY Christian group to be able to agree on certain basic doctrines (things like the nature of Jesus, the means of salvation, and the nature of the Bible) and be willing to define their beliefs on such core doctrines. Even if we move “across the borders” there are certain core doctrines that we should be able to unite around.
Your response did not address my question: Why not be defined by praxis, communal commitment, loving God/others, AND by theology? If being defined by theology (but not praxis, communal commitment, and loving God/others) is a weakness of evangelicalism, then why isn’t being defined by praxis, communal commitment, and loving God/others (but not theology) a weakness of the EM? The former could describe a group of Pharisees, but the latter could describe a group of hippies.
Let me say that I see great value in much of what the EM is trying to do. (If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be having this discussion.) The church does need to become more missional and incarnational in its approach to the world, we do need to develop authentic community, and we do need to have a more holistic view of the gospel. But I don’t understand why these things are antithetical to having a defined theology.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 28, 2005 at 8:45 am


Tim,
I’m all for a more theological statement and I think we’ll see things like that before too long. There is a commitment to historical orthodoxy in that Order, though.
I sense your argument is not with me but with EV.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 28, 2005 at 12:36 pm


“Emergent Movement” implies something that is emerging and thus not pounded in stone. Maybe there is a certain dynamic there that they are reluctant to surrender. There is a freedom there for them (within parameters) that otherwise would just put the EM’s in a position in which they were acting against in the first place in becoming “emergent”.
Maybe this “movement” will have to be defined in terms of the above.



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Scott M

posted November 28, 2005 at 2:28 pm


Tim, I just want to point out that one of the things you define as a “basic” doctrine,
the means of salvation
is, in fact, something that (in my mind) indisputable “Christian” groups have disputed over. While all agree it involves Jesus, the specifics have varied widely.
So I see some danger in too narrow a perspective.



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Mark Miron

posted November 28, 2005 at 2:30 pm


Interesting…
Tim, if you feel comfortable defining EM as seeking to:
1. be “more missional and incarnational in its approach to the world”
2. “develop authentic community”
– and –
3. have a “more holistic view of the gospel”
it would then seem to me that you have been able to find elements of a discernable, emerging theology in the movement. The developing theology seems to be a natural expression of the direction that the Emergent conversation is going in rather a set, and possibly faulty, theology defining the parameters of that conversation.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 28, 2005 at 6:53 pm


Mark,
Those characteristics are not really my definition of EM. They are simply what I have heard many in the EM say they are trying to do.
The point you made when you said, “The developing theology seems to be a natural expression of the direction that the Emergent conversation is going in rather a set, and possibly faulty, theology defining the parameters of that conversation,” is probably where I disagree with the EM. I believe that certain theological parameters do need to be established BEFORE we address issues related to praxis. Perhaps the early stages of the conversation should focus on trying to establish such parameters. I believe this would eliminate much of the criticism of the EM, and perhaps more people would engage the conversation on these other important subjects (praxis, community, etc.) if they were assured that it stood on sound theology.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 28, 2005 at 6:59 pm


Scot,
You’re right. My issues are with EV more than with you. I may have read more into your posts than you meant to say. My initial read was that you agreed with the EM’s efforts to resist being defined by their theology in addition to praxis, communal commitment, and loving God/others. That is why I directed my initial question to you. I’m not used to reading and posting on objective blogs.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 28, 2005 at 7:09 pm


Scott,
I maintain that the means of salvation is a basic doctrine. This particular issue is not directly pertinent to the topic at hand, so I don’t feel that I should clutter up the post with a discussion of various views of salvation. My point was that there are certain basics about the nature of salvation that are essential. We can disagree on other issues related to salvation, but on the basics there should be consensus.



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Bob

posted November 30, 2005 at 9:21 am


Help me understand something (and perhaps this is a topic for another post or a discussion much broader than can be had here), but if right theology is necessary for right practice, then doesn’t that render the Good Samaritan an irrelevant story?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 30, 2005 at 10:11 am


Bob,
I’m in agreement with you here. Orthopraxy is seen in many who are not orthodox. That is precisely why Jesus told that story.
Nor should we want to dichotomize the two, but hope we can bring them into harmony.



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Tim Sweatman

posted November 30, 2005 at 5:37 pm


I agree that right practice is not dependent on right theology. But I still don’t see how anyone can claim that one can be a faithful Christian without both right practice AND right theology. It seems to me both are emphasized in the New Testament. Just because too many evangelicals have neglected praxis to focus on theology does not mean that we need to err toward the other extreme.
BTW, while Jesus described the Good Samaritan as the injured man’s real neighbor, that doesn’t mean he was necessarily a saved man. In the same way, the supposed right theology of the priest and Levite did not mean they were saved. One can have a right praxis without a right theology (example: Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists who do what is good and right), a truly right theology (based on Jesus, James, and the whole Bible and not just Paul) will lead to a right praxis.



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