Here we go. Here’s an example of my previous posts about learning how to talk with one another, and I’m not so sure it is happening as it ought.
Emergent leaders Brian McLaren and Tony Jones are quoted in an article you can read here about a joint venture of working together with some Jewish leaders on a variety of projects: the issue is that Christians and Jews are working together and some Christians are protesting that Emergent has compromised its Christian faith. Has it?
My point is this: are we reading carefully? Are we listening to the article or are we jumping to conclusions? Are we reading into the story or taking the words at face value? I give quotations from the news report and then I offer some comments. I conclude that some are protesting without reading carefully enough and that the media report is “hype and hope” more than articulation of “who thinks what.”
Before I do that, let’s recognize the genre of the report. This is a
newspaper report press release, expressing the hopes and vision of those who are going to collaborate on mutual projects by getting together two groups that have not done real well at getting along: Christians and Jews. This is a hopeful statement by some leaders that is hyped in the media in order to gain attention for an event. Let’s not forget what this is. People begin such endeavors, always, with the best of intentions and with the highest of hopes. (And this is not meant to throw cold water on a hot project — it is meant to say what it is.)
And before I get to the quotations, here’s another point. If you are for building relationships with others, if you are for finding what seekers are interested in, and if you are for incarnating the gospel by living it out in front of others, this event could be an absolutely great opportunity to give it a go. I think good things will come of this mutual work.
Prominent Emergent Christian theologian Brian McLaren (_A New Kind of Christian_) has met with Synagogue 3000’s leadership three times in recent months to discuss shared concerns, particularly surrounding attempts by younger Christians and Jews to express their spiritual commitments through social justice. “We have so much common ground on so many levels,” he notes. “We face similar problems in the present, we have common hopes for the future, and we draw from shared resources in our heritage. I’m thrilled with the possibility of developing friendship and collaboration in ways that help God’s dreams come true for our synagogues, churches, and world.”
First, the article writer says that McLaren has concerns shared with Jewish leaders about how to “express their spiritual commitments through social justice.” (If you read this blog, you know I’m not big on the expression “social justice”, but that’s for another post.) This appears to me to be a candid recognition of a faith difference.
Second, he speaks of “God’s dreams.” This is Brian’s language for the plan of God to redeem the world from its sin and chaos. I’d like to know more — that is why Brian McLaren has written his book that is coming out next year on The Secret Message of Jesus.
Third, I will stand right now with anyone who wants to fight for justice (defined as God’s will for all of us and the world). I see a Lukan thread all about this, and you can find my own thoughts to your right under the category “Kingdom of God.” Anyone who defines the gospel without regard to the establishment of God’s will, justice, isn’t being biblical. And “any” expression of justice is God’s will — whoever gets it done. (I learned this from Art Holmes, in his All Truth is God’s Truth.)
Do I have questions about what Brian means? I sure do. I always do. And he likes to get people to ask questions.
S3K Senior Fellow Lawrence A. Hoffman, (_Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life_, forthcoming 2006) stressed the importance of building committed religious identity across faith lines. “We inhabit an epic moment,” he said, “nothing short of a genuine spiritual awakening. It offers us an opportunity unique to all of human history: a chance for Jews and Christians to do God’s work together, not just locally, but nationally, community by community, in shared witness to our two respective faiths.”
First, I don’t speak for the Jewish community’s concerns and hopes.
Second, I don’t know if McLaren and Jones agree with this — and if they do, do they agree with the wording, the general direction, or what? Let’s not jump to conclusions. A postmodernist can see an issue here: let’s not equate the newspaper thread with the thread of the meetings or with the thread of Tony Jones or with the thread of Brian McLaren or, most especially, with the thread of God. It is a newpaper writer’s thread — that person’s take on what was said and how what was happening can be put together. There are other ways to put this together.
Third, if “God’s work” is bringing about justice — then there are surely overlaps here with the Christian understanding of justice and the Jewish view of justice.
Not only are many Jewish religious communities looking to the experiences of Christian innovators, especially in the context of worship that engages the unaffiliated, but they are seeing a similar paradigm shift from the Baby Boomer individualistic seeker mode to an emergent Generation X/post-GenX search for spirituality in community. S3K Director of Research Shawn Landres, himself a GenXer active in an emergent Jewish congregation, said, “We hope to learn from their experience and also to build bridges by engaging and challenging one another.”
I see this paragraph as media gobbledygook: full of words and very few of them clear enough in meaning to know what to make of a sentence full of such words.
According to Emergent-U.S. National Coordinator Tony Jones, this meeting has historic possibilities. “As emerging Christian leaders have been pushing through the polarities of left and right in an effort to find a new, third way, we’ve been desperate to find partners for that quest,” he said. “It’s with great joy and promise that we partner with the leaders of S3K to talk about the future and God’s Kingdom.”
First, I like the idea of a Third Way — very much so. I like this idea.
Second, he’s right: many have denounced instead of seen the vision of a socially-responsible form of orthodox faith that is rooted in missional work.
Third, it is his last two words that are causing some stir, and it is the word before them, the word “and”, that should have been read. Tony, at least here, does not equate their future work with God’s Kingdom. But, to the degree that this group and any of us seeks to work for God’s justice, and it happens, we see the presence of God’s Kingdom.
So, let’s look again: this is media hype and visionary hoping that this collaboration can bring about a greater sense of God’s justice.
We’ll have to see what happens before we can sit in judgment on those who are working for noble ends with others who differ on matters of faith.