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To, With, and As: Emergent types

posted by xscot mcknight

Stephen Shields has a lucid and useful post on Mark Driscoll‘s use of Ed Stetzer’s categories of emerging. That set of categories was relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists — those who are ministering to, those who are ministering with, and those who are ministering as postmodernists. Driscoll adds a category.
There is no reason to get into who’s right and who’s wrong, for (as postmodernity has taught all of us, whether we are pomo or not) such categories are imposed from without in order to explain and other categories might explain other features. Their degree of correspondence is shaped in part by our intent in using them. I do think, personally, that these categories from Stetzer and Driscoll are of some use for description — of a theological or missional sort, but they do not always correspond on the ground to what is happening.
But, Driscoll has added “Reformed” to the 3Rs of Stetzer. Driscoll is himself a Reformed emerging missionary. A reformissionary.
Here’s my take: his new category of Reformed Emerging is not a different kind of emerging but instead cuts across two of the already clarified groups — the reformed group is the theological standpoint of some who are “relevants” and some who are “reconstuctionists.” I take it that the revisionists really can’t be Reformed without some serious finger-crossing.
Overall, though, I find the same problem here that is often the case by those who want to define emerging and Emergent Village: to define emerging or emergent by a theological orientation fails to engage emerging and Emergent Village where it really is. These groups are not primarily a theological orientation but an ecclesiological vision and praxis, and a theology that emerges from that praxis. Now it just might be the case that Reformed reconstructionists and relevants are, in fact, at the ground level genuine theological orientations rather than missionally-shaped communities.
Someone tell me because I’m not sure, but it seems Driscoll would distinguish between “missionary” (which is mostly evangelistic) and “missional.” I noticed his use of the term “missionary” as he began to define the Reformed emerging group.
Defining this movement is a hobby-horse for some, but once we’ve got it figured out for ourselves, it is time to move on to praxis and to get post-definitional.
And when we get there we will also become post-categorical. That is what Jesus prayed for in John 17, and it is what I pray for. I hope you do, too. It’s called “deep ecclesiology.”



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Anthony Stiff

posted June 30, 2006 at 6:04 am


I’ve noticed this is your second posting on Driscoll’s use of Stetzer, I’m wondering why it is such a problem to acknowledge theological traditions in emerging or Emergent Village leaders background as a way to indentify them?
I’m hip to the pomo, category shy issue, but really there does seem to be different theological traditions at work in McLaren, Driscoll, and other emerging church leaders. My own approach to his categories in my blog was to add them into a more enclectic way of definning the emerging communities; one that also notices the ecclesiological sphere of the leaders and participants of the emerging church within their own cultural situations.
When we draw up community lines in the emerging church we need to do so realizing its only preliminary, open-ended, and has a shelf life that is sometimes post-dated. You can do it in a encletic fashion by noticing theological, ecclesiological, and cultural commitments of leaders and churches.
What I’m saying is that Driscoll’s categories shouldn’t be excluded as helpful but acknowledged as useful within limits. I don’t think post-categorical life is realistic or necessarily even ‘human’. What Christ was pressing us toward, to copy McLaren here in “Church on the Other Side”, was our need to learn how to deal with ‘category’ like ‘change’ in a fresh way that acknowledges the freedom of the Spirit to refashion it in an ongoing way. Categories like fences are good but need upkeeping and are usually made of materials that don’t last. Let’s not discard the idea of a fence, rather lets take it as that – just a fence.
Thoughts upon Sheilds reflections…



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 6:11 am


Scot, interesting post. All this hand wringing over definitions is intriguing. Isn’t praxis rooted in theology? How do we know that are ecclesiological and vision and praxis are connected to God?
If Emergent doesn’t believe what Christians always and everywhere have believed then how can it do what faithful Christians always and everywhere have done?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:01 am


Anthony and Martin,
Thanks for these early morning comments. There is enough here that I have to be succinct and direct. Each could be softened and elaborated.
First, Emergent Village and emerging in general is not a theological statement; there is plenty of theology at work but it is not a “new doctrinal orientation.” To define it by its theology doesn’t work at getting to what it is. We evangelicals define things by theology; when we encounter something that is not definable by theology it gives us worries. Some are evangelical, some aren’t; some are conservative, some are liberal.
Second, EV has said it is in the stream of the great orthodox traditions and creeds; how many times does this need to be said? Martin, you’ve said this before on this blog, but EV and others have said this. I’m taking that you don’t believe that they mean this. Am I being unfair to you?
Third, what I said about Driscoll was that “reformed” isn’t really a new kind of emerging but one that cuts across the relevant and reconstuctionist categories (if one wants to use such categories). And I said categories are fine, but they tend to impose and then divide. It is fine to talk about the reformed missionary kind of emerging. That’s a recognizable group, but “reformed” is an apple when “relevant, etc” are oranges, and they’re not the oranges I’d serve in describing emerging. Which I’ve done in my Future or Fad? piece which can be found in the sidebar.
Fourth, post-categorical is a reality. Paul fought for it in 1 Cor 1–3. Jesus prayed for it. We may never achieve it, but that won’t stop many of us trying to live in peace.



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:14 am


Thanks Scot,
Your early morning is a cloudy lunchtime in my part of the world. Everything is definable by theology, I’m not persuaded by protestations to the contrary because they are just that (protestations without explanation).
When the EV refusal to have a statement of faith came up in the blogosphere I found the discussion interesting. Given your comments above I wonder why there was no affirmation of the ecumenical creeds. I’m not accusing EV at this point of not affirming them, but struggle to see why they wouldn’t joyfully join their 21st century voices to that impulse to confess Christ.
And I presume that Unitarians are not emerging conversation partners and are not part of God’s mission in the world. The answer to that (either way) surely makes it clear that EV is defined by theology.



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Alan

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:34 am


Scot — You asked whether “Driscoll would distinguish between ‘missionary’ (which is mostly evangelistic) and ‘missional.'”
My take is that for Driscoll, being missional is just being a missionary wherever you are at. I’ve listened to a fair amount of Mark, and I haven’t heard a distinction betweeen the two terms.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:36 am


Martin,
I’ve seen many a lunch time of clouds and rain in the UK. What still impresses me was how fast the clouds moved.
Well, we can go round and round if you want. To be sure, everything can be defined by theology. You can define the US Constitution by theology if you want, but you won’t get to its intent by so doing.
The same goes with emerging: it is a “conversation” for those who wish to join along in the conversation that one hears and observes. It does not ask persons to be of a certain theological orientation to join the conversation. Most emerge out of an evangelical world; some don’t. Most are reasonably traditional and orthodox; some probably aren’t. It is a conversation, it is a group that wants to discuss issues in an open way and to explore theology and praxis in our day. You can define EV by a theology if you wish. EV doesn’t.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:37 am


And, Martin, if Unitarians wanted to join a particular conversation they’d be welcome. It is that kind of conversation.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:39 am


An analogy, Martin.
I posted recently on the proposal in Books and Culture that advocated for an “exception clause” at Christian colleges. Let’s say emerging is an orthodox group of Christians who are committed to the creeds but who, for the sake of safe and open conversations, grant plenty of exceptions.



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Terry Dawson

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:39 am


Scot, when I read ‘post-categorical’ I couldn’t help but shout Amen! Of course, it’s 5:30 in the morning and I am alone in my office and hope no one heard. Per your last comment Paul did fight for it, and Jesus did pray for it. And then Paul said it was so regardless of our ‘petty-praxis’ (Colossians 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.)
I like Mark Driscoll, but IMO, as is keeping with his personality, since there are now things he doesn’t like about others, or agree with others on regarding things emerging, new lines are being drawn. Stetzer’s definitions are labels of clarification. Driscoll’s Reformed has added a personal adjective to the originally satisfying noun.
Denominationalism is the same no matter how you slice it, and it doesn’t have to be too terribly organized, just ranted about on blogs :)
Good post Scot.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:39 am


It’s a high blue sky here right now; sunny; clear and crisp; about 70. Nearly perfect.



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:53 am


Scot,
I got this from EV from the page about “coming into the conversation with us”:
“This complex and many-faceted transition calls for innovative Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways. We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams”.
That’s in a different language game completely from the US Constitution. To my mind that does place some theological framework on the conversation.
Isn’t this in the end an intentional conversation? I’m still musing the unitarian contribution to all this.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:58 am


Martin,
This statement illustrates rather than refutes what I have said: it does not define the kind of theology that is necessary for that conversation but welcomes to the table those who want to engage in that conversation.
You are trying to unpack the theology of the EV from these kinds of statements; but the theology of the EV folk varies from person to person.
Don’t grasp your last question.



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Anthony Stiff

posted June 30, 2006 at 8:06 am


Before this string gets to far along I want to clear my critique of ‘post-categorical’ and respond to your comments Scot on 1 Cor 1-3, in reverse order;
I think its better to speak of Paul as anti-schismatic rather than post-categorical in 1 Cor 1-3, it was schism’s he was dealing with not the notion of categories. I don’t think applying that language there is helpful – difference of opinion here.
By saying that being ‘post-categorical’ is realistic or necessarily ‘human’ I was getting at the idea that we can’t escape using categories to understand things or even escape applying them to ourselves. What Christ calls us to instead in lue of 1 Cor 1-3 is an ecumenical and spiritual understanding of the notion of category. We apply them to ourselves and others for the sake of unity with diversity, and also in a fashion that does not lift us up above our brothers and sisters in a way that would praise our wisdom and power and glory and not that of Christ’s saving work.
Scot I hope that shows the difference between you and I here, as well as how I concieve of categories and schisms. I’m happy to retract anything that carried a tone that was hard and not soft/conversational in my first post.



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 8:11 am


I appreciate that there is theological variety in EV, and I guess it is an approach that can house that variety. But if all the fences are down, and there is no being in or out, what’s the point?
EV clearly intends to do something on God’s behalf, and with God, in the world. How can one (or many) do so without agreeing together on God’s identity and mission? My struggle is in connecting the rhetoric of being missional followers of Jesus without there being a corresponding theology of the Jesus they are following.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2006 at 9:01 am


Hmmm. I volunteer with (mostly) culturally evangelical youth ‘ministering’ (if it can be called that) as someone who is more culturally and experientially postmodern than not. It’s an odd experience, I assure you, but obviously does not fit any of those particular categories. I read Driscoll’s article in the Southern Baptist Texan and found several things amusing in it. But the one that stood out was his category of ‘living orthodoxy’, which he defined as consistent doctrine and changing practice. He then proceeds to define his ‘consistent doctrine’ in such things as penal substitution, a relatively recent addition to the atonement theories, and some of the doctrinal points of Reformed theology, a relative newcomer as far as doctrine goes. Ergo, by ‘consistent doctrine’ he really means those who hold to a very similar doctrine to mine, even though mine is, in fact, a relatively recent shift in actual doctrine of the church. That’s funny, really, since he defines both doctrine and practice changing as ‘living heresy’. By that definition, the inception of his own Reformed school of theology was, at the time, ‘living heresy’. That’s the problem with categories, their implications are not always what you desire them to be.
Anthony, I’m unclear what you mean by ‘post-categorical’. Humans are by nature pattern finders and (at least as often) pattern creators. It’s how we produce some order in the influx from the world around us, it’s how we solve problems, and it’s how we think. The problem lies not in the creation or use of patterns and categories, but in how they’re used and held. Very often, categories are used not to understand, but in an effort to coerce, define, restrict, or (as Scot puts it) ‘other’. It is against this manipulation that ‘postmodernity’ (whatever that might be) reacts. If it helps me better understand a group if I create some conceptual categories or if it helps me explain it to someone else, that’s great. However, I’m always mindful of the fact that they are my categories and those whom I’m categorizing would be unlikely to wholly agree with my approach. Such efforts are necessarily incomplete. You can’t list every attribute. Since you can’t, the ones you choose to consider also influence the categories you select. Someone else, looking at the same grouping, would likely find different groupings and categories.
It’s interesting that you use the analogy of a ‘fence’. Is that ‘fence’ intended to keep others out? Or is it a way to group the different herds? Or does it define a boundary? Those on your side are ‘in’ and those on the other side are ‘out’? Boundaries, of course, can be good things. I don’t mean to imply they are inherently bad or anything. But I have noticed that a lot of ‘evangelicals’ seem to spend a lot of time trying to repair and shore up their ‘fences’. It seems to consume a lot of energy in what is ultimately a losing battle.
The ‘postmodern’ experience is more fluid. I’ve described it in the past as living in the torrent of the flooded river attempting to find or drive down boulders of stability to which we can cling. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to the culturally postmodern to find that Jesus is ultimately trustworthy. I cannot stress that enough. He is an anchor to which I can hold and trust that he will remain. And with that anchor, I can find other spots of stability. Newbigin is the only Christian author (and there are certainly tons I haven’t read) I’ve personally read who seems to deeply understand the true, individual implications of the postmodern experience. It is hard to find hope within it, or at least hope that endures. I know so many people like that — like me — and most of the church might as well be speaking in ‘tongues of angels’ for all the good their words do. (Actually, it might be better if it were incomprehensible gibberish, because some of it is understood all too well.)
Another analogy for patterns or categories I could use might be one of sculptures or writing in the sand. They are for my pleasure and benefit (or understanding, ordering) and are typically temporary. However, if others find them helpful, I may take a picture so I can use it in the future.
Within that experience, you want to try to tell me that the ‘penal substitution’ theory of atonement is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith when it didn’t exist until somewhere around the 16th century? That sand castle won’t survive the first wave. Too many people who I’ve seen writing seem to consider ‘deconstruction’ a useful tool. And I suppose it can be. But few people seem to stop and consider what it might be like when the forces behind it are part of your daily, unconscious experience. I’m not a philosopher, so I don’t claim to fully grasp whatever they mean by ‘deconstruction’. But from what I do grasp of the idea, it describes my experience with any idea or belief or thought, even the ones I desire to hold. Think about that for a moment.
Trustworthy. Strong. Loving. Reliable. Consistent. Will always be there. Someone on whom you can depend. These are the words in the gospel people like me need to ‘hear’ (though ‘words’ are insufficient).
Martin, you make the same mistake I still see many of those described as ‘emerging’ make. Everyone on both sides seems to assume you can somehow separate theology and practice. That may not be nuts, but it’s not Christian. Two very widely used Greek words (in philosophy, at least) at and before the 1st century were ‘theoria’ and ‘praxis’. You will find those words nowhere in our text. Do you not think that’s significant? I’ve tried a lot of different ways to say this over the years, but none have really worked well. I think Newbigin provided better words than any I had in a book I recently read. The biblical expectation is that we ‘hear and obey’. That’s not really two actions. It’s one. If we do, it is called ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. If we do not, it is called ‘unbelief’.
Even with my grounding in American culture, that seems so obvious to me I still have trouble grasping why it’s apparently not to so many. That certainly does not mean ‘theology’ is useless. Far from it. Theology can help us better hear. Or it can impede our ability to hear. It’s a tool and like any tool, it’s use (and the problem) determine its usefulness.
However, this division between ‘theoria’ and ‘praxis’, between mental/spiritual and physical, and all the other dualisms involved, is hardly new or something that arose in ‘modernity’, though perhaps it was ‘modernity’ that enshrined it in the West. But it was firmly present in the Aristotlian influence in medieval times and in classical Greek philosophy. If the Bible speaks of it all, it speaks against it. (See James’ letter, which in parts seems to be addressing the influence of Greek philosophy.)
I don’t know what Emergent does or doesn’t believe. But I do know the above is why those who are culturally ‘postmodern’ give so much weight to things the church has collectively long believed, are suspicious of individual interpretations, but at the same time recognize that older or group beliefs or understandings can certainly be wrong, even as our own personal understandings and assumptions can be wrong. In others, we live in a place where it’s simply taken for granted that a lot of the things I think I believe are wrong. I just don’t know which ones.
Think on that for a while and you’ll begin to see why those ‘rocks’ which prove dependable are so very important. I’ve rambled again, but this issue is important.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 9:17 am


Anthony,
Your remarks were fine by me; I just had to condense and be direct at this end.
“Anti-schismatic” is a good term for 1 Cor 1–3, but doesn’t Paul say we shouldn’t say to which teacher but belong but that we belong to Christ? That is what I mean by non-categorical, which I define as using categories to divide Christians up — which is what Driscoll is doing. In a sense, so is EV, but it wants to say that we are emerging into a more unified Church.
Your definition in the second to last paragraph is where I am: we have to permit “descriptions” that can “label” folks, but we have to work toward a genuine unity.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 9:18 am


Anthony,
While you’re here, what are the Westminster Philly folks saying about Horton’s book? You might comment on the other series.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 30, 2006 at 10:20 am


Scot,
Excellent post and comment thread. I suspect we are going to see more of this “category adding” in the years to come. In part, while it may be an problematic impulse at time, I can also see it coming from groups who genuinely want to pursue authentic missional communality, but cannot, will not, want not to identify with emerging or EV.
Though I think this is sad, I also think that I would rather a Christian or a faith community pursue this authenticity and deny emerging/EV, than not push in the opposite direction. I say this in affirmation of what you have expressed here.
Interestingly, my new book has moved in this direction a great deal- how churches (mainly evangelical) might move towards this authenticity at their own pace and terms. To some, EV can appear like an iconoclastic movement, I think, which is scary.
As for Martin’s question:
“EV clearly intends to do something on God’s behalf, and
with God, in the world. How can one (or many) do so without agreeing together on God’s identity and mission?”
While perhaps a poor example for many, YWAM is one example (replicated in MANY “parachurch” and non-denom groups) of how this has proven very effective. While theology does need to be wrestled with consistantly, our unity is defined in large part relationally.
Unlike Martin, whose “struggle is in connecting the rhetoric of being missional followers of Jesus without there being a corresponding theology of the Jesus they are following”, I struggle with the rhetoric of missional theology without there being a corresponding praxis and community as incarnated by the Jesus they are following.
Peace,
Jamie



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 30, 2006 at 10:22 am


P.S. When I say the “rhetoric of missional theology” I am thinking in the lines of 1 Corintians 13 and James 2. And, as can be the tendency of this medium, I hope my tone does not sounds harsh or dismissive. Not intentional.



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 10:29 am


A brief response.
Scott M, I wasn’t trying to separate them. Practice implies theology. I was responding to the “there’s no theology here in Emergent” claim.
Jamie, similarly with your comment. My words are to do with the logical relationship between doctrine and practice and no t with situations that you are describing. All I was arguing for was that a missional approach implies a certain view of God and his Christ to begin with.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2006 at 10:56 am


Martin, this is where the disconnect always seems to happen. Your statement, ‘practice implies theology’, still creates two distinct ‘categories’. It still implies that theoria and praxis are somehow distinguishable from each other. And there is nothing in Scripture that supports that idea. The words were available and common in Greek philosophy. We cannot say we are simply stating the biblical concept differently, for if that manner of presenting it were correct, the NT authors could have used those words. They didn’t. I’ve explored perspectives where the distinction is clear, so perhaps that’s one reason it has come to stand out to me. Biblically, the closest your statement could be express is not that practice implies theology, but that theoria and praxis are indistinguishable. To the extent that we hear and obey, to that same extent we believe. Thus the desperate prayer of the father to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Hear and obey, not understand and then think of ways to put it into practice.



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Martin Downes

posted June 30, 2006 at 11:16 am


Thanks Scott,
Your explanation was helpful. By theology I mean the knowledge of God as that knowledge comes to us in God’s words and actions, as well as God’s commands.
I believe in God’s all comprehensive will, his election of grace, the adoption and redemption in Christ etc. This is what I meant by theology. By practice I was thinking of how these truths shape the life of the church. The logical distinction between them I guess I the difference between Ephesians 1-3 and 4-6



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Broken Messenger

posted June 30, 2006 at 11:35 am


Defining this movement is a hobby-horse for some, but once we’ve got it figured out for ourselves, it is time to move on to praxis and to get post-definitional.
Scot, the more I observe the EM the more I am becoming convinced that McLaren and Driscoll are going to split the movement into two, that will carry on a generally quiet, yet kind of cold war between them for some time.
It seems to me that the “Emergent Conversation” continues to grows into a one sided affair between it and its critics, and it also seems that it is quickly becoming several isolated conversations of its own internally. My fear is that “The Village” here will eventually just be a large group of theological vagrants that are just interested in talking to themselves. Here’s to hoping I’m dead wrong on this one.
Brad



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Luke

posted June 30, 2006 at 1:04 pm


It has seemed to me that EV has categorized itself by removing itself from the ‘institutional Church’, because simply, they do not know our language and cannot participate in the ‘conversation’.
It may be that I don’t know anything and the EV is striving to be entirely ‘post-categorical’ but I think we will not see that day until we are unified ‘in Christ’ after the resurrection.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 1:32 pm


Luke,
There are some jumps in that first sentence, and I’m wondering if you elaborate a bit. I’m not sure EV has removed itself from the ‘institutional church’ though I’m not sure what that might mean? Roman Catholic? Creedal churches? Evangelicalism? Formal vs. informal?
“they do not know our language” — who is “our”?
Are you saying some are excluded from the conversation?
On the last paragraph — belief that unity will not be achieved until the End should not keep us from working for it, anymore than any other nearly unachievable goal should be avoided because we are cracked Eikons.



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Luke

posted June 30, 2006 at 1:44 pm


Scot,
I absolutely agree with your last statement.
To elaborate on the other comments, I do think some are excluded from the conversation. The word ‘institutional’ was a product of me eating lunch, listening to music and commenting simultaneous. What I meant to type is ‘traditional’. My understanding of the EV, which is extremely limited and please help me where I misunderstand it, is that they are searching for ‘new’ ways for church, theology, and practice. But some, like Driscoll, are interested in contextualization but not in finding new ways of describing theological ideas like hell and the atonement , and because of this, those in Driscoll’s camp are not in the conversation because they have ‘missed the point’.
These are only assumptions, but because there are no definitions or clarifications, I do not understand what EV is.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 2:01 pm


Luke,
I can tell you this; I’m open to conversation with Driscoll types. Didn’t I review Russ Moore’s book and now Mike Horton’s?
Driscoll is a “to” and maybe a “with” but not an “as”. Those in the “as” conversation do things differently. Join along, I say, and let’s see where we end up. No one is looking for a consensus. I’ve posted a bit about hell, etc., and I sure wish more would be willing to talk about it.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2006 at 2:14 pm


Martin, this feels like the same barrier I keep running into as I try to find the words to bridge the communication gap I perceive. Let me try a specific example. It’s intriguing to me that you see Ephesians 1-3 as the theory Paul is conveying and 4-6 as the practical application of that theory. You see, as I read his letter to the church in Ephesus, I find that Paul opens with greetings and a very long prayer through the first half. He then proceeds to articulate commands from God for the church (which I gather was the point of the letter) in the second half.
Now, Paul’s opening prayer is extremely rich and packed full of useful thoughts, just as the Psalms often are, but it remains a prayer, not an ordered presentation of theoria which he must establish before providing the commands from God. Since the most common consensus I’ve seen is that Paul did not personally write his letters, perhaps because of poor eyesight, I can envision him offering his opening prayer as the one acting as his scribe records it.
And even in translation by committee, I can sense the change in tone as his prayer ends and the instructions begin. I love the way the NCV renders the beginning of 4:17, “In the Lord’s name, I tell you this.” Upon receiving this letter, those who refused to obey did not believe. It’s not that our practice flows from our intellectual belief or that our intellectual belief is proven by our practice. That dualism or dichotomy is not in the text. While we can claim to hold any intellectual belief we want, faith means we follow Jesus and obey his commands. To the extent that we do, it is called belief. To the extent that we refuse, it is called unbelief. Our practice is our belief just as our true belief is our practice. It’s not that one informs the other, precedes the other, or even flows from the other. It’s rather that the two are inextricably intertwined like a tightly woven cloth.
There are no lengthy lists of laws and sacrifices we must observe, though many actions are honored when they are part of belief. It’s rather that the core of our faith involves following Jesus by obeying his commands. And, of course, the core of those commands is always, as Scot puts it, his amended Shema. Love God and others. Everything must build on that.
Maybe that clarifies the difference in perception a bit more. Maybe it just confuses the issue more.



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Sam B

posted June 30, 2006 at 3:59 pm


Scot,
What is the book you recently read by Newbigin?



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shari brown

posted June 30, 2006 at 4:03 pm


Thanks so much, I have been looking forward to this conversation for a long time without even being aware of the fact. I do not have anything of substance to contribute at this point, but I am listening and hoping to learn more. Also funny, when I picked up my copy of Relevant Magizine last night it contained an article about The Emerging Church and quoted this professor from North Park University. Thoughts on the article?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 4:06 pm


Sam,
Not sure you are asking this of me, but one could begin with his Proper Confidence.
Shari,
Trying to be funny? (Use those emoticons, they make things clear.) That would be my article.



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Scott M

posted June 30, 2006 at 4:17 pm


My guess is he was probably asking me, since I’m the one who mentioned it. However, that was the book (Proper Confidence). Although I’m fairly certain I interacted with the book differently than those to whom he was primarily writing, I believe I found in it better words than the ones I had been trying to use, though. At least, I’m hopeful.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2006 at 4:17 pm


“While we can claim to hold any intellectual belief we want, faith means we follow Jesus and obey his commands. To the extent that we do, it is called belief. To the extent that we refuse, it is called unbelief. Our practice is our belief just as our true belief is our practice. It’s not that one informs the other, precedes the other, or even flows from the other. It’s rather that the two are inextricably intertwined like a tightly woven cloth.”
Scott M,
Very well stated I think. It is not an either-or situation at all. These are different aspects of the same unified whole – We must wrap our minds around this reality rather than try to shoe-horn everything into nice theological boxes.



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MarkE

posted June 30, 2006 at 5:17 pm


Thank you Scott M. I really liked your comments in #29, well stated.



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Dana Ames

posted June 30, 2006 at 6:30 pm


Beautifully written, ScottM. Thank you for pointing out the “hidden dualisms” in our ways of thinking with the example of theory/praxis; it’s hard for me to see them much of the time. It is remarkable that all the “words of the gospel” you need to hear are Relational and can only be seen in the context of relationship.
Dana



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Clint Walker

posted June 30, 2006 at 7:05 pm


Thanks you got me thinking



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Scot McKnight

posted June 30, 2006 at 10:35 pm


Well, Scott, let me be the contrarian.
The general layout of Paul’s letters can be seen as theoria and praxis. By pointing to Eph 1-3 and 4-6 a point was left out; we have to wait until the opening prayer is done.
So, let’s take Gal 1-4 and 5-6, or Romans 1-11 and 12-16.
In general, I’m with you in the need to deconstruct the strong sense of theoria and praxis, but that does not mean those distinctions are not legitimate in specific fields of discourse, nor that they are absolute dichotomies or dualisms. Romans 1-11, after all, has its praxis moments of a certain kind.
But, there is a distinction between the “indicative” and the “imperative” or the “theological” and the “practical” or the “theoretical” and the “practical.”



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Scott M

posted July 1, 2006 at 12:00 am


I’m not sure what your comment about Ephesians meant. I even tried reading the text aloud and the opening prayer doesn’t seem to conclude until the end of chapter 3. It all even reads like a prayer.
I looked a Galatians closely for the division you suggested and simply couldn’t see it. However, that doesn’t really mean anything. As discussed in another post, we create the patterns and categories that help us make sense or order from things. So it does not surprise me that people can see the general layout of Paul’s letters as theoria and praxis, even if I don’t.
Or it may be that we’re using the same words, but describing somewhat different ideas. For instance I have no problem distinguishing between the theoretical and the practical. In fact, I’m something of a math geek who loves the purely theoretical side of mathematics much more than the practical applications. ;-)
The point I was attempting to make is that when we take that classical distinction and apply it biblically, we appear to me to be wandering astray. Our faith is not one where we first understand the theory, then assent intellectually to that theory, and call that ‘belief’. And then that understanding or ‘belief’ informs our practice of the faith. I cannot find that idea in the text, but it is a common way of describing it.
Rather, as Newbigin put it (in much better words than I ever found on my own), we are to hear God and obey. Sometimes we get an explanation why. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we understand. Sometimes we don’t. You see that especially clearly in the interaction of people with Jesus as its recorded in the gospels. (Or at least I do.) Those who hear and obey are said to have faith. A failure to do so is captured as unbelief. (I used to try to say things like, ‘No matter what we say we believe, the things we do show what we actually believe.’ But none of those attempts feel close to the way Newbigin puts it.)
Similarly, I tend to find Paul’s letters beautiful and passionate. They are filled with God’s instructions to the various churches (through Paul) intermingled with outbursts of prayer, song, and raw emotion by Paul. Sometimes, Paul explains carefully why something is the way it is or needs to be done a certain way. Sometimes he doesn’t. But I don’t find his letters laid out in a way that first provides the theory and then describes how to put that theory into practice. Instead, I find both tightly intertwined, essentially forming a single cloth, throughout his letters.
Is there anything wrong with theology or other attempts to understand why or how? No! Often, the better we understand, the better we are able to hear. I just don’t want to characterize mental assent to some particular theory as ‘belief’.
We cannot make the strong distinction between the two. The things we think certainly impact what we do while the things we do shape our thoughts. They aren’t even two sides of a coin. They are threads in the same cloth. And that cloth is called faith.
I’m really not sure I made anything at all clearer. But I still felt it important to try.



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David

posted July 1, 2006 at 7:47 am


What if we were to try and get a handle of how does God view “the emergent?” I think that God’s character and pupose are always the same……….so he is going to be consistent over the span of history. Although the outward manifestation may be different…….the purposes are the same. In this war between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness……..the living church is placed. What is the point? I think that God is constantly trying to get his church to be a greater and more accurate reflection of who he is. As new moves of God through history have shown, time begins to wear away some of the vitality and strength and we end up with church buildings but no real living faith. I was amazed in England at the number of beautiful church buildings that were being used as hostels, flower shops and five and dime stores? What happened…..is not God powerful……does He not care?
It is not so much that He does not care but that we stop really caring. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” Matt 24 I have always thought the crux to transformation of individuals, states, and nations is the realization of the love of God. The tender branch is something new, something alive and something less callous and business as usual. The true church has been and is always emerging from tradition where tradition has become more important than the living God. “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. Ephesians 3 The fullness of God is related to the love of Christ not the knowledge of Him. I think the emergent has always understood that and God has honored it regardless of how we as humans look at it or define it. Yes, the methods may be different……..because we live in different times but the purpose is the same as when Jesus was walking around Galilee trying to get people to see things from a different perspective, God’s.



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Fred

posted July 1, 2006 at 1:43 pm


This is kind of a wierd type of conversation. It seems like the EV wants to redefine things at their own pace and when it seems to fit, but reserve the right to censor anyone on the wrong side of the fence, errr, wrong side of the conversation from attaching a decisive sort of definition to something. Is this issue about post-definitional Christianity or is it about trying to get everyone to have unity without insisting that we have to agree on essential doctrines? Or are there essential doctrines that even exist? Or if they exist, that they are not knowable by people with such finite minds and finite ways of communicating ideas? Like I said, this is wierd. It reminds of one of those philosophy arguments about what can be known and if I can prove that I exist. I’m not sure if my type of questions is an appropriate tone for an EV type of conversation; but it seems like an EV-er (if there is such a category), should by their own definition of what this movement is (if there is a definition for it) be open to this sort of interrogation. But perhaps these are dumb questions that have been answered already–although I’m sure the answers are covered with so much vasoline that I couldn’t really examine it if I wanted to. That is, if there is such thing as an accepted way to examine anything.



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Scott M

posted July 1, 2006 at 3:29 pm


Fred, I can understand your impression of this as a weird type of conversation. Anytime you engage people who do not perceive or interact with the world around them in the same way you do, the experience can be unsettling. I’ve dealt with that for more than a decade as I’ve been a member of a culturally evangelical SBC church. (See my first comment in this thread.)
However, I do want to clarify one thing. Although we are, in part, talking about EV (or at least statements other have made about EV), I don’t think anyone writing here is actually an ‘EV-er’. I could be wrong, of course, since I don’t know everyone who has commented, but I think that’s the case.
I notice you use the term ‘essential doctrines’ and I want to talk about that phrase since I see it bandied about so much. I don’t think many argue that there are essential elements to Christianity. As someone who has explored many other faiths and forms of spirituality, being a Christian is markedly different than being Hindu, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, or really anything else.
But ‘essential’ is a very strong word and we need to be careful how we use it. For if some aspect of the faith is ‘essential’, then we are saying that those who do not hold it are heterodox, this is that they are not Christian. And those are strong words to use.
I’m cautious about defining something as ‘essential’ and have been unwilling to define something as such if it would make the majority of the Church today and through history heterodox. That clearly can’t be true and comes closer to the Mormon perspective on the Christian church.
I actually tend to follow closely with those defining lines that have long established the distinction between heterodox and orthodox in the Church. In many cases, the Church was driven to examine the issue closely by those pushing in a different direction.
Of course, as I keep saying in this thread, the core of belief is hearing and obeying God by following Jesus by loving God and loving others. As far as I’m concerned, anything that contravenes that is at least … questionable.
But then, what is important to affirm? I see in Paul’s writings that it is critical to uphold the Resurrection. I see in John’s that we must hold to the Incarnation as Jesus becoming fully human, not just a facade of humanity. Of course, the Cross lies between those two and is referenced everywhere.
And then we move further out. From the controversy surrounding Arianism, we find it’s just as important to hold to the complete and equal divinity of Jesus. He cannot have been another created being. And that seems to lead naturally to the affirmation of the Doctrine of the Trinity as an essential element of the faith. And, of course, that seems to exclude Modalism as well.
Similarly, we see in Paul’s travails those who told people they must become, in essence, Jews to be believers. Paul has some pretty harsh words for them, and the first Church Council in Jerusalem seems to have resolved the matter. We do not have to become Jewish proselytes/converts in order to be Christian. However, I would also note that Scripture is pretty clear that we also should not require Jews who come to the faith to abandon their practices. The Apostles mostly didn’t. And Jesus certainly never did. However, the Church has long required that action.
Are there other ‘doctrines’, thoughts, and practices that are useful? Culturally helpfully? Spiritually formational? Maybe even important? Sure. Twenty centuries worth that are available to all of us, and more constantly pouring into the Church through the Spirit. But essential? Many, many fewer.
Hmmm. The questions in a postmodern experience tend to be different that the ones you describe from ‘philosophy arguments’. The emphasis on ‘how do I know … ?’ is much less present. Or so I think. I’ve never been that much into philosophy myself.
But even though I’m not an EV-er, I’m certainly willing to talk. Talking is good.



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RJS

posted July 1, 2006 at 3:50 pm


Scott M,
Did you graduate from Bethel in the early 80’s? If not you sound like someone I know who did.



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Scott M

posted July 1, 2006 at 4:04 pm


No. My life has been a lot more … turbulent. I’m not sure what ‘Bethel’ is, but my academic career has been equally disturbed. I’ve deeply appreciated that particular ancient Chinese curse since I first heard as (if I recall correctly) a pre-teen. (“May you live in interesting times.”)



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RJS

posted July 1, 2006 at 4:30 pm


Well this is a very large country, so it was accordingly a very long shot.



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Scott M

posted July 1, 2006 at 4:52 pm


Even in a large country, it’s odd that you knew someone that fits ‘Scott M’ who is apparently a similar age with me and who sounds as ‘odd’ as I’m sure I do at times. ;-)



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Fred

posted July 1, 2006 at 4:56 pm


“the core of belief is hearing and obeying God by following Jesus by loving God and loving others.”
Would “core of belief” be essential?
I was referring to what Paul had said to Timothy about watching his life and doctrine closely. I didn’t want to give the impression that I was looking to add to anything more than what the Bible teaches as “core” or “main” or “orthodox.” I understand why essential makes some have an alergic reaction because it divides. But there were times that Paul divided between “false teachers” and those teachers who had “sound teaching.”
So I guess I could understand where someone would question what the “sound teaching” compared to the “false teaching” is and if we have correctly designated our core to be the former; however I cannot understand someone who insists that there is no such thing and it is not possible to have such a dividing “conversation.” That seems exceedingly dogmatic to me on the side of “no fences allowed.”



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Scott M

posted July 1, 2006 at 6:22 pm


Fred, I meant ‘core of belief’ as ‘essential’ in the excerpt you quoted. That I can answer. But I must admit I’m perplexed by the rest of your comment. I’m not sure how it relates to anything I said. Or even what the point you’re trying to make might be. Without a better understanding, I’m not sure I can say much more.



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Fred

posted July 2, 2006 at 1:53 am


I’ll try to be clearer. You said:
“But ‘essential’ is a very strong word and we need to be careful how we use it.”
I agree, we should be careful. Strong words are often misused and damaging. Thus, they need to be used properly.
Next you say:
“For if some aspect of the faith is ‘essential’, then we are saying that those who do not hold it are heterodox, this is that they are not Christian. And those are strong words to use.”
By using the “some are false teachers” language that Paul uses, I was pointing out that he made the argument that those who hold to certain views and teach them are heterodox. I agree they are strong words; but I am saying that in such a case as doctrine essentials, that strong words are not inherently bad words.
I’m not sure if we are truly in disagreement. It seems you are using “core of belief” and “essentials” in the same manner. Functionally, if one does not have the core of something, they don’t have it at all. This would make it essential. Perhaps the word has been misused and this is your objection?



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shari brown

posted July 2, 2006 at 6:56 am


Scot,
Please insert a wink in comment 31. Just a lesson that one should always speak and type slowly and articulate clearly in order to get the proper ideas across. My apologies. Enjoying the conversation, the article was good but brief and probably not the questions I would have asked. But often I feel these conversations and interviews are not best understood in circumstances where the parties can not see each ohers faces and hug or shake hands as they depart.
sb



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