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Westminster, Emerging, and Church Unity

posted by xscot mcknight

Like the Beach Boys, I’ve been all around these States of ours in the last three years, and I have an observation about church unity: everyone between 20 and 40 packs a computer, reads blogs, and dresses the same. Even seminary students these days are wearing blue jeans, flip flops (preferably Rainbow!), T-shirts, and they have spikey hair and funky facial hair. I have started wearing color T-shirts, but no one seems to have noticed. (There is a rumor that even at Dallas students don’t wear ties.) Now for some serious thoughts:
Most of the schools, and also some of the churches, are clearly aware of their doctrinal distinctives. None more so than Westminster. In spite of theological differences, Christians welcome other Christians — which is to say we really do try to live out our creedal confession of the communion of the saints and the unity of the Church. I surely experienced this at WTS.
If we can’t get along by loving one another, trusting one another, listening to one another, and conversing with one another, then how can anyone stand up and say, “Now there’s a group of Christians.” (The way we all took notice of the Amish recently.)
This does not mean there are not some strong differences and disagreements. I disagree with some (as I did in my paper on emerging), but in our disagreements we need to learn to keep it from becoming personal. There are two elements to this: dislike for another and the fear/pride of being shown wrong. Most of us get into trouble for both at times, but we need to be aware of both and do our best to avoid them.
Case in point: I saw a marvelous exchange at Westminster between Michael Horton and John Franke — let’s call Michael a conservative Reformed thinker and John a more progressive one. John is willing to take risks with his ideas, and he has done so, both in his book with Stan Grenz and in his Character of Theology. (By the way, I’d much rather read a risk-taker than someone who is going to tell me what I already believe; I like the challenge, the pleasure of a new idea.)
Now Michael disagreed with John; John sat there and took it; nodding his head; jotting down notes; and he got up and said that Michael was right about some of what he said and that some of it was subject for further conversation. Admirable. Admirable. Admirable. Michael was calm, efficient, clear, and that sort of thing. John was kind, grateful, and clearly one who thought theology was done in context and conversation.
Sometimes we disagree too strongly with one another. Case in point: there was an interchange with a student and me Friday night in an open session. As it turns out, he felt he was inappropriate in the exchange; the next morning he came to me immediately and apologized and asked for forgiveness (which I, of course, gave and had I been a little more liturgically comfortable, I would have made the sign of the cross — I did this to myself — because it is the cross that creates the reconciliation we were experiencing). I was moved by this student. I think this is what it is about.
Wherein lies our unity? Not in our “light” but in our “life.” Not in what we know, but in the One we do know.
A final word: everywhere Kris and I go we meet new people, we trust new people, we gain the confidence of new people, and we find new people to be our friends. Most of these people we don’t even know — maybe we’ve met briefly. I had never met Tony and Jessica; I’ve only had a few conversations with Peter Enns and Michael Kelly and Michael Horton and John Leonard and Dan McCartney, but I’ll tell you this: I’d be glad to sit down with anyone of them over dinner, or over some libation on my back porch, and just be friends. It is our form of that ancient Christian practice called hospitality.
“Receive one another.” We’ve been received. Therein lies a real expression of our unity.



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Dustin

posted October 31, 2006 at 7:24 am


It saddens me to think how we continually do separate ourselves on some of the most trivial things. The unity Christ envisioned within his church does not necessarily have to mean we break down all denominational, creedal or liturgical separations. However, it does require us to be concerned for our brother and sister, wherever they may be, and that we should always defend their right to believe as they do, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. If only it were so, then more could look at us and say that they would like to be a part of something as beautiful as that.



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Duane Young

posted October 31, 2006 at 7:41 am


As I pondered this post I found myself wondering whether the conversation you report on is “easier” because it, in great part, has more of a “past-present” dimension than many theological debates. This puzzlement arose because of a cry from the third world I ran cross in a recent book.
“It is utterly scandalous for so many Christian scholars in older Christendom to know so much about heretical movements in the second and third centuries, when so few of them know so little about Christian movements in areas of younger churches. We feel deeply affronted and wonder whether it is more meaningful theologically to have academic fellowship with heretics long dead than with the living brethren of the Church today in the so-called Third World.
-John Mbiti, quoted by Craig Ott in “Globalizinge Theology”
I wonder too whether this cry of a bursting heart speaks to what happens when the conversation moves from academia to the streets of the world?
I so heartily agree with the cry of your heart for respecful conversation and thoughtful dialogue–the church must model it for the political world. My questions have more to do with the “stakes,” and what happens when they are raised by taking the conversation “into the living church” and to far off places. Think of some of the huge African calamities in recent decades. I know this seems rambling but I believe there is something stirring within the question.



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kent

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:48 am


It good not to agree on everything. In fact I wonder how we could agree on everything. Unity is not in agreement but in relationship which can supercede agreement. Relationship requires appropriate behavior and civility and openness and acceptance of others. You can debate ideas and vigorously so, as long as you have an appreciation for the person(s) involved. It is maturity. maturity is what you saw exhibited between John Franke and Michael Horton. Maturity in the faith and in their behavior.



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John Frye

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:57 am


I think Kent (comment #3) is correct in raising the “debate” framework that is so much a model for doing theology. Most of us were trained in seminaries where the debate mentality, not dialogue mentality prevailed. Some had to be exegetically/theologically “right” and therefore others who differed were “wrong.” And you debated the merits of the case. “We will prove you wrong” rather than “we will try to understand you” caused a lot of biblical saber-rattling.
Scot, you are a mentor to many of us in learning the power of redemptive dialogue, coversation and discussion without sacrificing your biblical/theological convictions in the friendly, blessing-the-other exchange.



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Anonymous

posted October 31, 2006 at 9:57 am


Sacred Journey » Blog Archive » An Emerging Church Evaluation of the WTS Emerging Church Forum

[...] Also, forum speaker Scot McKnight has posted his own “post-game” evaluation, and has now added a second post with reflections on the forum as a good example of church unity. [...]



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Ted Gossard

posted October 31, 2006 at 11:55 am


Yes Scot. I couldn’t agree more on this. One of the “fundamentals” of the faith is our unity in Christ by the Spirit. When we leave that behind we really leave something of the very heart of our faith behind. As you so well say, It’s not our light, but our common life that unites us. If we could keep that in mind, then we could hear each other out in a way that would glorify the Father, and speak volumes to the world.



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len

posted October 31, 2006 at 1:27 pm


Powerful.. in the best of the current leadership literature leadership is defined variously as “converging conversations” (Toews) and “relational dialogue” (Drath). Drath’s “third principle” (The Deep Blue Sea) comes into operation when we have to speak and learn across worldviews.. something more and more of us are doing.



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andrew (tall skinny kiwi)

posted October 31, 2006 at 2:19 pm


great when that atmosphere is there – and i find it quite common. i am not very good at debates because, like john, i always end up noding my head. discussion is much better.



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Ted Gossard

posted October 31, 2006 at 2:43 pm


I agree that discussion is better than debate. But one may have to engage in debate, due to format or the one they are engaging with. Then it surely becomes a matter of how one engages it. Do we listen thoroughly? Present our view charitably? And be willing to look like we’ve lost, that is, not to “win” at the cost of love? I am learning to lose like that. I find there’s hope for a real winning when I do.



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Jim Martin

posted October 31, 2006 at 3:10 pm


Scot,
Sometimes I read your blog just to get your take on a concern. Sometimes, I am reading to follow a particular series.
Today, this particular post was so encouraging for me to read. It was so good to hear of Christian people who differ who can exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in the middle of their disagreements.
Maintaining such an attitude throughout difficult discussions seems to give us the freedom to have conversations about concerns that matter deeply (most concerns matter deeply to someone) without destroying one another.
Thanks for an encouraging post, Scot.



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kent

posted October 31, 2006 at 3:52 pm


I wonder if we do not react to emotion more than we ought to? I was having a discussion about politics and theology with a friendf mine and hisolume went up and his passion was enflamed but he was not being personal nor was he being combative. His emotions came out naturally. He was not targeting me so I did not have to match his emotion or feel defensive. But are we often threatened by the emotional level of another? Can we allow another to have a passionate response and be able to hear the words that are being said? There are issues which I am passionate about, and being large and loud by nature it may seem that I am attacking when I am just making my point – with some force. If we can do this it may help in the dialogue.



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Art

posted October 31, 2006 at 6:32 pm


I’m glad that you felt welcomed here at WTS. Again, it was a blessing to have you lecture this past weekend.
I hope you wouldn’t forget to invite some of us seminarians to enjoy some libation with you as well!
God bless you Scot.



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Denny Burk

posted October 31, 2006 at 6:41 pm


I can confirm the rumor about the tie requirement at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). One of the legacies of Chuck Swindoll’s tenure as president occurred during my final year at DTS. It was then that he abolished the coat & tie dress code.
I for one was very happy because it is Africa-hot in Dallas!



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jinny

posted October 31, 2006 at 6:50 pm


This on the day when dress codes go out the door!
FYI, anyone going into Chipotle today dressed in a costume (or even the merest attempt at one–my advisee group wore foil hats! We were supposed to be burritos) can get a free burrito with the works. (Other stuff is not free.)
It was fun, but we couldn’t get Dr. Schnabel to wear his foil. He insisted he would pay for his food. ^_^
Everyone else in there looked at us like we were crazy (there were more than 10 of us), but the food was good & we got our picture taken! :)



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Kevin

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:18 pm


Scot,
A beautiful post! Nothing more to say. Beautiful.
Kevin



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Trevin Wax

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:26 pm


Scot,
Thanks for this recap of your time at Westminster. It is so encouraging to see Christians who offer different theological perspectives welcoming each other.



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Jess & Tony Stiff

posted October 31, 2006 at 8:57 pm


We’ll have to have dinner together next time we’re in the neighborhood or you’re up here. Possibly at the FireSide :)
Or if in Phily we know of a wonderful Italian restaurant with the best Cheesecake in the world!
Jess & Tony



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Kwabena

posted October 31, 2006 at 10:08 pm


This is the first time I’m reading your blog and I am pretty impressed. I enjoyed seeing another example of how healthy dialog can take place.



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J-Marie

posted November 1, 2006 at 12:02 am


Have you heard anything about the Moody students? Are the males allowed to have beards yet? Heck, Wheaton & Trinity have on-campus dances now. There is some a rollin’ in the graves.



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Kipp Wilson

posted November 1, 2006 at 12:14 am


Scot, I think I finally found an explanation of the emerging movement that both uses clear, understandable language AND keeps from pointing to any one particular manifestation as the defining example. This is one for the ages, dude.



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Matthew

posted November 1, 2006 at 8:44 am


Scot,
I have read your paper, “What is the Emerging Church?” over the past couple days. It has been a helpful and enjoyable experience. (as was the “Future or Fad” paper) Thank you. Again, thank you!
I am curious: what do you call people who
are intrigued with soft post-modernism and love to read Vanhoozer and Grenz (the first river),
who say “amen” to the need for orthopraxy but are uncomfortable de-emphasizing orthodoxy (river 2),
are evangelical rather than post-evangelical yet a) hope to preach much of the post-Bible-study-piety message to their fellows, b) hold systematic, biblical, other theologies with an open hand, and c) who thoroughly hate (and have been burned by) the in vs. out mentality (a complicated river three) and
drink lattes, carry backpacks, shun Birkenstocks and vote Republican?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 1, 2006 at 9:00 am


Matt,
What a great question.
I’d call them “emerging” and “growing”.



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Mike McLeod

posted November 1, 2006 at 12:55 pm


Scot, I very much appreciated your paper. Your section of politics has really provoked me in a positive way. Pastorally, I feel so inadequate to engage my fellow ecclesiastical partners. Are you aware of any good books on the issue of Christians and politics? At this election time so many questions flood my mind. (1) What kind(s) of relationship should the church have with government? (2) Is it valid and beneficial to be a “one-issue” voter? (3) What do you see as the big issues politically facing our culture? (4) What biblical trajectories do we have from Jesus in this area? I have so many questions.



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Stephen Hague

posted November 2, 2006 at 8:56 am


The “post’ nature of this “emerging” movement is puzzling to me. They are said to be “post-modern,” “post liberal,” “post evangelical,” “post doctrinal,” “post Bible-study piety,” “post-systematic theology,” and “post conservative.” I think “post rational,” “post linear,” and “post historical” could be added to this list. (See Scott Mcknight’s article “The Future or Fad: A look at the Emerging Church Movement.” In fact, even though Mcknight says this “post” is not “better” but “after,” this reactionary characteristic describes at least a drift away from what preceded, regardless of internal assessments of what they are now post. Even if this shift was not intentional or always conscious, it is professedly a drift away from traditional evangelicalism, conservatism, doctrinalism, sytematics, Bible-Study piety, etc. I would agree that it may also be a drift away from the old liberalism (“post liberal”), but only in so far as it is aligned with Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy, though a reaction against the old liberalism, simply refashioned the Modernists’ (historical critical) rejection of scripture itself as the only revealed Word of God, divinely inspired, inerrant, as propositional revelation, and translated this view into a Neo-orthodox version riddled with dialectical tensions.
Further, false dichotomies (“straw men”) often propel emerging arguments from lame to crippled. Some examples:
. emerging is about ecclesiology not about epistemology (this is patently false)
. emerging is missional in contrast to pre-emerging Christendom (this is patently wrong-headed as historically mistaken)
. emerging is missional not theologically defined (this is patently a contradiction in terms)
. emerging is formational not informational (this is doubly a contradiction in terms)
. emerging is about God as “being right” not about people being right or wrong (this is patently naïve)
. emerging is pro-Jesus not creedal, systematic and, logical (this is patently dangerous semantic mysticism)
. emerging is relational not rational (ditto)
. emerging is pro-church not doctrinally unified (this patently rejects the principle of the purity of the visible church)
. emerging is a community not denominational or ecclesiastical (this patently collapses the visible and the invisible church)
. emerging is about micro-narratives not about meta-narratives (this is a patent for making true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible)
. emerging is about being post-everything but is really post-nothing.
For more, see http://www.xanga.com/StephenTHague
“The only cure for postmodernism is the incurable illness of romanticism”(Postmodernism for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt.



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Hannah Im

posted November 2, 2006 at 12:57 pm


I can confirm that not only do Dallas Seminary not wear ties, but a few of us also do have nose-rings and wear our hair in dreadlocks. I say this as I sit comfortably in my bluejeans at DTS’s new cafe. There is even one student in my Discourse Features of NT Greek class who had a mohawk at the beginning of the semester.



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