The New Christians

The New Christians

Transforming Theology: Emergence for Emergents, Part One

posted by Tony Jones
Phillip Clayton and I sat down on Friday night for a conversation about emergence science and emergent church.  Here’s part one of the video:

Thanks to videographer Ryan Parker.

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posted March 15, 2009 at 9:50 pm

What are you drinking?

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Theresa Seeber

posted March 16, 2009 at 12:40 am

I was here! It was soooooo fun! And he’s drinking holy water. Duh! (JK)

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posted March 16, 2009 at 1:26 am

Good convo :) I miss being in class with Dr. Clayton. He really knew how to command a classroom without being a tyrant, but at the same time without letting things get weepy and asinine. I had him for Pneumatology–he’s an asset to CST fosho.
By the way, my “beer goggles” say you are drinking a Sierra Nevada. Good choice. Since you are in California here, I’ll double down on that.

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posted March 16, 2009 at 3:47 am

The only cool thing here is that your drinking a beer. How emergent of you.

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Jonathan Brink

posted March 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Three minutes? Yeah right. ;-P

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posted March 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Tony –
Why is there such a strong dichotomy between “liberal” and “conservative” for you? It seems to me that there are many different kinds of “liberals” and many different kinds of “conservatives.” In fact, most people tend to be liberal in some ways and conservative in other ways. But we can push this even further by asking an important question: What does “liberal” and “conservative” mean?
It seems as though you are defining “liberal” as Borg-Crossan Christianity and defining “conservative” as Dobson-LeHay Christianity. If that’s the case, let me assure you that Christianity is much more complicated than that. It’s not hip and trendy to transcend that dichotomy. I would say that many people transcend it. I live in the Midwest also – and have spent a lot of time in the Twin Cities. Most of the people I know having been living beyond that dichotomy for a long, long time. The things you’re describing is nothing new. It’s just reality in most Mainline, Midwestern congregations. As one place to start to explore this, you may want to talk with some folks at Luther Seminary, right there in the Cities. There’s a very diverse group of folks at Luther.
Real life can’t be divided so easily into a simplistic liberal-conservative dualism.

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posted March 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Tony –
You claim that Borg and Crossan are “liberal” because they don’t believe in a physical, bodily resurrection. How is that liberal? There are many different understandings of the resurrection in the Bible and throughout Christian history. Who gets to decide which of these understandings are “liberal” and which are “conservative.”
I would argue that what you understand as the “liberal” understanding is actually the most “conservative.”
The first ending in the Gospel of Mark is the older, original ending of the Gospel. It ends with “they said nothing to anyone because they were affraid” (Mark 16:8). This ending has no grand resurrection story. Apparently this wasn’t a happy enough ending for later Christians, so they added an extra ending to Mark that includes a more grand resurrection narrative (Mark 16:9-20).
Check out the note at the end of Mark (in the NIV or NRSV translation of the Bible). It says, “Some of the most ancient authorities bring this book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9-20. In most authorities verses 9-20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.”
The other ending of the Gospel of Mark was added at a much later date than the original book. The later endings are new/liberal additions.
Moreover, the other Gospels add even more flare and fireworks to the resurrection story. These later endings are also new/liberal.
Perhaps people who believe in a physical, bodily resurrection are the liberals!

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posted March 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm

A God who would perform a physical, bodily resurrection is a “God of the gaps.” It’s a God who works, coersively, now and then to get things done. This goes against the panetheistic model of God, where God is understood as present and active in/through all things and at all times. It sounds like Tony is wrestling with Process Theology and Open Theism, but not sure how to understand the resurrection within such a model. This can be a difficult place to be. But many people of faith have gone before us to this place. There are many valid and faithful ways to understand the resurrection within Process Theology and Open Theism.
You can love the Bible and love an non-fundementalist understanding of the resurrection at the same time!

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posted March 16, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Really? Denying the bodily resurrection is “conservative?” I think you’re playing loose with some definitions, leaving them meaningless. I’d say, conservative = holding to those things which most Christians everywhere have always affirmed. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is clearly in this category (see: apostle’s creed, Didache, other NT writings, Augustine, medieval theologians, the Lutherans, Synod of Dort, Westminster Confession, Puritans, Jacobus Arminius, the Wesleys, the Masai creed, Vatican II… and… those dreaded Fundy’s of recent days – just to name a few.)
I’d be interested to see how you’d speak of the resurrection.

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posted March 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

Where did Jesus’ physical body go if it was resurrected? There is no such thing as “up” because there is only “out” into space. Did his body go to another planet or universe? While I reject this understanding, I do believe that Jesus was spiritually and physically resurrected.
(1) Jesus was spiritually resurrected to the “right hand” of God – and lives forever in/with God. Since God is everywhere, Jesus is also everwhere. That is why I believe Martin Luther talked about the ubiquity of Christ. Jesus isn’t “up” in some Heaven lightyears away. Jesus is still present with us in and through God. Christ has eternal life with God – and that is Heaven.
(2) Jesus is physically resurrected through the Church – the Body of Christ in the world. As the Body of Christ, we are called to share the Gospel – the Good News – of God’s love in the world. It, like Jesus, is strengthened by the Holy Spirit to reveal and share the gracious love and abiding presence of God with others. The Church is to embody the love of Christ for others. We are to be Christ to our neighbors. Luther describes this understanding well: “I will give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ. Behold, from faith thus flows forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love, a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly.” As Christians, we have an incarnational faith that beckons us to share the love of God with our neighbors and world. Each time this is done, Christ is physically resurrected anew.

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Ted Seeber

posted March 17, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I think this site is slashdotted- can’t get the video to play.
Having said that- I see the dreaded fundies as being JUST as liberal as the resurrection deniers- because they deny the universality of the Eucharist, and the need of liturgy to explain the Bible. Christ is about ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic church, not 30,000 of them. And certainly creating new churches just to be progressive.
I think Martin Luther would have been extremely frightened, had he seen where Sola Scriptura would take Christianity.

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Alan K

posted March 17, 2009 at 3:07 pm

You seem to want to contextualize the resurrection by your understanding of cosmology instead of letting the resurrection contextualize your understanding of cosmology. A non-physical resurrection plays well to the modern mind, and your description has been bantered around for a couple hundred years, but it fails to make any sense historically. For an exhaustive cataloging of what ancients believed happened after people died, and for what was the story the early church told and why, I recommend Tom Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”
As to where did the body of Jesus go if he was resurrected, the church has always confessed, in line with Acts 1, that “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.” This may require you to consider what “heaven” may actually be. But heaven is not really where it’s at, because we continue to confess that “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
Regarding ourselves, we have always confessed “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” Therefore, non-bodily resurrection is at odds with what the church has claimed to believe from the very beginning.

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David Elliott

posted March 17, 2009 at 5:20 pm

The comments to the video I find helpful and important. The conference, as I understand it, is trying to build a framework for the theological foundations of a renewed Christian life. Yet the presupposition seems to be the “fundamentals” which are encased in the creeds, doctrines and statements from the early 20th century are a “third rail”, not to be touched or even discussed. A very “flippant” dismissal of the academic scholarship of Borg and many, many of the best theologians seems inappropriate. I was trained before the latest evangelical age in the notions of Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Niebuhrs etc. They were tough going but seemed to be laying foundations. I just re-read “The courage to be” and was startled by the depth of insight in offering a “faithful” vision of Christianity for the current world. I find John Cobbs work with process theology very helpful as well and I look forward to Phillip Clayton’s fleshing out of emergence science and theology. My hope is that if you want to stick to the historical truth of the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith, then do so but try to re-articulate them in a way that captures their “beauty”, and significance so that we can all be purveyors of truly good news.

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posted March 17, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Tony described the Christian “left” and “right” with an unrealistic reductionism. His postmodernity did not shine through here.

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posted March 18, 2009 at 9:16 am

I’ve noticed that Tony doesn’t reply to comments. That’s interesting considering his avowed committment to conversation/dialogue. There are many reasons for him not to reply, of course. But there are also many reasons for him to engage in the very thing he says that he’s committed to. But there doesn’t seem to be much engagement on his part. I’m not participating in this blog to hear Tony – or myself – pontificate his views. I’m participating because I imagined this blog to be more…well…participatory. Unfortunately, this blog is not dialogical with it’s writer.
I’ve also noticed that the Emergent Church seems to be an amalgamation of old ideas and theologies that parades around as something “new.” Many of their “emerging” thoughts have already been in place for years – and sometimes centuries in the Mainline and Evangelical Church. For example, dialogical preaching has been around for a long, long time. Sometimes I feel like the Emergent Church folks take an old idea like dialogical preaching, pretend they are discovering it for the first time, and then re-publish it with a glitzy-looking book. In some ways it seems like Ecclesiastes 1:9 is right: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Since I am looking to engage in authentic dialogue – and wanting to explore some truely emerging theologies and practices – I have decided to stop participating in this blog. I need to budget my time with other blogs that are more relevant to the goal of exploring emerging theologies and practices.
For all those for whom this blog is still meaningful, I wish you good luck and Godspeed in your continued exploration and engagement.

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Tony Jones

posted March 18, 2009 at 11:43 am

Brian, your comments will be missed. Except this kind of comment.
I get paid exactly $5/day to blog for BNet. As much as I’d like to respond to many of your dozens of comments over the last couple months, I just don’t have the time. Posting once or twice a day is about all I can manage.
Bye bye.

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posted March 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I couldn’t agree more with these last five minutes. I graduated a few years back from a private Christian university in northern CA and am one of those students that you were talking about. We had a few chapel speakers that pushed the progressive boundaries like Shane Claiborne and Bart Campolo. In fact, Bart created such controversey with his message that two years after his talk students and professors were still talking about the “Barttroversy.” And your last statement and challenge to progressive theologians in right on the money. You say that there are so many young evangelicals that are right on the fence but need permission to think different, I and many, many of my friends are living proof of that. Many of my friends have left behind their Christian beliefs due to the fact that there was no permission and others are still very confused. And I’m not talkign about 3 or 4 people. I’m talking more about 20 or 30. I had to spend a lot of time searching books and the internet to find my permission and when I did it was life-changing and freeing. So, if you or anyone else takes that challenge up I will be the first to purchase your books and pass them on to friends. I’ve already done it quite a bit with the likes of McLaren and Rohr. Keep them coming.

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posted March 23, 2009 at 10:10 am

Tony –
My husband (Brian) didn’t get paid to comment on your blog. He did it because he cares about the Church and the conversations that happen on blogs that he considers helpful in exploring theology and ministry. He is a busy guy, just like everyone else in ministry. He doesn’t make much money, just like everyone else in ministry. The key is to budget the time and money you do have in ways that you descern are most helpful/faithful. Obviously, you budget you time in money away from this blog. That is fine. That is what you have descerned is most helpful/faithful. But that is why Brian has budgeted his time away from your blog. Thanks for understanding.

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Nick Johnson

posted April 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Tony, here is a page which we’ve put together to summarize the Transforming Theology movement. Includes a short video clip as well.
I knew nothing about this until just recently and have learned so much sitting down with Prof. Clayton and reading these threads. Prof. Clayton calls what we’re seeing with the shift in religious groups one of the social movements of our time. I agree!
Nick Johnson
Claremont Graduate University

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