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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: NT Wright

How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2

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I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 6

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So, I've been writing a lot about being an evangelical, the core of evangelicalism, and in previous posts, what it really means to be a Christian living in the Kingdom of the resurrected King Jesus.  I'm focusing on evangelicals, because that's what I consider myself.  I'm have also occassionally wrtitten about and am going to write more at some point about the emerging and Emergent Church (which is widening quite a bit beyond evangelicalism these days).  The question is, what do I think about Christianity in general?  Are only evangelicals Christians?  By no means.  There are a lot of Christians, and we all have some pretty serious agreements and differences.  I prefer to talk about the differences within evangelicalism right now for a lot of reasons, but I want to affirm that we have brothers and sisters who love Jeus Christ, but who come from different streams and have a lot of different beliefs.  Sure, I think they're often wrong on a lot of things, we disagree on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and we often have differing ideas about where authority is based.  However, do I think many if not most of them are Christians and will be with us in eternity?  Yup.  Do I think that praying to Mary means someone will go hell?  No way.  Do I think that being saved by grace through faith is key?  Yup.  Still believe that.  In fact, awhile back I was listening to a podcast interview of NT Wright when he shared interesting similar sentiments with which I have a lot of affinity.  His comments here reminded me of my study of the changes that happened with Vatican II as well as a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" and an evangelical assessment by Timothy George that have been important in my growth over the years and helpful in my relationships with Catholic friends to find common ground.  Here's what NT Wright said (you can find the transcript of the interview here):

Trevin Wax: You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching? N.T. Wright: Well, it’s a nice question as to what official Roman Catholic teaching really means these days. I remember once, after there’d been an official agreement on the doctrine of salvation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I went to do a public debate with Ted Yarnold who’s one of the great Catholic theologians at Oxford, sadly dead now. We went off to a big ecumenical gathering in Reading, between Oxford and London, and we chatted in the car about who would speak first. I said, “Well, you’re the senior here. You better go first and lead off.” So he did. He began by saying, “Let’s just remind ourselves what the doctrine of justification is. It is that there’s nothing whatever we can do to earn God’s favor. It must come entirely from God’s grace. And the only thing that we can possibly do is nothing of ourselves, merely believe in the astonishing goodness and grace of God.” And I stood up and said, “We might as well go home because obviously we’re on the same page here. If your chaps had been saying this 400 years ago, we mightn’t have got into all this problem.”

There's a lot too that.  Back in 1999 I wrote an article called Broadening the Scope that I never sent to anyone to be published (a bad habit of mine, many articles never sent out) as I was beginning to really get to know some Catholics (yes, true, I didn't know many before that.)  Since that time, I've made a lot of friends with Catholics - some of my most favorite were connected to the Word of God community from Ann Arbor, some of whom are evangelicals and to whom much of this would apply in some ways (although there is a tension still in the issue of authority of the church in relationship to the biblicism as a core belief).  Anyway, I reread this article of mine recently and thought I'd post it for some perspective on where I've been.  You can link to it here if you're interested.

So, back to the future of evangelicalism.  I'm talking, then, about "evangelicals" not everyone who is a Christian.  In a sense, I'm still trying to figure out who "we" are by looking to the past and not really looking to the future at all.  However, having a starting point might actually help move us forward, so in that sense, it does have to do with the future of evangelicalism.

Anyway, as I've struggled to figure out whether I'm "in" or "out" (because some people say people like me are "out" of evangelicalism), I've learned something that's been quite helpful to me.  Some evangelicals prefer what is referred to as a “bounded set” of beliefs by which to draw boundaries in order to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.”  This approach takes a set of beliefs or statements or propositions or doctrine, and draws a circle around them, creating a bounded set of accepted beliefs.   If you're in the circle, you're orthodox, if you're out, you're unorthodox.  Others talke about what is called a “centered set” which refers instead to the important core center and focuses on whether our theology and practice are moving towards (orthodox) or away (unorthodox) from the center.  This style seeks not to see who’s in and who’s out, but to be committed to moving towards the center and core beliefs without worrying as much about the theological edges. 

Guess which one I prefer?  In my estimation, the second type promotes a ministry and style that seeks to be “winsome” rather than “boundaried” and in which someone can “belong” before they “become,” whereas a bounded set of beliefs tends to only allow those who are “in” to truly belong.  A more generous evangelical practice seems to be our history as a faith community.

I recently spoke with another pastor friend of mine, and we did some drawing on a white board.  His drawing was helpful to me, and since then I've expanded upon it.  I'm going to try to put it in visual form and put it up soon.


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Lining Up

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One of the things that has always bothered me, and that continues to bother me is the ongoing segmentation of the church.  It seems that we evangelicals in particular have a penchant for either creating new litmus tests, new groups with whom we need to affiliate in order to be orthodox, or in order to be a part of the true, pure, right and holy group of Christians. It's been interesting because so many young people have lamented the fact that the church is so broken and disunified, and yet no, many of us are falling into the same trap.  Recently, I've seen this in the desire to protect the church from sermon pastors.  The emerging church is now splitting into multiple categories depending on who you agree with.  Are you a Bellist?  Or a Driscollite?  Do you ascribe to Piperian Baptist Reformed theology, or are you dabbling in McLarenism?  Are you falling prey to Seayanic visions of the missional church, or are you a Kellerite?  Does McManustic theology intrigue you or is Hirschology forming you? Is your church designed around Coletic discipleship, Seeker-sensitive Hybellianism, suburban Warrenics, urban Claibornest new monasticism, or McNealian simplicity?  DA Carson, Stanley Grenz, or NT Wright?  Clark Pinnock or Wayne Grudem?  Scott McKnight or Spencer Burke?  Mars Hill Graduate School or Trinity Evangelical?

Those are just a few of the things I hear in my own circles.  I find myself feeling like I always have to choose and line up or I'll be labelled a heretic at the next turn.  If I agree with something Rob Bell is doing or saying, am I heretical?  If I like Radical Reformission by Driscoll, but I disagree with where he draws the line for what's orthodox, am I out? If I like a lot of what McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy and I think Bill Hybels is a great evangelical leader, whose camp am I in?  And how do we figure out who's with who?  Is Donald Miller with Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll?  Is Erwin McManus with DA Carson or Chris Seay?

I guess one of my frustrations is that we are continuing to throw out the word "orthodox" as if it's a word that has a pretty solid, hard and fast meaning.  So, where's the list?  If it's drawn from the Nicene Creed, then when we use it, we certainly expand the content.  Who decides what and who's orthodox?  What does orthodox really mean, anyway, because it seems to me lately to have a pretty wide semantic range.  And we seem to be quite afraid that the church is going to go to hell in a handbasket even though Jesus said quite clearly that the gates of Hell wouldn't prevail against it.  I'm not saying that theology, boundaries, truth, and orthodoxy don't matter.  In fact, I'm quite convinced they do.  But the way we are currently talking and treating one another by forcing each other to line up is getting a little tired.  It's particularly frustrating, for instance, when people get accused of being unorthodox because they are seeking to deeply enflesh the gospel in a culture of poverty while "solid" evangelical churches are deeply heretical in their praxis of encouraging personal success or other theologies. 

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

How about we start talking about what it is the unifies us?  How about we start talking about how Jesus is being displayed in the world? 


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