Henry asks some great, probing questions. [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church. You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear. How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner.
I've struggled with your questions, too. I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:
The question really is, what can we know for sure? What is true? What doesn't change? And how do we know what is truly true? What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths? I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc.
The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before: truth is personal. Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person. Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me." I believe that. Do I know it for sure? I know Jesus, and I trust what he says. I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures. That means I also trust the virgin birth. I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Can I say those things are objectively true? You see, here is where I get stuck. I believe - have faith - that it's true. I put my trust in it. I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity. I don't really care much about proof. I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently. Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true? Yes. Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone? If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear. But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong. You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith. The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.
I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way. (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush). That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today. He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world. There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan. We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ. It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement. And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in. The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.
Does that make truth relative and not objective? I don't think so. Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe. Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc. I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore. I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly.
You ask what my gold standard is: God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together. I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are.
I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages. But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.
What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement. The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores.