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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: orthodox

Response to Henry

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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. 


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The Future of Evangelicalism 7

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So, here's the first picture.  I'm sure I'll create another one.  The idea here is that the middle represents a centered set of core evangelical beliefs, cradled in the larger bosom of Christianity as a whole - represented by the pentagon (oh, should've made that 7-sided!)  There are 5 representative streams of evangelicalism here that represent a different "bounded" set of denomination/ community/ historical beliefs.  These might be, for instance, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Anglican or something like that (there are many streams, of course).  What this picture misses is a couple of things:

  1. I don't like how the picture intimates that, for instance, the orange group of evangelicals, by being closer to the center, are somehow more orthodox.  I don't mean to imply that, but didn't know how else to draw it.  I would interpret this to mean that all 5 streams are equally valid as evangelical communities of faith, but who interpret Scripture somewhat differently and have some differing doctrinal, practical, or theological beliefs - but that these are secondary. 
  2. The pastor friend I mentioned drew a picture with people who were either approaching the center or moving away from it.  He pondered whether orthodoxy could be defined based upon which way they were pointed, not how close they were to the center.  This reminds me of the biblical meaning of "repent" as "turning" Godward and changing direction.  I like that idea, that the "lines"  of "in" and "out" don't matter as much as which direction you're heading, or your bearing. (I think some of this idea for him came from Brian McLaren if I remember correctly, from a book i never read.)
  3. It also missing a kind of blurry edge.  If you would take all of these 5 potentially faithful evangelical streams, the things all 5 agree on are numerous, even if 2 or three agree on some different things and disagree with others.

evangelical-centered-set.jpg


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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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