Having finished my series about the Emerging Church, I feel that it is important that I say a few things so that people have a better understanding about my thoughts in general concerning the “conversation” that is going on—the “emerging” conversation.
I have a deep sympathy toward the confusion that postmodernism has brought about. The global culture that has been created in the last 50 years has caused us to change our perspectives on many things. The internet, world news, and globalization of culture has made it less likely that people can stay sheltered in a naive understanding of truth, religion, and morality—even if they are right. The ever changing currents in science, exposure to world religions, fractures in the family unit, divisions in Christianity, and subjective change in personal beliefs and certainty have caused Christians to question the reliability of any source of truth. People are suspicious, disillusion, bewildered, and uncertain.
We have seen that things are not summed up in one single confession of faith, one denomination’s take on truth, or one person’s interpretation of the Scripture. The “we-have-got-everything-right-while-everyone-else-is-wrong” mentality is fading. While a previous generations fundementalistic hardening of the categories has brought about the postmodern ethos, the ensuing betrayal felt is producing a hardening of the same sort. Obfuscation (darkening through manipulation) of truth by well-meaning fundamentalists of all varieties has begun to create an different type of obfuscation. This darkening is no less well-meaning, but can be just as destructive.
I sympathize with postmodern and emerging thought. No, I empathize with it. But this empathy cannot produce a static position of ever changing dynamics. We need to be wise, forward thinking, and responsible.
This generation is postmodern. Really it is soft-postmodern. Soft-postmoderns do not deny the existence of truth, they simply are less naive about the possibility that their particular take on truth sums up the whole. Hard-postmoderns deny truth all together. As Christians we need to realize that hard-postmodernism, by definition, is antithetical to Christianity. Christianity does not exist without truth.
We are asking questions that were not asked in a previous generation, but assumed. These questions are good questions. They need to be asked anew by every generation. This is the essence of semper reformanda (alway reforming). We are always reforming, never satisfied with a hardenedÂ traditions that characterize those who have made camp on the journey. Their direction may have been right, but they should never have stopped.
But asking of questions is merely the first step. We have to follow where the evidence leads, otherwise whatÂ good are the questions? Why ask questions if, in the end, we are not expecting any answers?
Were we going in the right direction?
Are we following the map correctly?
Should we have made that last turn?
Where do we go now?
These are all the questions that need to be asked. Don’t we expect some answers?
Loving Christ—this is good. Following Christ—this is Christian. Introducing people to Christ—this is our mission. But the question Who is Christ? must be asked and answered. What did he do? Why do we need him? How do we know? What is our problem? What is the future? Who is God? Answers to these questions will produce propositions. While God, Christianity, and faith cannot be boiled down to a set of propositions, it must begin with such.
We are finite, and God is infinite. This is a true proposition that most are willing to admit. If God is infinite, is it possible that finite words, language, culture, concepts, and expressions of faith can really do justice to an infinite God? This is a tricky question that one should not conclude on too quickly. While our propositions are insufficient to explain God fully, can’t they introduce him truly? If they can’t then we have created a self-defeating philosophy of religion. How? Because we have said that the infinite, all-powerful God who can do all things cannot communicate in an intelligible way. Are you sure you want to go there?
The Bible does contain a lot of information. Some information is in stories, narrative, and drama. Other information is in theological themes, propositions, and contextualized principles. Some of this information is hard to understand. Some of it is very easy to understand. Some information good Christians disagree about. Other information good Christians agree upon. Do the disagreements mean that the information should be ignored? Should we tear out the portions of Scripture that cause this disagreement? Should we no longer discuss such, relegating this information to the anathema of a postmodern bias against disagreements?
Believe me, I sympathize with people who are sick of divisions. But isn’t it the unnecessary divisions about which we speak?
Unite around the essentials, right? As Rupertus Meldenius said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” I love this statement. Yes, we unite around essentials. But simply because something is a non-essential does not make it non-important, does it?
I am a Calvinist. I won’t divide with an Arminian because of our view of election. I will say that I believe that he is wrong, I will give arguments for my positions, and I will say that I think my position more accurately represents God’s revelation than the opposing positions. Is my argument a power play? It could be, but it does not have to be. Could I be wrong about my position? Yes. Are there good people who disagree with me? Most certainly—good people who love the Lord more than I. Does this mean that we then anathematize such conversation. Not at all. Why would we?
Vigorous conversation is what we need. Don’t anathematize people because they believe they are right.
But too many people have divided and killed in the name of religion. What about the Crusades? What about the Salem witch trials? What about the inquisition? Yes, these are all ridiculously sore black-eyes in Christianity’s past. What is the solution? How do we keep from repeating the past? I think it starts with each individual. Don’t do such things. As Bob Newhart would say, “Stop it!” Change your perspective. Change your outlook. Change your response. But don’t change your position if it is correct. Don’t kill or disrespect other people who disagree. Make your arguments and leave it to the Lord. He is the judge.
Who decides what is essential?
What is the essence of Christianity?
What is the ultimate source of truth?
Can we know anything at all?
What is the Gospel?
Let’s have a conversation. Let’s engage in the emerging conversation. It is exciting. God is not scared of questions.
Non-emergers, don’t anathematize emergers for asking these questions. You don’t really have every figured out like you think you do. These questions must to be asked. There are reasons for the doubt, suspicion, and skepticism that may not be sinful. Think about it.
Emergers, don’t anathematize yourself or others when you begin to find your answers. As well, don’t regulate non-essentials to non-important.
This conversation is necessary—it always has been. Call yourself emerging, evangelical, Christian, missional or whatever, but realize this, we must push forward.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]