Friday, May 16, 2008

Young, Restless, and Emergent - Not!

I have enjoyed CT's discussion between Tony Jones and Colin Hansen about the Emergent Church and the Young, Restless, and Reformed. In many ways, this represents two competing evangelical identities in the twenty-first century in North America (that said, I think they are both minorities and the bulk of evangelicals are on neither axis; outside of North America very few would have a dang clue what either are talking about!). Let me offer my musings for the week on three areas:

1. The Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR).

This is the group I know the best because, well, I once considered myself one of them. I am glad to say that an American SBC pastor named Joey Huggins (now with the Lord) ran a small Bible college as an annex to a church and he introduced me to the doctrines of grace. Despite some initial resistance, I took to Calvinism like a bird to the sky. For me, total depravity was not a hard doctrine to swallow, I had seen it in myself, in my parents, in other miserable putrid human beings, and I was sold on the whole package from TULIPS to the Five Solas (in fact I taught my then fiance and now wife the TULIPS and Five Solas on our first road trip together). Don't get me wrong, I remain a card carrying Calvinist. But the sum of my Calvinism is this: people suck and God saves them, the rest is commentary. For a bit more detail, in my reading of the New Testament and from observing life in general, God breathes life into the spiritually dead and God justifies the ungodly not the just. Go ye and read Ephesians 1 and Acts 10:48, preordained election is just there. To quote my sister-in-law, "if ya don't like it, build a bridge and get over it". What I appreciate about the YRR is their love of God's sovereignty, their passion for God's glory, their love for the Scriptures, and their submission to the purpose and plan of God in all things. However, one thing I do regret as an ex-YRR type is that my love for Reformed theology often surpassed my love for others. I was convinced that not only had God preordained salvation, but he had preordained myself and others to convince the ignorant semi-pelagian masses that they were wrong. In seminary I regret to say that I was more known for my love of Calvin than for my love of Jesus. I was more known for my love of theology than for my love of people. What I have learnt is that, while they are not incompatible, the Jesus Creed trumps the Confession! There are several reasons why I no longer consider myself among the YRR: (1) The YRR crowd (esp. the neophytes) seem to forget that there was a church before Luther and there was a healthy amount of diversity in the Reformed tradition over soteriology and ecclesiology. In other words, the YRR have forgotten the catholic vision of the church and become ignorant of the diversity of the Reformed tradition itself. (2) Many of the idols and icons of the YRR have turned into a magisterium of Reformed mega-pastors and speak as if they are the gate keepers orthodoxy. What is more, they all gravitate strongly towards Systematic Theology and anything that leads people to question the hegemony of the "system" (like biblical theology - don't get me started on that one) is attacked. (3) In terms of theological essentials, I am not convinced that one particular expression of biblical authority (inerrancy) and one view of gender (complementarianism) are the twin pillars of orthodoxy. Biblical authority matters immensely and having a biblical view of male and female relationships in creation, redemption, marriage, ministry, and the church is crucial too; but I'm not sure that CBMW and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is exactly what Jesus and the Apostles had in mind (and the same holds for the opposite poles of CBE and Errancy).

2. Emergent Movement (EM).

Let me say that I'm no expert on the EM. I have never read anything by Brian Maclaren nor Don Carson's critique of the EM. My exposure to the EM is limited to reading Scot McKnight's blog Jesus Creed, Daniel Kirk's blog Sibboleth, visiting an Emergentesque church in Sydney in 2005, and this week we had an extraordinary lecture by John Franke of Biblical Seminary here at HTC. In fact, Franke's chapel address and lecture on the EM was absolutely brilliant. And as he argues in his recent book, there is indeed an irreducible plurality in the early church and a diversity of voices in the biblical canon. I used to think that all the first Christians were red head Reformed Baptists with an Australian accent and I had been chosen to convert the pagans to Christianity with the gospel and to convert Christians to the Reformed Baptist faith (sadly "gospel" and "Reformed Baptist Faith" were near synonyms). Let me say about Franke that from our conversation it is crystal clear that he believes in the ecumenical creeds of the church like Nicea and Chalcedon, he believes in inerrancy (as long as he gets to define it), he eschews relativism, and he belives in heresy too. I think the call to embrace the plurality of the Christian tradition is a good thing. For instance, the other day I told my students that Methodists came into existence because the Reformed churches of the UK failed to develop proper small group ministry and failed to develop a biblical doctrine of sanctification. The Methodists came along with their small groups, methodical study of the Bible, and their focus on holiness - so thank God for Methodists. Another good thing about the EM is that it recognizes that all theological systems and theological claims are conditioned by their cultural setting, historical location, and their own theological tradition. We have to admit that evangelicalism has been too closely wedded to Modernity and we have wrongly adopted the epistemology of the age without self-critically thinking about how it has impaired our theological activity (e.g. foundationalism). Of course, I'm not saying that postmodernity (which is really hyper-modernity) is necessarily the answer since postmodernism rejects all meta-narratives and is equally hegemonic and authoritarian. When I think of the EM I'm reminded of the chorus, "These are the Facts as We have Received Them". We are dealing with theological truth and doctrine - i.e. facts - but we have filtered them through our own fallible experience and our imperfect attempt at theologizing - i.e. as we have received them - so we need a self-critical approach to our theology. We can know theological truth, but all theological truth is condition by our production and reception of it. I also like the new ways of doing church in the EM. We have to admit that Christendom is over, and training ministers to be chaplains of Christendom is no longer an option, we need to re-think church and mission in the West. Yet what I am concerned about in the EM is: (1) There is a recognition in the EM that orthodoxy has boundaries, but those boundaries are rarely identified and never enforced. I understand the reluctance to do so since the boundaries are more often than not defined very narrowly; but the New Testament itself invests alot of time and energy in the task of discerning truth from falsehood. (2) With the EM I am cautious and critical of an over estimation of the value of Systematic Theology, it can impose a priori concepts and distort the biblical data, but at some point we have to enter into the task of offering some unifying statements about the biblical materials. In fact, this is part of biblical theology itself since biblical theology includes the task of synthesis after analysis (see Carson's article in BBR 1995). If not, you can end up in theological schizoprenia. If someone asks, "what must I do to be saved?". You cannot reply, "Well, Moses says X, Matthew says Y, Hebrews says Z, take the one ya like and run with it". It is precisely because we have a diverse canon that we need to offer some unifying statements that does not flatten out the diversity of the texts and does not priviledge one particular corpus.

3. Evangelical Catholicism (EC).

One area that I find myself gravitating towards is EC (though I'm not "there" yet). This is perhaps best represented by persons like Markus Bockmuel and Christopher Seitz. EC retains the evanglical emphasis on the authority and role of the Scriptures in the Church, the Christian life as prayerful, liturgical, and confesssional; but recognizes that the Church is defined outwardly by its ecumenical creeds. In other words, I believe in the Reformed Confessions but I also recognize that the definition of a Christian given in Rom. 10.9-10 is broader than the Confessions itself. I wonder if EC can accomodate the theological passion of YRR and the missional concerns of EM in the context of historical orthodoxy.


Ross said...

A brilliant post, Michael. Thank you! I share all your concerns and much of your experience. With regard to 3, you ask: 'I wonder if EC can accomodate the theological passion of YRR and the missional concerns of EM in the context of historical orthodoxy.'

I hope that it can as it is this path I have committed myself to in my ministry. I prefer to describe myself as an orthodox Christian rather than an evengelical Catholic, but it amounts to the same thing.

Best wishes for your own ministry and pilgrimage.

Stephen said...

I really enjoy reading your blog! Very encouraging and insightful. All the best.

Nick said...

Mike, I feel like that post of yours was a God-send. You articulated and brought order to thoughts about YRR and Emergent that have swirled around in my own mind. Yet I was unable to make sense of my conflicting emotions on the topic.

I like you, loved Calvin more than Jesus, and I (ab)used the doctrine of election to justify a kind of hardness towards people. For instance, the argument "how can I love the reprobate when God doesn't" would not be one I adhered to on a conscious level, but subconsciously and emotionally, it gripped me. ('The Jesus Creed' by Scot McKnight helped me greatly along the way.)

I struggled to understand why people who clearly exhibit spiritual life didn't tick all my doctrinal boxes (e.g. a clear definition of the gospel, etc).

Like you, I am hugely attracted to the catholic evangelical approach, but I'm not quite there yet. John H Armstrong has been a winsome advocate of such a position.

So keep writing Mike. Your balanced ecumenical approach is a breath of fresh air. I've just bought 'A Bird's Eye View of Paul' ("Bird-Eye for the Lay Guy" would have been an equally good title!) and I'm very encouraged by what I've read so far.

God bless.

Grosey's Messages said...

Mike, good read... What are your thoughts on the effect of empricism upon Christian thinking?

Anonymous said...

May I suggest a good book that clarifies the Emergent Movement? It's from Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck called "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be". It defines the differences between the Emerging and Emergent Movements.