Emergent Discussion with Mike Horton

I’ve been listening to this radio show broadcast with a man named Mike Horton. He is a professor at Westminster Seminary who has written quite a few books on reformation theology. He’s the editor in chief of Modern Reformation Magazine. I’m posting a link to a radio interview he did concerning the Emergent Church. To find the interview click here and go to July 31, 2005 Radio broadcast. You will have to register to listen to the broadcast but these guys seem OK and I don’t think they’ll sell your email address.

This is an interesting conversation. I really enjoyed it, even though they seemed to spend the entire time dogging the Emergent Church, it’s leadership and McLaren. I think it’s very ironic that one of the main criticisms I hear about Emergent stuff is that they attack other parts of evangelicalism. I’ve listened to that McLaren interview several times and he wasn’t really attacking anything…he was offering different interpretations of scripture and other ideas, but he didn’t seem defensive or overly critical of anyone. It’s just very enlightening to listen to both approaches sort of “side by side” and see the reformed Calvinist side as the aggressor, not the emergent one.

It seems like their main point of contention with the Emergent Church is connected to an embracing of Post-Modern epistemologies by those involved. Horton & the host are both pretty critical of McLaren and other leaders of the EC. He describes Generous Orthodoxy saying it “doesn’t really meet its target” meaning it is neither generous nor orthodox – though he doesn’t really say why. They say McLaren is “hard to pin down on anything.” The host’s take on McLaren is that he is either “disengenuious, stupid or lying.” They do the general slam of the EC’s portrayal of their interactions as a “conversation,” saying it is evolving into a denomination and will be political and powerful. They sound thoroughly disgusted the EC might learn anything from liberalism – as though it would have absolutely no value for anyone. They are critical of the EC’s use of liberal interpretations of scripture. They are critical of the view that “redemption is following Christ,” and say this view essentially comes from a weak doctrine of sin which inevitably produces a weak doctrine of Grace.

It was hard to really discern early on where they were coming from. They are very critical of Derrida and Lyotard. At one point he said “Derrida just carried forward and modernized that Modern Kantian thesis…shows you a kind of superficial view of history.” This is a pretty bad characature, perhaps even a misrepresentation of Derrida, but by the host’s own admission he doesn’t understand Derrida.

Horton seemed to understand him but I don’t think he was quite playing fair with his ideas. My guess is that he just didn’t want to get into the heart of it on the radio – I bet this guy can lecture his pants off. He’s right that Derrida was working forward the Kantian ideal in one sense, sort of a new “you can never know the thing itself” approach. But this is what everyone says when they want to knock down Derrida. His basis wasn’t as much w/Kant as it was with Saussure and linguistics theory which is not a modern construct per se, though it does hold some Modern conceptualizations in view while forging forward. But this is not a good enough reason to simply discount Derrida. Just because he used some modern concepts while working in the Post-modern, post-structuralist field isn’t a reason to discredit him. Were I to engage Derrida and cite some differences I have with him it would be on the grounds of presence which is the concept of whether or not there is an actual reality to which our language corresponds. He didn’t think so, I really think there is. Horton finally gets to that in the end and when he does he admits that not all people who are in the Emergent conversation believe there is no epistemological certainty. Epistemological reletivism is the whipping boy even though they acknowledge the subjectivity of all knowing – all knowledge is anological. This itself is a paradox. It is this paradox WHICH REQUIRES A NARRATIVE APPROACH! However they dog the narrative approach. His criticism here is a good one and I think this is an important point that we need to assert that God entered history, it takes a body to know God, creation ex nihilo…those sort of things. But I just don’t agree that Westminster Confessional orthodoxy is the answer to this paradox. I like the narrative approach better. I’m not a radical on that, it just seems to play fair with both sides.

The host said at one point “w/regards to the emergent church I personally am in a Defensive Posture…They have bought into an aspect of PM that is deeply hostile to Christianity,” then went on to say something to the effect of “I don’t want to find common cause with them, I want to protect the church.” I just don’t think that is a helpful approach.

I could not agree more w/Horton’s his assessment that if this movement is going to progress, it needs to come from those who are well versed in church history and theology. I don’t agree that it is characteristic of emergent leadership that it lacks this at all. McLaren is brilliant. Tony Jones went to Dartmouth, Fuller (Mdiv.) and Princeton (Phd.). Pagitt has an Mdiv and is a voracious reader of Science and politics. These guys are not dumb ex-youth ministers, they are smart and they know their stuff. If anything I think they are a little to intellectually exclusive, but I love that because I love to compare brainpans and see mine get blown out of the water…it’s fun for me but I’m not convinced that is a helpful approach either.

They are critical of the EC saying that they are just arriving at good old modern liberalism from a post-modern approach. I hear this criticism all the time and I just think it’s a flawed assumption. First of all, they resist the idea of “arrival” at all costs. What is it about keeping a sort of elastic theological approach that just makes the Calvinists so mad? This criticism may well end up being true, but I think it’s too early to tell.

I also agree with Horton that we need to affirm the creeds. I just think we need to acknowledge that this must also be an elastic enterprise. My Roman Catholic friends who say the creed and acknowledge we believe in one catholic and apostolic church take a very different view of the word “apostolic” than do my reformed Calvinist friends. But they can stand side by side and recite it in most circumstances. That is a good thing. I have a real problem with the “descended into hell” part of the Apostle’s creed. I just don’t know what I think about that part, but the Westminster guys will go to the mattresses for it

I’m going to listen to it again and I might have some more thoughts. I’d love to see what you guys think….

Peace,

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03384560594054050061 oscar allen

    hey tim! alejandro here. i haven’t had time to listen to any of the radio broadcasts but i read a few of your posts and this site looks interesting…lacking something (a couple plates of greasy food, i think) but much more easily accessed.

    i’ve never heard of the EC before now but from the way you talk about them it sounds intellectually liberal in that they incorporate post-modern thought and method into their approach to christianity. is this accurate?

    if so, then it would be one of those (many) things that simultaneously attract and repel me. of course they’re appealing because they present doctrine in a way that i feel comfortable with, a way that pre-empts any intellectual deconstruction i could try and toss at it. what worries me is that very fact; maybe i over-romanticize everything, but i feel like the kingdom of god must be in such opposition to the aspects of myself modern culture has cultivated that a true expression of it must be uncomfortable, at least in a way. i would be the last person to suggest that a constant blind allegiance to the way things have always been done/perceived is unhealthy, however.

    so i guess my question would be how you navigate the slippery slope a policy of non-arrival entails in regards to an unchanging truth?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03384560594054050061 oscar allen

    hey tim! alejandro here. i haven’t had time to listen to any of the radio broadcasts but i read a few of your posts and this site looks interesting…lacking something (a couple plates of greasy food, i think) but much more easily accessed.

    i’ve never heard of the EC before now but from the way you talk about them it sounds intellectually liberal in that they incorporate post-modern thought and method into their approach to christianity. is this accurate?

    if so, then it would be one of those (many) things that simultaneously attract and repel me. of course they’re appealing because they present doctrine in a way that i feel comfortable with, a way that pre-empts any intellectual deconstruction i could try and toss at it. what worries me is that very fact; maybe i over-romanticize everything, but i feel like the kingdom of god must be in such opposition to the aspects of myself modern culture has cultivated that a true expression of it must be uncomfortable, at least in a way. i would be the last person to suggest that a constant blind allegiance to the way things have always been done/perceived is unhealthy, however.

    so i guess my question would be how you navigate the slippery slope a policy of non-arrival entails in regards to an unchanging truth?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Oscar,

    Thanks for the post. I think you articulate how I sometimes feel about EC: simultaneously attracted and repelled. I’m attracted by the conversation about theology and ecclesiology. I’m often repelled by the exclusivist bravado & rock star persona of some of the leaders (not McLaren, for some reason).

    I fully agree with your comment: “the KOG must be in such opposition to the aspects of myself modern culture has cultivated that a true expression of it must be uncomfortable,” but probably not in the same way you mean it. I think the KOG should make us all uncomfortable because Jesus/God finds such solidarity with the poor and yet we live in a culture which worships affluence. I think one of the things I resonate in the EC stuff I’ve read and listened to is this idea that perhaps the church is engaging the wrong parts of our culture. I think you are right to say the KOG should be uncomfortable in some sense, I just think there’s a chance we make it uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. We generally choose moral reasons, gay marriage, sexuality, stuff like that.

    Over the years I’ve lived as a Christian I’ve been constantly asked by Christian leaders (usually through books and radio) to engage the culture. Most times it is some form of being “against” stuff. Against this movie, against this legislation, boycott this company, etc. This has become part of the perception of what Christianity is about. It’s as though part of the personality of Christianity is this vitriolic protest of everything seen as ungodly. Meanwhile, the church goes on living their lives in almost every way indistinguishable from the rest of the culture. Mike Horton (the guy in this interview) is quoted in R. Sider’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” book saying “Gallup and Barna hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.”

    Now, Mike Horton obviously can’t stand the EC or the things they are doing. But the church Mike Horton has helped to build and which he claims to be protecting has gotten us into this situation. The old business maxim “your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting” applies here. Look at the results we’re getting from the Christianity of the past half century. Our systems of Christian religion are turning out people who are virtually indistinguishable from anyone else in American culture. Horton wants to protect that system. EC guys think it needs a little work if it is going to survive. I tend to agree with the EC on this level.

    Here is one area where I think I differ from many of the EC critics. I hear this all the time, it goes something like “These guys are just doing liberalism from the post-modern starting point. Years ago Schleiermacher, Bultmann and Schweitzer arrived at liberalism through modern/enlightenment thinking. These emergent guys are arriving at the same place through post-modern thinking.” Then invariably critics will say things like “Look where the first bunch of liberals got us! They screwed up the church,” as though the reason for the incredible decline in the American Church is due to liberalism. They take this as given…I don’t. I understand that objection and it may apply in some sense. But I don’t think the church is in decline because it’s too liberal, I think the church is in decline because we’ve missed the point of the KOG so badly that the people who attend church are indistinguishable from those who don’t. If that’s the case why bother even attending…especially when you couple the fact that those who do attend church have the persona of just being against stuff.

    As far as the “slippery slope a policy of non-arrival entails in regards to an unchanging truth” goes, I have a couple of thoughts. First thought is to acknowledge this is really clear thinking. I’m pretty sure you are the smartest person to ever post on this blog.

    Then I would say I think the concept of non-arrival is so biblical. All Hebrew thinking is circular, not propositional. Logic is a Greek thing. Hebrews tell stories and ask questions to find truth. Over centuries God chose the Hebrews and hammered out his image on them and on their culture. I think their thinking and culture tells us something about who God is and how he remains a mystery to us in some very real sense, even though we have a relationship with him. Maybe God isn’t into answers the way we are.

    God doesn’t need time, space and history, we need time, space and history. We need it because the struggle through it builds our identity and let’s us have relationship w/God and each other which is the essence of who we are. Arriving is promised (Glorification) but even that can be seen as never-ending growth. Non-arrival assumes journey (unless you are stagnant, which incidentally describes much of the American church…also other dead things, you know things that flat line, don’t move) and journey is the point. I just think God cares less about us having the right answers than he does about how well we live in time, space and history. Being against stuff, excluding people for whatever reason doesn’t seem to sync with the idea of Loving God and loving everyone/thing he created w/out reservation or criteria. This is what the KOG is like. It’s by journeying, not arriving, toward truth and reality that we discover who we are and who God is and we find peace and joy and the things which are promised to those who participate in the KOG.

    The last thing I’d say is about unchanging truth. I’d just say the truth might not change, but our understanding is always changing. The concept of progressive revelation is biblical, all you have to do is trace the life of Israel through the OT Abraham knew nothing of the concept of Messiah, nor did Moses. But Moses was the first metaphor for Messiah ever. In the Exodus the Hebrews learned to sing “My deliverer is coming.” They never knew that song before then! They didn’t even know they needed a deliverer like Jesus yet, but later they would know as it was revealed. New ways of understanding the KOG is assumed by the text all the way through, even in the New Testament. Peter resisted including the Gentiles at first then came around as it was revealed to him. This was a whole new way of understanding the KOG. The Hellenist’s resisted Gentiles but they never came around…their part of the church died. There is absolutely nothing of it left, all of Christianity traces its lineage from the Hellenists. This is what a framework of non-acceptance or a resistance to new and different understandings of the gospel message will do. If new ways of understanding KOG were assumed by the OT and NT, then they should still be assumed today. That’s why I enjoy the EC and why I think Horton is not asking the right questions, but simply proposing the old answers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06532545911418365497 BC

    Timaeus Suttleus,

    I thought since the folks posting are waxing theology/philosophy, I thought you deserved a more philosophical sounding name.

    Mi esposa was in the land of wheat last week and was at the K to the 10, so I was thinking about you guys. Then Rev. Burns (to bad his last name isn’t Horton, a little music reference there) tells me about your blog site and that things are quite interesting. Being the curious sort I checked it out. Now I have a few questions. I will try not to opine nor be poppinjay in my blog.

    I gave part uno of McLaren a listen and wanted to hear part deaux, but they had it linked wrong and it kept going to something else. I also cruised through an article written by McLaren too. What I’m saying is that I’m not totally hip to the EC, but I’m learning.

    My main question is this. Where is the EC’s line in the sand when it comes to their theology?

    In listening to the discussion on hell, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounds like McLaren doesn’t believe in hell as an eternal separation from God. Is that right? He makes mention of hell references to explain Jerusalem events to happen in AD 70, but that doesn’t even cover what the majority of Scripture says about h-e-double hockey stick. If you don’t believe in hell, you sure as…hell…don’t believe in Lucyfer, right?

    On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being a universalist and 1 being a 12-point Calvinist (ain’t it funny how you can categorize a Calvinist the same way you can a 165 lb. buck), where is the EC? From what I’ve heard, the EC sounds like it is around 8 or 9, which is a little too close to get burned (unless of course you don’t believe in the burning inferno in the 1st place) in my opinion. Those who attack it would do so for a good reason, if believed to the full extent then there is the possibility they are serving a god that doesn’t exist, so I’m willing to give the detractors a little more leash than I normally would. So how close to heretical is the EC? Not by a long shot or maybe a step or 2 in the wrong direction? What say you?

    This next blurb is not a question, but a pet peeve. It rubs me the wrong way when people talk about the church as homophobic, bible thumping, intolerant, non-compassionate idiots. The people who say this??? The people who claim a moral high road and a snobbery that they are not like that and that they display a more compassionate Christ-like Christianity. I’m not non-compassionate because I voted for marriage being between a man and a woman. That doesn’t make me intolerant at all. I believe it is our duty as Christians to point society to be more godly, not more godless. Does that mean I beat homosexuals I meet and know up with words because of this belief. No! I try to love on them like Christ loves on me. I don’t have to condone their gay rights in order for me to be able to love them with Christ-like love. Those who chastize other believers for being for the unborn or standing up for traditional marriage must realize, a non-Christian thinks that ANYWAY, regardless of what the church does. Non-Christians see the church as something that will force them to not be who they are. They don’t want to change. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself a seeker church, EC church or Roman Catholic church. Bottom line is I think the church gets the negative things exaggerated and the good deemphasized. Don’t get me wrong, there are those that cause the stereotype, but you have to admit, the stereotype goes beyond the truth on many people.

    Last comment is about the latter day revelation you mentioned. Does that mean the Mormons could be right? In the OT, I think Abraham knew more about the Messiah than you think. Same for Moses. The Jews didn’t understand all of the prophets writings, but they understood enough to know a Saviour was coming from heaven in the form of a man. No latter day revelation there. The last of “latter day revelation” occurred with the end of the apostolic writings from what I can tell. I think there are people of a certain theological bent who feel they have to re-interpret the Bible to help themselves understand all of it because they can’t stand the fact that we won’t be able to grasp everything between Genesis and Revelation. I think Calvinist use predestination & election as a 1-trick pony to interpret everything (I think Armenianist and Calvinist will both be shocked when they get to the pearly gates personally). Perhaps the EC is doint the same. I don’t know.

    Do you think that is a possibility?

    You know, all I want is for people to actually take to heart God’s command to be holy as He is holy. I think striving for that will provide people what they are looking for. People want answers in life. That’s why I believe many people are checking out church if they’ve never been. I think it is a terrible thing to say, “we don’t know the answer either, just think about stuff we talk about and see what works for you” (lots of churches are doing this you know). If I’m not going to have some truth spoken into my life, why get up early on Sunday. Being a Christian in and of itself is counter-cultural, so I’m leery of a movement that defines itself as being more in line with the cultural views of the day. That is a red flag to me. I don’t know if the EC falls in line with that totally or not, but my red flag is at half mast based on what I’ve heard and read so far.

    Petra on!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18301816672851346285 Scott Stone

    Tim,

    One reason I too enjoy the EC is because it gets me thinking outside of the box I sometimes put God into. I agree with your last thought that Horton is just is simply proposing old answers. Could you elaborate on the statement that he isn’t asking the right questions? What do you feel are the right qustions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    BC, great post. I love the Latin/Greek spin on my name. I have a friend whose email signature says: “Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur”. when I asked him what it meant he said it means “Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.”

    On your question: where is the EC’s line in the sand they would say they don’t have one. This also answer’s Scott Stone’s question on what exactly are the wrong questions which Horton is asking. He’s asking “where’s your line in the sand?” I think that is the wrong question.

    The emergent thing is a “conversation” precisely because the idea is not to arrive at some definitive doctrinal statement on an issue and then ratify it as an organization. They don’t want a line in the sand because that is the wrong question for them. The right question is more along the lines of “how can we live in the Kingdom of God here and now?” When it comes to theology they all have this inaugurated eschatological view of the Kingdom here and now which informs everything they are doing. That is really about the only part of the theology which is homogenous and I’m not even positive that part is either.

    I don’t think McLaren wants to throw out hell. I think he’s just trying to get everyone to drop the Greco-Roman understanding of it. (Hell is down, Heaven is up. Hell is hot and tantamount to eternal, infinite torture.) On the 1 to 10 scale, I think EC folks are all over the map, which seems like a healthy thing.

    The difference is in approach. Horton’s approach is to come to a definitive stance with the hope that more people will believe it and this will promote understanding and growth. The EC folks have come to believe this is not a profitable venture in a post-modern culture because truth is seen as relative. (truth is not relative, understanding is relative and in an individualistic society that makes it appear that truth is relative because every vantage point is unique). If you start with Horton’s starting point, you are doomed because a post-modern person can say “that’s great for you not for me.”

    The emergent approach is more irenic – it has a different starting point. Which is that understanding comes from the journey, the conversation, not from position papers. You take the whole gambit from the scale 1 to 10 and come together and talk it out – you have a conversation. You listen, you tell stories, you talk about the systems of thought even and above all else you ask questions, never ending questions, absurd and obtuse questions…there are no bad questions.

    The idea is that the conversation, the debate, the stories will produce in people actual understanding. The conversation promotes compassion and peace even in matters of theology. They value this love and peace above orthodoxy, which I think has much to teach us about what Jesus was really after. The questions and conversation help people to explore new ideas w/out feeling like they are going to be asked to swallow some form of orthodoxy hook line and sinker. The EC takes this approach because it seems like it has a better chance of actually changing lives and instead of promoting a particular belief system or meta-narrative like Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, or Pentecostalism. Instead it promotes participation in the Kingdom of God no matter what meta-narrative you subscribe to.

    When EC people talk about the conversation part of what they are saying is that they submit part of their identity as people to this idea of community. They would say that a circle of friends committed to each other wherein one is a Calvinist, one Roman Catholic, one Pentecostal, one Anabaptist, one Anglican, etc., is a more complete circle than one where they are all of one homogenous belief system. The truth contained in the collective is more close to reality than each individual is. Thus the value of community and diversity becomes paramount.

    To the comments on the church and homosexuality, I sort of wish to dodge that a little bit. All I’d say is you should read anything by Ronald Sider.

    I don’t know anything about Mormon faith so I can’t comment on that. I can say I don’t think Abraham had any concept of Messiah and I’ve never read an OT scholar who would say he did. Abraham’s story is about revelation. We don’t start getting into savior talk until Joseph saves them from famine. We don’t get into stuff about “my deliverer” until captivity in Egypt generations after Joseph. At, least that’s my understanding of it…I’m not an OT scholar so I could be wrong.

    I’d really challenge you to think critically about your last paragraph. All faith is culturally relevant. It is either relevant to our culture or a previous one from a previous era in church history. The hymnal is full of contemporary Christian music, it’s just that it was all CCM from the scholastic/romantic era. What makes the culture of that era OK, but not ours?

    EC is not about just figuring out “what works for you.” Because the “you” is always made important through relationship to the “we.” That is another big difference between EC and folks like Horton. The community is always a more true expression of the people of God. Individualistic faith takes us down roads that we don’t want to travel. It’s not about “what works for you” because “you” are going to strap yourself to “we” and thus it’s going to be about “what works for us.” And not just us, but all of the other “us’ groups out there. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be full of conflict and grace, it will not be neat and clean an homogenous and it will not produce complete doctrinal agreement. BUT, it has the chance to embody the gospel in a way which is relevant in today’s world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06532545911418365497 BC

    Apparently my incessant blathering clouded the questions I was hoping you could clear up for me about the EC, so I’ll try again.

    Where is the line in the sand for the EC? By this, I mean does the EC believe in the divinity of Christ? Do they cling on to the Holy Trinity? Do they belive in the virgin birth? Did God create all things? Do they believe in heaven & hell (eternity with God and eternity apart from Him)? Do they believe the only path to the Father is through His Son? If they are on board with these essentials, then the rest are just nice things to debate whether their methods are good or not.

    I think you misunderstood what I was talking about concerning post-moderns as well. I am under the assumption that post-moderns look at everything as relative to their world view. That is why they tend to view things only in terms of how it works for them.

    Please clarify this for me as well if you don’t mind. The EC movement seems to simply be about conversations. Kind of like a brainstorming session if you will between people of different beliefs. Am I right? I’m okay with that as long as the Bible is the final authority for the EC, particularly in areas where the Bible is very black & white (& red). There are no bad questions, but there are bad answers. I think it is totally okay to reach people with the truth in whatever we (as the church) can. However, that does not mean I should go to strip clubs and witness to lusting guys, or take an alcoholic out for a couple of drinks (these could be funny skits of how not to witness though).

    I think the EC is saying they want people to experience the kingdom of God. That seems to be the goal of every Bible believing church I’ve been to, so I don’t understand what is so revolutionary about the EC. Can you tell me the difference?

    In an earlier post you mentioned that you’re reading this post-modern stuff and letting the Holy Spirit lead you accordingly. I’m sure you already know this, but for anyone else out there, if it doesn’t line up with the Good Book, it might not be the Holy Spirit you’re listening to. Just a caution there, no condemnation (because there is none in Christ Jesus anyway).

    As far as Ronald Snider goes, I only need to read the Bible, I don’t need a theologian or anyone else to think for me. I only brought up homosexuality because that was the 1st article I read by McLaren.

    As far as the OT and revelation go, Genesis does talk about the Seed striking at the heel of the Serpent and that great things would come out of his lineage. He may not have known the full extent about the Messiah, but I’m sure he was aware of God being at work to bless His people. Even a KY boy like me doesn’t need to be an OT scholar to understand that and we just discovered indoor plumbing during the Reagan administration.

    Looking forward to you clearing the weeds a bit for me concerning the EC!

    Over & Out

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey BC! Thanks for the post. I’m going to run through your stuff and see if I can clarify some of my thoughts. First off, you have to know I’m in no way a spokesperson for EC stuff. I’m enjoying reading their works and some of the things they are into as well. I try to take part in the conversation as much as I can but I’m not “Emergent” per se.

    You asked: “where is their line in the sand?” It seems to me the answer is there is no line in the sand for them because they are not that sort of a group. EC is not a denomination, it’s not an autonomous collective…it’s just a conversation. Which means you can join in the conversation no matter what you believe. In other words, the line in the sand might be different for everyone in the group and we should be OK with that.

    I think Christians get into a lot of trouble when they start saying stuff like “As long as the bible is the final authority,” because I’m not sure if we all really agree on what that means. Besides that, any appeal to the bible which seeks its authority is done so by an individual who is somehow a part of an interpretive community. This means when you say “the bible is the final authority,” it generally includes “the bible as far as me and my friends understand it w/in the context of our interpretive community.” If that is the case you are appealing to reason (understanding). As part of a community, usually a church, often a denomination with a history and an interpretive proclivity, any interpretation will inevitably include tradition & experience. Even for those who are staunch literalists who subscribe to the dictation theory of inspiration utilize tradition, reason and experience when they appeal to the bible as an authoritative book. I don’t really know a way of appealing to scripture as authoritative w/out at least including Reason; most of the time it includes Tradition and Experience as well.

    That aside, though, you are right there are bad answers. But these answers will out in time. They will produce bad fruit because they are of a bad tree and this is how we judge truth. We don’t judge truth solely on the basis of whether or not it fits with a certain system of thought, say Calvinism or Roman Catholicism. We judge truth by the fruit it produces and we do this because this the method God has recommended to us. If we are to judge EC in terms of their compliance to traditional orthodoxy, I think they come up pretty short. If we judge EC in terms of fruit, I’m sure it’s a mixed bag, but the leaders I’m aware of are seemingly successful in creating church environments/communities where the KOG reigns in their hearts. I think that’s the best we can hope for. I think judging the Christianity of the last 50 years in America by its fruit can be enlightening. That’s why I always recommend reading “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” by Sider. We’ve produced a declining church which is increasingly irrelevant to culture and winds up on the wrong side of many social issues. Judging it by its fruit can be pretty rough on every group no matter where you draw the lines.

    You asked about the KOG “isn’t that the goal of every bible believing church?” I would say I really don’t think so. There are certain implications of the Kingdom lifestyle which Jesus was espousing which have be subverted or lost over the years. Many churches even whole denominations are solely focused on getting people into heaven when they die with very little to say about here and now. Many people have an eschatological view which doesn’t really square with the idea that the Kingdom can come here and now. Those are just a couple of variations of which there are many more. So I would say that certainly isn’t the goal of every “bible believing church.”

    You say in a couple places that you only need the bible to guide you and you caution me against letting the Spirit guide me into territory “not in the holy scripture.” That’s great advice and I seek to follow it. However just an observation about it: nobody uses “just the bible” as what they follow. Where do you think the Bible came from? The church decided on the canon and thus the appeal to scripture is also an appeal to the body of Christ on earth. If the body of Christ on earth was authoritative enough to close the Christian canon, then there must be a sense in which it is still authoritative today. Has God stopped speaking except through his word? I hardly think so! Yes we test his leadings by scripture but God is NOT limited by scripture, nor is he contained by it. He is unlimited and uncontainable.

    I think to say “I only need to read the bible” is to do damage to the whole redemptive project of the Trinity. Yes the bible is central and authoritative, but so is the body of Christ! The church flourished in the first days after Jesus’ death, how did this happen w/out the Bible? The NT canon wasn’t really in place until after 200 A.D. – what did they use for 200 years for authority? The body of Christ was the authority. This is part of what is really wrong with some of our understandings of the bible – especially when it is coupled with radical individualism. “Me and my bible” is sort of a mantra in contemporary evangelicalism and I don’t think it’s a great approach. I think we do need to read things from other interpretive sources. I think Ronald Sider’s works are soaked with Scripture and with imaginative interpretations. We should read stuff like that.

    Think of it this way, you go to church don’t you? Why? At least part of it is because you crave a connection with the body. At most church services there is a sermon or homily. Why? Why do we not just have someone stand up and read a text from scripture and then sit down and think about it? Because the bible IS central and authoritative, but so is the body of Christ on earth or the church. We gather because in some sense we all acknowledge this and crave the connection.

    What verse are you talking about in Genesis? I’m not able to find anything that says the seed will strike the heel of the serpant. Is it Gen. 49:17? “Dan shall be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that the rider falls backward.” I’m not making the connection? Abraham is long dead and gone by this point and the children of Israel are in captivity – which is precisely my point, they are about to get their first metaphor for the deliverer. But I’m not even sure that’s what 49:17 is saying. I’ll try and work on that a little bit.

  • Bill

    Well, after taking a break from blogging for a few days, I have to say, it’s been a pleasure (the break, that is). WARNING! Word Count Sez: “~1,862”

    Tim, you seem to misunderstand “Calvinism” per se, and particularly misunderstand and misrepresent Horton’s position as a reformed Christian. You link him with the evangelical culture of ‘being against stuff,’ ala James Dobson (one of your own particular hobby horses…I don’t want to get you off on a rabbit trail on that; I digress…

    Horton and his ilk are not just ‘against’ stuff.’ They probably have as many bones to pick with popular evangelicalism as you seem to. At the same time, I think you’re absolutely correct that much of modern, particularly popular evangelicalism is in fact reactionary, in that it’s constantly positioning itself in reaction to this or that societal trend and more often than not, it’s in a position of defensiveness and comes out in the negative forms you mention (i.e. boycotts, protests, prophylactic legislation, etc.), and makes its presence felt by jumping into bed with any politician, usually Republicans, who’ll carry their water on whatever political bugaboo currently has their attention. I may occasionally (even frequently) find myself sleeping in the same beds with these folks, but that doesn’t necessarily make me part of the family, and the same consideration should be given to any Christian, including Horton. Still, I couldn’t agree more that the Church would do well to formulate a more positive approach to culture than it tends to on the whole.

    The fact that these issues are ‘generally’ issues of morality shouldn’t surprise anyone, and in a very sensible way, is appropriate given the nature of the religious life. We are bound to God by the way we relate to him and to our fellow creatures. Our relationships with God and other people (i.e. our religion) are inherently moral. Human relationships can manifest themselves in no other manner than moral or immoral. This is not to say anything about what, in particular is moral or immoral. It’s just a statement of fact that this is the case with religion, not to mention politics.

    Also, your lumping in Horton with the Tim Lahayes and Don Wildmon’s and as a contributor to the status quo (i.e. what you term ‘indistinguishable from anyone else in American culture’) seems particularly pot-calling-the-kettle-black, given the fact that what he’s proposing is not in fact anywhere near as accomodationist as the cultural relevantism that is inherent in the EC movement, let alone the image one gets from most EC-friendly churches.

    Yes, the Church should strive to be relevant to its surrounding culture(s), but there is a difference between being culturally relevant and being culturally accomodationist. I submit that the EC movement is much in every respect the latter, not the former. Among the primary aims of the EC proponents ‘relevance’ is way up there. But it often appears in the form of imitation and accomodation. One can be relevant without being accomodationist. Heck, one can even be accomodating without being accomodationist. The Church should (unapologetically) strive to redeem culture, not merely react to it or slavishly try to accommodate it. And, at the end of the day, the Gospel is relevant, no matter how the general culture tries to deny it, and no matter how artlessly the Church goes about presenting it.

    You and others here have come to the conclusion that Horton, et al are not asking the right questions, but is [merely] providing the old answers. This betrays your proclivity to ‘embrace’ almost any ‘new’ idea rather than any old one, regardless of whether or not it may in fact be a good one. The Athenians in Acts 17 also ‘spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.’ There’s nothing particularly noble in simply looking forward regardless of any context. There is a time for forgetting the past (Phil 3:13), but theologizing is not one of them. An old answer is just that, old. Old does not equal wrong, unless, I guess, your bent is favorably disposed toward postmodern or ‘emergent’ theology.

    In your initial post reacting to the Horton interview on EC, you mischaracterize his demeanor toward EC leadership. He is far from merely ‘dogging’ them. In fact, he clearly says that, while in direct meetings with McLaren, for instance, (and I quote) “I think a lot of him personally,” and yet, he goes on to strongly critique his ideas. Horton goes on to characterize McLaren’s intent saying, quoting again: “y’know, one of the things he’s trying to do is to bring all of the best from all of the different traditions, including liberalism.” That’s hardly uncharitable or ‘dogging’ McLaren and/or the EC movement.

    Horton is engaging its ideas, and not simply making ad hominem attacks (or pie attacks) as just a bunch of ‘Calvinist’ or ‘Westminster guys’ I’ll kindly re-mention here that, at least maybe until my initial post on the McLaren thread, K10 itself, your own church, refers its members and visitors _to_ the WCF in its own statement of faith as the foundational document to consult for further detail about what K10, and ostensibly you believe about the Christian faith, purportedly intimating you are, in fact one of these “Westminster guys”). Perhaps the K10 leadership should have a conversation and revise the statement of faith to accurately and truthfully reflect K10’s core beliefs.

    Horton and Koukl go on at length to discuss in further detail, even praising at times the value of postmodernist philosophers’ critique of the modern project, and yes, critiquing the points at which a well-formed christian philosophical project might conflict with them, particularly at the epistemological level, saying ‘…both modern and postmodern accounts of knowledge, from a Christian point of view, fail because once again, they’re grounded in human autonomy, we start with the self, rather than with God…” Both Koukl and Horton go on to discuss the Christian POV that, “OK, we get that Descartes was wrong,” and such, now can we go on to discuss the fact of Christ’s birth in history, and the story of Christianity? So clearly, Horton and Koukl are denying modernity is equal with a Christian worldview, and in fact, decry the fact that postmodern and/or EC protagonists continually try to pin that label on them, when, as Koukl says, “I owe no allegiance to Descartes…” I join them in both actions. Horton further makes a statement to the effect that the dividing line of history for Christians is not the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Derrida, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    You link Horton (and supposedly Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, etc.) with an individualistic form of the faith. I’m not sure how you’re coming to this conclusion. Horton and others are advocating listening to the wisdom of the ‘communion of saints’ as stated in the Creeds, not just asking folks to ‘swallow some form of orthodoxy.’ I fail to see how that is individualistic, certainly any more than encouraging folks to come together yet retain whatever particular (even misguided) diverse viewpoints they may prefer.

    How ‘Horton’s approach’ is “doomed” from the start and EC is not as doomed escapes me, since the same postmodern person can say the same thing in response to the EC meta-narrative(s). And they are just that, whether you admit it or not, just like Roman Catholicism, the varieties of Pentecostalism, or Calvinism.

    When you say, ”The EC takes [its] approach because it seems like it has a better chance of actually changing lives and instead of promoting a particular belief system or meta-narrative,” I have to point out, first of all, it IS in fact purporting to promote a “particular belief system” in that it is being promulgated ONLY as a Christian perspective on God, ONLY being promoted in Christian pulpits, and ONLY via ‘Christian’ publishers, and seminars and conferences. Additionally, I have to ask, changing lives in what way? And what makes those changes more valuable than the way their lives were prior to being somehow ‘changed’ by the EC approach? On the basis of what value scale are these changes weighed? You mention ‘participation in the Kingdom of God,” but what is that? What is the Kingdom of God? How is someone’s participation in it manifested, and how would it be distinguished from non-pariticipation in the Kingdom of God?

    These are questions that deserve answers. But what I’m hearing from you and from other EC folks is, don’t look to us for any answers. It’s not about answers, only questions. You’re on your own. If that’s the case, I see no distinction between the so-called individualism of the traditional meta-narratives’ orthodoxies and the EC meta-narrative. If this is the case, what’s the point of preaching? If one answer is valued as valid as another and never to be discounted (unless, of course, you’re espousing some other meta-narrative than EC), how does one even recognize the Kingdom of God? A postmodern person can still retort, “that’s ok for you, but not for me.”

    I’m beginning to think about the only epistemological ground we share is in noting that ‘truth is not relative,’ but that our individual perspectives of the truth is what is relative. The object, I submit, of sound, orthodox theology, is to strive together to move ourselves and other people to the perspective where we can see God’s revealed truth both individually and collectively as the Church. That is made possible by the Holy Spirit, and that perspective is at the foot of the cross. That is a hopeful project, and it is bolstered by the promise of scripture that we can indeed know some things (c.f. John 8:32 & 1John 5:13).

    Finally, re: the Apostles’ Creed’s phrase “He descended into Hell”

    The word “hell” in the English version of the Creed does not refer to Hell at all, per se. Here’s what (warning! Reformed commentator!) J.I. Packer has to say on the Creed at this point:

    “The English is misleading, for “hell” has changed its sense since the English form of the Creed was fixed. Originally, “hell” meant the place of the departed as such, corresponding to the Greek ‘Hades’ and the Hebrew ‘Sheol.’ That is what it means here…But since the seventeenth century “hell” has been used to signify only the state of final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna.

    What the Creed means, however, is that Jesus entered, not Gehenna, but Hades—that is, that he really died, and that it was from a genuine death, not a simulated one, that he rose.”

    (The Apostles’ Creed; 4th printing; Tyndale Living Studies ed., c.1986, pp. 52-54)

    So, there’s no need to get wigged about this part of the Creed. It just means he really died before he really rose again from the dead. If we can’t agree on that, as least some of us are ‘of all men, the most pitiable.’

    to borrow BC’s outro: “Over & out.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    If I link Horton w/the rest of Christian culture who is against stuff it’s only by extension. I don’t know much about him but I know he seems to be protecting the reformed system. I think this system is getting bad results and has been for quite some time. The EC folks seem to think the same thing. I think his response is pretty a pretty typical one… I mean he doesn’t like the Emergent guys fooling around in Theology and I get that – I understand where that comes from.

    BTW – I’m not really an emergent disciple. I’m into their thinking and have decided to read quite a bit of stuff this summer which includes some of their work. I don’t call myself and “emergent” whatever, I don’t contribute financially. I’m sort of a voyeur when it comes to the EC.

    Great point about finding ourselves sleeping in the same beds – I’m there as well. And you are right to draw the line to morality and say shouldn’t it be this way? Every choice is a moral choice.

    You wrote: “Also, your lumping in Horton with the Tim Lahayes and Don Wildmon’s and as a contributor to the status quo (i.e. what you term ‘indistinguishable from anyone else in American culture’) seems particularly pot-calling-the-kettle-black, given the fact that what he’s proposing is not in fact anywhere near as accomodationist as the cultural relevantism that is inherent in the EC movement, let alone the image one gets from most EC-friendly churches.”

    Good point, let me clarify what I was thinking. I meant to say the status quo that those guys you mention are contributing is the status quo within the church, not within the culture at large. Emergent folks are surely never accused of doing that! I could be wrong but it seems to me what folks like McLaren are attempting to get people to do is live up to their eye-balls in contemporary culture, but redeem it moment by moment. Wesley called it “redeeming the time” which I think he got from Jeremy Taylor. Make the love of God present in you while you participate in the culture. This is not the approach that the church has taken in the past 80 years in America. Christians, for the most part, have separated and created their own sub-culture and sought to add to its numbers. The approach doesn’t seem to be well suited as a way forward. What do you think?

    COUNTER CULTURE V. SUB-CULTURE
    I think emergent is way immersed in culture, but they seek to be “counter-cultural” not “sub-cultural.” Jesus’ message works great as a counter-culture, but not so great as a sub-culture. The object is to be the church in the world and redeem the culture from the inside. Your point is well taken, though, Horton would probably cringe at being linked w/Tim Lahaye. I don’t mean to link them theologically.

    You are right, maybe I mis-characterized what they were doing Horton was engaging the ideas Mclaren was putting forth. The man doing the interview was a little more acerbic – he was dogging their thought and movement, though not them personally – so you are right, that’s not a bad thing, that is a good thing. But you have to admit the contrast is pretty severe between how McLaren sounds and how these two guys sound. They are much more negative by comparison. Didn’t you think they were both a little hostile toward liberalism at one point?

    I get that Horton’s not a modernist, I mean hardly anyone in the academy anywhere is stumping for that now. But what is his way forward? I never heard one…did you catch that from anything he said?

    I guess what I think is interesting about the EC approach as compared to the typical Christian approach over the past 2/3 century is the emphasis on the Kingdom of God. You question this approach and I get that. I. Howard Marshall once said “it is universally agreed by New Testament Scholars that the central theme of the teaching of Jesus was the KOG.” I think McLaren is doing some of the best work right now teasing out what that might mean. Dallas Willard is, too. Donald Kraybill’s “upsidedown Kingdom” is a classic. Ronald Sider takes this approach. I can’t do it justice because I’m still formulating my thoughts about it.

    You said: “When you say, ”The EC takes [its] approach because it seems like it has a better chance of actually changing lives and instead of promoting a particular belief system or meta-narrative,” I have to point out, first of all, it IS in fact purporting to promote a “particular belief system” in that it is being promulgated ONLY as a Christian perspective on God, ONLY being promoted in Christian pulpits, and ONLY via ‘Christian’ publishers, and seminars and conferences. Additionally, I have to ask, changing lives in what way?”

    This is a great question and I have to confess I’m not sure what I think for sure on this one. I need to think about it more. At first blush, I’d say that the old approach was about getting people to give loose, semi-or un-critical mental assent to a list of truth claims about God and Jesus. (usually 4-spiritual laws or something like them). What I find interesting about the EC approach is that they spend very little time trying to gain mental assent and tons of time trying to work to see the KOG come to earth. So they work on behalf of the meek, the poor, the sick, the subjugated, the oppressed and they work to make love the supreme virtue. They are not concerned w/old Christian boundary markers (do you listen to Christian radio, read the right books, go to Christian concerts, have a fish on your car) and seem to be more concerned with just loving the world they live in w/reckless abandon. This seems very refreshing to me as someone on the outside looking in.

    “These are questions that deserve answers. But what I’m hearing from you and from other EC folks is, don’t look to us for any answers. It’s not about answers, only questions. You’re on your own.” I’ve tried my best to engage this idea above, even though I’m by no means an expert on it. Also, I’m really not an EC guy. I just like what they are doing and like to read and study what they are doing. I do find affinity with them in many things, but I’m not an official Emergent friend or whatever.

    You said: “If that’s the case, I see no distinction between the so-called individualism of the traditional meta-narratives’ orthodoxies and the EC meta-narrative. If this is the case, what’s the point of preaching?”

    I’d say the point is to point people toward a life which is lived through the renewed and renewing presence of Christ. To become the sort of community which collectively embodies the character of Jesus, even though as individuals we fall short. This is a transforming message and it is very different from the individualistic message we’ve heard in most evangelical circles lately. The point is not to gain mental assent but to gain a brother or sister who will join the community and begin to become more like Jesus through that.

    You said: “A postmodern person can still retort, “that’s ok for you, but not for me.”

    You are right, but the hope is that, first nobody will be trying to coerce them to join beliefs up front. They will simply be accepting them into loving community as much as they are comfortable with. Their “believing” will hopefully come later, at a natural pace, through loving community and service, not through coercive arguments and debate.

    You said: “I’m beginning to think about the only epistemological ground we share is in noting that ‘truth is not relative,’ but that our individual perspectives of the truth is what is relative. The object, I submit, of sound, orthodox theology, is to strive together to move ourselves and other people to the perspective where we can see God’s revealed truth both individually and collectively as the Church.”

    I don’t know man, I betcha we could find a ton in common. Sound orthodoxy might be for those things but I wonder if maybe the power of the gospel isn’t really found in orthodoxy but in loving communities who are committed to self-sacrificial love of the whole world.

    You haven’t used the silver bullet yet so I’m outing it here. You know what the real problem with the EC movement is in my book? It’s that McLaren is amazing, and so is Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Tim Keel, all of those guys. I trust their hearts that they are good people and loving disciples of Jesus. As leaders they are all men of great integrity and can stand as models of self-sacrificial love. The problem, in my estimation, is what about the next generation of leaders? Who will train them, how and with what? It’s just something I’ve been wondering about.

    Great post Bill…hope I engaged some of your ideas, I tried to!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    I have struggled to find anything worthwhile to contribute that hasn’t already been said, but that won’t stop me from trying.

    First off – Tim, nice job boiling down “as long as the bible is the final authority” – very insightful.

    I don’t think there enough people talking about the KOG being here and now. Failing to embrace this concept greatly limits our perceptions of what could be and what is.

    Now for the EC stuff. There is no doubt that the church, especially the American church, needs to adopt processes that leads people back to the concept that there as some absolute truths that exist. This conclusion is only reached internally. The opportunities that can spring from reaching that single conclusion, by escaping relativism, can completely change someone’s world. The concept of the “conversation” to help people reach this conclusion is an awesome vehicle for assisting people to make this discovery. If the EC guys are about fostering an environment that creates this type of atmosphere, then it is outstanding. It would be fantastic if the church were a place for a guy to show up and say, I don’t think God exists and the members said “cool, hang out as long as you like and let’s talk about that (without calling him a heretic and trying to shove something down his throat). There aren’t many places in churched America where someone can show up and engage in this type of discussion while feeling welcome.

    Comment 1) I not sure the EC proponents would agree that the conversation should lead to this goal. Wouldn’t they would call that disingenuous and manipulative. Perhaps I am wrong and they would call it open and inviting without denying who we are and what we believe.

    Comment 2) Thinking about letting bad doctrine show itself by bad fruit from a bad tree kind of freaks me out. This comment is specifically directed at believers participating in the conversation. I’ve already seen one youth pastor run with the EC stuff and go off in bad direction. I had a universalism-type discussion with him and he’s basically trying to defend an idea that all roads lead to God. I won’t say that a conversation about this topic is wrong, but I get freaked out when a guy leading a flock is running down this path. Shouldn’t we be a voice to say that positions like “all roads lead to God and salvation regardless of the brand” is plain wrong especially in conversations limited to believers? As soon as I say that I flip-flop and think, shouldn’t the church be the home base for believers to talk about this stuff without people telling each other they are nuts?

    I think I’m fine with open conversations as long as the bible if the final authority and you agree with me and my friends on what this means. He he he. I’m not sure I like saying this about myself.

    Do you think we called to build an open community where anyone is welcome even if their ideas directly and vocally oppose ours? If we have that community should we simply step back and hope that God will change their hearts while we love them? Can a society like this survive the absence of a unity of essentials other than the commitment to being open? If this is right, why don’t we find a record of Christ, the disciples and/or the apostles in communities like these? I hope I haven’t gotten too far off track.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    RP, great post. The fruit thing is a little tough. In your world there seems to be an issue with a youth minister going down the universalist road. In my world a good friend kept his orthodoxy but lost his ministry in a moral failure. I think fruit from particular ministries can be deceiving because there is always someone going a little wacko. But, the fruit I’m talking about is the sort of thing you see over time when looking at a wide swath of churches and judging the tragectory of the entire movement. I think the next decade will tell us a lot about where churches and leaders in the emergent stream of things will end up. I’m content to encourage their efforts to find faith and build Christ-honoring community and give them a little breathing room. I think entering into the conversation as much as we can is helpful as well. Everyone will be able to judge the fruit soon enough.

    The other thing to always keep in mind and acknowledge is that we’re talking about “them,” the EC, as though they are homogenous which they are not. Trying to judge the tree by the fruit will be a little different this time. Before movements could be judged by numbers, but this group doesn’t really count things. It could also be judged by how many churches ‘get with the program’ so to speak. This time it will most likely be judged by a radical shift in the cultural face of Christianity and American culture as a whole. McLaren used to say, “count conversations, not conversions.” This may mean a little slower progress in building the kingdom of God – but it might be longer lasting progress…or maybe the only real progress.

    Here’s one thought I find encouraging. Most of us can call ourselves Christ followers and it costs us nothing. That’s how our church is, that’s how the church I grew up in was. That’s typical evangelical Christianity. The most it might cost us is a little bit of popularity, but we can drive the same cars, live in the same neighborhoods, go on the same vacations, do the same entertainment (with a few exceptions) if we so choose. Many of the Emergent ministries are having success at getting people to radically alter their lifestyles. They can get people to sell the Lexus & drive a hybrid to help the environment and give the difference to the poor. People are leaving disconnected living situations for more communal lives where “doing life together” isn’t a tag-line but a reality. People are sacking the trip to the Virgin Islands and going to orphanages in Eastern Europe to hold babies. They get people to leave the Christian entertainment ghetto behind and use the contemporary culture and arts to unleashe truths about the gospel (See Chris Seay’s writings)- engaging people where they are. Here’s why this is encouraging. Because a radical disciple can accomplish much for the Kingdom of God. I don’t ever remember being a radical disciple and it bugs me to no end. These guys challenge me in this area.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17770848680979316821 The Reluctant Pontificator

    I couldn’t agree with your response more. I’m right with you about being bugged by the fact that I haven’t been radical.

  • Bill

    UPFRONT Warning! ~3K words (not all of them are mine)!!!

    You sed: “If I link Horton w/the rest of Christian culture who is against stuff it’s only by extension. “

    Guilt by association? You can do better than that, Tim.

    You sed: “I don’t know much about him [i.e. Mike Horton] but I know he seems to be protecting the reformed system. I think this system is getting bad results and has been for quite some time.”

    Can you elaborate here? You haven’t cited any specific ‘bad results’ that have been happening for so long. Surely you must have some particular bad results to discuss here. I’m certain a fair-minded person like you would not pre-judge a brother, now. I disagree that he’s ‘protecting the reformed system.’ He’s simply asserting orthodox Christian faith. He’s Reformed, so that’s going to come out. You’re ‘emergent.’ That comes out clearly enough in your posts and preaching.

    You sed: “BTW – I’m not really an emergent disciple. I’m into their thinking and have decided to read quite a bit of stuff this summer which includes some of their work. I don’t call myself and “emergent” whatever, I don’t contribute financially. I’m sort of a voyeur when it comes to the EC.”

    Yet you’re exclaiming how these guys are ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing,’ Tim. You sound like and write like an emergent. If you vote Democrat, but never register on paper as one, doesn’t your vote still go for the donkeys? This seems like another distinction without a difference. I don’t buy it. I’m not sure you’re being honest with yourself.

    You write: “…let me clarify what I was thinking. I meant to say the status quo that those guys you mention are contributing is the status quo within the church, not within the culture at large…I could be wrong but it seems to me what folks like McLaren are attempting to get people to do is live up to their eye-balls in contemporary culture, but redeem it moment by moment. Wesley called it “redeeming the time” which I think he got from Jeremy Taylor. Make the love of God present in you while you participate in the culture. This is not the approach that the church has taken in the past 80 years in America. Christians, for the most part, have separated and created their own sub-culture and sought to add to its numbers. The approach doesn’t seem to be well suited as a way forward. What do you think?”

    Here’s what I think. First of all, ‘these guys’ live in the real world inside and outside of the Church just like you and I do, and like McLaren, and the rest of us do as well. You concede my points that all relationships (including both religious and political) are inherently moral in nature, but somehow you’re attempting to deny that point in insinuating that these folks aren’t affecting their culture. Even the isolationist, ‘come out and be ye separate’ type of Fundamentalist, bun-wearing types still affect culture. (Most of them) vote, buy cars, groceries, use banks, and interact with their neighbors and co-workers. Now, you may not like what particular ones say or do in their day-to-day lives, but they can’t escape having effects on their surrounding culture, even if they want to.

    Secondly, John Wesley takes the phrase ‘redeeming the time’ from Ephesians 5:15-16, which says, “15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (KJV/NKJV). The Amplified Bible (for it’s clunkiness, my least favorite ‘translation’) is useful here. It puts it this way: “buying up each opportunity.” My vote for the best rendering though, is J.B. Philips’ translation, “make the best use of your time,” or something close to that.

    As for the church in “the last 80 years” is concerned, you decry ‘its approach’ with as broad a brush as you complain opponents of EC do when describing ‘the emergent’ approach.’ But the church has taken part in plenty of progressive steps in the past 80 years. Here are just a few to consider:

    The Civil Rights Movement – aided and abetted primarily through the use of ‘traditional’ church buildings and preaching/gatherings and action. Many evangelicals, including Billy Graham himself were instrumental in bringing the Church into this fight, and many of them are still instrumental in this struggle.

    Social Work – The churches were involved with this in America long before the gubmint got involved and began essentially pushing out any passionate, committed Christian worker who dared to tell folks WHY they were getting help. You don’t need to be emergent to do this, either. Perhaps instead of selling the SUV and buying a Prius, someone might buy a bigger SUV and stuff it full of foster or adopted children and cart ‘em around with you as members of your Christian families. I know and have known plenty of these people, and long before the emergent folks came along. Interestingly enough, immediately upon reading your blog entry decrying the Christian lack of kingdom work, I get this in my inbox the very next day:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/007/9.44.html

    Hospitals, schools, universities and kids’ camps have been founded in the name of Christ by many of these same ‘sub-cultural’ groups. Many of these have been founded in the past 80 years. Groups like the Salvation Army have long had a tradition of living in community and other forms of really radical discipleship. Granted the Salvation Army got its start in the 19th century (and in England), but it’s been very active in America in the ‘past 80 years.’

    On another blog entry, you mention people selling their possessions and pitching in to live in communitarian ways, sharing and caring like radicals. This is nothing new, of course. There have been intentional Christian communities throughout the history of the Church, like this 30+ year-old Christian community that I could take you to in a mere 8-hour drive from KC:

    http://www.jpusa.org/

    I have a friend who lived in this community for 14 years. He’s now going to school to get his BSW to work with at-risk youth. He lives a block away, in the same rough Uptown Chicago neighborhood, with other Christian brothers who are similarly minded, serving in ministries to male prostitutes, not affiliated with JPUSA.

    The Jesus People have put on the most radical Christian music and arts and teaching festival for the past 25 of those years in it’s Cornerstone Festival (www.cornerstonefestival.com)

    Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Christian Fellowships pioneered ‘casual dress’ and contemporary (i.e. rock-based) worship music in their services starting as far back as the mid-1960s.

    Yes, some of these ministries have settled down into a more pedestrian way of doing church; have become ossified and brittle in their proclamation and delivery of the Gospel. What they haven’t done is lose their grip on sound theology, and in many ways, are still the equal or better of the best of the emergent congregations. The Warehouse Ministry or, for a newer example, Mars Hill Church in Seattle come to mind (www.marshillchurch.org).

    Yes, the churches have often created a sub-culture of sorts. However, if you really think about this long and hard, how much of that aspect of Christian life is self-created? How much of it is a result of the secular culture’s ‘ghettoization’ of the churches? How much of that ghettoization is actually perpetuated by the churches themselves?

    Let’s drive this close to the church door at K10, for example. It’s well-known in the inner workings at K10 that CCM or music by Christian artists is typically second, third or no choice for production of Sunday services, save for the relatively typical ‘worship’ songs that are played during that portion of the service. I understand the use of popular music, and have plenty of secular and popular music in my own collections. But, you of all people should feel the sting the greatest at this. In my view, it’s like a black man in the 1840s wielding a whip against his brothers and sisters to keep them ‘in their proper place.’ Surely you can see how this perpetuates the ‘Christian subculture’ of music and art, and that from within the Church itself. Yes, there is a lot of bad art and music in the CCM scene. There’s also plenty of excellent music and art in it as well. But as long as we cater to ‘the unchurched’ and refuse to avail ourselves of the gifted and talented people in our own ranks just to score points for hipness or relevance, we participate in and perpetuate this problem.

    You write: I think emergent is way immersed in culture, but they seek to be “counter-cultural” not “sub-cultural.” Jesus’ message works great as a counter-culture, but not so great as a sub-culture…

    Just the preaching that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead is counter-cultural. Loving your enemies, living honestly, not speeding, not being rude, being faithful fathers and mothers and husbands and sons and wives and daughters and church members is counter-cultural in the extreme. Telling the truth, watching our words…it’s not as esoteric as the EC folks make it out to be. Just because some folks refer to it as a ‘sub-culture’ (I was taught in my Cultural Anthropology class that this was not a nice term to use; not very tolerant), doesn’t mean it is that. It is just another culture.

    But you have to admit the contrast is pretty severe between how McLaren sounds and how these two guys sound. They are much more negative by comparison. Didn’t you think they were both a little hostile toward liberalism at one point?”

    I don’t have to admit that since I don’t see it that way. You ask if Koukl and Horton sound like they’re “hostile” to liberalism. Well, yeah. Maybe they should be. Some might think wanting to put a pie in John Piper’s face makes _you_ sound ‘hostile’ to the ‘doctrines of grace.’ Maybe you should be hostile to it, or maybe you should be more tolerant. What do you think?

    You write: “I get that Horton’s not a modernist, I mean hardly anyone in the academy anywhere is stumping for that now. But what is his way forward? I never heard one…did you catch that from anything he said?”

    Koukl and Horton weren’t discussing their own perspectives. It was a show discussing the emergent movement. I wouldn’t expect in that forum that they’d discuss their own ‘way forward.’ Why don’t you engage them with that question? My guess is you could find the answer you’re looking for if you gave them even a fraction of the time you plan too carve out for McLaren & company.

    You said: “I guess what I think is interesting about the EC approach as compared to the typical Christian approach over the past 2/3 century is the emphasis on the Kingdom of God. You question this approach and I get that.”

    I don’t know where you get the inkling that I ‘question the approach’ of understanding that Jesus’ ministry focus was the Kingdom of God. What I question about EC is their seeming self-satisfaction that they’ve discovered something truly new about Jesus’ Kingdom teaching. The reason the Church has splintered into so many ‘sub-cultures’ (for lack of a better term), isn’t because the churches have never understood or emphasized this. Matter of fact, it’s precisely because of the churches’ diverse expression of just what this means, how it is worked out that we have the appearance of sub-cultures. For example, the Amish, the Hutterites, the Bretheren, the Mennonites & other Anabaptist sects all have their own ways of living out the kingdom of God. They do or don’t do things the way that they do precisely because of Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom. The same thing goes for the most irritating don’t-go-to-movies-don’t-dance-and-don’t-go-with-girls-who-do fundamentalist sects.

    Tim said: … At first blush, I’d say that the old approach was about getting people to give loose, semi-or un-critical mental assent to a list of truth claims about God and Jesus…What I find interesting about the EC approach is that they spend very little time trying to gain mental assent and tons of time trying to work to see the KOG come to earth. So they work on behalf of the meek, the poor, the sick, the subjugated, the oppressed and they work to make love the supreme virtue. They are not concerned w/old Christian boundary markers (do you listen to Christian radio, read the right books, go to Christian concerts, have a fish on your car) and seem to be more concerned with just loving the world they live in w/reckless abandon. This seems very refreshing to me as someone on the outside looking in.”

    First of all, if you look at that JPUSA link I put up, you can see that they’ve been doing all those good works you mention up there in Chicago for decades without chucking the solid foundations of the Church.

    Secondly, I think the same thing can be said of EC. They spend enormous amounts of time trying to present something without giving it sufficient mental attention (i.e. thinking deeply about what they’re doing and what they’re not doing) or being very charitable about the motivations behind the way the Church has behaved in the past. They seem to want uncritical mental and emotional/personal commitment, but they don’t want to go to the trouble of actually elucidating specifically what they want to accomplish, or Who they’re doing it for, or why this way and not that way. Naturally, with such an approach, out the window go concerns about ‘old Christian boundary markers,’ as you say. But what are those boundary markers they’re removing and what does the scripture have to say about such a practice? Proverbs 22:8 (NKJV) says, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.” You can take this verse pretty literally if you choose to, but even so, you still have to admit the principle is, don’t mess with the boundaries set by your ancestors. Those boundaries could be literal stone markers or they could be practices and guidelines that have stood the test of time.

    I said, “…what’s the point of preaching?” [if an EC viewpoint is adopted by the churches].

    You said: “I’d say the point is to point people toward a life which is lived through the renewed and renewing presence of Christ…This is a transforming message and it is very different from the individualistic message we’ve heard in most evangelical circles lately.”

    To which I reply, I’m still not seeing how you come to the conclusion that the currently-dominant evangelical churches are preaching an ‘individualistic’ message; certainly any more than the EC movement is proposing with it’s bent toward unlimited ‘diversity’ of viewpoints on whatever happens to be the doctrinal shish-ka-bob of the day.

    You said: (quoting me) “A postmodern person can still retort, “that’s ok for you, but not for me.”

    You are right, but the hope is that, first nobody will be trying to coerce them to join beliefs up front…not through coercive arguments and debate.

    So, I gotta ask. Is this exchange ‘coercive argument and debate?’ Besides, who’s trying to make folks believe things ‘up front?’ anyway? You and I are supposedly well versed in the scriptures at this point (you being a pastor, and my being a committed Christian for 22 years). No one’s proposing setting folks up for an inquisition that they have to go though before they’re allowed to come to church. You can still have ‘church for the unchurched’ without the leadership essentially unchurching themselves.

    Ultimately, the doctrinal positions of Emergent churches’ leaders will be worked out in the day-to-day direction of the movement’s congregations. That’s the reason it’s important for the leaders to know what they believe. It doesn’t mean that the leaders are going to have to make the members of the church sit through endlessly boring discussions of postmodernist philosophy or good, solid theological training, for that matter (no matter how valuable that might be for the churches). But what the leaders believe and preach *will* come out in more organic ways. This would happen whether you’re ‘emergent’ or not. It’s simply the way ideas function.

    I said: “I’m beginning to think about the only epistemological ground we share is in noting that ‘truth is not relative,’ but that our individual perspectives of the truth is what is relative. The object, I submit, of sound, orthodox theology, is to strive together to move ourselves and other people to the perspective where we can see God’s revealed truth both individually and collectively as the Church.”

    To which you replied: “I don’t know man, I betcha we could find a ton in common. Sound orthodoxy might be for those things but I wonder if maybe the power of the gospel isn’t really found in orthodoxy but in loving communities who are committed to self-sacrificial love of the whole world.”

    Tim, I don’t see how one excludes the other, and in fact, I believe with my whole heart that sound, orthodox teaching makes opportunity for sound, loving communities, who can really deeply affect their own immediate communities, because they can be ‘of one mind, and in one accord,’ and so can worship God with abandon, and in turn, reach out to their surrounding communities as collective, God-worshiping (and by extension, neighbor-loving) communities.

    Your silver bullet comment missed me. I don’t see how the fact that someone’s ‘amazing’ makes his or her position true or valuable, or even valid. I wouldn’t, but certainly could say the same type of thing about John Piper, or Greg Koukl, or Mike Horton. We want to believe those things about the leaders we admire. About the only thing I find amazing and incredible about most of the EC stuff I read and hear coming from them is how cavalierly they embrace virtual or actual heretical ideas and practices, and just as easily reject sound orthodox beliefs out of hand. It’s almost as if the point is to do so.

    In the end, I’d be careful about putting your trust in men and horses, and not reserving that trust for God.

    G&P;,

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    It’s not as simple as guilt by association. Its association by supporting a system which has broken down and is failing to carry the message of Christ’s transforming love to the world. Yep, I’ll elaborate, but most of this is straight from “Scandal” by Sider:

    The divorce rate inside evangelical America is higher than outside it by 4%, (p.18) Materialism and consumerism is the norm and defines most Christians more pervasively than does their faith. In 2002 only 6% of born again adults tithed, (p.6). Statistically we care very little about the poor. The average Christian household in America brings in 42k per year while 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day, (p.22). [btw if the rest of those Christians would tithe it would net 143 Billion dollars a year which could end poverty in most of the world in less than a decade] 88% of the young Christians who signed the “true love waits” pledge had sex before marriage – this was almost identical to kids outside of the true love waits campaign, (p.23). The church is among the most racist demographics in America. According to a survey asking which groups were the least likely to object to having black neighbors – 16% of mainline protestants objected…20 percent of Southern Baptists objected – they were the highest, (p.25). The findings of a study called “Divided by Faith” by Emerson & Smith show that “White evangelicalism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it,” (p.26). These are the results of the current system. That’s why I say the results are bad, I’m just trying to hold out hope for better results.

    What are those results doing to the church? Decadal growth rates for all mainline denominations save a couple range from negative 10% to negative 30% (Barna). In short, the system is dying, the church in America is in danger of severe decline. I think you are naïve if you think he’s not involved in protecting the system. He’s into the seminaries, he’s into the mainline denominationalism, he’s into Christian radio, he’s into publishing – he’s fully plugged into the system and his major message is not reforming it, but protecting it.

    BTW, dude…you keep calling me “emergent” and it’s starting to get my goat. I read N.T. Wright but nobody calls me an Englishman. I’ve been studying the crap out of Wesley but you don’t call me a Methodist. This is but one small part of the ongoing discussion which is shaping my theology and education. For about 9 months of the year I’m completely out of the mainstream. For about 3 months a year I get to try and catch up on a little reading. Why is it so important to try and label me?

    Maybe I think Tony Jones has an amazing mind, and I obviously respect McLaren’s work, but I also said “I bet Horton can lecture his pants off.” I think I have a healthy respect for both sides.

    I’m not going to keep rehashing the culture thing.

    You said:
    “The Civil Rights Movement – aided and abetted primarily through the use of ‘traditional’ church buildings and preaching/gatherings and action. Many evangelicals, including Billy Graham himself were instrumental in bringing the Church into this fight…”

    Billy Graham himself said that the biggest regret of his life was not engaging in the fight against racism. (on Larry King). He said he did very little because he thought it would have had a negative effect on his ministry.

    Here’s an excerpt from a sojourners article that supports this:

    “Dreams [of partnership between Dr. King & Billy Graham] floundered…on the question of emphasis between politics and pure religion. [King's friends] found Graham increasingly unwilling to talk about the worldly aspects of the race issue….Furthermore, racial polarization was making it more difficult for Graham to hold interracial meetings at all. Like countless Southern moderates, he was being forced to choose, and within a year King would be writing to ‘Brother Graham’ pleading with him not to allow segregationist politicians on the platform of the San Antonio crusade. The two preachers tacitly agreed to confine their cooperation to privacy.
    Graham and his evangelicals desperately needed King. When a movement such as Promise Keepers still gets only a sprinkling of black participation (despite intense efforts), it’s clear that white evangelicals whose predecessors stood on the sidelines of the civil rights movement are still digging out of a deep hole to earn the trust of the black church.

    BILLY GRAHAM SEEMS to have regrets. When asked, “What is the most serious issue facing the church?” he has answered, “Racial reconciliation.” He has also expressed his regret for not preaching more about “the kingdom of God,” which he defined as “justice for all.”

    The whole article can be found at: http://sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue;=soj9801&article;=980141e

    Billy Graham has really influenced me on this. He regrets not preaching more on the Kingdom of God and not being a more passionate voice and powerful force for justice and equality. This is what I’m saying.

    You are right that the Christian church has been involved in much of the fight against injustice and poverty. (I would never stick jpusa in the mainstream of amercian Christianity, would you?) I love every example of it that you sited, but you know the truth is that those things are not the norm. I’m saying let’s pour it on because we can do so much better. The statistics bear it out. Ask the leaders of the social justice movements in the American church how it is going. Ask people like John Perkins and Ronald Sider and they’ll lay out the same case I have. Apparently you can even ask Billy Graham and he’ll give you the same answer I am. Kingdom of God, baby! Preach it!

    You said:
    “What I question about EC is their seeming self-satisfaction that they’ve discovered something truly new about Jesus’ Kingdom teaching.”

    I challenge you to find a single quote from one of these guys saying they found “something truly new about Jesus’ Kingdom teaching.” I’ll be very surprised if you can, I’ve never seen it. You can’t pull some Hyperbole out of context either. I’ll buy you a shake at the greasy joint of your choice if you can.

    You said:
    “Secondly, I think the same thing can be said of EC. They spend enormous amounts of time trying to present something without giving it sufficient mental attention (i.e. thinking deeply about what they’re doing and what they’re not doing) or being very charitable about the motivations behind the way the Church has behaved in the past. They seem to want uncritical mental and emotional/personal commitment, but they don’t want to go to the trouble of actually elucidating specifically what they want to accomplish”

    Dude, I really think you should take some time to read a little bit of what McLaren has written. And just to cut you off at the pass, I know you are going to say I need to read the other side, let me just say I’ve been reading the other side my whole life. I continue to do so in my schooling. I’m not one sided, if anything the emergent side gets a little crowded out in my study.

    You said:
    “I don’t see how one excludes the other, and in fact, I believe with my whole heart that sound, orthodox teaching makes opportunity for sound, loving communities, who can really deeply affect their own immediate communities, because they can be ‘of one mind, and in one accord,’ and so can worship God with abandon, and in turn, reach out to their surrounding communities as collective, God-worshiping (and by extension, neighbor-loving) communities.”

    See I told you we’d find more to agree on.

  • Bill

    On a positive note: Word Count sez: “~731!” (a veritable memo by my standards)

    You say, “I think you are naïve if you think he’s not involved in protecting the system. He’s into the seminaries, he’s into the mainline denominationalism, he’s into Christian radio, he’s into publishing – he’s fully plugged into the system and his major message is not reforming it, but protecting it.”

    Call me naive, then. Horton’s not ‘into the seminaries’ and certainly not ‘into publishing’ any more or less than McLaren or his ilk are. I’ve got no problem with Horton having his own radio program, or that it’s on the aforementioned ghetto-ized Christian stations. I especially don’t mind if it’s on Christian radio and it’s gracious preaching from a sound theological foundation, unlike so much that is found there.

    As for ‘mainline’ denominationalism goes, same as you challenging me to cite examples of EC folks claiming discovering some new twist on the Kingdom of God teaching (the title “New Kind of Christian” notwithstanding, and your own references to measurement of the fruits of the emergent movement by “a radical shift in the cultural face of Christianity”) I challenge you to back up your statements about denominationalism and especially ‘mainline’ denominationalism coming from Horton.

    In fact, the figures you cite from Sider/Barna about the mainline denominations are not referring much of anything at all to do with Horton, et al. The mainline churches those figures cite are the old, liberal mainline churches (PCUSA, UM, DoC, Episcopalian, etc.). The old-line liberal mainline has been hemmorraghing membership for decades BECAUSE of increasingly liberal teaching and doctrinal abandonment. As they focus more and more on the social gospel aspects and increasingly less and less on the foundational motivation FOR Christian service, the government takes over those jobs as the ‘church’ abandons them. This is because the liberal, old-line god is not a god worthy of worship or service that would in turn spill out in acts of sacrificial love. The work that is still being done by these churches, whatever of it is truly good, is in spite of the mainline’s declining theological richness, not because of it.

    You claim to have read ‘the other side’ your entire life. I don’t buy it. Or if you have, you’ve apparently missed the point. Some of that might be the other side(tm)’s fault, some of it must be attributable to the reader.

    The Baptist churches are not a historically “Calvinist” tradition. It certainly isn’t in the vein of traditional Reformed churches and in fact, has decidedly Arminian strains. The SBC is still arguing within their own ranks about the role of “Calvinism” in their denominational churches (i.e. Christianitytoday.com’s article, posted today, “A Kinder, Gentler Conservatism” by Ken Walker).

    While I was raised in the mainline PC(USA), it in fact, actually (also like K10) still, at least on paper, professes some level of adherence to the WCF. Even being raised in the Presbyterian ‘tradition,’ there was no formal instruction beyond ‘communicants’ class that was given when I was a preteen and getting ready to become a member. (I’m still considered a member, apparently). I couldn’t tell you any more than the briefest and saddest condensation (and probably inaccurately) of this tradition, until long after I’d moved away from home and stopped attending my childhood church. If you attended and then read “Calvinist” or Reformed theology in your upbringing (“all my life”) in the SBC, I’d be surprised. Even Piper’s church in Minneapolis is an anomaly of sorts in the ranks of Baptist churches in that it is decidedly Reformed in its theological perspective.

    I have given a fair amount of time to reading McLaren (mostly articles he’s written, I used to subscribe to IRRelevant, and interviews with him, like the Bleeding Purple Podcast. I’ve read Donald Miller’s book that Kevin sent out and had already read Blue Like Jazz prior to that. Bottom line is, you don’t look at a lot of counterfeit money to be able to recognize the real. You look at the real to recognize the counterfeit. That may sound harsh, and if so, that’s unfortunate. But I don’t feel sorry for counterfeiters when I refuse their ‘tender,’ and if they want to buy something from me, I only take cash. How ’bout you?

    Regarding your last comment saying you knew we’d agree on something. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that is. I’d like to end on a positive note too, but I can’t help getting the feeling there isn’t so much here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    All I was saying is that Dr. Horton makes his living from Westminster seminary as a professor. He is also president of White Horse Media Company which produces a weekly radio show. He is the author/editor of over 15 books. He is the editor of “Modern Reformation” magazine. He participates in the professional guilds with special attention to those which are Calvinist. In my mind that makes him “into the seminaries” and “into publishing.”

    I will grant you that McLaren is “into publishing” as well (though he steers clear of radio for the most part). The difference to me is that Horton is protecting the current system and McLaren is not. They do seem different in that respect. What I mean when I say Dr. Horton is protecting the system is that he is espousing reformation theology – the Calvinist system of thinking. This system has dominated evangelical theology throughout the era of Modernity, especially in America. All evidence suggests he has chosen to build his theology within that system and spends his life running in those circles and advocating that system.

    I do not think this is a bad thing, if I made it sound bad I don’t mean to. I’m glad he’s doing what he’s doing and I agree that he seems like a really good guy and a good teacher. I went and looked at their fall schedule online and there is a course or two he’s teaching I’d love to take. My observation was really just to point out that I think this helps to explain why he isn’t open to some of the things that are being discussed in the emergent conversation. They often go against a system that he has spent much of his life protecting. I pass no judgment on that, I only observe that this is at least part of why Dr. Horton is at odds with the EC.

    You challenged me to back up my statement about his support of denominationalism so I will. First I will say it’s not necessarily a bad thing that he’s involved in denominationalism – he seems like the kind of guy you want doing that because he’s pretty reasonable and obviously really smart.

    Read this article he wrote in Modern Reformation: http://www.modernreformation.org/mh05unity.htm . It’s a really good article, irenic in tone and conciliatory in approach toward all denominations and the need and possibility for unity. This supports my statement because he is clearly working solely within the realm of denominationalism in this article. He is working toward a way forward within the current system of denominationalism. Again, I make no derogatory judgments on this. I support the effort and I’m glad he’s working on it. It is a good thing that he is doing. All I stated before was that these are the circles he runs in and these are the institutions he is trying to protect and defend, shape and mold. It shoudl come as no surprise that he doesn’t appreciate folks like the EC who work outside that system and who are hoping to reform it or change it in some way. But this is the realm he exists in and I think it is at least part of why he resists the emergent thinking. Calvinism is a closed system. There is no room for new understandings, by and large, because the system is so tight as it is. Everything is in its little place and if you mess with one piece of it, the whole thing breaks. This to me is not a healthy thing and is partly why I can be open to the emergent conversation without saying “I’m emergent.”

    If all you are reading of McLaren is what you get in magazines and journals, you are not getting the full picture. You should just grab “The Secret Message of Jesus” and read it. You could blow through the whole book in about 4 hours. If you would do that, I would love to see your reaction because I don’t think there is much there which is extreme or controversial.

    I think you are being too dismissive with the Sider/Barna information. They in no way confined their research to the demographic you claim they did. That is an inaccurate representation of their work. You can’t just claim “oh that’s just the liberalism” because all of the denominations are either stalled with no growth or in some stage of decline (even the Pentecostals are which is a new and very sad revelation). The claim that it is liberalism which has churches in decline is not borne out by the facts, even though it has been the conservative party line for decades. There was a time in the 90’s when it looked to be that way, but this is not the finding of researchers today. I would reserve judgment on why the “liberal” denominations have been in decline. I would especially hesitate to connect their decline in anyway to their efforts at compassion. I would also not be so hasty to judge them and their theology as creating too small a God to be worshipped. We should be careful to criticize how others worship God…he might like it.

    I’m not supporting liberalism. I’m not a liberal, I’m not even sure I know what it is. What I’m saying is that anyone who is open to God’s future, anyone who has a posture of openness toward what God is doing in the world in all kinds of people, with all kinds of beliefs, erroneous or dead on, anyone who is not overly concerned about protecting the status quo…these people seem to be very near the Kingdom of God. Those who are living in the Kingdom of God are concerned with pressing forward in love toward the world around them. I see this posture in much of the EC stuff I encounter and I applaud that.

    Here’s an analogy. I do not like the Roman Catholic stance on a closed communion table, transubstantiation and much of the immaculate conception theology. However, I resonate with the liturgy and much of what I currently find enriching in my spiritual life is a result of Roman Catholic theologians and writers. Not only that, Catholics have some interesting views on the role of works in justification as well as who is justified and who is not (see Council of Trent). Yet I do not shut them out and cut off dialogue with Roman Catholicism. Rather, I embrace them in Christian love and allow God to use them in my life and He does on a regular basis. This is the posture I take toward EC and I think it is the right one. I don’t swallow everything they are doing whole. But I do find some of it profitable for building up the body of Christ, even helping chart a way forward so that the Gospel can flourish.

    You wrote: “You claim to have read ‘the other side’ your entire life. I don’t buy it. Or if you have, you’ve apparently missed the point. Some of that might be the other side(tm)’s fault, some of it must be attributable to the reader. “

    That’s pretty harsh. Maybe I’m not the most intelligent person in the world and I’m sure I’ve missed the point of much of it, but Calvinism was a large part of my heritage. The Southern Baptist Church I grew up attending (20 years) was staunchly Calvinist. My first staff position was at that church and I learned Calvinist theology there. (My pastor was educated at Dallas Theological). My both of the church’s my grandparents attended were Baptist with Calvinist theology spoken from the pulpit. I sometimes listen to Swindoll and he seems to be pretty far down that road. I’ve played at countless Southern Baptist camps and events and seldom do I hear Arminian theology coming from their evangelists. My second church staff job was with an American Baptist church in which was also staunchly Calvinist. My friends at Midwestern (the Southern Baptist Seminary in town) tell me that they teach primarily reformed theology and that this is part of the agenda of the president of the school. Much of the Baptist theology from the African American strands of Baptist and related associations is steeped in Calvinism as well. All Baptists might not be Calvinists but my impression is that the majority of them are. I could be wrong, but even if I am, that was my heritage and my impression of it.

    I’d urge you not to get hung up on the bad things that are associated with the EC (I’m not a Donald Miller fan at all) and see if you can find some good there. God uses may different things to help us to stretch and learn and grow. I think you would like the new McLaren book. If you just don’t want to read his stuff you would like Anne Dillard, Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning…all those folks have been influential to many of the emergent guys. Another great read is “Traveling Mercies” by Anne LaMott.

    It seems like you are very resistant to all things EC because you’ve read a few articles they’ve written here or there and quite a bit of what other people think about them. However it does not seem like you’ve spent any significant time reading their stuff. If you want to characterize McLaren as a heretic don’t you think you should at least read a few of his books first?

  • Bill

    Tim – Just some quick notes here (yeah, right!) -

    RE: Barna data – I guess we’re just going to have to disagree, then. I’ve seen this data for at least a decade now. You said ‘I could be wrong’ about what Barna’s referring to as the ‘mainline.’ I’m simply agreeing with you. You could be wrong. I’m confident if you check the facts, you’ll discover it for yourself.

    RE: Protection and the role of pastors. Another word for pastor is (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you) ‘shepherd.’ Psalm 23, which everyone seems to know by heart, says “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” What do you think a shepherd does with those implements? Apparently, there are no enemies or ‘wolves,’ to use Jesus’ own term? Now I know you don’t want to think about such things. It is an unpleasant business, but it is part of the business of being a shepherd, just as much as feeding the flock.

    You talk about radical shifts in the culture of Christianity. Radical shifts come about by radical moves. Radical moves appear, to those who have put their trust in the foundations of the faith as ‘aggressive’ acts. So, what is to be done? I suppose a case could be made to let the tares rise with the wheat, and God will sort it out. That still leaves the average, thinking Christian who takes thes matters seriously to fear and tremble for his fellows. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be after all. If so, then I’m in a good place. I’m confident God is in control of His future.

    Re: “Calvinism” & Baptist-ism – First off, DTS is decidedly NOT a bastion of Calvinism. What it is is a bastion of Dispensationalism. Think Left Behind.

    Typical Baptist preaching (i.e. what is commonly described by Calvinists as ‘decision theology’) is the opposite of Calvinism, whether they hold to ‘once-saved-always-saved” or not. That is at best, a confused form of Arminianism. Swindoll is not preaching from a Calvinist position. Prior to becoming president of DTS, he was pastoring for an Evangelical Free Church, which is decidedly Arminian in its theology. I stand by my statements. I’m sorry you think it’s harsh to think you’re wrong about something. I get the suspicion you think I’m wrong about plenty, too. My heart’s not broken about that. There’s not much I can do about it except direct you to the source documents, which include the writings of Calvin and Luther, but not Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walwoord (sp?) and certainly not Chuck Swindoll (not that there’s anything wrong with Chuck, except…;0)

    RE: Catholic/Liturgical matters – I think this is one area where we are in fact, closer than each of us think. I’ve subscribed to First Things (published by the Institute for Religion and Public Life, founded by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran turned Roman Catholic) http://www.firsthings.com and Touchstone Magazine, published by the Fellowship of St. James and staffed with contributors from Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions(www.touchstonemag.com) for over ten years, now. The publisher of the latter, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is Eastern Orthodox. Frederica Matthews-Green (also EO) is a frequent contributor to both rags, and to NPR for what it’s worth. I’ve also read Merton and Nouwen, Willard and Foster, Augustine, and the Church Fathers a bit. You already know from the first post or two from a couple weeks ago, I subscribe to the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture as well and refer to it frequently to get a ‘catholic’ perspective on things as they come up in my day-to-day studies.

    While I share your (eloquently-worded) criticisms and praises for the most part about these other traditions in the Church (and I hold that they ARE truly fellow Christians), not many of these (certainly the Liturgical) folks seem think highly of the Emergent movement, save to the extent that it’s got folks like you and I discussing some of these matters. That’s completely understandable. I just don’t attribute it to a blind ‘denominationalist’ bias, as I think you tend to.

    I’ve read some of Annie Dillard, own a book or two of hers, and think a lot of some of what I’ve read, some not so much. And I’ve been a fan of Buechner’s for quite some time, and read quite a bit more of his work, including the ‘Listening to Your Life’ devotional book K10 carries. I read it pretty regularly, and have been led to several of his other works through it. While not entirely on-board with everything he says, I have gleaned a lot of very good things from Buechner. You may recall I’ve brought his stuff to the CPT meetings even recently. So, I understand how to, and do appreciate different viewpoints. I just don’t think very much of what I’ve read and heard so far from EC proponents. I think most of them tend toward a penchant for making controversy almost for the sake of controversy, or to ‘score hipness points.’

    I will make an effort to read the Secret Message of Jesus, but the title alone smacks of Gnosticm, which immediatley repels me. It sounds too much like The Bible Code and The DaVinci Code, and other codes. I know it’s almost certainly not the same thing, but it seems like a ploy to get a culture steeped in the tabloids to pick it up. “This secret will change your life forever!” The supermarket should not be our model for theological engagement.

    I also likewise ‘urge you not to get hung up on the bad things’ (and there are plenty!) associated with Reformed theology. You seem to focus on them, as you believe I have with EC (but you still haven’t been specific about your complaints against them, imho).

    This exhortation of yours raises a question in me, though…What, specifically IN the EC movement troubles you, then? Since you say don’t focus on the ‘bad things,’ it makes me wonder what bad things? I haven’t heard anything particular coming from you that would give me the least inkling that there is anything wrong with their thinking at all. McLaren et al are instead, ‘amazing,’ and full of integrity, and yada yada…but nary a critical statement from your corner about them or what they say. I know you try to keep it on the sunny side by nature. That’s just you. But, it makes me wonder.

    I am, like you, probably in a similar boat in that while I was raised in a Reformed-tradition church (the PCUSA), it was not adhering to its Book of Order or Confessions, (and still is not, except in its governmental organization), so I never rec’d any formal Calvinist catechism beyond what it took to memorize the affirmations by rote to get accepted into membership at my childhood church.

    So I am also “not a Calvinist” at least in the same vein you claim not to ‘be emergent.’ But I do have a growing respect for it’s depth of thought and passion for the Church and God.

    I also have read extensively in theology and philosophy, spent a seminary’s worth of money on books and certainly in time mulling over the same questions that EC folks are grappling with (however clumsily or carelessly they may be doing it). Because of that, I think you’re selling me short (you might call it being harsh) when you intimate that I’ve taken only the thoughts of others about EC and made them my own, instead of listening to both sides and coming to my own conclusions. The fact that I disagree with you on this so sharply means nothing much more than I believe A about EC/Reformed viewpoints, and you believe B about EC/Reformed viewpoints. If two weeks and thousands and thousands of words we’ve exchanged over this doesn’t convince you I’m engaged with these ideas more than superficially, then at least one of us is, ‘beyond medical aid.’

    Finally, for proof that I recognize my Reformed heritage as a schismatic bunch of pugnacious SOBs, check out this podcast/WWW site run as an outreach of Christ Church, Spokane, WA. It’s called St. Anne’s Pub, and can be found here:

    http://www.stannespub.com/

    Tune into the recent special edition on “Controversy.” I think you’ll be glad you did. I think it may help you understand (particularly the interveiw with Dr. Chad VanDixhoorn) that Calvinism has never been “a closed system,” and that its followers are not necessarily out of touch with the current culture, or afraid to engage it actively, artfully and passionately.

    Grace & peace,


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