In the comments section of my previous post, blog-lurker extraordinaire Tim Keller called me out for my duplicity regarding inerrancy. He’s right, I find inerrancy not merely to be “insufficient,” but actually deeply lacking theologically.
In brief, I think that the doctrine of “inerrancy” — made up by evangelicals during the second half of the 20th century (the word, itself, is an invention) — uses an extrabiblical superimposition to prop up the authority of the Scripture. That is, inerrancy appeals to the themes of logical positivism and empiricism and is thus a modernistic misstep.
Instead, I think that the biblical narrative is authoritative and truthful because of, among other things, its aesthetic and holistic truth. Thus, I proposed to my new friends at Southern Seminary, that I have a “higher” view of Scripture than an inerrantist. I believe that the Bible does not require external, foundational supports. The narrative truth of the Bible is ultimately sufficient and authoritative, thus trumping any extrabiblical theory. That is, the Bible is cogent, coherent, and existentially truthful — and, I would argue, moreso than any competing sacred text.
1) I mean no disrespect in referring to Tim Keller as a "lurker." I've said it here before: I am greatly honored that a pastor-theologian of his caliber reads and comments on my blog. I am, likewise, a lurker on many blogs. Sorry if it came off as an insult, Tim.
2) I am fully aware that by appealing to post-foundational rationalities that I am open to the accusation of hypocrisy: i.e., that I am using non-biblical arguments to refute non-biblical arrguments. But I find appeals to holism and aesthetic truth to be arguments about the internal consistency and cogency of the Scripture.
3) Tim's right, that I wasn't entirely duplicitous in my "lukewarm" attitude toward inerrancy at Southern. The fact is, "inerrancy" bends a lot of ways -- once it's qualified by phrases like "in the original manuscripts" (which we don't have), "when read faithfully," and "when interpreted within the orthodox Christian community," then "inerrancy" starts to sound a lot like "infallibility." That's why I think there are all kinds of inerrantists, some of whom are probably very close to my position.
4) Tim, if you think my hermeneutic is difficult to explain to lay people, you should try it with high school students! That's what I tried (with limited success) for 7 years!
5) Dear Anonymous, first of all, sign your posts if you want anyone to take you seriously. Secondly, if you think the fact that I have a position (n.b., my position, not Emergent's position) on Scriptural interpretation precludes my ability to have open, respectful, challenging conversations with inerrantists, then you don't know much about conversation. And if you don't like big words, find another blog to read -- I make no apologies for who I am.]
Yesterday, I was hosted for a day at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I learned some lingo, For instance, in SBC circles, the school is referred to either as “Southern Seminary,” “Southern,” or “The Southern Baptist Seminary.” Specifically, I was invited by the faculty of the International Center for Youth Ministry at Boyce College, and its director, Dave Adams.
As one might imagine, I had some trepidation going into this conversation, particularly having read the less-than-affirming blogs of the school’s president, Al Mohler, regarding Brian and Emergent.
However, I must say that rarely have I been received so hospitably, humbly, and generously. Dave, the rest of the Boyce faculty and Ph.D. students, and the school’s dean, Jimmy Scroggins, were everything that you’d want Christian brothers to be. (No, there were no sisters present.)
We talked non-stop from the 11am till 4pm. We found points of agreement and points of difference. For them, it was significant that I personally affirmed the historic, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ — in fact, when asked point-blank whether I could affirm it, my response was something like, “Not only do I affirm it, I consider it the pivot point in the entire history of the cosmos.”
But, we differed when it came to decisional evangelism, inerrancy, and the exclusivity of propitiation in understanding the atonement. I made it clear that I didn’t necessarily reject any of these positions, but that I consider none of them sufficient. We had a good little conversation about the Trinity, and I was able to explicate my ecclesiology a bit, explaining how it grows from my understanding of the perichorectic Trinity.
It was difficult at times parsing out whether I was speaking for myself or speaking for Emergent, but I guess that goes with the job. A good challenge came from Prof. Randy Smith at the end of the day: he said that if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested.
Before I went to the airport, I was taken into the president’s office, to meet Al. Actually, we walked through his ante-office and into his “real” office, where he was preparing for his daily radio program and a later appearance on Anderson Cooper 360 — he was weighing in on the no-church-on-Christmas controversy. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. It was somewhat awkward for me, as I imagine it was for him, too.
Who knows where all this will lead? I don’t, but I know that conversations such as this are only good.
Well, there’s been quite a few stinks of late. First, people were taking us to task in blogs for raising some money to fund my (part-time) position with Emergent. Then others got really bent out of shape about my quote in a press release about a meeting with rabbis. In the midst of all that, I was informed by a friend that I was getting thrown under the bus in a new youth ministry bulletin board [UPDATE: Not everyone at YMX was out to get me, just a couple people]. Its owner was nice enough to let me in to the board, and I’ve made a few posts to defend my good name. The latest, an attempt to respond to comments about the “confusion and tension” surrounding the emerging church, is below:
I’m well aware that there is lots of confusion out there about the emerging church. It’s funny, in one comment someone will say, “I know exactly what the EC is, cuz I’ve seen it all before; it’s just like the Jesus People/Pentecostals/baptists/fill-in-the-blank.” Then the next comment will say, “What are you guys? No one knows what you are, so how can we join you or protest you?”
I will say that I fall right in between on this. On the one hand, of course, what we’re about is not at all new. Paul, Benedict, Francis, Martin, John, and many others through the ages have attempted to reform the church — that is, to make the church better.
On the other hand, I hope that what we’re doing is also new, in some respects. At one level, Martin Luther and John Calvin didn’t have to worry about blogs, they had to worry about the Pope’s army. We have new challenges today. At a deeper level, I believe that the emerging church is attempting to develop a doctrine of the church that has never before been seen — I call it a “relational ecclesiology,” and I’m going to write my PhD dissertation in defense of it.
Part of the new theories of relationality (in many fields of study) is that there is going to be tension. It’s unavoidable. In fact, it’s like the Internet — there is an Internet out there, but there is no place where you can find it. There is no there there. The Internet is the relationship between computers and servers — the thing is the relationship.
If you follow my argument, there are “emerging churches” out there that you can find, but no one of them is the perfect epitome of emergence. And there is an Emerging Church out there, but you can’t find it. Emergent, the organization I am a part of, is one of the bigger servers in the system. Not the only one, not the best one, just one that happens, right now, to have some influence.
So, in short, I don’t deny that there is confusion about just what the EC is, nor do I want to lessen that tension. That tension is good. When we lose it, the emergence will be over.
Read more here.
Assisi continues to be one of my favorite cities in the world. Medieval castle ruins, winding streets, friendly shopkeepers, and, of course, the spirit of St. Francis. The Giotto fresco cycle of Francis’s life is breathtaking. Praying in the crypt below the lower basilica is a deeply spiritual experience. Climbing la Rocca Maggiore affords a fantastic view of the city.
But I must say that my most compelling memory of Assisi, and it happened again today, is the smell of wood smoke coming from chimneys in town. It is unmistakable and unforgettable.
This trip (I suppose it’s my third or fourth to Assisi), I read Jon Sweeney’s updated version of Paul Sabatier’s classic biography of Francis. I’ve read several bios of Francis, and this is the best yet. It’s been spurned by many Franciscans because it’s written by a Protestant and because it claims that Francis was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. He also makes an interesting claim that when Francis asked for and received the blessing of Pope Innocent III for his band of brothers, he made a mistake — by doing so, he became a part of the church, he was domesticated and used politically by Innocent, and he could no longer provide a valid critique of the church.
As always, the best meal in Italy is to be had at La Stalla — the restaraunt in the barn up the hill from Assisi. Rustic bread grilled on an open fire and rubbed with garlic and olive oil, polenta spread on a board, sausages grilled on the same fire, and vino rosso della casa. Jim and I shared a table with two local Italian couples, one of which I struggled to communicate with. A true Umbrian experience.
I’m sitting in Rome at the Lot 87 Bar, drinking a shot of grappa and writing away. Rome may be the greatest city in the world. I was IMing a friend, and he said that some people have told him that they don’t like Rome. You know who doesn’t like Rome? Wussies! They say, “Rome is dirty and smelly and there’s crazy traffic.” Those people like clean, wimpy cities like Vienna and Salzburg and Munich and Florence.
Rome is a real city with real people. It’s dirty and crazy and people eat real food that they buy that morning and cook that evening. Women in mini-skirts drive scooters too fast between busses. Men grow long hair and slick it back with oil. And the cappuccino is like drinking liquid gold. You can keep Vienna; leave me Roma.
Last night, for instance, we ate at Al Grappolo D’Oro. We started with an amazing onion flan as antipasto, then homemade ravioli with basil sauce, and then an insalata mista, all accompanied by the house white. Of course, the evening ended with a visit to Giolitti’s, the single best ice cream cone on the planet.
I’m here with my friend, Jim Newberry, who won a pastor’s sabbatical grant from the Louisville Institute. We’re spending every morning walking around, visiting churches and ancient ruins. Then we eat a little pizza, maybe take a short siesta, and head out to Lot 87 for a drink and several hours of writing and reading. Around 9, we’ll head out to dinner and some amazingly and outrageously good restaraunt that is a tiny hole-in-the-wall in some back alley of Trastevere, the “uptown” type of neighborhood in Rome.
Today we hung out a bit with Annie Ojile, a friend from Solomon’s Porch, who’s making a go at being an independent film producer here (or else a tour guide). We also visited San Pietro and the Pantheon. Tomorrow the Vatican Museo, then a day-trip to Assisi. Monday and Tuesday will be more sites in Roma, and we head home on Wednesday.
Yesterday, we visited the Mamertine Prison, where Peter and Paul were supposedly chained together — and converted their jailers — before their respective executions.
La Dolce Vita!
OK, time to set the record straight on a few things:
1) I took no offense to Lisa’s question. I did not suspect that she was trying to trap me. It seemed to me an honest question. But, it’s just as honest to me to wonder why people are accusing me of saying things that they freely admit I didn’t really say. I personally found Lisa’s question honest and compelling — even courageous.
2) The follow-up question was less gentle, and that’s when I started getting testy. And the same man asked it even more directly the next morning. In a private email, he has admitted that he felt that I “needed to be cornered” because I was being too evasive in my answers. He’s also admitted that this is pretty obnoxious, coming to someone’s session in order to corner him. He and I have gone on to have a helpful and warm email exchange, and I appreciate his courage, too, in working this through with me.
3) I can see how my “google it” comment about semi-pelagianism could be taken as arrogant. Honestly, I only said that because 1) I thought it was a tangent, and 2) I haven’t read about semi-pelagianism in 10 years, so I thought I might look stupid if I tried to explain it.
4) I don’t think semi-pelagianism is a heresy. In fact, I think that almost all of us are semi-pelagians — few Christians (though I do know some personally) can really hold to Augustinian Calvinism. My point was, be careful who you start calling a heretic, cos you’re surely one, too.
5) I don’t think that dispensational eschatology is “borderline heretical.”
6) I think that dispensational eschatology is heretical.
6a.) Bob gets it (see comment). This is hyperbolic pandering by me.
7) I make sure and introduce myself as a father and husband and police chaplain before introducing myself as the national coordinator of Emergent. Funny, no one ever asks what the Edina Police Chaplains think about absolute truth. Or what the Joneses think about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity.
8) I often avoid conversations about absolute truth for a few reasons:
9) I don’t even know what it would mean for Emergent to have an “official position” on absolute truth. Really, I don’t know what that even means.
10) I believe that friendship precedes orthodoxy. That is, one CANNOT be an orthodox Christian unless one is willing to live a reconciled life with others. Orhtodoxy cannot be known by a non-reconciled human being.
I had an interesting, and somewhat disheartening, experience at the Saturday night “Late Night Theology Discussion.” I was asked, in effect, to defend things that I didn’t say. That is, a well-meaning woman said, in effect, “In the seminar this morning, you didn’t say that you’re a realtivist and a universalist, but that’s what I heard.”
When I declared that I would not defend my own non-declarations, a guy chimed in with, “Yeah, that’s what I heard you saying, too, even though you didn’t really say it.”
Then I got a little more ornery, and I asked why in the world people would impute statements to me that they admit I have not said.
At that point, a couple people shouted from the back, “Way to go, Tony. We love what you’re doing. Keep it up!” I said, “Listen, I’m not trying to be a martyr here, I just want to know why is pinning me down so important? Why do you have such a passion to categorize me?”
About then, another guy spoke up: “OK, then why don’t you just put the argument to rest and make a definitive statement about what Emergent believes about absolute truth.”
I replied, “Emergent doesn’t have a position on absolute truth, or on anything for that matter. Do you show up at a dinner party with your neighbors and ask, ‘What’s this dinner party’s position on absolute truth?’ No, you don’t, because it’s a non-sensical question.”
The rest of the convention was good, but I have the distinct impression that lots of people are mad at me.
I’m going to be involved in an ETrek course (a collaboration between TheOoze.com and Biblical Seminary). It’s on youth ministry, and is taught by Mark Riddle. More info here.