Central Jersey Emergent Cohort

Adam (a.k.a. “Sweet Cheeks” blogs about our first cohort meeting here. He’s got pics and thoughts. Check it out, and join us in December if you’re in the area.

Without Author|ity 4: Tray Tables Up

OK, time to bring this plane in for a landing.

First of all, I have no truck with those who say that postmodernism never happened or that it’s already done or that it’s passé. And to those who say that postmodernism has lost its credibility in the academy, let me just say that I am neck-deep in the academy, and postmodernism the problem. That is, every field of study is attempting at some level to forge a way ahead after the “postmodern turn.”

To drastically oversimplify, the postmodern philosophers have been trying to do philosophy after Auschwitz (Derrida and Levinas say as much). That is, the grand, unifying, utopian vision of the Enlightenment evaporated into the mist that it always was in the death camps of WWII, the oppressions of Apartheid, and the mess of Vietnam. The Enlightenment ideal led to a century of blood and horror.

So along came the postmodernists, attempting to hang on to philosophy but unwilling to resurrect Platonic metaphysics. That is, big, overarching, totalizing schemes for knowledge only lead to The Final Solution. So their response has been to problematize concepts like truth and knowledge.

One of the most compelling responses (for Christians at least) comes from Stanley Fish. Although people like Chuck Colson accuse him of total relativism, Fish is adamant that he does in fact believe in authority, but it is the authority of “interpretive communities.” Persons do speak (and write) authoritatively, as I am doing right now; that authority comes not from “on high,” not from a bishop or a judge or an elected official, synod, dictator, president, supreme court, or pope. It comes, instead, from the community in which the speaker/author has embedded herself. Here’s Fish:

“We see that (1) communication does occur, despite the absence of an independent and context-free system of meanings, that (2) those who participate in this communication do so confidently rather than provisionally (they are not relativists), and that (3) while their confidence has its source in a set of beliefs, those beliefs are not individual-specific or idiosyncratic but communal and conventional (they are not solipsists).”

Fish is being both descriptive and prescriptive: this is actually how meaning is formed (in contextual, interpretive communities), and this is how we are to be sure that it is formed in the future (rather than letting it rest in the hands of a dictator or oligarchy). Here’s how Steve Bush put it in a comment from an earlier post:

“My community exercises authority not through an appeal to the objectivity of a tradition or denomination nor through a solipsistic “take matters into your own hands” approach which would destroy community, but through a process of dialogue and discussion, in which we process together the decisions that need to be made, present suggestions, give reasons for our suggestions, and critique the reasons that we give. This is “authority from below” which is neither hierarchical nor individualistic.”

Implication #1: The emerging church will deliberately practice a communal hermeneutic “from below.”

Sub-implication: We will find ways to continually root out authoritarian tendencies, to unmask power structures (they grow like weeds, but we cannot quit weeding the garden). (If this can happen in denominational churches, in established and institutional churches, in “conservative” or “liberal” churches, then to God be the glory. I am not ruling that out (for God’s Spirit is capable of all things), but I am skeptical — I invite anyone to prove my skepticism unfounded.)

Moltmann 5: Oh, Jurgen, I just love it when you do that

You may be wondering why I’m so fond of Moltmann. Well, check out these comments from the preface to his The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God:

“Always using the same methods leads to rigidity on the part of the author and weariness in the reader.”

“I know and accept the limits of my own existence and my own context. I do not claim to say everything, as earlier dogmatic and systematic theologians once did, in their summas and systems. What I should like to do, however, is to participate in the great theological dialogue with theologians past and present.”

“These contributions are not offered in the form of a dogma or a system; they are suggestions. They are not intended to conclude discussions; they are meant to open new conversations.”

And I could go one from there. For about ten pages, Moltmann goes on about a new way to do theology, one that is humble, open, and provocative.

Now, notice that last adjective: provocative. One can be humble yet provocative. Indeed, one can be humble and angry. So, don’t let anyone marginalize you as an “angry emerger” if your anger is 1) provoking Christ’s church to be better than it currently is, and 2) from a spirit of humility — that is, with an understanding that we all stand in judgment under the cross.


The first-ever meeting of the Emergent Cohort of Central Jersey, tonight at 9p.m. at Charlie Brown’s on Route 1 in Lawrenceville. Stop on by!