Brandon Morgan’s response….

Brandon Morgan’s response…. August 8, 2011

Here is Brandon Morgan’s response to critics of his guest post here (about the ECM):

“I would like to thank Tony Jones, Scot Mcknight and Deacon Bo over at Homebrewed for taking the time to respond/repost my reflections after attending Wild Goose. A number of the comments from these blogs have asked many good questions, some of which I’m afraid I won’t have time to respond to.

Initially, I suppose, I would like to clear up some concerns that Dr. Jones had with my reflection about the relationship between ECM and mainline denominations. His criticisms were more directed toward methodological or stylistic concerns, which perhaps led him to interpret my seemingly important questions (or else no one would have noticed) as rhetorical conjectures rather than substantive questions. This inevitably led to a rhetorical critique against my writing style and “methods of research” than substantive responses to my thoughts. I am actually surprised; first, that Tony disagreed with me at all. I would have assumed that, given his thoughts in his books, podcasts (particularly that AAR podcast with McKnight and Diana Butler Bass) and blog posts, that Tony would have been similarly concerned with the ease in which conversations among ECM people collude with the underlying methods of mainline denominations. I am surprised, secondly, that Tony’s recent follow up asking for a new word to describe non-evangelicals other than “progressive” or “liberal” does not at least convey an attempt to promote exactly what I hope ECM folks do, namely, transcend or at least govern imaginatively the evangelical-liberal impasse in American Protestantism. It would seem that Tony does not really disagree with me as much as perhaps feel defensive regarding my reference to my thoughts about Wild Goose because perhaps he felt I was targeting him. That was not the case.

That being said, I also assume that individuals who post on blogs asking questions (or who sit in church asking questions for that matter) need not convey elaborate qualitative or quantitative data in order for such questions to be on the table of concerns. My reflection on Wild Goose was the spearhead to a number of conversations I have had with mainline folks in dialogue with ECM ideas. So my thoughts do not spawn uniquely from that meeting, nor are they unique in comparison with others who have similar analyses.

In all honesty, I do not find ECM’s similarity with mainline concerns as a problem. Interestingly enough, mainline denominations do not generally see ECM as a problem either, but a promise. They do not see ECM as controversial because the mainline has already asked the questions that post-evangelical people are asking now. Their books generally include emergent ideas as a “shot in the arm” to an already established form of denominational life. So, it would not be a negative if ECM folks decided to find a home in mainline denominations. In fact, this was the very advice McLaren and others gave to VOID in order to get monetary support.  It might actually benefit ECM in an attempt to overcome what Jeremy Begbie has called “naïve anti-institutionalism.” But it would convey a contradiction regarding what Tony himself, in an interesting spat with Diana Butler Bass, claimed as being the benefit of ECM, namely that it attempts to move beyond the division in American Protestantism.

Now, in reference to Deacon Bo, I think the difference between liberal and progressive is negligible. However, I do not think they are un-theological terms. Theology is always political and vice-versa. We do not get to call our names theological because they are unsociological or unpolitical. They do, however, seem to have similar theological trajectories. That trajectory is one which I find to be rather similar to the kind of theology that, as Bo mentioned, someone like John Cobb would espouse. However, Cobb’s differentiation between Liberal and Progressive rests on the same premise: that experience (gender, racial, national included) is a valid location for theological reflection. I do not generally agree with this claim, and so am definitely not liberal. I also do not think one has to be a liberal in order to confess such an idea. But the take away from the conversation of titles expresses to me that, even after a number of years, the ECM has failed to contribute significantly to a well-worked theological/missional trajectory. This is perhaps the reason why I think criteria for ECM need to be laid out before any effective analysis is performed. How will we know what we are looking for when our qualitative and quantitative analyses take to the churches? I am assuming this is what some of my friends, like Gary Black, are doing when they type away in their studies. We have to agree on what something is before we ever find it. My own Baptist tradition has this same problem.  This problem in ECM may likely be due to the ideas expressed in Tony’s recent comment that

“We’ve taken a pastiche approach to church and theology — we take a little bit from here and a little bit from there. The benefit of that is a great deal more freedom than many leaders in the church feel. The other side of that coin, however, is that we inevitably disappoint anyone who comes from a particular camp, because we’re never really enough of anything.”

This comment in response to David Finch’s reflections about a book on ECM seems to convey the sentiment that I find already quite prevalent within the dominant political liberalism of contemporary America. The organization of contracted individuals to freely choose what they like from the consumer line of theological and social thought is not new but is in fact an orthodox tenet of American politics, not to mention the American University. Tony thinks the pastiche model really works. I do not. It seems that David Fitch’s comment that “all we’ve done is stir the pot, and then blended in with existing structures” is perhaps an overly grouchy-anabaptist way of saying what I was attempting to claim about EMC and its relationship to the theological presuppositions that reside in the mainline denominations. I will not spell out again the ways in which ECM has at its disposal to critique liberal or progressive forms of theological collusions with specific nation-state policies, or modern presuppositions about freedom, tolerance, personhood, rationality etc. I simply want to ask again how ECM is going to make itself up on the spot. Its thoughts have to come from somewhere and they can’t come from everywhere.

Personally, I find theological liberalism/progressivism to be a highly sophisticated approach to theological reflection, albeit ill-founded. Anyone who has even glanced at the work of Gary Dorrien will see that mainline liberal presuppositions are not toss-away categories. These are serious thinkers. But they are subject to critique in a number of ways. ECM will, I think, find its place to the extent that it can avoid what I see as the mistakes of the liberal tradition to theology and its approach to the church/world relationship.

So here are the (non-rhetorical) questions again: Why haven't Emergent folks joined the mainline denominations? Why have the negatives of evangelicalism been so easy to describe and virulently rebuke, while the negatives of the mainline denominations have barely shown up in Emergent concerns? Another way to ask this question would be: Why hasn't the Emergent critique of evangelicalism's involvement with the American nation-state and it's tendency toward creating theologically exclusive boundaries not found root in a critique of mainline denominations, whose political interests also conflate the church with nation-state interests?

I will also point out in conclusion that I have not been to every church in America. I do not have the time. So a number of churches, perhaps more than we realize, fall outside the typologies I or anyone else has chosen to use. That is the nature of the beast. That is why Bass can think Mainline is on the rise and others think it’s in decline. The same fact is true of every denomination. Because of this, I do not feel the need to account for every church community in order for my questions to bear relevance. Lastly, my use of the pronoun “they” instead of “we” is perhaps due to my recognition that, in order for there to be a “we” there must be an agreement that ECM speaks for me. Since I am, at the moment, unsure exactly who ECM speaks for, other than the plethora of leaders that ride atop its cultural wave, then I am not sure what it would mean for me to say “we”.  I am not simply saying that ECM does not speak for me, but more importantly, I am currently unaware exactly on behalf whom ECM does speak.


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  • In response to your final paragraph, I think you’re still missing the point if you think the ECM speaks “for” anyone. It is not that sort of movement. In the ECM we speak with each other other, not for each other. So for you to be a part of it (for it to be a “we” instead of a “they”) all you need to do is join the conversation (as you have done). If you are in friendly and constructive dialog with us, then you are already one of us. But there’s never been any requirement that members of the conversation have to agree with one another – which is precisely why the ECM can’t speak for anyone.

    • Brandon Morgan

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for the response at your blog. I hope that my response here has answered at least a couple of your questions that you presented me with there; namely that I don’t think “liberal” is a pejorative term to throw around, but a serious trajectory that I simply disagree with on a number of methodological levels. I also understand ECM has been within mainline denominations for a while. But they use ECM, like I said, in a very different way–almost as an adrenaline boost to mainline churches. My concern was not to critique the mainline, but to wonder why ECM has failed to…or why they stopped and, in some ways, never started to critique it as they did evangelicals. Maybe they shouldn’t critique them or can find no reason. If that is true, then joining them sounds like a good idea. They could use the numbers.

      I also hope I expressed why failing to obtain “data” on ECM (if that is possible without knowing its criteria) does not thwart my question. Such qualifications for conjecture would rule us all out and merely present the same “qualified hierarchy of educated opinions” that perhaps made ECM folks irritated in the first place.

      But I am interested that you bring up this issue at the end, which is for me perhaps the most important. I would like to quote something from one of my fav. philosophers Stanley Cavell,

      “We do not know in advance what the content of our mutual acceptance is, how far we may be in agreement. I do not know in advance how deep my agreement with myself is, how far responsibility for the language may run. But if I am to have my own voice in it, I must be speaking for others and allow others to speak for me…To speak for yourself then means risking the rebuff–on some occasion, perhaps once for all– of those for whom you claimed to be speaking; and it means risking having to rebuff– on some occasion, perhaps once for all–those who claimed to be speaking for you.”
      Our language does not give us the ability to forgo speaking on behalf of others. Discerning who speaks for me is what Cavell calls “claims to community.” I suspect ECM would claim to speak on behalf of the Christian church because that is its mother. If they do not speak on behalf of the church, then my issues are perhaps even deeper. The reason why I think ECM should wholeheartedly claim to speak on behalf of Christians and a certain kind of Christianity is because failing to do so abrogates responsibility for maintaining that community. If I renege on my claim that I speak for others, then I am not just saying “I am not longer a part of this community” but “WE are no longer a community: community IS no longer: and responsibility is forgone. I can say and do as I please.” Here I feel like I am giving ECM more credit than you give it here. According to your perspective, ECM speaks for no one but itself, and thus has rent all connection between itself and the church. If this is true, then why would any Christian care what ECM people have to say? We care because what ECM discusses relates to the church. We agree in the language we uses whether or not we agree on the content . We may not agree on Christology, but it is “Christology” about which we fail to agree. Thus, to the extent the ECM uses language that it did not make up (aka all language), it speaks on behalf of those who also use that language. If ECM folks use Christian language and claim to be part of the church, then whether or not it wants to take responsibility for that is beside the point…it is responsible for what it says in that language and about that church. So, I feel like if ECM said that it cannot speak for anyone or on behalf of anything, then it is more vapid than its critics say and is simply shirking the responsibility that leaders, pastors and theologians must bear in doing their work.

      • Brandon – in regards to the “who does the ECM speak for,” I feel like we’re talking about two different things. (Actually, I feel like you have just shifted the terms of the question in your response, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that I just misunderstood your original question in the first place.) The question I thought I was responding to was whether the ECM as a movement could claim to speak for particular individuals within it (i.e. does it speak for you personally). In response to that question, I asserted that the ECM does not speak for individuals. Rather individuals within it speak to each other. That is why it is more commonly characterized as a “conversation” rather than a “movement”.

        I did not however, say (as you claim I did) that the “ECM speaks for no one but itself.” Such a statement still assumes that the ECM is some kind of unified entity, which it is not. The ECM cannot speak for “itself” any more than it can speak for anyone else, because it is not a “thing.” Individuals within the emergent conversation can speak to each other, and to anyone else who cares to listen and engage, but there is no authoritative body or leader who can speak for the “movement” as a whole.

        Does that mean the ECM has “rent all connection between itself and the church”? Only if you think the ECM is some kind of “thing” separate from the individual and communities which participate in it, which could then somehow cut itself off from others. But what I’m saying is that the emerging conversation isn’t that kind of “thing” in the first place. There is less of a “there” there than you are imagining.

        Which comes back to my suggestion that you need more “detailed examination” and “thorough definition” of what it means to be “emergent” and what it means to be “liberal.” I don’t know what exactly Tony had in mind with that, but my concern was not so much with “data” as with a recognition that the ECM is not just one unified “thing” – and by the same token, that neither is “liberalism”. Not all emergents have embraced the aspects of liberalism that you object to, and not all liberals exhibit those characteristics either for that matter. My suggestion then, is for you to be more specific on both sides of the equation: which particular individual emergents have said things (and which things) that you think are too liberal, and then which types of “liberalism”? Are they too Schleiermachian or Ritschlian? Too Bultmannian? Too Whiteheadian? Too neo-orthodox? Too liberationist? Too Hauerwasian? Too much like the Jesus Seminar? Too post-modern constructionist? I mean, what exactly are you talking about? You know as well as I do that not all those that evangelicals label “liberals” are really just the same.

        Perhaps some of the reason emergents haven’t critiqued the mainline as much as we have evangelicals is because mainliners actually are already doing a good job of critiquing themselves. After all, that does seems to be one the key differences between the mainline and evangelicals – the former is already a much more fluid and self-critical tradition, at least when it comes to theology. Many of the critiques you would want us to level against them already exist within their own tradition – many are already postmoderns, or Hauerwasians, or Radically Orthodox, or New Persective, or whatever other direction you think they ought to be going – and they already have the space within their institutions for those sorts of critiques and innovations to occur. We don’t need to do that for them. That’s why, in my experience, the areas that emergents can effectively critique mainliners have more to do with ministry practice and church polity than with theology. Those are the areas where they are still most resistant to change.

        Can I ask one more question of you Brandon? Are you a Hauerwasian or into Radical Orthodoxy (e.g. the Ekklesia Project)? Is that where the source of your critique is springing from? I’m not sure, but that’s the way some of your original post struck me. If that is the case, I would say two things: 1) many emergents are also influenced by Hauerwas and RO folks (again, its a diverse movement) so it is incorrect to say that none are offering the kind of critiques of liberal theology and politics that you might want to see.

        2) On the other hand, not all emergents are entirely convinced by Hauerwas, but that doesn’t make us “merely” liberal either. One does not need to join the “Hauerwasian Mafia” in order to be truly “postmodern” or to have something worthwhile to say to the contemporary church. I have a lot of friends involved with the Ekklesia Project and the like, but I have to confess that I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the condescending “more post-liberal/postmodern than thou” attitude coming from some of them. These are things that emergents should be able to converse about and differ amicably on. We should not be written off simply because we are not entirely on board with Hauerwas or Milbank or the Bapto-Catholics or whomever.

        If this is not where you are coming from, please accept my apologies. I’m just trying to get a better sense of what exactly your critique is about.

        • rogereolson

          My experience of being in mainline churches was they are not as open to criticism (even internal, constructive criticism) as you seem to think.

          • Well, then I suppose mainliners are just as diverse as evangelicals. I had the opposite experience within a mainline (PCUSA) seminary. At least in regards to theology, they were remarkably open to all kinds of viewpoints – from conservative evangelical, to neo-orthodox, to liberationist, to post-liberal, to Unitarian/Universalists and beyond. They were, however, far less open to critique of their church polity and liturgical practices.

          • I should also add that my wife is currently at the other mainline seminary here in Austin, the Episcopalian school, and Brandon might be glad to hear that they are very big both on Hauerwas and on Radical Orthodoxy. So yeah, as I’ve been saying, it’s not like all mainliners are classical liberals anymore than all emergents are mere mainliners (or all evangelicals are Neo-Reformed misogynists – though it sometimes seems that way.)

        • Brandon Morgan

          I recognize that ECM is a fluxuating phenomenon. But your claim that it is not a “thing” or a describable movement will forgo from the start the kinds of descriptions that I claim as perhaps relevant. The ball is rhetorically in your court with the words “Not all are like that” or “a number of ecm people don’t see it that way.” I recognize the inability to attain universality in the typologies I and others have used. That is why I am making claims about theology and not specific communities.
          2. My recent post used the definition of “liberal” and “progressive” used by John Cobb, a self-professed liberal. So I am not making my criteria up for theological liberalism. Also, see Olson’s post on the definitions of theological liberalism. Olson and I agree on those criteria. Whitehead, Bultmann, Ritschl, liberation and Troeltch (I could add Tillich with this) all have tendencies toward Kantian transcendental views of subjectivity or definitions of religion as a universal internal posture of openness toward transcendence, which centers religion as a philosophical form of idealism/utopianism etc. Thus, religion can only give us ideals and not physical and political communities like the church. Liberal theology claims that experience and reason are the center or gravity for theological reflection. (Gary Dorrien’s definition, not mine…also a self-professed liberal) I am not saying that ECM follows this. I am not saying that there are no counter examples within ECM. I was responding to the Wild Goose festival, which gave me a sense in which the ECM and the liberal theological basis of experience and reason instead of tradition were methodologically similar. I am not sure we could actually have an emergent theological conversation because I am uncertain what theology ECM claims.

          2. You are correct that I am convinced by Yoder and Barth (but also others like Balthasar, Rowan Williams, j Kameron Carter, Sarah Coakley, Katherine Tanner). That may put me in a post-liberal vein with Hauerwas and RO. I wont try and qualify myself in my relationship with the theological views expressed in these theologians. I will simply use the ease with which you heard my theological leanings as an example of a sound that I am currently failing to get from ECM and one that I specifically failed to get at Wild Goose. Sure, plurivocity is inevitable. But incommensurability is not. If ECM is incommensurable, then what will keep it afloat? My problem is not that it looks to much like a certain theology that I disagree with. At least then I could better categorize it. At the present moment, I am just confused as to what theology it does look like. So I am more troubled about my inability to tell you exactly what kind of theological leanings I see in ECM. Sometimes I see vague spirituality with little to no mention of Christ (like in the opening ceremony of Wild Goose), sometimes I see traditional theological liberalism (like in Paul Knitter’s Wild Goose talk), sometimes I see neo-anabaptist radical poltical pacifism (like the Wild Goose session with John Dear). I know Wild Goose was not representative of ECM. But what is? My issue is that ECM folks have a tendency to be elusive, which sometime results in the impression that their theological conclusions are vapid. Pastiche can only work for so long…and then nobody sees the point anymore. Being unconvinced by Hauerwas does not make you a liberal…right. But what does it make you? The burden of proof is on the leaders or centers of ECM. Evasion through inherent claims about the “ineffability” of the universal ECM movement feels like you are logically begging my question. You claim I have not truly described ECM. But that is what my questions are attempting to express, namely that ECM has failed to fully describe itself as anything more than a conversation. What are the criteria?

          • My problem is not that it looks to much like a certain theology that I disagree with. At least then I could better categorize it. At the present moment, I am just confused as to what theology it does look like. So I am more troubled about my inability to tell you exactly what kind of theological leanings I see in ECM. Sometimes I see vague spirituality with little to no mention of Christ (like in the opening ceremony of Wild Goose), sometimes I see traditional theological liberalism (like in Paul Knitter’s Wild Goose talk), sometimes I see neo-anabaptist radical poltical pacifism (like the Wild Goose session with John Dear).

            You’ve got it! The ECM is NOT a specific theology precisely because it is a conversation. It is all of those things you mentioned (and more), because folks in the ECM are joining together from all those perspectives to dialogue together. That is the point. It’s not that we have “failed” to describe ourselves as anything more than a conversation – we were never even trying to describe ourselves as anything more than that.

            I know that frustrates y’all Ekklesia folks. Dave Fitch has made that abundantly clear. And yet many of us still see value in maintaining an open space for this kind of diverse conversation. It’s fine that other movements in the church want to put more definition to their theological programs, and we can coexist alongside of them. But I feel that the ECM’s unique contribution is to hold that open space in recognition of the plurality of truth and the limitations of human ability to fully grasp it. We value the pastiche approach for exactly that reason – because none of us, conservative or liberal, Hauerwasian or liberationist, has the corner on truth.

            You don’t think that pastiche approach can work long term. I guess I just disagree with you. I think it can work because I have seen it work – both in my own life and in church communities I have been a part of. I have found more spiritual vitality and missional passion in those sorts of diverse, pluralistic, pastiche communities than anywhere else I’ve been in the church world so far. That is just my experience, and YMMV, but I have seen it work.

        • Brandon Morgan

          This is in reference to your claim that all ECM is suppose to be is a conversation, which you have characterized as a pastiche approach. While I can think of no other approach that so effectively models itself after the hyper-pluralization of liberal-capitalist culture, I also think that such approaches grant what perhaps ECM folks want–tolerance. That is what one gets in the “pastiche conversation” approach. That is also why Fitch seems to be right, according to your definition, that ECM is just another version of the every circuitous “tolerant” conversation. Maybe thats a good thing. But tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Nothing about tolerance requires Christianity.

          The only problem with the view that ECM is nothing but a “neutral-conversation zone” for people to have dialogue is that I am unsure why we need Christianity for that. I am also unsure as to why anyone would want to kill Jesus if all he was doing was making room for conversation. What are the criteria for our tolerance? How does such “neutral-space” not simply reinscribe the privitization of religion as nothing other than experiential opinions from which we simply get to choose? I do think conversation is good. I just don’t think that is a conclusive enough definition of what church is. Why call ECM groups churches if the point is to attain neutral space for conversation? What about that has anything to do with the definition of church? Why do I even need to go to a church in order to get that? What exactly is the church from the pastiche perspective? A discussion group? a social club? a group of people who like to question things? How does this approach not simply breed church goers who can willingly hold incommensurable approaches in their heads at once?

          These are not rhetorical questions. They are real. But, in order to answer them, you’re going to have to make some rich theological claims. In order to do so, you will have to disagree with some people in order to make them. You cannot say simultaneously that Jesus is the Incarnation of God, Second person of the Trinity, One Person in two natures and also that Jesus is the symbol of creative transformation that sustains pluralization. Some theological moves are incommensurable with one another. And shirking the theological concerns by calling oneself the “space in which other people do theology” presupposes a theological claim…namely that neutral space exists and everyone should get along and not try to hurt each other’s feelings because, well, Jesus was nice and we should be too. But such neutral space does not exist, not should it. Christianity is not neutral, nor is it private. It is public. It makes public claims and forgoes specific view points. I am just unsure exactly how one avoids a pure “emotivist” Christianity in your approach. People may like going to the pastiche church where Unitarians and Evangelicals get along because their belief are opinions that we all just talk about anyways. However, I am unsure exactly why it is that the communion of saints and martyrs would have died for that. Martyrdom, which may be one of the most definitive public postures Christianity has, is totally unintelligible in the pastiche church. I will look back at Maximus the Confessor, who was killed for arguing for the dual wills of Christ, and think that it was such a shame that Maximus died just for opinions. Come on mike. You know that ECM can do better than make small talk. I disagree with a lot of what Luther believed. But I still like him because he thought theology was important enough to swear about. Is that true for ECM? It would seem not.

          • While I can think of no other approach that so effectively models itself after the hyper-pluralization of liberal-capitalist culture,

            You’re mistaking similarity for causation and connection, Brandon. And in so doing you are reading in a whole lot of things that I simply didn’t say. I really don’t even know where begin to respond to your critique about “neutral space” and “tolerance” because that really has nothing to do with what I was talking about in the first place.

            The kind of plurality emergent folks like me celebrate does not take Kantian ethics (or whatever other Enlightenment boogeyman you prefer) as its starting point. It starts with the New Testament witness of Jesus who modeled radical grace for all, even to the point of love for enemies – and yet also never failed to call out injustice and stand up for the excluded and the oppressed. What we are talking about goes far beyond mere “tolerance”. We are talking about love. If that makes us sometimes sound like “liberals”, tough – Jesus had that rhetoric first and we learned it from him.

            The kind of pluralistic space for conversation we desire couldn’t be further from the “neutral space” you describe. The kind of communities I have experienced were not “neutral spaces” where “everyone should get along and not try to hurt each other’s feelings.” They were places where each person could come with all their uniqueness and difference and disagreements – without hiding or watering down those disagreements, but instead bringing them out and engaging with them and even celebrating them.

            Indeed, you wanted to know the difference between emergents and liberal mainliners? That’s one of them (at least in my own limited experience of the two groups). Historically, the ecumenism of the mainline has been about sweeping difference under the rug and appealing to the lowest common denominator of agreement. In the ECM it’s quite the opposite – we each come to the community/conversation with our own set of deeply held commitments, and situated perspectives, which we then share with each other fully and unreservedly (not in some neutral, rationally transcendent way, but merely, at best, occasionally swapping our own situated lenses for a little peak through someone else’s, so as to occasionally see the world from the viewpoint of the other). And we engage in this kind of sharing not because our differing views are just “opinions” that don’t matter, but precisely because they do matter so very much – too much not to share with others. And yet, despite the inevitable disagreements, we still maintain relationship with one another, because love (not mere tolerance) supercedes all – because love (for the other, in all their difference), if you like, is the most important of all of our deeply held commitments. And if we do need to identify some one unifying foundation on which to base an ecclesial community, that would have to be it.

            And yes, I do think love, that kind of love, is enough to get someone killed. I think radical inclusion is actually highly subversive. And the kind of love that Jesus talked about will lead one beyond talk to action. It will lead one to mission and activism and self-sacrifice on behalf of all those who have been previously excluded from the community. As my faith communities have discovered, putting that kind of inclusive love into practice is exceptionally difficult. A community that prioritizes Christ’s two greatest commandments over everything else is going to struggle – because really living it out is so much more than merely being “nice”. I mean, theological debates about the “dual wills of Christ” are fun and all, but I’m no Maximus the Confessor and I can’t say that I would be willing to die for it (I mean let’s be honest – lots of Christians killed each other, and were killed by each other, for lots of stupid reasons. Just because someone died for a belief doesn’t automatically make that belief actually worth dying for.) But loving my neighbor as myself? That, is hard, and yet it might be something I would actually consider worth dying for.

            Does that sound “merely liberal”? If so, like I said, Jesus said it first and the liberals will just have to take a number and get in line.

          • rogereolson

            I think we have to make a distinction here (in this conversation) between inclusive conversation WITHIN a congregation (or denomination) and inclusive conversation BETWEEN them–in some space where greater latitude of belief and practice is welcome. Let’s face it, no community is absolutely inclusive. Just imagine a white supremacist coming into such a conversation space to promote hatred. What would the most broad-minded, inclusive, loving person do? I think they would try to exclude that person–not because they hate them but because their rhetoric is destructive. Still, in a sort of “village green” space there can be and should be lots of room for loving disagreement. But within a congregation or denomination, some kind of confessional stance should be recognized and promoted. I’m not sure which space is being talked about in this conversation between Brandon and Mike. IF the space is “village green”-like (viz., an open space for diverse views to be discussed lovingly) I’m fine with a great deal of diversity and inclusivity. But IF the space being talked about is the local congregation or denomination–an ecclesial space, I’m on Brandon’s side. I, for one, cannot worship with people who deny the deity of Jesus Christ (for example). I can cooperate with them on many things, but I want to belong to a church that affirms the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Sure, even there, we can have “conversation” about it, but to leave it as an open issue on which the congregation or denomination has not taken a stand is, I think, to undermine if not destroy its Christian character. Now, can a confessional congregation or denomination have “village green” style conversation with and even some level of cooperation with, say, a Unitarian church? Sure. Why not? It should. So my question to both Mike and Brandon is–what kind of conversational space is being envisioned in this discussion/debate?

          • I agree that a local church community needs some sort of core identity; though I would likely define that more openly than yourself – probably focused simply on a commitment to following the Way of Christ, defined as a whole way of life that reflects the vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus taught and demonstrated for us (a way of justice, compassion, joy, reconciliation, celebration, and inclusive, self-giving love). That is what has united the communities I have been a part of, and it worked for us. Our community also affirmed the Apostles Creed as a basic statement of belief, but we didn’t make it a test for fellowship. I have worshiped in the same community with agnostics, atheists, and those who would not affirm the deity of Christ, and I have not found that those sorts of differences have hampered our ability to pursue the way of Christ together. I mean, if one chooses to make those sort of creedal/confessional issues deal killers, then sure, they’ll kill it. But one doesn’t have to choose to make them that. Differences, even over 4th century theology, can coexist within the same Christian community.

            And let’s be fair – you can’t have meant to place non-trinitarians on the same level as white supremacists? Those are not equivalent “errors”. The latter in a community would be far more disruptive to fellowship and to our ability to follow the way of Christ than the former. Let’s not confuse theological differences with serious moral failings.

            At the same time, I recognize that not all faith communities will be inclined to be quite as open as my own have been. That’s fine too. As you say, there is still potential for differing communities to interact together in the “village green.” That too is part of what the ECM stands for. That is precisely why Hauerwasian Bapto-Catholics and mainline liberationsts, evangelicals and liberals, and all the rest can coexist within the ECM. The conversation is as much between communities as between individuals.

          • Brandon Morgan

            I will venture an example that a professor gave me about a church he worked in. He had a Sunday School class that became enraptured in the new gnostic gospel wave that became popular at the end of the last century. They began solely discussing it in their class and were convinced that the early church powerfully quelled the influential gnostic tendencies in early Christianity in order to gain a greater foothold for Christian orthodoxy. While we can talk about the theological and philosophical issues arising between Christianity and Gnosticism, the reality is that such a worldview is heretical from a Christian perspective. We should thank the “gnostic” tendency, particularly the Valentinians, for being so influential because Christianity became more nuanced via Irenaus in light of that controversy. But we should not allow it to gain credence within the walls of the Christian church as a world view authentic of the Christian faith. It is not. It should not impact or change our worship. It should not interpret our Scriptures. It should not have any say in changing the structure or doctrine of the Christian faith. The kinds of conversations that we have with those of a gnostic or “esoteric” Christian flare will have to be done outside the church walls. As Balthasar says, theologians do not dialogue with the church, but with other theologians. Some debates are simply not on the table. (Like the Eucharist table for instance.) Some say that the symbolic representation of the Eucharist is disgusting. My boss at work refuses to believe in a religion that says that a Man has to save her. So what do we do as the church? Have a conversation about it? Yes. Change church practice or belief in Christ? No. The emergent conversation is about the church, which means it bears responsibility for what it does and says regarding the church. To forgo coherence and truthfulness for the sake of love tends to make the reasons for which Christians gather rather insipid. (I would not have always said that, as my close friends can attest.)

            For instance, why should I listen to Jesus when he commands me to love people? Other people command that too? It was probably a pretty common idea. Loving enemies is not a unique Christian practice. It is the contextualization, maybe we could say part of the grammar of “loving your enemies” that such phrases gain their meaning within a broader affirmation of the inner-trinitarian love of the divine person, which becomes fully incarnated in the one God-man Jesus Christ as an expression of forgiving and redemptive love to those who have refused the love and beauty of God. Only then can Jesus’ words about “love” gain any coherence in the Christian discourse. We don’t love others because Jesus said so, we love others because what Jesus says and is is true. The Good the Beautiful and the True have to coexist. The reason Jesus’ love is attractive and freeing is because truthfulness is attractive and freeing.
            Now don’t get me wrong. I think the problem of difference is huge. HUGE. This is theology/ecclesiology’s Achilles’ heal. So we will have to let specific situations guide the discussion about hospitality. But allowing members of my congregation to study authentically under gnostic versions of Christianity, for instance (they eventually left the church before the pastor had to ask them to leave.) is not an expression of love but an expression of tolerance. I do not think I am confusing similarity with causation. But if I were, the burden of proof is on those upon whom such accusations have been laid. Similarity Mike, is also dangerous. Its the reason why martyrdom can be so easily conflated with dying for one’s country, or Christian freedom be confused with national or market freedom or why prayers from state governors can be more authoritative in the hearts of people than prayer from clergy. If civil religion and Christianity were far apart, then we would not even need to talk about a difference between similarity and causation. But since similarity is exactly the tool civil religion uses to ritualize itself under the auspices of Christianity, then I have to say that similarity is too easily a Trojan horse.

          • I agree that a local church community needs some sort of core identity; though I would likely define that more openly than yourself – probably focused simply on a commitment to following the Way of Christ, defined as a whole way of life that reflects the vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus taught and demonstrated for us (a way of justice, compassion, joy, reconciliation, celebration, and inclusive, self-giving love). That is what has united the communities I have been a part of, and it worked for us. Our community also affirmed the Apostles Creed as a basic statement of belief, but we didn’t make it a test for fellowship. I have worshiped in the same community with agnostics, atheists, and those who would not affirm the deity of Christ, and I have not found that those sorts of differences have hampered our ability to pursue the way of Christ together. I mean, if one chooses to make those sort of creedal/confessional issues deal killers, then sure, they’ll kill it. But one doesn’t have to choose to make them that. Differences, even over 4th century theology, can coexist within the same Christian community.

            And let’s be fair – you can’t have meant to place non-trinitarians on the same level as white supremacists? Those are not equivalent “errors”. The latter in a community would be far more disruptive to fellowship and to our ability to follow the way of Christ than the former. Let’s not confuse theological differences with serious moral failings.

            At the same time, I recognize that not all faith communities will be inclined to be quite as open as my own have been. That’s fine too. As you say, there is still potential for differing communities to interact together in the “village green.” That too is part of what the ECM stands for. That is precisely why Hauerwasian Bapto-Catholics and mainline liberationsts, evangelicals and liberals, and all the rest can coexist within the ECM. The conversation is as much between communities as between individuals.

          • rogereolson

            You wrote: “I have worshiped in the same community with agnostics, atheists, and those who would not affirm the deity of Christ, and I have not found that those sorts of differences have hampered our ability to pursue the way of Christ together. I mean, if one chooses to make those sort of creedal/confessional issues deal killers, then sure, they’ll kill it. But one doesn’t have to choose to make them that. Differences, even over 4th century theology, can coexist within the same Christian community.” Well, I guess all I can say is our views of ecclesial community are incommensurable. I could not “worship” with an atheist–unless all you mean is the atheist is “over there” worshiping himself or nature or whatever (which, by the way, implies he’s not really an atheist–as Tillich pointed out) and I’m “over here” worshiping God, but we’re not “worshiping together” in the ecclesial sense. I could not be part of a religious community (as opposed to a political one) that embraces atheists and theists equally. And, obviously, I would extend that to a Christian community that embraced deniers of the deity of Christ/Trinity equally with persons who definitely deny them (as opposed to people who merely admit to being confused or having doubts). I don’t think “the way of Jesus” is a sufficient ground for ecclesial community IF it doesn’t include belief that Jesus is God because, take away any sense of Jesus’ ontological unity with God, and I see no real reason to adopt and follow his “way” except that I like it or it works or whatever. I think a lot of what we’ve been talking about in this discussion thread is the old “doctrine” versus “ethics” debate between theological conservatives and theological liberals in general for about two centuries now. I do belong to the very broad, historic tradition of Christian thought and practice that says doctrine matters and cannot simply be relegating to non-essential, trailing after ethics as essential. The two belong together.

          • I should also add that the emergent emphasis on “pastiche” and on plurality and radical inclusiveness is also based on further Christian theological insights regarding the transcendance of God and the finitude and fallenness of humanity – and not merely on Enlightenment philosophy (though Kant does raise some good questions about out inability to ever see beyond “things-as-they-appear-to-us” – questions which I don’t think are really solved merely by sidestepping them, as the Radical Orthodoxy folks do, or by appealing to a kind of “positivism of revelation,” to borrow Bonhoeffer’s critique of Karl Barth). To summarize my points, let me just repost and tweak a comment I left over at the post where Tony Jones first used that term “pastische”. I said:

            I prefer the pastiche approach. I think this is for a couple of very basic reasons:

            1) God/Truth/Reality is really big.
            2) I am not so big.
            3) Therefore I should remain open to God/Truth/Reality wherever I happen to find it and should not think that it can be neatly contained within only one system, tradition, approach or whatever.
            4) Also, each of these systems/traditions/approaches probably get as much wrong as they get right, therefore we need to always keep listening to each other and using the God-given gift of discernment to correct and balance each other. After all, if we’re all part of the Body of Christ, can all these different groups really say to each other “I have no need of you”?

            Does all of this still sound too much like “the hyper-pluralization of liberal-capitalist culture” to you? If so, then I’d say that’s just a coincidence, since these insights, for me at least, have stemmed primarily from theological reflections on the nature of God and the nature of fallen humanity. Which brings me back to my basic complaint about your labeling us emergents “merely liberal” – before you can make that accusation, you have to look at the geneaolgy of our ideas. Just because we end up at some of the same places as some liberal thinkers, doesn’t mean we have gotten there by the same route, or from the same starting point. Most of us have come to our views through reflection on and interaction with the scriptures and various theological tradtions – and not primarily (if at all) by way of Enlightenment philosophy. So while some of the results may be similar, the reasons for them are often radically different. And that difference, IMHO, makes all the difference.

          • rogereolson

            I accept that this is the case with you and Tony and other emergents, but I have to point out that the “old liberals” (e.g., Harry Emerson Fosdick) said the same thing. It was others who pointed out the obvious influences of Kant and Hegel (etc.) in their theologies. Similarly, of course, conservative evangelicals argue TO A PERSON that their theology is solely driven by Scripture (e.g., Wayne Grudem) while we all know, of course, that Scottish Common Sense Realism has played a powerful role in Protestant Orthodoxy at least since the 19th century.

          • It’s not us simply “saying it” that makes it true. My point was that our commitment to pluralism/pastiche/radical inclusiveness is demonstrably based on scripture and on specific Christian theological ideas, rather than primarily on Enlightenment philosophy. While I cannot write a theological treatise on it here on your blog, I believe I have provided sufficient examples of how this is in fact the case to satisfy Brandon’s demand for “proof”. It’s his choice whether or not to take us at our word.

            At the same time, part of my disagreement here is that I am simply not comfortable with the black and white rejection of all things “modern” I often see in the school of thought Brandon represents (can we agree on what to call it? Is Bapto-Catholic accurate?) My understanding of postmodernity is that it is truly post-modern, not merely “anti-modern.” There is truth and wisdom among the Enlightenment thinkers as well. Simply labeling something as “modern” or “Enlightenment” or “liberal” (or “heretical” or “gnostic” or whatever) is not sufficient reason to automatically reject it. There is truth there to be found, mixed in (as with anything) together with the error. The pastiche approach extends to the philosophers and theologians of the past too – even those of the Enlightenment. Similarity may or may not imply causation (I have argued that it mostly does not in this case), but it may indicate that the same truth is being discovered by different people from different angles. And, as we used to say at my alma mater of Wheaton College, all truth is God’s truth.

            So, to take your gnostic revival example (an occurrence which also happened in my church recently as well), the issue for me (and the folks in my emerging church community) was not so much whether or not gnosticism is “heretical” (i.e. something that can therefore be simply and unreflectively written off), but whether it is true. The question we asked the folks in our church to consider was not whether it was acceptable for Christians to be gnostics, but whether, if Christianity were more gnostic, that would be a religion they would consider good and true and worth being a part of. And I have to say that by not merely labeling it as “off-limits,” we were able to diminish that allure of the forbidden that often contributes to gnosticism’s attractiveness, and enabled our folks to critically evaluate it for themselves.

          • rogereolson

            I accept that this is the case with you and Tony and other emergents, but I have to point out that the “old liberals” (e.g., Harry Emerson Fosdick) said the same thing. It was others who pointed out the obvious influences of Kant and Hegel (etc.) in their theologies. Similarly, of course, conservative evangelicals argue TO A PERSON that their theology is solely driven by Scripture (e.g., Wayne Grudem) while we all know, of course, that Scottish Common Sense Realism has played a powerful role in Protestant Orthodoxy at least since the 19th century.

  • Maybe this is merely reflecting a stereotype, but doesn’t Tony Jones’ challenge to bring concrete evidence seem a little academic and “un-Emergent”? As I understand, the Emerging/ent Church is all about having this conversation where whatever you feel probably has merit and can be brought to the table. Doesn’t the very idea of “evidence” smack of the “modernist” worldview and the dreaded “foundationalist epistemology,” etc.?

    • Brandon Morgan

      Well, in one sense I think that data should be used for books and publications.That effort, however, should not be a prerequisite for commentary on blog posts. For me, the problem lies not in culmination of data, but 1.) in the subordination of conjecture to the need for expansive data research and 2.) the presumption that criteria exist for being able to pick out exactly where such data is going to come from. Perhaps the problem is circular. If any (and I mean any) feeling or perspective has merit, then no feeling or perspective has merit. Since I don’t think this is true of ECM, I think that appeals to “conversational facilitation” can be attempts at avoiding responsibility. So I suppose I would like to know exactly what are the criteria for ECM and that would tell me about the community. If the criteria is “conversation” in general, then I am not sure we would ever find the data we are looking for.

  • I’ve found this discussion fascinating, even if frustrating at times. As someone who is fairly new to this party, I wonder if much of the disagreements in these posts stem from attempts to analyze and categorize the Emergent movement using the language and structures out of which it is emerging. In other words, I wonder if questioning why Emergent churches don’t look more or less like mainline or evangelical churches is really a question that just doesn’t make postmodern sense.

    peace

    • Brandon Morgan

      Well, I suppose I would say that the “language out of which it is emerging” is a language with historical weight…one in which pure invention and escape is impossible. I think ECM recognizes this and tends to pull what it likes from a number of different places. It can’t escape the language it hopes to escape, nor can it induce a novelty without ressourcement and memory. So it begins creating a pastiche. I suppose, then, that the claim towards postmodern novelty is a claim to have escaped one’s history. I simply think that the language of “novelty” and “escape” are quintessentially modern narratives (Kantian ones to be more specific). So the ploy at creating a new language for church is a commitment to the language of escape initially attempted by the process of Enlightenment itself. Or as hauerwas tends to put it, the story of modernity basically says that the story you have is the story you chose when you had no story.

      • I suppose, then, that the claim towards postmodern novelty is a claim to have escaped one’s history. I simply think that the language of “novelty” and “escape” are quintessentially modern narratives (Kantian ones to be more specific).

        But that isn’t our language. That is language you have imposed on us. We don’t talk about mere “novelty” and “escape”. We do talk about looking ahead to the future and reimagining aspects of the faith, and about “new kinds” of Christianity – and yet at the same time we have always been very careful to emphasize that a “new kind” of Christianity is actually rooted in a very old kind of Christianity as well. We are “ancient-future,” not mere novelists for novelty’s sake. And we seek to draw the church into this ancient-future along with us, not merely escape it.

        The main difference, then, that I see between this approach and your own Bapto-Catholic (or whatever) perspective, Brandon, is that emergents places equal emphasis on both the ancient and the future (and probably prefer to err on the side of the future when we have to), whereas y’all seem to be almost exclusively enamored of the ancient, and cannot imagine a way into the future that doesn’t consist of an almost total (and, to me, seemingly uncritical) return to the ways of the past. But perhaps I am mistaken. Forgive me if I am misrepresenting you or your school of thought.

        • Brandon Morgan

          Firstly, thanks for keeping this discussion up Mike. I really appreciate you at least humoring my comments and concerns here and, even better, responding thoughtfully. I, of course, respect your views on ECM and other theological issues and I hope that you will have time to join a reading group that Olson, Adam Moore and others have going on. We have discussed some ECM stuff in the past along with other issues in American Protestant Christianity. I think you will add some cool discussion to the mix.

          Secondly, I don’t prefer labels like RO or bapto-catholic because then I feel like you are evading my questions by assuming that my arguments are ciphers for current theological trends. That is why I have not, as you say, claimed that ECM folks are just liberals (if only that were the case, then I would know what to say to ECM)…though I have said in the initial post above that such a stance would be traditionally respectable in America given the weight of theological liberalism at the beginning of last century and beyond. What I have said is that your view of ECM situates itself within a pastiche of divergent theological pickings which, if push came to shove, would allow some conclusions and some avoidances that I think are perhaps dubious no matter how you got there. As for “Enlightenment philosophy”, we have all gotten to our conclusions through it, or at least the formal structure of it–most particularly German Idealism. As Wittgenstein often said, we miss those things that are all pervasive because they are right before our eyes–to close to see. So perhaps ECM could do with a bit of philosophical therapy in order to better ascertain knowledge about itself and where its presupposition come from. This is also true of the church in general (especially the baptist tradition I was raised in.)

          I generally agree with the list you posted above about God being bigger and needing to be open to finding God. I just simply have a hard time believing that
          the most influential theologians in the west or east would deny that and say they are attempting to “contain God.” A presupposition of revelation is our inability to contain God. But another presupposition of revelation is that it is Christo-centric, which means it is also Trinitarian and discoverable in the community of the church that bears witness to that revelation. It does not contain it but is contained by it. So, the assumption that one needs to be open to find God anywhere seems to imply that we have somehow, as Christians, missed God or are still missing God. There is no doubt we cannot fully articulate revelation. But, we cannot, it seems to me, assume that because all methods are not totally verifiable, that they have all of the sudden failed. I can’t think of any theologian (especially orthodox ones) who would disagree with your 3 comments about God within the context of Christian practice. If this is an ecumenical conversation about diverse denominational structures, then I’m on board with you. Bu if it is a discussion about the revelation of God in particular, then I’m afraid that these 3 remarks will not be enough to keep one from making God into a genus (which is, as you know, a theological no no) that has various forms and manifestations…as if revelation was not complete in Christ and held hopefully in the church.

          So my point is, if I remember it!, that ECM folks need to be more theologically definitive if, for no other reason, than to be able to articulate with some cogency the particularly distinctive marks…that is, if it is distinctive. At the moment, its distinctiveness seems to be waning. Not because I think ECM is “liberal” in any way, but because its disparity at the theological core has fostered theological diversity at the expense of a coherent trajectory. Basically, I have recently been missing the forest because of all the trees. While you may uphold such a pastiche as a positive, I do not think that, at least at the level of theological claims, such a pastiche can paint the story of Christianity with enough depth to be able to use the aspects of the ancients or of Christian theology in general without severely abusing their intentions. Some blatant examples may be the misuse of ancient apophaticism by Derridians, which is very popular thanks to Caputo/Rollins etc. Another may be McLaren’s “hellenization thesis” driven and perhaps supersessionist account of God in Scripture. So it should not be a surprise that people like me find the theological work popular in ECM to be either rehashed, inconsistent or historically dubious. So pastiche, being as it is a conglomeration of pulling things we like and things we don’t like (not to mention a nuance likened to parody), will eventually lack the skills to remember and theologically handle the mistakes of the church without giving up on it and choosing something else it likes. I’m just not sure if such a model will actually feel responsible enough to sustain even that aspects of the church’s past mistakes. Such memory is vital to the church’s penitent posture. Misuse does not imply falsity.

          Of course, one reason you find that I am begging your question is in the assumption that ECM is not a “thing” but a group of people. That is not just true of ECM, but church in general. Yes, we are talking about people and communities of people. Because any theological definition of the church worth its salt will presuppose this, then it is still up to ECM to describe in a cogent way what church IS for them. I guess from my expectations about the intentionality of the church, the pastiche model sounds lazy. And ECM folks are not lazy, but supremely energetic. Perhaps I’m just missing the vision though, which is always a possibility.

          • Thanks for your responses Brandon. As I can only speak to my own experiences, all I can do is reiterate what I said before – that I have experienced and led missional, “pastische” emergent faith communities, and they have “worked”. My faith has never been more alive or more passionate than when I was a part of those communities – communities where no doctrine (whether theological or ethical) was off the table for wrestling with, and where truth was assumed be able to be found in many different and unexpected places.

            At the same time, the kind of communities you describe, where certain beliefs about the Trinity or revelation or whatever are “off-limits” for questioning or divergence of views – well, if I’m being brutally honest, that kind of faith makes me not even want to be a Christian anymore. It makes me feel as if I have to close my eyes to so much that I discovered to be truth and beautiful and good over the years. I know I’m just speaking on the intuitive level now, not an argumentative level; I’m just saying that I know what insights about faith bring me alive, and which make me feel like I can hardly breathe.

            Anyhow, classes start Monday, so I won’t have time to argue this out anymore here. (Blogging has to fall by the wayside during the semesters.) But hopefully I’ll have a chance to continue this conversation in person in the discussion group with y’all soon. I’ll be happy to be your resident emergent heretic 😉

          • rogereolson

            Let me just say that I have never argued that there are doctrines that are “off the table for wrestling with.” But there are doctrines that serve as community norms.

          • Well sure, there are plenty of churches I know of that welcome all sorts of questions and “wrestling.” It’s just that they also have (what one of my atheist friends has called a “range of acceptable answers,” and if your wrestling leads you to a conclusion outside of this range, then you’re out – out of the community, out of fellowship, out of friendship, and sometimes out of a job. But if the “correct” answer is already assumed from the beginning, and the social costs for not agreeing to it are so high, is there any sense in which such communities can really engage in honest and meaningful questioning, wrestling, or even dialogue?

            My own personal experience has been that in such communities, doctrine is almost always valued much higher than relationships – when push comes to shove, doctrine beats love. And this, I’ve found is true not just of “fundies,” but of moderate evangelicals as well. It is that sort of faith I am simply no longer interested in.

          • rogereolson

            Perhaps there are communities where relationships require no agreement, but one’s not coming to mind right now. Every community I know has some center around which the participants gather with some degree of agreement about something (besides mutual acceptance in spite of differences).

  • Bill raises an interesting question: is there any such thing as “postmodern sense,” or is that an oxymoron?
    🙂

    -Barry

  • you should really link to all the different posts and places you quote. even though i may have read most of them I can’t find them.

    • Brandon Morgan

      Yeah, sorry bout that Tripp. Since its not my blog, it was just copied in from Word. So the links would have to be added by Olson.

      • rogereolson

        And Olson’s not that computer savvy or hard working! 🙂