Saturday, May 24, 2008

Here's what we do know: Nobody wants church as usual.

I find myself stuck between (at least) two worlds: the emerging church and the new calvinists. Christianity Today posted a dialogue between a leader from each movement--Tony Jones and Collin Hansen. (Both of whom, of course, just happened to have newly published books.) Here is CT's preface to the conversaton:

Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village and author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. Collin Hansen is editor-at-large of Christianity Today and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. Both books take a sympathetic journalistic approach to a young but growing movement in American Christianity, examining why it's growing and how it's changing the larger church.

Their conversation--"Emergent's New Christians and the Young and Restless Reformed"--comes in 5 parts.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

In part 4, I resonated with Tony's critique of Reformed leaders' public image:

I appreciate that the young Reformed folks consider their older leaders to be humble, but that doesn't always come across in the clips I see and the books I read. They may be humble in the face of the sovereign God, but they don't seem to preach with much epistemic humility.

The Suburban Christian posted interesting excerpts from these books as well, detailing a conversation between Tony Jones and John Piper, from both points of view. This particular exchange shocked me, as I am a big fan of Piper.

I mentioned that it might be arrogant and a bit deceptive to preach that one of them is the sole and exclusive means of understanding the single greatest event in the history of the cosmos: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. “What do you tell your congregation about how Christians understood the atonement for the thousand years prior to Anselm?” The pastor [Piper] paused, looked at me, and said, “You should never preach.”

I still can't believe that I'm reading that right. Jones is, in content, attacking the epistemological arrogance that seems apparent (and it could be simply appearance) among Reformed theologians (despite TULIP's "total depravity" and 1 Cor 12:13), but Piper in context is displaying such arrogance as well. This exchange could, of course, be completely misconstrued and out of context.

And Challies, a veritable blogging amplifier for the Reformed camp, posted a review of Shane Claiborne's The Irresistable Revolution, exemplifying some of the attitudes that seem to pervade the Reformed/Emergent debate. Among them, he seems to parrot Piper's doctrinal demand for penal substitutionary atonement:

The message Claiborne teaches, preaches and models is not a gospel of salvation through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. It is not a gospel that saves souls as much as it is a gospel that brings wealth to the poor and sustains the health of the planet.

It seems that, behind the apparent theological disagreements (and it could simply be appearance), there is a more fundamental difference in epistemology (despite TULIP's "total depravity" and 1 Cor 12:13). Piper suggests so himself:

There are profound epistemological differences—ways of processing reality—that make the conversation almost impossible, as if we were just kind of going by each other. What is the function of knowledge in transformation? What are the goals of transformation? We seem to differ so much in our worldviews and our ways of knowing that I’m not sure how profitable the conversation was or if we could ever get anywhere.

Hansen and Jones' discussion does, in some sense, seem to "just kind of go by each other" too. They ask each other questions, but don't answer the other's. Fortunately, it is neither camp which builds the Church and finding common ground is not the prerequisite to accomplishing such a task.

Here is the man called the Branch. He will branch out from where he is and build the Temple of the Lord. Yes, he will build the Temple of the Lord. Then he will receive royal honor. --Zechariah 6:12-13


Mike Moore said...

Right on. I don't know why CT is so fascinated with covering different "camps" within Christianity. I feel like the discussions become political arguments so people can support a prominent pundit. It is hard to know the balance in defining/branding oneself.

brent said...

Thought-provoking. Thank you.