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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Continuing the Emergent conversation

I have a great group of friends that I have gotten together with on a regular basis for a couple of years to discuss many of the issues that I cover on this blog. One of the issues that we have been discussing is the new Emergent church movement that I talked about a couple weeks ago. That post sparked more conversation from our group. One of the guys wrote an outstanding critique of Emergent and Brian McLaren that with his permission I have decided to post today.

Marc Porlier is one of the smartest guys I know and is very deliberate in his thinking. Marc also is seminary trained, so he has studied many of these issues.

Marc said...
"Several posts ago, [someone in our group] mentioned giving us his thoughts on why he might regard "postmodernism" as "late-modern" rather than something beyond "modern". I would be interested in reading that when you get a moment. I think it might be relevant to this Emergent thing. I am particularly suspicious of the Emergent critique of evangelical attitudes toward doctrine and scriptural authority as something symptomatic of "modernism".

"It seems to me that this critique has to reduce modernism to Cartesianism to be effective. It should be noted that other "modern" thinkers did not hold to Cartesian dualism (Spinoza was a monist,Leibnitz a pluralist) and still others did not hold to the certainty of foundational ideas or mathematical forms of rationality (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume with a vengeance). What I see happening--based on a cursory reading of a chapter in McLaren's book--is an attempt to soften the edges of Christian distinctives by throwing them out with the modernist bathwater."

"[Dignan] pointed out that Augustine et. al. ante moderna would be surprised to hear their views had no place for propositional truth. I concur. Philosophers began speaking of "propositions" during the modern period, but that shouldn't lead us to conclude they invented a suspiciously new kind of truth. Propositional truths are an aspect of Truth. For instance, "There is one God" is a proposition in the verse "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder." As James points out, propositional truths are not adequate to salvation. We need loving, fearful, and obedient acceptance of those propositions (and the Person who speaks them), but that assumes the propositional truth as part of the "knowing God" equation. We need more than propositional truth, but we cannot do with less."

"I am also annoyed by the vagueness and ambiguity surrounding the movement. As far as I'm concerned, at this moment in history, indeterminism is tired and threadbare. It is not an asset of "postmodernism"; it's a liability of a culture that has lost its principle of unity or spirit. What initially motivated me to study Derrida 20 years ago was how similar his critique of western thought was to the van Tillian presuppositional apologetic against unbelief. Of course, the difference is that Derrida enthusiastically embraces the reductio ad absurdum, while van Til (and especially Bahnsen) hold it up as a demonstration of the futility of unbelieving thought. Now we seem to have a group of believers that would embrace the absurdity in their profession of Christ by calling it "mystery".

"Calvin said that God was incomprehensible *in His BEING*, which is different from saying God is incomprehensible in His revelation of Himself. Kuyper and Bavinck use the terms "archetypical" and "ectypical". We don't know God archetypically: as He is in Himself, but we most certainly do know Him ectypically: in the created forms He has revealed to accommodate the powers of understaing He created in us. I get the feeling that Emergent "mystery" draws no such distinction and would thereby abolish all determinate meaning in knowing God, making it only the emergence of an old idea: mysticism."

"It might be of interest to some of you that the literary form McLaren used in "A New Kind of Christian" is similar to Plato's dialogues. Scholars have often pointed out that the dialogue form was ideal for Plato's thought. A dialogue allows the author to express dialectic amibiguities without having to explicitly state the self-contradiction "truth is indeterminate". A dialogue demonstrates indeterminism without arguing for it directly. Although Plato is known for some rather explicit metaphysical doctrines, in one of his more obscure letters, he claims that he never wrote any actual philosophy, that what he understood philosophically could only be known by a flash of insight, and was essentially ineffable. In that way, Platonism leads to gnosticism and its brand of mysticism. Did McLaren choose his literary form intentionally along these lines? I think he did."

"One last complaint: I'm getting wary of the use of this term "incarnational". If by "incarnational" one means you use cultural signifiers in order to communicate the Gospel, I have no problem with that. However, I see usage of this term that transgresses this boundary and would adopt the values and mindset of the unbelieving culture in order to situate the religious institution within the culture, that is, to make the institutional church more attractive or respectable antecedent to its presentation of the Gospel, or to simply just "get along". In this sense, it is closer to "syncretism" than "incarnational".

"For an example, I'll go out on a cold, bare limb here: I think pastors should preach about politics and social morality. Not in the partisan manner that it is often done in Fundie circles, but avoiding politics (and policy) altogether makes Christianity a pious, but irrelevant existential exercise. Why do we avoid politics in the pulpit? I think it's because Americans and the rest of the West have digested the Kantian subjectivising of religion. We instinctively want to keep it in the personal, private sphere of our lives. We don't even know how to think of it in public terms, except as a form of tyranny. This is a mistake. Politics is ethics (both economic and behavioral) at the corporate level. The Bible has plenty to say about corporate ethics. So should our preachers."

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