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Christianity 2.0 - The Emergence Movement
February 10, 2010 12:09 PM   Subscribe

A new view of Christian belief that views the acceptance, environmentalism, social justice and world peace as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God.

Emergence in philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.(Wikipedia.org)

Emergence as it pertains to Christianity

Key concepts:

Mystery and Humility
- A post modern tendency away from absolutism and toward on going inquiry.
- Open mindedness to dialog with followers of other faiths for the sake of dialog and not evangelism.
- An acceptance of others regardless of differences.

Conversation and Authenticity
- A view that questions and authentic inquiry are as valuable if not more valuable than statements of doctorine.
- A willingness to engage with open dialog about issues, concerns, and concepts not normally looked on favorably by orthodox denominations.

Story
- Looking at sacred texts as one would read any work of literature. (i.e. what is the story line, sub plots, what is the ultimate message)
- An abandonment of argueing for the inerrancy (that there are no mistakes or conflits) of scripture while holding on the the infallability (the truth of the over all message) of it. An an expample of this is an interpretation of the creation story as an allegory and not as a scientific text.

Missional Living

With a focus on peace, actvisim, and social justice breaking the mold of the traditional model of Christianity.

Some of the key figures in the movement include:
Brian D. McLaren
Rob Bell
Tony Campolo
posted by empty vessel (252 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, c'mon, we know a religion isn't fun unless it tells us who we can hate, who we can feel holier than, who we can despise, and who we can enslave.

Of course the other changes with each version of a religion: Jews massacre Canaanites, Catholics burn Pagans and witches, Protestants skewer and hang Catholics, Congregationalists dispossess Baptists, Baptists call Haitians devil worshipers.

Acceptance, social justice, and world peace, that just doesn't sell. I mean, Jesus more or less preached that, and look where He ended up. Nailed to a tree.
posted by orthogonality at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Does Christianity 2.0 still believe in a magical old man who lives in the sky and that if you violate arbitrary rules, he will fucking smack you, afterlife-style? Yeah? No thanks.
posted by signalnine at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2010 [31 favorites]


How is this new? Concepts like environmentalism have been wrapped up in God's assigning humanity to be the stewards of the planet. Acceptance and social justice in Jesus stating that the meek shall inherit the Earth, or that it's hard for a rich man to pass into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Perhaps this is a new push, but the interpretation itself is an old one.
posted by explosion at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I attend Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, which is part of this movement. I am glad it is getting attention. However, next time try to make your FPP read less like a Wikipedia article.
posted by wheelieman at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2010


I'm sure the Unitarians would like a share of the revenue generated by this new and improved Christianity.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


empty vessel, you've cast pearls before swine here, but good on you for trying.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


Does Christianity 2.0 still believe in a magical old man who lives in the sky and that if you violate arbitrary rules, he will fucking smack you, afterlife-style? Yeah? No thanks.

Christianity 2.0 believes in a sufficiently-technically-advanced* old man who lives in the net. His gospel runs on AJAX, and if you violate arbitrary rules, he will un-friend you on Facebook.

*Caution, may be indistinguishable from magic.
posted by explosion at 12:22 PM on February 10, 2010 [19 favorites]


It's like someone watched Voltron and built Annoyo-bot 5000 out of fail and preachy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky". Usage of such a trite and lazy rhetorical jab immediately identifies one as a damn fool.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


God bless 'em, but they're 300 years behind Winstanley and the Christian communists of the Interregnum, not to mention their various antecedents.
And this Elder Son, or man of bondage, hath held the Earth in bondage to himself, not by a meek Law of Righteousnesse, But by subtle selfish Councels, and by open and violent force; for wherefore is it that there is such Wars and rumours of Wars in the Nations of the Earth? and wherefore are men so mad to destroy one another? But only to uphold Civil propriety of Honor, Dominion and Riches one over another, which is the curse the Creation groans under, waiting for deliverance.

But when once the Earth becomes a Common Treasury again, as it must, for all the Prophesies of Scriptures and Reason are Circled here in this Community, and mankind must have the Law of Righteousness once more writ in his heart, and all must be made of one heart, and one mind.
posted by Abiezer at 12:25 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is not Christianity 2.0. This is Christian DOS.
posted by jeanmari at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Really it's Christianity 4.2.2.2.2 by my count.
1.0 Christ
2.0 Instiutionalization of Peter/Paul (Catholic and Orthodox)
3.0 Gnostic
4.0 East/West Schism
    - 4.2 Western Church
          -4.2.2 Protestantism
                  -4.2.2.1 Mainstream
                  -4.2.2.2  Evangelical
                             -4.2.2.2.1 Mainstream Evangelical (Baptists etc.)
                             -4.2.2.2.2 Emerging Church
NB: This is just back of the napkin, its much more complicated than this.
posted by khaibit at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [15 favorites]


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky". Usage of such a trite and lazy rhetorical jab immediately identifies one as a damn fool.

I think "ethereal child playing with Lego" is more accurate.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky".

That's right. Everyone knows that the Abrahamic god is a hermaphroditic six-headed spider-monster that lives in a parallel dimension. With a beard alhamdilula!
posted by fuq at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I prefer Christianity DEATH(POINT)OH!
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 12:30 PM on February 10, 2010


They're also about 400 years behind Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh well good.

Speaking as a progressive Christian, I've always felt comfortable and in-line with my scriptural heroes working within the marginal spaces in the church. If this thinking goes mainstream, though, I don't know how I'd feel about that. Biblically speaking, God seems to get the most work done with weirdos, loaners and outsiders. Being something of a weirdo and an outsider myself, I've felt in good company with the people in the bible. Rob Bell is neither a weirdo nor an outsider - which makes me suspicious of him.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sorry for the formatting on the post. This my second one. Private message me any suggestions and I will incorporate them going forward.
posted by empty vessel at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2010


I'm closely involved in this movement and I've seen Brian McLaren speak a couple of times. Nice(?) to see it show up here on the Blue. I think the overall message, if I could sum it up, is that in the two millennia since Christ, Christianity has become exactly the sort of mindless religion that it once opposed. So rather than being "Christianity 2.0" it's really attempting to harken back to the original movement of radical social change that Jesus spoke about. A force for good in the world. You'll find that very few people in the emergent movement believe in "a magical old man who lives in the sky" who sends people to hell for breaking arbitrary rules. That crap is baggage we picked up along the way, but it's not what this Christianity thing was ever supposed to be about.

Also, Rob Bell's books are very, very good, but I'm pretty sure he's stated publicly that he's not part of the emergent school of thought.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Baby Balrog - I have more affinity for Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo than Rob Bell personally. I thought it was important to include him as he is often identified with the movement.
posted by empty vessel at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2010


His gospel runs on AJAX

What better way to cleanse the soul?
posted by The Deej at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2010


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky". Usage of such a trite and lazy rhetorical jab immediately identifies one as a damn fool.

I thought a certain Abrahamic religion thought he looks like this, or this. No?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


There was an emergent church in Houston I used to go to to get coffee. They made a killer hazelnut latte.
posted by pts at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kudos to anyone trying to get people to deal more civilly and thoughtfully with each other. If someone needs religion to motivate that sensibility, and pursuing it through religion works, more power to them.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2010


McLaren, Bell, and Campolo? Seriously? You do realize, of course, that aside from twenty- and thirty-something white, overeducated, yet religiously and historically ignorant hipsters, no one takes these guys seriously. Not a single one of their books has any kind of intellectual heft. It's all bland pleasantries, pop theology at best. They don't even pretend to engage with any kind of theological tradition, let alone one which takes its commitments and internal logic seriously.

I'm a Christian, and these guys piss me off to no end. They're making us look like intellectual lightweights, not to mention a bunch of freaking pansies. My version of the faith--which is a damn sight closer to the historic norm than whatever the f*ck these guys are selling*--may not be as pleasant as theirs, but at least I've got the courage of my convictions.

I'm flagging this as useless. These bastards have been hawking their particular brand of nonsense for the better part of a decade--closer to two in Campolo's case--and they haven't done anything particularly newsworthy recently. None of them deserve a link from the Blue.

*And make no mistake, selling is exactly what these guys, especially Bell, are doing. They're making bank on pushing their various books and other materials.
posted by valkyryn at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


His gospel runs on AJAX

What better way to cleanse the soul?


Now my soul is all scratchy and smells like chlorine, ewww.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Recently one of my older relatives died and we ended up with her big, red, church size bible. I was surprised when I read the preface and found these three very clear statements in it.
1. The bible is inspired and everything in it is inherently true.
2. If the bible seems to contradict itself, then the reader has misinterpreted it.
3.If the bible contradicts science, then the reader has misinterpreted the bible.

I don't think I am going to go into the nitty, gritty details to see how this plays out, but it sure is going to come in useful in certain conversations.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


explosion: "His gospel runs on AJAX, and if you violate arbitrary rules, he will un-friend you on Facebook."

Sadly, his message doesn't render properly in IE6.
posted by mullingitover at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2010


All of these features were actually in Christianity 1.0 but hidden beneath a morass of clickthroughs, dropdown menus, and wizards. Like in Word where you're working away and suddenly, for no reason, your headers and footers disappear, and you try for a while to fix it but then just think, ah, the hell with it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ugh.

orthogonality: “Ah, c'mon, we know a religion isn't fun unless it tells us who we can hate, who we can feel holier than, who we can despise, and who we can enslave.”

That's not what this 'movement' is about, though. If their message was 'don't hate and enslave other people,' it'd be obvious that they're just repeating the eternal message of Christianity. (And if people disagree with that simple message, they haven't read the books or the teachings of the Church.)

This 'movement' is really just a fetishization of various currently-popular ideas. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. Viz.:

from post: “Looking at sacred texts as one would read any work of literature. (i.e. what is the story line, sub plots, what is the ultimate message)”

What's always funny to me is that these people don't seem to want to accept that their ideas came from somewhere. This idea came from Baruch Spinoza - it is the idea of Biblical criticism, the idea that the Bible must be read in the same way that every other book is read. Spinoza himself clearly intended this to be a subversive way to undermine any authority anyone found in the Bible. It has succeeded.

You don't have to believe in killing, in hate, in racism or sexism or bloody-mindedness, to believe that the Bible is sacred in a way that other books aren't. You just don't. And the insistence that the Bible is just the same isn't a Christian insistence. It's fine for people to believe that the Bible is the same as every other book - I have no problem with a world in which everybody believes that - but when you cease to believe in exceptionalism of the Bible on any level, I begin to have a hard time discerning in what sense you adhere to 'Christianity.'

All this is completely aside from the very difficult matter of deciding how exactly you read 'any other book.' I don't read books the same as each other, and I don't know anybody who does. So I don't even know what this point is supposed to mean.

from post: “An abandonment of argueing for the inerrancy (that there are no mistakes or conflits) of scripture while holding on the the infallability (the truth of the over all message) of it. An an expample of this is an interpretation of the creation story as an allegory and not as a scientific text.”

This is simply a logical error. Allegories can be inerrant. Maimonides held the Torah to be wholly inerrant and infallible, and yet believed that the creation story had to be an allegory. More to the point, the idea that "scientific texts" are the standard of infallibility is more than a little, well, false, I think. At the very least, that idea betrays pretty powerful modern prejudices.

And that's really all this 'movement' is: a collection of powerful modern prejudices. Maybe it'll develop into something more - I'd be happy to see that happen - but thus far it's just an attempt to rationalize and legitimize a set of comfortable ideas, though its purveyors have no idea where they got them.
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Huh? Nobody's mentioned Liberation theology yet?
posted by tmcw at 12:45 PM on February 10, 2010


I thought a certain Abrahamic religion thought he looks like this, or this. No?

Blake and Michelangelo came a lot later, no? But yeah, many Christian movements have overemphasized some aspects of the Trinity concept. I suppose Judaism and Islam are of the few religions that actively promote the impermissibility of assigning form to God.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:45 PM on February 10, 2010


koeslitz: "If their message was 'don't hate and enslave other people,' it'd be obvious that they're just repeating the eternal message of Christianity. (And if people disagree with that simple message, they haven't read the books or the teachings of the Church.)"

Uhh...
posted by mullingitover at 12:46 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


psycho-alchemy: “ ‘If the bible contradicts science, then the reader has misinterpreted the bible.’ I don't think I am going to go into the nitty, gritty details to see how this plays out, but it sure is going to come in useful in certain conversations.”

This has been the official and actual teaching of the church since at least Gregory the Great. St Aquinas in particular went on at length about the fact that the Bible is intended to say absolutely nothing with regard to scientific facts, and that if you find something that appears to say something about scientific fact in the Bible, then it is most certainly not a teaching about science but rather about faith - faith, of course, being a thing which deals only with propositions which cannot be investigated through science.

This is a point of common confusion.
posted by koeselitz at 12:47 PM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


valkryn, what exactly would a intellectually formidable person of religious faith look like? From where I stand, you sound like an Islamic fundamentalist complaining about his image being sullied by a guy selling Muslim fanatic zines from a storefront in Falluja. Good luck reclaiming any sort of functionally admirable image for Christianity since it became synonymous with political mayhem and mouth-breathing fundamentalists. But then again, it's one of the few religions that seems to need to constantly expand like a fungus instead of merely going about it's mission quietly and usefully without drawing endless attention to itself.
posted by docpops at 12:47 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky". Usage of such a trite and lazy rhetorical jab immediately identifies one as a damn fool.


Says who? True, the metaphorics are a little more elaborate, but as I recall, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of his father, according to the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed alike. What part of "ascended" and "father" is metaphoric and what part should we take literally? (I often have that question about the bible, actually).

I would be willing to bet that to the extent that most "Abrahamic" believers, when they picture heaven and god, draw on the vast stock of imagery that basically consists of pictures of an old man in the sky (or words to that effect where portrayal is forbidden). You can talk allegory and metaphor and image all you like, but lazy or not, the rhetorical jab is accurate.

I'm not a damn fool, either. But I know pie in the sky when I see it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:50 PM on February 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


koeselitz, we're in complete agreement on that one. This stuff is artful hogwash designed to attract those who want their religion accesible, unthreatening, and progressive. None of these guys has any interest in consistency or rigor.
posted by valkyryn at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


docpops: “valkryn, what exactly would a intellectually formidable person of religious faith look like? From where I stand, you sound like an Islamic fundamentalist complaining about his image being sullied by a guy selling Muslim fanatic zines from a storefront in Falluja. Good luck reclaiming any sort of functionally admirable image for Christianity since it became synonymous with political mayhem and mouth-breathing fundamentalists. But then again, it's one of the few religions that seems to need to constantly expand like a fungus instead of merely going about it's mission quietly and usefully without drawing endless attention to itself.”

What would she or he look like? Oh, I don't know - maybe like almost every important intellectual for the last two millennia. It's not really our fault if it's hard to see past two hundred years ago 'from where you stand.'
posted by koeselitz at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


And this version of Christianity that emphasizes compassion, inclusion and social justice reaches back quite a ways. Here are some quotes from one of my favorite theologians who worshiped on this side of the Christian spectrum:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”

We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”


Though, he also said "politics is not the act of a Christian", and that is where he and I have to disagree. Activism IS politics, at least in the U.S. And though he may not have defined politics the same way I do, I do believe as a person of faith, that the ultimate expression of my faith is to what I can to serve those who our society would label as "weak", "poor" or "outside the norm". (I'm not saying that I label them that way.) And to try to remember, every minute of every day, that I am as ordinary as the next guy and deserving of no special treatment over the treatment of others.

Yeah, we're out there. The liberal Christians. We don't hold tea parties or yell on the news or get in your face about conversion or like Palin anymore than you do.

And, I have to say, I still think about VikingSword's kind and honest comment for me on an old thread every time I leave the house in the morning, as a challenge to be the kind of person who breaks that right wing stereotype.
posted by jeanmari at 12:54 PM on February 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is all very nice...but remind me again...why must one believe all that other crazy stuff in order to live well and pursue peace and social and environmental justice? Why is it necessary to tie oneself up in theological knots to determine that you should be nice to other people, and not make a mess of the only speck of human-compatible biosphere within four light years?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:55 PM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh, look, another "accepting", "open-minded", "non-absolutist" belief system which just happens to take "environmentalism, social justice, world peace", and other absolute moral values as first-principles. Not to mention the "infallability (the truth of the over all message) of scripture"...

I'm with valkyryn -- this is cake-and-eat-it-tooism of the lowest sort. This comment I made in the Golden Rule thread sums up my feelings on movements like this; by co-opting wishy-washy forms of "acceptance" and "non-absolutism" without considering what they imply about the existence of absolute values, they make self-contradiction the central pillar of their philosophy.
posted by vorfeed at 12:56 PM on February 10, 2010


I don't have any problem with this "new form" of christianity, it just seems like an awfully long way to walk to get to a rather blindingly obvious conclusion.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:56 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


fourcheesemac: “Says who? True, the metaphorics are a little more elaborate, but as I recall, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of his father, according to the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed alike. What part of "ascended" and "father" is metaphoric and what part should we take literally? (I often have that question about the bible, actually).

I would be willing to bet that to the extent that most "Abrahamic" believers, when they picture heaven and god, draw on the vast stock of imagery that basically consists of pictures of an old man in the sky (or words to that effect where portrayal is forbidden). You can talk allegory and metaphor and image all you like, but lazy or not, the rhetorical jab is accurate.

I'm not a damn fool, either. But I know pie in the sky when I see it.”


Well, let's see. Maimonides and all the Rabbis don't just say it's metaphorical; they say emphatically and clearly that one is not adhering to Judaism if one believes that God has a physical existence; the non-physicality of God is perhaps the most important point of their religion as they see it, and that's not an exaggeration. That is, they come as close as Jews can come to saying that the statement that God has a physical existence is heresy. They have said this over and over, Rabbis have been teaching this over and over in synagogues, since at least the Talmud, for about 2000 years. So the only excuse a person could have for believing that Jews think that God is an old man in the sky would be that that person has never been inside a synagogue or actually talked with a Jew about what Judaism means. And it's fine if you're in that position, but you can't claim to know anything about Abrahamic religions.
posted by koeselitz at 12:57 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


You can talk allegory and metaphor and image all you like, but lazy or not, the rhetorical jab is accurate.

When people toss it off here, it means they have nothing to say but just want to fling shit. I seriously doubt they have the stones to go around saying that to actual people.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:59 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Salvor Hardin, that's precisely the problem with what Bell and his ilk are doing: removing any reason to think this whole "God" person is necessary.

If you are a Christian, this should appear to be misguided at best and outrageously dangerous at worst, depending on how important theology is to you.

If you aren't a Christian, it should appear to be entirely unnecessary. I mean, Bell etc. aren't asking you or anyone else to do or believe anything you weren't already doing/believing, so what's the point?

As far as I can tell, the point seems to be "Sending Rob Bell's kids to college." Which isn't a bad goal as such, but I wish he could find a way of doing that that didn't involve deluding thousands and thousands of people with this garbage.
posted by valkyryn at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2010


jeanmari - “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”


That is a Martin Niemoller quote. Easy to do, my wife caught me on that one a couple weeks ago. Bonhoeffer opposed the Nazi's from early on.
posted by empty vessel at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2010


they say emphatically and clearly that one is not adhering to Judaism if one believes that God has a physical existence; the non-physicality of God is perhaps the most important point of their religion as they see it, and that's not an exaggeration.

Same goes for Islam, and there is no shortage of mention that the interior of the Ka'aba is an empty room.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:01 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, I'm tempted to say that whatever Bell etc. are selling barely qualifies as "Abrahamic" anymore. Yeah, he spends a lot more time in the Old Testament than many Evangelical types, but he doesn't do anything with it. It's just kinda background for his Dr. Phil-esque platitudes.
posted by valkyryn at 1:03 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


So rather than being "Christianity 2.0" it's really attempting to harken back to the original movement of radical social change that Jesus spoke about.

Yes, but almost every movement, whether Luther's Reformation or the American Revolution or the Teabaggers, style itself as a "restoration" of "True Christianity"/"Ancient Rights"/"Founder's Intent".

Very few movements style themselves as wholly novel, because then they can't appropriate forms and traditions. So to say, "we harken back", well, everyone says that, and every movement has something different in mind about what they're harkening to.

Which "original intent" of Jesus do you harken back to? The Jesus who says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Matthew 10:34-35)? The Jesus who reinterprets the Ten Commandments and who says the meek shall inherit the Earth and to judge not lest you be judged in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? The Essene Jesus perhaps reveled in the Dead Sea scrolls? The Jesus who pardons the adultress in John 8?

"Harkening back" means everything and anything, and thus nothing. At least nothing that can be pinned down in any useful way.
posted by orthogonality at 1:03 PM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Seems buddhist to me.
posted by polymodus at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: “Which "original intent" of Jesus do you harken back to? The Jesus who says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." (Matthew 10:34-35)? The Jesus who reinterprets the Ten Commandments and who says the meek shall inherit the Earth and to judge not lest you be judged in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? The Essene Jesus perhaps reveled in the Dead Sea scrolls? The Jesus who pardons the adultress in John 8?”

Yes, that one.
posted by koeselitz at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Burhanistan, if you had limited your comment to just Judaism and Islam, I wouldn't have argued with you. But Christianity (the topic of this FPP) is an Abrahamic religion, and I'd contend the vast majority of Christians do view Him as a bearded white-haired man in the sky.

Part of the reason Christianity gained such wide acceptance is because it appealed to the pagans as well as the mystics. The Roman deities were certainly anthropomorphic.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should point out that the reason I responded in this thread is that I believe that promoting "peace, activisim, and social justice" ARE central tenets of Christianity...modern or otherwise. These tenets aren't new. They've been there all along.

Also, I have never read anything from Bell or McLaren, though I have read an article or two from Campolo. I wouldn't put them next to Bonhoeffer or St. Augustine or even Cardinal Bernardin. I'm suspicious of anything labeled "Christian 2.0" because it DOES seem like a way to market something.
posted by jeanmari at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2010


orthogonality: “‘Harkening back’ means everything and anything, and thus nothing. At least nothing that can be pinned down in any useful way.”

Unless, of course, there was a unitary meaning in the first place. To claim that "harkening back" means nothing is to claim that there is no one thing to harken back to - and I appreciate that you believe that, but some of us disagree.

Moreover, please note that many of these authors don't style themselves as 'harkening back.' Many of them are just about as modern as you are.
posted by koeselitz at 1:10 PM on February 10, 2010


Burhanistan, if you had limited your comment to just Judaism and Islam, I wouldn't have argued with you.

That's probably apt. I tend to give Christians the benefit of the doubt that they are just using symbol to help bring meaning into something that is transcendent, but don't actually identify it as such. Sorry for any derail, I just chafe at that LOLINVISIBLESKYDUDE crap that people try to pass off as cleverness.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2010


The "Christianity 2.0" was my attempt at an interesting title more referring to the movements pervasive use of the internet more than a "release" of Christianity.
posted by empty vessel at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2010


koeselitz - please explain to me what intellectual rigor has to do with having faith in God? What "intellectual" in their right mind would stake their bona fides on a predilection for magical thinking? I guess it proves itself - to a person of faith the two seem synonymous and to a person who is not of a faith it is a contradiction. In modern times I can't think of anyone who can convincingly pretend that being a Christian is not fully compartmentalized from their capacity to examine the world objectively and scientifically. Perhaps we have different ideas of what an intellectual is. Speaking eloquently on God has never counted, for me. You might as well discuss flying ponies with perfect diction for all the good it does.
posted by docpops at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


That is a Martin Niemoller quote.

Thanks, empty vessel. Niemoller, eh? A man who was not without controversy.
posted by jeanmari at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2010


More detail then.

The idea that Christianity was ever a movement for "radical social change" is actually really, really new. In fact, you won't find much suggestion of that until radical social change became socially popular, i.e. the 1960s.

Bell, McLaren, and Campolo generally appear to have absolutely no idea how what they're shilling relates to what's gone before, and they don't seem to care in the slightest. They put themselves out there like these ideas have sprung, Athena-like, full-fleged from their foreheads without any external influences. And they're so down on the idea of tradition that admitting to those influences would compromise the integrity of their project. But to make matters worse, I don't think any of them are thoughtful enough to be able to explain what their influences are or how they work. They aren't hiding the football, they're just not all that good.

I've had personal exposure to this stuff. It's awful. The NOOMA videos are simply disastrous. Vague spiritual-sounding claptrap MCed by a 30-something guy with bleached hair and hornrims, somewhere between preppy and hipster. If your knowledge of ecclesiastical, philosophical, and theological history goes back about fifty years--a decade or two before you were born, say--you'll probably eat that shit right up.

But if you have any inkling of what the church has believed and how it has grown and changed, you'll find their line simply preposterous. They're throwing the baby out with the bathwater because they don't have the ability to tell the difference. All you're left with is moralistic, theraputic deism.

F*ck. That.
posted by valkyryn at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2010


The "Christianity 2.0" was my attempt at an interesting title more referring to the movements pervasive use of the internet more than a "release" of Christianity.

Well, yeah, because 2.0 implies the Second Coming or something. If anything, all new movements and reformations in doctrine and church structure just put a negative number on Christianity since it just adds more and more layers of ossification on any kind of experiential aspects of what religion might allude to.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2010


1. The bible is inspired and everything in it is inherently true.
2. If the bible seems to contradict itself, then the reader has misinterpreted it.
3.If the bible contradicts science, then the reader has misinterpreted the bible.



They could make that shorter:
1. Please, address all questions to... uh.... uhm. There will be no questions.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 1:15 PM on February 10, 2010


docpops, I know I'm feeding the trolls here, but seriously, get a clue.

Major intellectuals who considered themselves Christians (without comment on their orthodoxy):
- Immanuel Kant
- Charles Darwin
- Galileo
- Copernicus
- Rene Descartes
- John Locke
- Justinian I
- Augustine of Hippo
- Isaac Newton
- Johannes Kepler
- Adam Smith
- Abraham Lincoln
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- J.S. Bach
- Fredrich Handel
- Soren Kierkegaard

Yes?
posted by valkyryn at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


valkyryn,

I find it interesting that you need to include the scatological language and the f*bomb in a thread defending your belief system. Why the need to be so caustic?
posted by empty vessel at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


None of the Abrahamic religions believe that God is a "man in the sky". Usage of such a trite and lazy rhetorical jab immediately identifies one as a damn fool.

GENESIS 28:10
Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the LORD [YHVH] stood above it and said: "I am the LORD God [YHVH 'elohey] of Abraham your father and the God ['elohey] of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.

So we have a male, claiming to be god, hanging out in the sky with his henchman, and not one of the Abrahamic religions believe this? Hmmm.
posted by chambers at 1:20 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well said, empty vessel. I'm not finding Christianity, or intellectual faith, very persuasive here, based on valkyryn's scorched earth, battle-all-comers screed. And I'm a cradle Catholic. Peace, golden rule, etc. etc.
posted by bunnycup at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


docpops: “koeselitz - please explain to me what intellectual rigor has to do with having faith in God? What "intellectual" in their right mind would stake their bona fides on a predilection for magical thinking? I guess it proves itself - to a person of faith the two seem synonymous and to a person who is not of a faith it is a contradiction. In modern times I can't think of anyone who can convincingly pretend that being a Christian is not fully compartmentalized from their capacity to examine the world objectively and scientifically. Perhaps we have different ideas of what an intellectual is. Speaking eloquently on God has never counted, for me. You might as well discuss flying ponies with perfect diction for all the good it does.”

That's a very fair question. St Thomas Aquinas spent his entire life, I think, trying to answer a version of this question - that is, he spent a good deal of his work trying to demonstrate that philosophy was a necessary part of faith, because, as he saw it, faith is interrogative - faith asks questions, faith ponders apparent contradictions. You see faith as "a predilection for magical thinking;" most Christians have not seen it that way. One might note that the first and most vehement enemies of superstition have been Christians.

It has to do with something that I mentioned earlier in this thread - the fact that faith is about things which cannot be the object of scientific investigation. Aquinas insisted this, but he had the whole of the church and all the saints behind him on it - true faith and true science cannot contradict each other, because the moment one has 'faith' about a scientific proposition - ie that the sun orbits the earth - it ceases to be faith and becomes mere opinion.

There are certain propositions - propositions about how we ought to live, about what is right and what is wrong, et cetera - which cannot ever be the objects of scientific propositions. Scientists, 'skeptics,' non-believers, and in general those who don't have religious faith - all of these people merely assume certain things about these propositions merely in order to get through life. They have to - we all do, being human beings. Religion is a focus on that process of assuming - it is a focus on the formation of faith in certain principles.
posted by koeselitz at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


valkyryn - That's an impressive list. Anyone you can think of in the last twenty years that has a distinguished ability to think rationally that also considers their Christianity central to their intellectual fortitude besides Newt Gingrich?
posted by docpops at 1:22 PM on February 10, 2010


empty vessel: “I find it interesting that you need to include the scatological language and the f*bomb in a thread defending your belief system. Why the need to be so caustic?”

People like you, who have freed yourselves from believing in anything at all, might not be familiar with the powerful feelings which belief sometimes provokes. You might not understand why people take certain ideas so seriously. Suffice it to say that it's a singularly strong sensation.

Of course, not being a Christian, I can imagine you aren't really familiar with what that feels like.
posted by koeselitz at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2010


There are certain propositions - propositions about how we ought to live, about what is right and what is wrong, et cetera - which cannot ever be the objects of scientific propositions. Scientists, 'skeptics,' non-believers, and in general those who don't have religious faith - all of these people merely assume certain things about these propositions merely in order to get through life. They have to - we all do, being human beings. Religion is a focus on that process of assuming - it is a focus on the formation of faith in certain principles.

Well put.
posted by docpops at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2010


Chambers - Is it possible that God took on representative forms that the human being he was trying to communicate with could relate to? God being formless in nature taking temporary from to interact with the physical world and physical beings.
posted by empty vessel at 1:27 PM on February 10, 2010


Suffice it to say that it's a singularly strong sensation.

Then it is all the more Christ-like to remain respectful and civil when discussing it.
posted by bunnycup at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The idea that Christianity was ever a movement for "radical social change" is actually really, really new. In fact, you won't find much suggestion of that until radical social change became socially popular, i.e. the 1960s.

That statement--right there--marks you out as an ignorant blowhard:
The Diggers
The Anabaptists
The Quakers

Perhaps you should STFU and spend a little more time actually exploring the history of your religion before you swagger in here and tell us all what Christianity really is all about.
posted by Chrischris at 1:30 PM on February 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


The idea that Christianity was ever a movement for "radical social change" is actually really, really new. In fact, you won't find much suggestion of that until radical social change became socially popular, i.e. the 1960s.

I have to disagree with this. I think that element has always been a part of Christianity--certainly in the Gospels, and also in the Franciscan movement and much of the anabaptist tradition, just to give a couple of examples.

That said, I completely agree with you that McLaren et al. come across as intellectual lightweights and that the whole "emergent" movement smacks of a marketing ploy.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2010


Er, or what Chrischris said, but with less vitriol.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:34 PM on February 10, 2010


If we understand Christ’s “Father” in the Spinozist sense of infinite and eternal Thought, and each individual thing as a finite expression of that infinite Thought, then we have the basis for a Christianity centered on respect for all things.
posted by No Robots at 1:34 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


People like you, who have freed yourselves from believing in anything at all, might not be familiar with the powerful feelings which belief sometimes provokes. You might not understand why people take certain ideas so seriously. Suffice it to say that it's a singularly strong sensation.
Of course, not being a Christian, I can imagine you aren't really familiar with what that feels like.


Oh, sure -- because members of your religion are the only people on Earth who fully experience human emotion, much less care about anything.

Puh-leeze. Fuck your stupid, smug, self-satisfied nonsense; this is simultaneously one of the dumbest and meanest things I have ever read on this site, and that's saying something.

Oh, I'm sorry, I meant BEEP BOOP BOP! ILLOGIC, ILLOGIC, DOES NOT COMPUTE! Because clearly, I can't feel anything! My bad, I forgot.

I mean, erased it from my memory banks.
posted by vorfeed at 1:34 PM on February 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


bunnycup: “Then it is all the more Christ-like to remain respectful and civil when discussing it.”

And to hold off being judgmental toward those who have difficulty doing so.
posted by koeselitz at 1:36 PM on February 10, 2010


vorfeed: “Puh-leeze. Fuck your stupid, smug, self-satisfied nonsense; this is simultaneously one of the dumbest and meanest things I have ever read on this site, and that's saying something.”

Pardon me. I thought empty vessel's attack on valkyryn - and merely because valkyryn had the gall to use a censored expletive - was unfair and frankly rather low. I still feel that way, but if you'd like to attack me, too, go ahead.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A reminder to a Christian to follow Christ's path is never judgmental, its a loving act. Here on MeFi it seems to me perfectly respectful to civilly remind someone to keep a polite tone. It even reminds us under our posting boxes to keep discussions healthy and respectful.
posted by bunnycup at 1:41 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


valkyryn, pretty much everything about the way you've framed and executed your posts keeps me from even caring about the content of what you're saying. The worst of these is the habit you have here toward ad hominems against the authors with whom you disagree, made especially ironic because to an outsider, you appear as guilty of those same faults as Bell, McLaren, & Campolo.

At the root of it though, you seem to be suggesting that your variant of Christianity is better than theirs precisely because it is exclusive and judgmental. What good is God if he doesn't send people to hell? Everything else is just Dr. Phil self-help. If that's not what you're intending to communicate, you may want to change *how* you're communicating, because right now, you just come across like the singer of a hair metal band formed in the late 80s who's pissed that grunge is suddenly becoming popular.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:42 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am passionate about my Christianity.

If you want a rant try this on. I am tired of crass, consumerist, hard hearted people toting out their mental idol of my God in the name of what war mongering, economic, political, bigoted, agenda's they may hold.

The God I see in The Bible said to love one's neighbor as ones self. That we who are with out sin may cast the first stone. That before you remove the speck from your neighbors eye remove the plank from your own. These are my absolutes, and as a fellow Christian they should be yours as well.

No Love = Clanging Cymbal
posted by empty vessel at 1:43 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hegel without the Hegel.
posted by stammer at 1:44 PM on February 10, 2010


People like you, who have freed yourselves from believing in anything at all, might not be familiar with the powerful feelings which belief sometimes provokes. You might not understand why people take certain ideas so seriously. Suffice it to say that it's a singularly strong sensation.
Of course, not being a Christian, I can imagine you aren't really familiar with what that feels like.


This might be one of the stupidest, most arrogant things I've read on MeFi, ever. And I remember ParisParamus.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:45 PM on February 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


The idea that Christianity was ever a movement for "radical social change" is actually really, really new...

St. Francis of Assisi is really, really new? The Irish and their peaceful green martyrs also probably have some opinion in this as well.

Or maybe you're thinking early 1600's as being new, when Roger Williams was rowing up and down Narragansett Bay?

Christianity 2.0 isn't something new. It's just that those practicing it aren't flashy, or are heads of megachurches, or have massive political thinktanks. They're just good Christians.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:45 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pardon me. I thought empty vessel's attack on valkyryn - and merely because valkyryn had the gall to use a censored expletive - was unfair and frankly rather low. I still feel that way, but if you'd like to attack me, too, go ahead.

There's "unfair and frankly rather low", and then there's "you and everyone like you are empty inside". One of these things is nothing like the other.

And, um, the latter would seem to be a pretty serious judgment, by the way.
posted by vorfeed at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: empty vessel's attack on valkyryn

attack? dude, you've been here since 2004 and you call that an attack?
posted by desjardins at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: You might not understand why people take certain ideas so seriously.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2010


Anyone you can think of in the last twenty years that has a distinguished ability to think rationally that also considers their Christianity central to their intellectual fortitude besides Newt Gingrich?

Jean-Luc Marion, Paul Virilio, Mark Noll, Terry Eagleton, and Fanny Howe are names that come to mind.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is it possible that God took on representative forms that the human being he was trying to communicate with could relate to? God being formless in nature taking temporary from to interact with the physical world and physical beings.

I wasn't disputing the complete and total form/nature of god, just the point that "the old man in the sky" is part (and obviously not the entirety) of the historically accepted imagery of Abrahamic religions. It may seem quaint and old-fashioned to more modern theology, but to deny that it ever existed, in any Abrahamic religion, was very strange to read.
posted by chambers at 1:52 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


that person has never been inside a synagogue or actually talked with a Jew about what Judaism means. And it's fine if you're in that position, but you can't claim to know anything about Abrahamic religions.

Despite having grown up in two of them, you say? I've been inside many synagogues and I believe I have talked to Jews if members of my own family count. Yes, I know, the human references to G*d are all metaphorical in rabbinical discourse. I contest whether that is the content of most believers' understanding of the entity to which they are praying. What the rabbi says and what the believer believes are not always (or even often) the same thing.

This has nothing to do with whether G*d can be visually represented or not.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:54 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it possible that God took on representative forms that the human being he was trying to communicate with could relate to?

That's somewhat poor planning on God's part isn't it? An all-knowing being who exists outside time ought to have infinite imagination, yeah? So you're telling me that guy, who also is all-powerful, either isn't clever enough or powerful enough to build creatures with whom he cannot communicate? He gets to make the rules! That's like saying that I have get all Flynn-from-Tron with some software I'm writing because otherwise I can't send it messages or receive any back from it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


(And look, don't get me wrong, because whatever believers believe, whether in G*d as spirit or G*d as flesh, it's patent arrant nonsense. You can argue all day about transubstantiation, allegory, and translation into humanly understood terms. You're still talking about nothing more substantive than a dream.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


ugh. "build creatures with whom he cannot communicate" should be "build creatures with whom he can communicate" in my last post. And I previewed it! Twice!
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:57 PM on February 10, 2010


Regardless of whether it's intellectually rigorous, I have to say I find the stuff from the OP a lot more pleasant than the bickering some of the Christians in this thread have resorted to. I'm tempted to agree with bunnycup, but maybe I'm just reacting against the 3 years of Catholic theology my high school forced me to take. :/
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 1:58 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


and I'd contend the vast majority of Christians do view Him as a bearded white-haired man in the sky.

Probably with pretty good reason.
posted by quin at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2010


orthogonality: “‘Harkening back’ means everything and anything, and thus nothing. At least nothing that can be pinned down in any useful way.”

Hegel would disagree; I think he would claim that the meaning of something can only ever be constituted retroactively. Like the Revolutionary War - we understand it retroactively as overthrowing the cruel tyrannical King George, but that's because the British lost. Had they won, the meaning would have been completely different. Any radically new legal system begins with an act that's illegal from the perspective of the previous system.

So, it's perfectly fine for them to discover the "true" meaning of Jesus. The real issue is, what is this true meaning? Social justice, but tolerating differences? Intolerance is exactly what they should keep from the Bible! Feminism is not about men tolerating women. Civil rights is not about whites tolerating blacks. Social justice is not about the wealthy tolerating the poor.

If there's one thing to learn from the Beatitudes, it's that justice is not "tolerant", it take the side of those deprived of justice.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


In other words, I think the most vital messages of any religion are usually the simplest ones. Transubstantiation, the personage of the Trinity, whether the olive in the martini breaks the Lenten fast, how many angels can dance on the head of the pin.... these arguments only seem to take us further from the point.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well yeah, and "intellectually rigorous" is a red herring anyhow. All that's meant by that here is "doesn't use language in a way I find useful for my own ends."
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2010


I would agree with the point that there has been in the historical Christian Church a thread of thought that included the "old man in the sky" may have existed. My inclination as to why this persists as a concept is that it is still a pervasive part of early religious education. Trying to get a 4 year old to get their mind around an infinite omni-present God is not so easy. Presenting God as a cosmic Santa Clause is well intentioned but may cause more problems than it solves.
posted by empty vessel at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2010


I worship The Velvet Fog.
posted by Mister_A at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2010


Jimmy loves the Velvet Fog!
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 2:03 PM on February 10, 2010


And to hold off being judgmental toward those who have difficulty doing so.

That's not even close to what jesus told you to do.
posted by No1UKnow at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2010


As to the Emergence Movement, yeah, it's been done before by other people using different names, but if they want to believe in something that still gives them the opportunity to embrace science and acceptance and other enlightened concepts that help reduce misery, more power to them.
posted by quin at 2:06 PM on February 10, 2010


When people toss it off here, it means they have nothing to say but just want to fling shit. I seriously doubt they have the stones to go around saying that to actual people.

Really? Try me. I'm giving an Ignite talk in a couple weeks on why superstition, homeopathy, religion, etc. are forms of magical thinking.
posted by signalnine at 2:12 PM on February 10, 2010


Is it possible that God took on representative forms that the human being he was trying to communicate with could relate to?

That's somewhat poor planning on God's part isn't it? An all-knowing being who exists outside time ought to have infinite imagination, yeah? So you're telling me that guy, who also is all-powerful, either isn't clever enough or powerful enough to build creatures with whom he cannot communicate? He gets to make the rules! That's like saying that I have get all Flynn-from-Tron with some software I'm writing because otherwise I can't send it messages or receive any back from it.


This again was supposition. I had that very thought when I was typing it, thus framed it as a question. One of the key concepts of the movement is that of working with questions over statements. Which generally lead to more questions. The inquiry might start out "light-weight" but usually emerges into something substantial in a hurry. Which leads us to the concept of conversation.

One of the misconception of emergence seems to be that there is a doctrinal stand to it. I see more as an approach that forces one to examine what they believe and in the end own their belief system. More importantly coming to that point they now are forced to reconcile the way they are in life with that belief system. No pushed it on them, there's no one to blame. They have to be responsible for it.
posted by empty vessel at 2:13 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christianity reinvents itself every several decades. It's always interesting to see how that pans out.
posted by verb at 2:16 PM on February 10, 2010


OP posts something innocent on social justice & world peace.

Civil War promptly breaks out on the blue.
posted by kanewai at 2:18 PM on February 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


One of the misconception of emergence seems to be that there is a doctrinal stand to it.

There pretty clearly is a doctrinal stand to it. A statement like "acceptance, environmentalism, social justice and world peace as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God" is a point of doctrine. As is "the infallability (the truth of the over all message) of scripture". Besides, if there wasn't a doctrinal stand to this, it wouldn't be Christianity -- the very idea that Jesus matters is doctrine.

Again, this looks awfully cake-and-eat-it-tooish to me. If this is really nothing more than "an approach that forces one to examine what they believe and in the end own their belief system", then there's nothing necessarily Christian about it. And if there's something necessarily Christian about it, then it's not just "an approach that forces one to examine what they believe and in the end own their belief system".

You're clearly talking about one particular belief system, here, and that implies doctrine.
posted by vorfeed at 2:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


To answer all the "There were radicals before the 1960s!" people: None of them were deliberate and self-conscious about being radical. The Quakers knew what they were doing differed strongly from what was going on around them, but the difference itself was never the point. Doctrine was. It wasn't until the twentieth century that being "socially radical" was something one could both talk about and talk about positively.

But if anything, the fact that these sorts of movers and shakers (and Shakers) appear from time to time on the fringes of Christendom should suggest that there's something more enduring going on here than Bell, Campolo, or McLaren would have us believe. Turns out they're actually part of a really old conversation, not starting a new one, but because they refuse to deal with that, they wind up cutting themselves off from the very thing which made those previous movements so vital, i.e. a serious engagement with theology.

eustacescrubb, if you're gonna pull a "You're not wrong, Walter..." on me, you're more than welcome, but me being an asshole isn't something I've ever denied. More to the point... yeah, I'm gonna come out and say that without a doctrine of Hell, Christianity is completely pointless. Granted, what makes Christianity good is the other parts--soteriology and eschatology in particular--but Hell is what makes Christianity necessary. Or, at least, that's been the orthodox Christian position for the better part of two millennia. You're more than welcome to try something different, but have the decency to find your own name and symbols.

empty vessel and bunnycup, it would be ironic for someone who likes the brand of Christianity which has divorced itself from content and theology to get offended at colorful use of language except for the fact that this is also the brand of Christianity whose central feature is being as unoffensive as humanly possible. I kind of think those two cancel each other out.

To come back at you directly, empty vessel, I'm tired of uneducated, self-actualizing, spineless people toting out their mental idol of the God who belongs to Himself, in the name of what bloodless, economic, political, egalitarian agendas they may hold. (c.f. Jim Wallis)

The God who speaks through the Bible said to love one's neighbor as he loves us. This is way harder than loving others as ourselves, because 1) we aren't very good at loving ourselves most of the time, and 2) it doesn't even let us decide what loving means. We can't use our definitions, we have to use His, and means serious, thoughtful, consistent engagement with the whole counsel of God, not writing bestsellers whose toughest message is that you just don't love yourself enough. As it turns out, God has this habit of telling people when they're wrong, and I assure you, doing that is way harder than never disagreeing with anybody.

You want radical? I'll give you radical. Radical is Jesus refusing to feed the hungry because they wanted bread, not Him, and then refusing to soften his message when the people said it was too unpleasant. Radical is Jesus saying that losing your sight is better than having it cause you to diverge from holiness. Radical is Jesus taking sides in a theological and political argument. What radical isn't is telling people exactly what they want to hear, i.e. "All that stuff you don't like about God and religion? Yeah, you don't have to have that. All you have to do is contract a terminal dose of earnestness, speak slowly and softy, don't piss anyone off, and above all, be nice." What these guys are doing is evil.

The historic, orthodox, Christian position has always been that God is not something that "emerges" from conversation. He is someone with whom you must deal on His terms or not at all. He's made those terms abundantly clear. Wise and holy men have spent two thousand years refining what we believe about them, and though there does and will always exist disagreement around the edges, there's surprising unanimity about the heart of the matter. So when some punk outta Wheaton, Eastern, or some random megachurch tells me that they've all got it wrong and what we really need to do is be nice... well... you'll have to forgive me if I'm somewhat less than thrilled.
posted by valkyryn at 2:33 PM on February 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


valkyryn-

As far as the language goes, use what ever language you want. I simply asked why you felt it necessary to do so. Cuss away, I am sure that God in Heaven is elated with your representation of His love.

It amazes me that you would call Campolo and McLaren uneducated:

Campolo is an alumnus of, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at, Eastern University in St David's, Pennsylvania. He is a 1956 graduate of Eastern College, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary) and earned a Ph.D. from Temple University. He is an ordained Baptist minister and evangelist, presently serving as an associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, which is affiliated with both the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the American Baptist Churches USA.[1] For ten years, he was a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.


Born in 1956, Brian McLaren graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, 1981). His academic interests include medieval drama, romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr. Walker Percy. He is also a musician and songwriter.
After several years of teaching English and consulting in higher education, he left academia in 1986 to become the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, a nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region. The church has grown to involve several hundred people, many of whom were previously unchurched[2]. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.[3]
posted by empty vessel at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2010


There are certain propositions - propositions about how we ought to live, about what is right and what is wrong, et cetera - which cannot ever be the objects of scientific propositions. Scientists, 'skeptics,' non-believers, and in general those who don't have religious faith - all of these people merely assume certain things about these propositions merely in order to get through life. They have to - we all do, being human beings. Religion is a focus on that process of assuming - it is a focus on the formation of faith in certain principles.

Scientists might posit that our concept of morality arose through the process of natural selection, and that our ideas of what is "right" merely stem from what actions keep our species extant and prodigiously propagating.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


they've all got it wrong and what we really need to do is be nice... well... you'll have to forgive me if I'm somewhat less than thrilled.

It's quite possible to be effective and confrontational while still keeping to a kind of chivalrous standard of discourse and behavior. But yeah, the idea of being "nice" in the sense of worrying about others' misgivings is indeed pop-megachurch blather.

Well said all around, though.

For some reason I'm now recalling something Imam Shafii purportedly did during religious debates. He would always pray that the truth or correct answer would come from the opponent's mouth. That speaks to a kind of discussion that isn't about winning or losing, or making the opponent feel like a rube, but one that arrives at a larger understanding. Or at least a clearer focus that we don't know anything about God, really.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2010


valkyryn - you are the best advertisement ever for the toxicity of religion. Thank-you for confirming what I sometimes wonder may be hyperbole - that educated people walk among us looking at the world through a fog of dogma and cruelty because of words they read in a book.
posted by docpops at 2:51 PM on February 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Anyone you can think of in the last twenty years that has a distinguished ability to think rationally that also considers their Christianity central to their intellectual fortitude besides Newt Gingrich?

Jean-Luc Marion, Paul Virilio, Mark Noll, Terry Eagleton, and Fanny Howe are names that come to mind.


And to that list I would add the marvelous Anne Lamott. If you haven't read this or this, I do recommend picking one or both up. She's one of the very few Christians whose perspectives on faith do not immediately piss me off.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:54 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't disputing the complete and total form/nature of god, just the point that "the old man in the sky" is part (and obviously not the entirety) of the historically accepted imagery of Abrahamic religions. It may seem quaint and old-fashioned to more modern theology, but to deny that it ever existed, in any Abrahamic religion, was very strange to read.

Right, but when people here use the terminology, it's rarely, if ever, used as anything other than tired snark.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:56 PM on February 10, 2010


McLaren has an BA and an honorary doctorate, awarded by a nowhere school because he's an influential author.

Bell has a BA and an M.Div. These do not a scholar make.

Campolo is the only one with anything approaching academic credibility, but he's a sociologist--not a historian, not a theologian--who isn't actually known for his sociology as much as his activism. You can make a career out of that, but not a scholarly one.

But that aside, degrees do not an education make--I went to law school, so I ought to know--and none of these guys have ever evidenced that they're even mildly conversant with their own theological and historical forebears. I'm quite a ways from where I'd like to be as far as that goes, but I know enough to know when someone isn't even trying.

Besides, it was the kind of people who think these guys are awesome who I had in mind when I parroted you.
posted by valkyryn at 2:57 PM on February 10, 2010


To answer all the "There were radicals before the 1960s!" people: None of them were deliberate and self-conscious about being radical.

The nineteenth-century Christian Socialists were not "deliberate and self-conscious about being radical"?
posted by thomas j wise at 2:57 PM on February 10, 2010


here pretty clearly is a doctrinal stand to it. A statement like "acceptance, environmentalism, social justice and world peace as the embodiment of the Kingdom of God" is a point of doctrine. As is "the infallability (the truth of the over all message) of scripture". Besides, if there wasn't a doctrinal stand to this, it wouldn't be Christianity -- the very idea that Jesus matters is doctrine.

Again, this looks awfully cake-and-eat-it-tooish to me. If this is really nothing more than "an approach that forces one to examine what they believe and in the end own their belief system", then there's nothing necessarily Christian about it. And if there's something necessarily Christian about it, then it's not just "an approach that forces one to examine what they believe and in the end own their belief system".

You're clearly talking about one particular belief system, here, and that implies doctrine.



Emergence is an approach or view of many things as stated in the OP:


Emergence in philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.

The OP also deals with Emergence as some have applied it to Christianity. In that you are correct that there are some basic doctrinal trends that have emerged and some of them do question the orthodoxy. What I point to are some of the outcomes of these inquiries (infallibility, social justice, environmentalism, etc.) They are not universal nor required. These inquiries do result in doctrines and absolutes, for some people, however emergence requires that even those be revisited and in so doing one is never sure as to what will come of it. In my experience it is an expansion of my understanding those original concepts and doctrines. My inquiries lead me often outside of religious texts and those inquires often create an expansion of my understanding of a religious doctrine. Emergence in the sense I am presenting requires going out side of textual references and engaging in conversations with folks that actually hold different views.
posted by empty vessel at 3:02 PM on February 10, 2010


Of course, not being a Christian, I can imagine you aren't really familiar with what that feels like.

Koeselitz, I get that you're feeling provoked, but this sort of thing is beneath you.
posted by ook at 3:02 PM on February 10, 2010


valkyrn,
i don't think your list is very accurate, but you can do your own homework. start with Abraham Lincoln, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson and work your way to Darwin--none were christians by any of today's standards of usage of the term. i mean, i know that one might argue that at certain points in their life the latter three had deist tendencies, but in any case, your list is fairly weak for a mythology that's had 2000 years. though supposedly the word of a god, there's not one revelation, nothing, in the bible that couldn't have been written by an average desert wandering person in 100AD who didn't have the knowledge of a modern 6th grader--not one original philosophical, scientific, political or musical revelation (i picked these since your list was made up of philosophers, scientists, musicians, and politicians).
--
"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them." -- Abraham Lincoln, to Judge J S Wakefield.

"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic." -- Charles Darwin, Life and Letters
posted by whatgorilla at 3:14 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey, I hear a lot of f-bombs dropped on a daily basis from both theistic and non-theistic alike here. Sometimes they're just done to jazz things up, sometimes because the person feels strongly, and sometimes because the person is trying to demean something. When you go down a post and pick the one that curses and avoid all the other voices (and indeed the vitriol that your side has spewed, it does somewhat make you look like you're grasping at straws and trying to be spiteful and self-righteous. I don't personal curse often (it's just not a habit of mine, and I would have to force myself to), but I won't begrudge it here because it goes on so often. I just have to roll with it.

Now, let's take a step back. Stop being a jerk. Yes, you. What are you hoping anyway? Rout the Christians out of Metafilter? Make them all de-convert? Because remember that you're not talking to the rest of the world here; you're talking to Metafilter. The Christians here tend to be rather well educated and thoughtful and introspective about how their faith and the outside world. It's them you're talking to and—quite frankly—being a dick to. If you feel persecuted by Christians in your regular life, don't take it out on them in here. Don't ridicule those in here with this "Invisible Sky Magic Wonder" whatever here. They've heard it. It's not clever any more. It just sounds like you're trying to be a self-righteous prick and like most self-righteous pricks you wrap yourself in the utter necessity of what you're saying. It's not and you know it. Remember who you're talking to, and for God's sake (heh) have a little decency and charity.

For the Christians out here, calm down. I know it's hard here. Don't loose you're cool. If you need to take a break, do so. I almost guarantee you that you're not going to convert anyone to your way of thinking here. Weather the storm. If you get that passionate, just walk away from the key board.

And, and once again for the other side, if someone does walk away from a blatant attempt to provoke them, don't do the whole, "HURF DURF GUESS THE DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY" type of smugness. It doesn't become anyone in any situation. Ever.

Alright, sorry for cursing twice in the thread. Let's drop this battle and get back to the links in general. And please, for the love of all that is holy, just try to be a bit more civil.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh, and I don't consider J.S. Bach, Fredrich Handel, Justinian I or Augustine of Hippo to be "major intellectuals"...and as for Galileo and Copernicus--I'd say they were christian in much the same way as Darwin, which is a stretch (though they had even more pressure from their time period to keep quiet about their beliefs).
posted by whatgorilla at 3:25 PM on February 10, 2010


It's easy to list all the intellectuals who professed some kind of religious belief, because if you didn't toe the line in bygone days you often found yourself getting ostracized at best, or often burned alive. Kind of a good motivation for professing whatever it took not to get cooked alive by God's loving followers, no?
posted by mullingitover at 3:27 PM on February 10, 2010


It's easy to list all the intellectuals who professed some kind of religious belief, because if you didn't toe the line in bygone days you often found yourself getting ostracized at best, or often burned alive. Kind of a good motivation for professing whatever it took not to get cooked alive by God's loving followers, no?

I hear this sometimes, and while there is certainly an element of truth to it, I think to use it as a blanket dismissal is sort of a post modern innovation that doesn't hold a lot of water.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:28 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


whatgorilla -

Great quotes!

One can question many things about many texts. One of the things I find fascinating is that Buddhists, as a rule, seem more interested in implementing the teachings of The Buddha rather than engaging never ending study of texts. Emergent Christianity seems to be following in that path.

Study of the scripture is important, but it is not necessary for scripture to be inerrant if one is seeking truth. One only needs inerrant documentation for a ridged legalistic pursuit of religion, that offers canned answers and complete solace that one is correct in their point of view. In the same vein, one does not need to completely understand the full nature of God in order to believe in God. Verily, I would be very disappointed with a God that I could completely get my mind around. If that makes me an agnostic, I am happy with that label as well.
posted by empty vessel at 3:29 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and one more thing:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
—Aristotle


If you come into a thread, be ready to argue on the terms within the thread's context. If you don't ascribe to the line of reasoning presented in here, don't enter in here if you're not ready to at least entertain the thoughts presented. What does the emergent church mean for Christianity? Is this a new movement? Is it a valid within the context of Christianity? Who are the movers and shakers in it? Coming in with the whole, "Of course, God is dead" doesn't do a thing to answer any questions. I admire many people's intellect and education in here and I would love to hear more atheists and agnostics thoughts on this within the context presented. I know some of you are full-fledged historians, so give the thread input.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Burhanistan: "I hear this sometimes, and while there is certainly an element of truth to it, I think to use it as a blanket dismissal is sort of a post modern innovation that doesn't hold a lot of water."

I wouldn't use this as a blanket dismissal, more of an observation and explanation. For blanket dismissal I prefer to point out the argumentum ad verecundiam and argumentum ad populum.
posted by mullingitover at 3:36 PM on February 10, 2010


I find it interesting that you need to include the scatological language and the f*bomb in a thread defending your belief system. Why the need to be so caustic?

As far as the language goes, use what ever language you want. I simply asked why you felt it necessary to do so.


What leads you to believe that valkyryn needed or felt it necessary to use those terms? Of course valkyryn didn't need to use those terms, just as you didn't need to use "Christianity 2.0" in the post's title.

And to suggest that someone had some compulsive need to do something they did merely because you find it distasteful is a rather crude ad hominem attack. You want to ask valkyryn why he chose to use those terms, that's fine (if a bit of a derail, especially since they're hardly uncommon on MetaFilter) but there's no need to malign him by suggesting he was incapable of not using them if he so chose, when you have absolutely no evidence in support of that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:44 PM on February 10, 2010


One of the things I find fascinating is that Buddhists, as a rule, seem more interested in implementing the teachings of The Buddha rather than engaging never ending study of texts.

Let it be noted that I am his skewed sample of one, and I am kind of a lazy-ass buddhist.

If you don't ascribe to the line of reasoning presented in here, don't enter in here if you're not ready to at least entertain the thoughts presented.

...but this is MetaFilter! We always do that here.
posted by desjardins at 3:53 PM on February 10, 2010


and as for Galileo and Copernicus--I'd say they were christian in much the same way as Darwin, which is a stretch

I won't argue with you on Copernicus or Darwin, but I'd suggest you learn more about Galileo.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:58 PM on February 10, 2010


What leads you to believe that valkyryn needed or felt it necessary to use those terms? Of course valkyryn didn't need to use those terms, just as you didn't need to use "Christianity 2.0" in the post's title.

The question was posed due to the context and the nature of his argument. This is a first for me as far as a religious conversation goes. I am not personally offended at all. I usually reserve that sort of language for other contexts. I was genuinely trying to understand why what I was posting warranted use of that language that seemed out of context. I am sure that he has no compulsive need to curse. I just cannot fathom why the points he was trying to make were helped by it.

As an aside, the title was not meant to be provocative as much as interesting. If you are saying that his cursing was artistic or creative in nature, then by all means carry on. Four years in the Navy I can take it.
posted by empty vessel at 4:01 PM on February 10, 2010


Fourcheesemac: (And look, don't get me wrong, because whatever believers believe, whether in G*d as spirit or G*d as flesh, it's patent arrant nonsense. You can argue all day about transubstantiation, allegory, and translation into humanly understood terms. You're still talking about nothing more substantive than a dream.)

Aren't you a humanities professor? When I'm feeling least charitable about Christianity and Christian theology I think of it as being like the humanities, but with the added merit of being able to materially improve the lives of many.
posted by pseudonick at 4:11 PM on February 10, 2010




koeselitz: Pardon me. I thought empty vessel's attack on valkyryn - and merely because valkyryn had the gall to use a censored expletive - was unfair and frankly rather low. I still feel that way, but if you'd like to attack me, too, go ahead.


If you meant to address empty vessel in particular, it seems odd that you would address your statement to "People like you, who have freed yourselves from believing in anything at all". It seems like you're addressing a wide swath of people there.
posted by anazgnos at 4:27 PM on February 10, 2010


There are certain propositions - propositions about how we ought to live, about what is right and what is wrong, et cetera - which cannot ever be the objects of scientific propositions. Scientists, 'skeptics,' non-believers, and in general those who don't have religious faith - all of these people merely assume certain things about these propositions merely in order to get through life. They have to - we all do, being human beings. Religion is a focus on that process of assuming - it is a focus on the formation of faith in certain principles.
posted by koeselitz at 4:21 PM on February 10 [6 favorites +] [!]


I'm sorry - aren't you describing secular humanism? Where does a deity fit into this description?! This "religion" you speak of sounds great, but I've never heard of it before. As long as I don't have to worship a dead guy from the bronze age, or pretend to believe in the afterlife, or some other irrelevant philosophical mischief, sign me up.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:34 PM on February 10, 2010


>Oh, and I don't consider J.S. Bach, Fredrich Handel, Justinian I or Augustine of Hippo to be "major intellectuals"

whereby you lose any credibility whatsoever
posted by generalist at 5:01 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christians disagree on Christianity. This has been happening since the time of the Apostles and will continue until the end of days.

While I'm not sure I completely agree with the points of some of the folks mentioned above (at least how they've been presented in this thread), I do think that Christians could do to focus more on other issues that are naturally within the realm of Christian belief, such as environmentalism. I would smile all day if Christianity was brought into the headlines more often for the good that Christians do, rather than the things they oppose.


though supposedly the word of a god, there's not one revelation, nothing, in the bible that couldn't have been written by an average desert wandering person in 100AD who didn't have the knowledge of a modern 6th grader--not one original philosophical, scientific, political or musical revelation (i picked these since your list was made up of philosophers, scientists, musicians, and politicians).-whatgorilla

The Bible wasn't written to teach just the scientists, the philosophers or great musicians. It was written to communicate to all people, regardless of their education (which historically was little to nothing) or their artistic or academic achievements. It succeeds extremely well at what it sets out to do. To demand a list of great intellectuals who were Christians is an exercise in pedantry.
posted by Atreides at 5:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


In fact, the "man in the sky" jab comes off rather well. You see, Abrahamic religions evolved from sun god worship, hence their god's jealousy.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:27 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christianity is about regaining our lost fellowship with our Creator thru Jesus Christ and in so doing becoming like Him.

Or, as He put it, the two most important commands are to love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself.

That's not that complicated. But to look at many of us Christians you'd think it was.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:53 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the main reason I find guys like Bell, McLaren, and Campolo so infuriating is because on their terms it's impossible for them to be incorrect.

This is different from simply believing that they're correct. I believe that I'm correct, but I also believe that I could be incorrect, because I believe that the things I hold by faith are the kinds of things about which it is possible to be correct or incorrect. Yes, Truth is ultimately bound up in the person of Christ, but just because truth is relational doesn't mean that anything goes.

This is not at all clear for the Bells, McLarens, Campolos, and their ilk. The whole deal with "emergence" as applied to Christianity is that it isn't possible to be correct or incorrect about anything at all. It's all about the conversation, as it were, i.e. "Make shit up. It's all cool."

This view of God and His revelation is entirely compatible with, well, God and His revelation. You can call emergent theories of theology "Christian" if you like, but recognize that when you do so you mean something entirely different than what the term has meant since the term was first used in Antioch. Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.
posted by valkyryn at 6:31 PM on February 10, 2010


Could someone summarize Emergence? I read the wikipedia links...and was left kind of at a loss.
posted by Atreides at 6:38 PM on February 10, 2010


That's not that complicated. But to look at many of us Christians you'd think it was.
But that's assuming there is only one correct way to regain that lost fellowship. It is complicated precisely because so many different Christians think their way is correct, and have problems putting themselves in the shoes of other ostensible "fellow" Christians who don't see eye-to-eye with their views.
posted by micketymoc at 6:54 PM on February 10, 2010


valkyryn,

Great points!

I agree that not everything goes and I really don't want to "throw the baby out with the bath water" either.

The point of emergence is praxis (process) not correctness or incorrectness. Survey most people anonymously at any given Church and you will find that most of them do not adhere stringently to the statement of faith and if they do many have a hard time justifying why they do. The point of emergence is to bring these questions and other beliefs out into the open and encourage people to inquire where they come from. The emergence part is just that it doesn't always come out on the same side as orthodox Christianity, but at least one gets to a point of knowing what one believes and why they believe it.

The point here is that if you do have a good understanding and have a good rational for why it is the way to believe participating in an emergent conversation would potentially help others see why orthodox Christianity is the way it is. The only way this works is that those participating need to be able to say what ever they need to and that any subsequent comments are delivered from a place of humility(Not saying that this MeFi discussion needs to be done that way.) The conversation is just another tool. One that has faded from use in light of a top down structure in most Churches. The make up what ever you want thing is already there to one degree or another, emergence seeks to address it in an authentic way.

I would love to loose the label Christian, but as it has a more generic universal meaning, I use it for the sake of these sorts of discussions. I much prefer the term disciple which predates the term Christian.
posted by empty vessel at 7:13 PM on February 10, 2010


stop talking shit about Augustine of Hippo NOW, dude
posted by chinston at 7:23 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"As noted by Farmer and Packard (1986), the study of self-organizing systems is, in some ways, the 'related opposite' of the study of chaos: in self-organizing systems, orderly patterns emerge out of lower-level randomness; in chaotic systems, unpredictable behavior emerges out of lower-level deterministic rules." (Mitchell Resnick quoted by Johnson, p. 237)


An example from the current context is this:

A group of truth seeking random individuals meet and discuss their perspectives on given aspects of religion or philosophy (lower level randomness). From these on going discussions participants expand their understanding of truth maybe even finding common ground and a sense of commonality or community emerges. (That is to say that higher level of organization emerges.)
posted by empty vessel at 7:30 PM on February 10, 2010


So basically you're saying Emergence is the theological thought that arises after everyone talks to everyone else and come to agreement on what they share in common? Or is it just the process by which folks are encouraged to engage with each other?

Pardon my ignorance, by the way, as I haven't focused my own education into this area of Christian thought.
posted by Atreides at 7:38 PM on February 10, 2010


This is my first exposure to the idea in this thread, but my understanding is that it is the process of self-examination.
posted by bunnycup at 7:43 PM on February 10, 2010


So basically you're saying Emergence is the theological thought that arises after everyone talks to everyone else and come to agreement on what they share in common? Or is it just the process by which folks are encouraged to engage with each other?



Definitely the latter. The conclusions are left up to the individuals. The important thing is the process on the individual and the group level. The outcomes at the individual level are random in the sense that no one is telling some one what to believe. The outcomes at the group level stuff like community and common ground are the order as a result.

What this is leading to in Emergent Christianity is a broader awareness of commonalty and community with those outside those in ones belief system.
posted by empty vessel at 7:48 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the things I find fascinating is that Buddhists, as a rule, seem more interested in implementing the teachings of The Buddha rather than engaging never ending study of texts.

It's true that practice is the primary concern, but there are many texts and many, many more commentaries. Study and debate are core to the practice in all traditions that I know of, including Zen. There are many ideas and many schools of thought and so many divisions between sects. In my tradition it would be nearly impossible to implement the teachings of the Buddha without serious study and contemplation of those texts and the guidance of a qualified teacher.

Someone said it earlier, but I like the approach of these post modern Christians, sounds very familiar to my Buddhist ears.
posted by aquathug at 7:54 PM on February 10, 2010


Last statement should have read:

What this is leading to in Emergent Christianity is a broader awareness of commonalty and community with those outside ones belief system.

On an individual level it is a series of smaller revelations in the context of self-examination, group discussion, and insights gained as a result of study. These insights or revelations can be pretty random but then combine in to form organized system of belief. This is the whole patterns creating patterns idea.
posted by empty vessel at 7:57 PM on February 10, 2010


I knew someone like aquathug was going to pop in here and say something like that. empty vessel, you owe me... oh I don't know, pancakes for breakfast?
posted by desjardins at 8:03 PM on February 10, 2010


desjardin this is MeFi you're getting waffles!
posted by empty vessel at 8:13 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Could someone summarize Emergence? "
You might enjoy this Radiolab episode on Emergence.
posted by Manjusri at 8:17 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been reading and re-reading this thread trying to figure out what's upsetting you, valkyryn, but I'm really and truly at a loss. First you suggested that the characterization of Christianity as a movement of radical social change wasn't authentic to its history, when you said:

The idea that Christianity was ever a movement for "radical social change" is actually really, really new. In fact, you won't find much suggestion of that until radical social change became socially popular, i.e. the 1960s.

Then, when people called you out on the Anabaptists and the Quakers being pretty radical, you said that they were different because they weren't being self-consciouslessly radical:

To answer all the "There were radicals before the 1960s!" people: None of them were deliberate and self-conscious about being radical. The Quakers knew what they were doing differed strongly from what was going on around them, but the difference itself was never the point. Doctrine was. It wasn't until the twentieth century that being "socially radical" was something one could both talk about and talk about positively.

So (holding off on the question of how you claim to know the state of mind of people who lived hundreds of years ago), what I take from this is that you're upset that the Emergent Movement is trying to be a self-conscious movement for social change and equating that with Christianity (which in your opinion is a false equivalency), whereas the Quakers et al. were legitimate Christian radicals because they were only following what they interpreted as Christian doctrine. But everything I've seen (just in the few videos and links in this post, admittedly) makes it seem like these Emergent Christians are basically doing the same thing as previous Christian social activists--that is, interpreting the message of their religion (e.g., the concept of "the Kingdom of God") to be that they should work for social change, environmental stewardship, pacifism, and all the other things mentioned in the FPP (not just railing against "institutions" as such). You may not agree with the interpretation that those are the core of Christianity, but it seems strange to acknowledge that other historical movements have basically shared the same outlook while trying to split hairs over how "self-conscious" they were about it.

Your real objection then, if I understand correctly, is not so much their message but how they go about making their case. You said:

Turns out they're actually part of a really old conversation, not starting a new one, but because they refuse to deal with that, they wind up cutting themselves off from the very thing which made those previous movements so vital, i.e. a serious engagement with theology.

This is a strange argument to me, because it seems from my perspective that these people are engaged with theology in a serious way, just from the point of view that more of the basic tenets are up for grabs, so to speak. As I understand it, the movement is mostly a response to what they perceive are the entrenched power structures of Christianity--its institutions, its buildings, its texts, etc.--and their goal is a deconstruction of these monolithic ideas with the hope that a new theology will "emerge." So, to criticize that as not "being Christian" is circular logic; what they want to do is change what Christianity is.

I'm just confused why you find that so threatening and offensive. It's certainly not a completely new idea--there have been plenty of waves of Christian mysticism in history, each attempting to get "back" to a more direct spiritual experience with God--but I don't get the sense that they're even claiming it's a new idea, or that it has to be. (I think I read in a book somewhere that there's nothing new under the Sun.) What seems to bother you is their attitude of disrespect for religious institutions. But when I see the way that Christianity has become the de facto state religion in this country, and I hear politicians invoke the name of Christ to carry out brutal authoritarian agendas and enforce the dominance of the strong over the weak, rich over poor, etc., I have to think maybe these Emergence guys are on to something. You make it sound like their movement is all about feeling good and being nice (and you even suggest they're leading people to be sinful?) but I'm just not getting that at all. One thing that McLaren said in one of those videos that stuck with me:

"And so the early Christians refused to worship those false gods of the state, and they were called atheists, because they believed in a different God. So maybe when we make our professions of faith we'll realize to say I believe in a God revealed in Jesus Christ simultaneously makes me an atheist in relation to other visions and other pictures of God."

I can see why this would upsetting, but it's not content-free. I feel like part of the idea he's expressing here is a challenge to the barrier between believers and non-believers that is steadily tearing our community apart (witness this thread, for example).

The wikipedia page compares the Emergence movement to Deconstruction. One of the things that Deconstruction (really post-structuralism, I guess) as a philosophical movement is all about is challenging the validity of a binary opposition--strong over weak, active over passive, member over nonmember, etc.--by a subversion of the dominant to the lesser. And to me, that's radical. When I read in the Bible that the poor are blessed, that the meek shall inherit the Earth, that I should turn the other cheek, and that we are judged by how we treat the least among us, I find those to be incredibly radical and, above all, difficult ideas, which turn the power structure of society on its head.

I'm not trying to pick a fight; just hoping to get some clarity on what you dislike so much about these guys beyond the level of ad hominem attacks about their glasses and cheesy videos (and I'm as cynical as anyone about soft focus and acoustic guitars).
posted by albrecht at 9:02 PM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's all bland pleasantries, pop theology at best. They don't even pretend to engage with any kind of theological tradition, let alone one which takes its commitments and internal logic seriously.

I'm a Christian, and these guys piss me off to no end. They're making us look like intellectual lightweights, not to mention a bunch of freaking pansies. My version of the faith--which is a damn sight closer to the historic norm than whatever the f*ck these guys are selling*--may not be as pleasant as theirs, but at least I've got the courage of my convictions.


Well, my design of a perpetual motion machine is far more intellectually rigorous than these other designs from impostors and ignoramuses.

Either there are provable propositions in that pile of doo-doo or not. Insofar as there are, the verdict is: it's a crock. You know, there's an answer to 5+5=?. Answering anything other than "10" - no matter whether you say "12" or "8" - and then arguing that your brand of "wrong" is better than the other brand, doesn't make much sense. And insofar as positing unprovable suppositions and speculations... what are you arguing over? It's like folks who insist their particular religion is "the one and only true one". Neither is provable. Strange that folks should get so worked up over their particular brand of unprovable gobbledygook while holding such strong opinions about a different brand of gobbledygook.

Also, I'd be mighty careful about claiming various historical figures under the mantle of Christianity. Many of these poor souls had little choice, but to proclaim their everlasting faith in Jesus, if they didn't want to end up burned at the stake - working in peace, meant paying convincing lip service to the pieties of the day. Who knows what the truth was in any particular case.

Anyhow, that hardly matters. My interests have always tended to the analytical side, but on my way to a PhD in philosophy, I did have to take various courses centered around the work of theologians. And reading them it always struck me in the same way (and this applies not only strictly to theologians, but any thinkers who attempted to bring in the divine into their argument) - that their various arguments were rigorous enough, until the inevitable leap into sheer bizarro world, once "god" was brought into it - it was always so jarring, sort of like talking to a well spoken gentleman who speaks eloquently of the stars and then out of the blue, suddenly you feel his dick poking at your ass... whaaa? Where did that come from? "Yes, we cannot trust our senses, it all might be illusion" - yes, yes, that makes sense, and then suddenly "and it's all real and not an illusion, because God would not be so wicked as to deceive us" - WHAT?? That's when the guy takes leave of his senses and there's not even a pretense of anything coming together.

And I like how these thinkers would spend a lot of good and legitimate and intellectually rigorous effort to elucidate some genuine philosophical difficulty or unknown, and then, having shown that, suddenly leap universes into that somehow justifying not merely the existence of god, but their particular version of church and pope and custom down to some absurd detail. It's like a parlor trick an old uncle shows the child, and having suitably impressed the kid, he ends with "and that's why it's important you suck my dick and not tell mom".

Really, I have no quarrel with any version of Christianity that wants to tone down the vicious, cruel and socially destructive aspects of their faith. "Intellectual rigor" in this context is a non-sequitor. Everybody is entitled to their fancies - and I'm fine with it, religious or atheist alike - as long as it doesn't burn the freakin' house down.
posted by VikingSword at 9:06 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


@desjardins I'll buy the waffles just to hear you tell me what I'm like.
posted by aquathug at 9:08 PM on February 10, 2010


aquathug, I really have no idea, but I knew as soon as he said "Buddhists don't care about books" (wildly paraphrasing) that someone would come in here and tell him about texts and commentaries and so forth. I told him so on my way home from work. Therefore he has to make breakfast for me. Not that he wasn't going to anyway.

(empty vessel is my husband)
posted by desjardins at 9:17 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You all know what? other than I been drinkin' again, y'all probably don't know that I used to defend religion. I use to think, for some people, it served a useful purpose because it motivated them, or promoted them to do good in the world, or whatnow. I had a friend who I always argued with, because he said religion was bullshit, and no good. We would stay up late, outside DC, arguing whether or not good could come from people's religious beliefs. I said, yes, I have seen good works come from churches, beat your swords into plowshares and shit.

Then, I started doing more social work, working with community centers, and started developing a summer camp for underprivileged children in the local projects with the local church, because I though the church people would work with me to do good.

No fucking way. The church people are awful. They have been the worst, most backstabbing, most hypocritical shitbags I've ever dealt with. I will work with any drun-dealing gang-banging thug-life heel before I ever work with a fuck religious believer again. These were supposedly progressive people, but in reality, they do not care one half of one goddamn about people. They only care about their god and their position in the church hierarchy.

I have been dealing with this for the past two years so pardon me when I roll my eyes. Perhaps it's because I have been working with the FUCKING episcopalians (all awful shitheads) and the presbyterians (old rich shitheads) at the community center, so...

My problem is that religious social work is premiced that an imaginary sky-monster demands that rubes alleviate suffering, so, my experience has been that the religious really only care about the act of social work, and don't care about the efficacy one bit. They have all (all of the high-ranking episcopalians I've worked with, including the arch-diocese of brookyln, or whatever the grand wizard is called) cared more about what their imaginary master and their cohorts in delusion think than the actual usefulness and efficacy of their programs.

Millions of dollars are wasted on people who are determined to get their XX# number of virgins or grapes or whatever the fuck the great beard promised them while they rot in the ground. I've yet to meet one deacon who care about anyone outside of themselves and who does social work to actually better humanity as a whole. No,. they do it because a)the sky-monster commands and b)they want to look good or better than the rest of the flock.

As a result, most of the programs they have implemented are half-assed and unsustainable without a constant influx of church-zombies. The end-game for them is NEVER social justice, their end-game is always showing their imaginary god-beast that they are TEH HOLIEST. Please note everyone, I run programs out of a religious center because those shits have a stranglehold on the social work world I'm in right now. Religion has nothing to contribute to society. The contributes of the religious are phoney and useually short-term and ineffective.

I know YOU aren't like this because you are a special snowflake, so I don't see why you are so upset; you probably know of a great religious social justice program that isn't premised on getting a reward from god and you'll tell me all about it. Even if you do, you'll have to go a long way to make up for the vile beasts I've already had to deal with who only care about the church, and never about humanity.
posted by fuq at 9:32 PM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


fuq,

I spent my first crack at an undergrad as a Christian Religion and Philosophy\Youth Ministry major. I saw many of the things that you mentioned and I left the Church for over 17 years for it. The only reason I even contemplated coming back was that I happened to find out about what was driving this movement.

I am sorry that you have run into these issues as well. Know that there are those who see it and want to do something about it. You are correct in that there is allot that needs to be made up for.

In my world there is no way God can be happy about any of it either. What attracts me to the version of Jesus I see in the Bible is that in spite of all the stupid, ignorant, cruel, greedy things we shit heads do He still loves us. I am not trying to impose some sort of guilt trip, or convert anyone. My faith could be a fantasy of that I am aware.

When I read the story of God taking human form showing us what love really was supposed to look like and despite the fact that we "nailed him to a tree" for it. He came back 3 days later and showed us again. That moves me, that inspires me.

No one can prove\disprove any this. What I believe is a conscious choice. Is it a delusion? I hope not, but I will keep looking into it.

Does it mean we all get to go to heaven with the some bearded guy/amorphous metaphysical entity in the sky/ethereal realm of existence? I hope so.

Will I show the same love and compassion for my fellow human being
as He does? I will try.
posted by empty vessel at 10:07 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the same vein, one does not need to completely understand the full nature of God in order to believe in God. Verily, I would be very disappointed with a God that I could completely get my mind around.

Heh. Fat chance. Look at us, we can't even understand each other.
posted by emeiji at 10:32 PM on February 10, 2010


"Religion is a focus on that process of assuming - it is a focus on the formation of faith in certain principles."

Clearly everyone makes assumptions in their lives as they go along - or else we'd never get out of bed. But surely a rational person is constantly questioning their assumptions in the light of the new information they are constantly getting?

To convert your "assumptions" into unquestionable "faith" seems to be an intellectually indefensible position! I have a few ideas that I "believe" but that is simply because they have stood the test of time. If gravity failed or the sun refused to rise I'd have to re-evaluate those beliefs - and I certainly would, I've changed my mind on some pretty radical things.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:05 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


For the last time, we're not arguing religion in general! You know how this will end! Tie up your pot shots and jabs and let's get back to work.


Back to the thread . . .

On my previous ship, the visiting chaplain was very much into the emergent church. I like talking to priests of all types for some reason, so I checked it out. One of the things that struck me was that no one really knows what the emergent church is. A preacher will blast an emergent church chapter that says something like "There is No Hell" or "God is Everything" and think that this is part of the Emergent Church movement. Then along the road they'll find some parish that think of themselves as emergent but will be much more orthodox. In the end, I have to agree that it total perplexes people that see the Emergent Church as doctrine as opposed to process.

Leaving the thread . . .


And once again, knock it off, people. We had some calm. Don't open this again. Don't get that last desperate poke in. You're not here to argue why faith is ridiculous, because you know exactly how it will end. Is your pride of higher importance than a good discussion that is respectful to all members involved?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:36 PM on February 10, 2010


It's strange to claim Iisac Newton as a Christian because of his self-identification, in a thread discussing whether another sect of self-identified Christians are really Christian or not. Newton would not have affirmed the Nicene creed, since he denied the divinity of Jesus. A church accepting both Newton and Bach would be very broad indeed, perhaps even broader than the one under discussion!

There seems to be a growing division between pragmatic Christians who choose the golden rule and a few other precepts, discarding the tangled web of other metaphysical claims to be found in the Bible, and those Christians for whom dogma and metaphysics are of singular importance. If it weren't for the fact that the pragmatists are by their nature not interested in what they see as finicky details I'd expect to see a schism over this some day, as change drives either a need for more faith or a more relaxed position.
posted by larkery at 2:57 AM on February 11, 2010


empty vessel, this was a nice try, but Metafilter just can't do this. I've thought about trying a post like this before, but the strong anti-Christianity sentiment around here makes it functionally impossible to have a discussion about a movement within Christianity. Some folks won't be able to resist taking the same tired stabs at faith once again (old man in the sky blah blah blah), and others who might be interested just don't have the cultural background to contextualize McLaren and the others. If there were a post on a newish trend within Buddhism, I'd probably be interested in reading it, but I wouldn't have much productive to say about it, because it would take me more time than I have to figure out how this is different than the mainstream Buddhism that I know little enough about. And then there is valkyryn, whose contributions to other threads I have greatly appreciated. I just don't get his hostility here, but I'll add that to my list of things to explore over a beer if we're ever at a meetup together.

It's way to late to try the impossible and attempt to rescue this thread, but, for the record, here's my brief appreciation for the emergent Christianity movement, from a Christian insider:

Regarding the critiques: yes, these dudes are not scholars, at least not in theology. No, they do not show sufficient awareness of their antecedents in Christan history. Those problems (if they are problems) are related. If they were scholars they would be more aware of what has come before, and they'd tone down the "look at this new thing we've discovered!" aspect of their speaking and writing. But to them, it really is completely new, and in their context of current evangelical Christianity, what they are saying is unprecedented. In short, they are people who are church insiders who looked closely at what Jesus seemed to be up to in the New Testament, and realized that contemporary Western Christianity had gotten way off track, and that a lot of the problem was a complete misreading of what Jesus was saying. (I'm really speaking here of McLaren, who is the only one I've met or read extensively. If you want to get to what I think is his best stuff, read The Secret Message of Jesus, which has the kind of title that's too conscious about marketing, but is a good read nonetheless. )

One of the key things for McLaren is separating "church" from "kingdom of God." In a lot of the Christian world, and certainly in conservative American Christianity, those were the same thing. In the circles I grew up in, they were used as synonyms. Kingdom equals church. So if your church was gaining more members, then the kingdom was expanding. If you wanted to work for the benefit of the kingdom of God, you invited people to church. Serving Jesus tended to boil down to the three B's: buildings, budgets, and butts in the pews.

In the context of an institutional Christianity that has lost focus, McLaren storms in and reminds folks of setting of Jesus' original kingdom message.

To paraphrase what I remember of TSMOJ from when I read it several years ago:

People are often unaware of the extent to which Jesus was offering an alternative political reality. Titles like Savior, Son of God, Prince of Peace were used in relation to the emperor. "Good news" or "gospel" was the word people used when announcing a military victory or the opening of a new road or aquaduct provided by the empire. "Ecclesia," usually translated "church" in English Bibles, was something akin to a town hall meeting. Jesus is taking the vocabulary of Empire and redirecting it.

When you are an oppressed Jewish minority in the Roman Empire, there are three options for relating to that great power:

A) Rebel, or at least plan for rebellion. Join the Zealot movement, take up arms, do your drills, stay ready for the signal that we're taking our homeland back.

B) Cooperate. Become complicit in your own ongoing oppression. Become a tax collector. Make political allegiances. Accept that this is the way things are going to be, and try to make a buck here and there by cozying up to the powers that be.

C) Withdraw. Join the Essenes, move to the desert, live simply and focus on a inward spirituality.

A lot of the people you encounter reading the gospels represent those three paths. Jesus critiques all of them. That helps explain previously difficult passages like:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:1-3). In other words, unless you find a different way of relating to the Roman Empire, you guys are going to keep dying. "Repent" isn't some special religious word, it just means to change direction. The option to rebel is going to end in a lot of unnecessary deaths. You need to do something different.

But that certainly doesn't mean cooperate with an oppressive regime. Folks who were in the "Roman Empire right or wrong" club were always upset with Jesus for speaking of the kingship of God. That's why Matthew records that at the crucifixion the crowd yelled "We have no king but Caesar." It was clear that Jesus wasn't interest in bolstering the power of the establishment.

And the people in who thought that the right thing was to withdraw into monastic retreat were scandalized at how earthy the Jesus crowd could be. When Jesus and the disciples showed up, there were feasts, abundant wine, dancing and singing. They were fully engaged with life and with other people.

Jesus presented option D: engage the world for the purpose of blessing it, knowing that your true king was God. Rebellion won't change the world, it'll just add more misery to it. Willing co-option won't change the world, it'll just corrupt your values. Isolation certainly won't change the world, and all your personal enlightenment won't make any difference to suffering folks still out in the world.

"If you are part of this kingdom, you won't slit Roman throats like the Zealots. Instead, if a Roman soldier backhands you with a blow to the right cheek, you'll turn the other in a kind of nonviolent resistance and transcendence. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, you'll carry it a second mile as an expression of your own transcendent free will; you choose a higher option, one above either passive submission or active retaliation. If you are part of this kingdom, you won't curse and damn the notorious sinners and scoundrels to hell; instead, you'll interact with them gently and kindly, refusing to judge, even inviting them to your parties and treating them as neighbors --being less afraid of their polluting influence on you than you are hopeful about your possible healing and ennobling influence on them. . . you begin to live in a way that some will say is stupid and naïve. . . but others might see in your way of life the courageous and wild hope that could heal and transform the world. . ."--McLaren, SMOJ, page 16ish.

For an American Christianity that had basically decided either to withdraw from the world, be inwardly pure and hope for an ethereal reward or to openly applaud the American experiment in Empire, cooperating with and seeking political power, this is pretty radical stuff. It's also enormously helpful and healthy and right on track, in my opinion. It provides a desperately needed corrective that is true to the original message of Jesus, reframes significant portions of the New Testament, and is congruent with the insights of some of my favorite theologians, like Yoder, Brueggemann and N.T. Wright, all of whom get footnotes in SMOJ. McLaren isn't a theologian, but he's catching up, and he's reading the right people.

Yeah, he makes some mistakes along the way, but I think that the way he is trying to reform the evangelical world, moving it away from power-seeking and isolation and toward engaging others to build community and work for justice is vitally important. I don't care what his degrees are in (and neither does my church historian pal with a D. Phil. from Oxford, who first turned me on to McLaren), I'm just glad he's out there doing what he's doing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:06 AM on February 11, 2010 [54 favorites]


Thank you for the fine well thought and written post, Pater Aletheias.


From what has been explained, I don't see any real issues or problems with Emergence. I'll try and say more, but at this moment, my sleep addled brain refuses to cooperate.
posted by Atreides at 6:23 AM on February 11, 2010


Pater Aletheias, if I could favorite that more than once, I would. Thanks for that.
posted by jeanmari at 7:58 AM on February 11, 2010


Pater Aletheias,

Thank you for your post!


I am new to MeFi but my wife has been around for a while. I was prepared for what was posted. I have gained a ton from all of the posts so far. I don't agree that blue can't do this, it does it the way that it does it. I like that the conversation was as frank as it was.

If people need to vent their opposition to faith and belief then so be it. I am literally interested in hearing all of it. I have gained personally from this post by processing all of it.

The guy in the sky thing was all good. In my opinion this is straw man, but I have my windmills and scarecrows I like to slay as well. Ask my wife she could write a book about the crap I like to drone on about.


The radio lab episode linked to was great. Thank you to Manjusri for posting that! The interactions that took place with valkyryn revealed areas where I need to look at how I interact with folks and why many in the Church react to these concepts the way they do.
These two things have equipped me to better discuss these ideas.

Lackery,

I think that schism took place a while back in some form. That is why Unitarian Universalism came about to some degree. (Long Story and a huge tangent so lets not go there today, another thread maybe?)

What is fascinating about the Christian Emergence movement is that it started up in an unexpected place, Evangelical Christianity.


I am interesting in seeing what comes up next!
posted by empty vessel at 8:32 AM on February 11, 2010


Thanks for this post. It reminds me of some of the things I used to see on The Crystal Cathedral every Sunday... Not in the Emergence process, but in the mixture of popular moral issues and self-help goals framed in Christian terminology.

The emergence element is particularly interesting to me, doing sociology of religion, as modern modes of constructing authority appear in religious communities. The clash between these new constructions of knowledge and the older models (see some comments above) is really interesting.

Again, thanks.
posted by ServSci at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2010


It's all bland pleasantries, pop theology at best. They don't even pretend to engage with any kind of theological tradition, let alone one which takes its commitments and internal logic seriously.
That's the interesting, thing, though -- if you actually read what these people are writing and saying, there is no way to honestly come to that conclusion. Instead, you have to grapple with the fact that they engage with theological tradition and come to different conclusions than you do. Inside of the church, that is frightening to the point of madness. One must Other them, or accept a broader range of valid interpretations. That's not always easy, and usually Othering is the default.

Honestly, if you're not Eastern Orthodox, I don't want to hear about 'engaging in theological tradition'. Protestants in particular have a long history of basically treating the guy with the best book sales [most viewers|fewest scandals] like the Pope. We also have a long history of pretending that anyone outside of our particular denomination isn't really following God, even if we admit they might make it to heaven. Emergent figureheads do often strike me as navel-gazing circle-jerkers who are trying to reinvent the wheel, but that is the grand tradition, not a corruption they've brought to the faith.
I'm a Christian, and these guys piss me off to no end.
Yes, that did come through.
They're making us look like intellectual lightweights, not to mention a bunch of freaking pansies.
Not everyone lives out their faith by starting a church Mixed Martial Arts night. Honestly, the biggest criticism of the Emergent movement I see from outside the church is not that they are 'lightweights' but that they have refused to actively and openly condemn the regressive and less palatable parts of the body of Christ.

As with many ideologies, the tendency to dismiss different approaches and interperetations as "insufficiently serious" and "making the rest of us look bad" often covers a fundamental insecurity about the basis of the orthodoxy. The good news is that eventually the frightened people die out and the new perspective becomes the old one and the cycle spins merrily.

Like I said, these generational refactorings in Christian pop theology are always fascinating to watch.
posted by verb at 10:42 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well done Pater.
posted by thomisc at 10:53 AM on February 11, 2010


I can see where the whole pop theology is coming from. I have always been annoyed with the biblio-industrial complex that is part of modern Christianity. That being said I agree toning down the marketing might help move things away from that pop theology impression that some folks have.

I would take issue with McLaren being treated like a protestant pope he is widely criticized for his point of view with in the church. If his book are popular it is because he is striking a cord. That's my experience of it at least.

I don't see that they are bringing any new ideas to the Church as far as doctrine or dogma. I agree with the earlier statement that they are bringing it to segment of the church where it was missing.

I guess the whole point of emergence is that when you get a bunch lightweights, navel gazers, and circle jerks in a conversation from that randomness something amazing has the potential to arise. The radio lab story about the ants comes to mind.

I agree with that the point of emergence lies in empowering people to explore their beliefs, to engage, and grow. It flies in the face of the top down structure that has pervaded the Church for most of its history. If emergence is returning the church to anything I agree it is the structural changes that are more important the ideas than are coming out of it.

... the biggest criticism of the Emergent movement I see from outside the church is not that they are 'lightweights' but that they have refused to actively and openly condemn the regressive and less palatable parts of the body of Christ.

Many emergence folks seem leery of erecting any barriers with anyone, including those who criticize them the loudest. I have found ways to engage constructively with those who hold these sorts of opinions. I am not always successful. It is hard work to get past the impulse to "take the gloves off" as it were. That takes practice. One of the real assets of the movement is that no one in their view should be considered expendable.
posted by empty vessel at 1:19 PM on February 11, 2010


Can't believe Bishop Spong hasn't come up. There's a home among the Episcopalians for this kind of stuff.
posted by missrachael at 2:07 PM on February 11, 2010


I haven't run into Bishop Spong until now. At a glance he is definitely a progressive Christian. I am not sure if he is doing the emergence thing or not.

There are hyphenated versions attached to denominations (i.e. emergent-Episcopalians). Emergence is not necessarily progressive, though many of the significant people in the movement have come to those views, no doubt.

Personally I am trying to engage with a broader community.
posted by empty vessel at 2:19 PM on February 11, 2010


In Davenport, everyone (more or less) knows that Chicago is east. However, in South Bend, everyone (more or less) knows that Chicago is, in fact, west. Should the armies of Davenport attack South Bend as an enclave of heretics?

What makes anyone think that God is the same thing to all, or that the path to an understanding of God is the same for everyone?

Just say "no", to dogma.
posted by Goofyy at 4:11 AM on February 12, 2010


Here's my final word, I guess, although I'm happy to talk more about it. Circumstances didn't allow me to say more earlier, but I've got a lot to say, so forgive me; this comment is long.

empty vessel: “I guess the whole point of emergence is that when you get a bunch lightweights, navel gazers, and circle jerks in a conversation from that randomness something amazing has the potential to arise. The radio lab story about the ants comes to mind.”

Nothing amazing has arisen. For those of us who dislike this movement, that's our point of view of it.

What continually astounds me - but what I probably ought to have been prepared for - is that this reaction, the rejection of the emergent movement, is seen as flatly negative. I say I ought to have been prepared for this because it's a hallmark of modern thought to simplify everything and to label all ideas and people based on the simplest and most immediate emotional sensation we get when we come in contact with them. A rejection of the emergent movement is of course seen as 'negative' by its adherents, and by anyone sympathetic to its cause. This is because the emergent movement is seen as a profoundly positive movement. So when those of us who feel differently voice our concerns, sometimes quite strongly, we get this reaction, so perfectly epitomized by empty vessel's response to valkyryn earlier in this thread:

empty vessel: “I find it interesting that you need to include the scatological language and the f*bomb in a thread defending your belief system. Why the need to be so caustic?”

Notice here that empty vessel doesn't even approach a discussion of ideas in any way whatsoever - in this single back-handed remark, the whole tenor of the argument is cast. Those who see problems with the emergent movement are 'caustic,' are 'defending' a 'belief system,' and empty vessel will not even deign to discuss the particulars of the argument, but will reach down to put a mark on the argument and cast his opponent as having a particular character. It doesn't matter to him that these words - so-called 'f-bombs,' et cetera - are words which we on Metafilter tend to use all the time, not any more than it matters that valkyryn was arguing a very careful and thoughtful position. What instead matters is whether valkyryn is 'caustic' - and interestingly so, since we can very rarely tell if someone's actually being caustic over the internet.

I have to say that this image of the whole proceedings, the negative/positive picture of the argument and discussion between 'orthodox' and 'emergent' theologies, is in fact the exact reverse of how we see it on our side. And indeed I can hardly imagine that the emergents would see it any other way if they'd just examine the facts.

In point of fact, the emergent movement is profoundly negative; indeed a negative stance toward the whole Christian tradition is its sum and total. Take a look at the way this post - a very good, clear exposition of the emergent movement - described that movement's stance: “A post modern tendency away from absolutism... not evangelism... a willingness to engage with open dialog about issues, concerns, and concepts not normally looked on favorably by orthodox denominations... an abandonment... breaking the mold of the traditional model...” If you stare at it for even a few moments, one thing becomes startlingly clear: the emergent movement defines itself negatively in terms of the Christian tradition. It is, in fact, a negative moment - a movement aiming toward moving away from certain hallmarks of that tradition.

And this does not make it a bad movement! For negativity is merely disguised positivity; moving away from one thing is moving toward another. Every generation of the tradition thus far has had to find its own definition of that tradition; this is how is has always been, and how it must always be. Different generations understand that tradition in better or worse ways, but they must decide on their own. However, it does mean that, if the emergent movement seeks to paint itself as more ecumenical or more accepting or more open-minded than previous incarnations of the tradition, it is danger either of lying about that tradition or of severely misunderstanding it; for the emergent movement is itself founded on the idea that certain aspects of the tradition are wrong. I wish emergents had the dignity and respect to stand up and say so more often, but it's clear that this is what they're saying. You, empty vessel, state the case quite nicely when you say that “many emergence folks seem leery of erecting any barriers with anyone, including those who criticize them the loudest;” but you yourself say this not two paragraphs after stating that the movement “flies in the face of the top down structure that has pervaded the Church for most of its history” ! This is utterly dishonest, this feigned attempt to 'avoid raising barriers' whilst making very strident and bold statements about where the Church has been wrong for so many years. It's dishonest and it's unfair, yet it very often succeeds in making those of us who happen to find great meaning in pondering the multifarious manifestations of the tradition look like cruel negative nabobs. For you emergents attack, attack, attack the traditions we care about most, in the most invidious and subtle way; and yet, when we counter-attack or even disagree, you piously imply that we're only interested in tearing others down.

One of the wisest men I've ever known once told me that faith is the contemplation of apparent paradox. The Christian tradition is a tradition steeped and soaked to the core with faith, with this deepest and most holy of contemplations. It's a faith in God, and in God's word, but one thing that I think Protestants often sadly forget is that that faith is also in a tradition, in church elders and Saints and Church Patriarchs and Matriarchs stretching back all the way to the Christ. To a lot of us moderns, such a faith seems utterly horrific - why? Because we believe so very deeply in the ideals we've been taught over the last few hundred years, and because we believe what we've been told by the modern philosophers: that our Christian tradition is a vile and inhuman one. We, Christians, believe this! - and we take our highest moral instruction not from anything in our tradition, but from the secular humanist tradition stretching back through Spinoza and Hobbes and Machiavelli.

There's nothing wrong with being open to the ideas of another tradition. On the contrary, the ideas of other traditions can provide a kind of lifeblood to our own. During the middle ages, in the midst of a fantastic and bloody struggle borne of the collision of different faiths, a valiant group - Alfarabi, Maimonides, St Thomas Aquinas, Averroes, and many others - sought to lay down a framework for an interconnectedness that respected and revitalized once again those traditions. (Even then, this was nothing new; intelligent observers can note that Muhammad was at pains to emphasize the greatness of Judaism and Christianity, and that Rabbi Judah, compiler of the Talmud, appears to have known the pagan Marcus Aurelius, at least judging from his own mention therein.) They didn't seek to obliterate the vitality of those traditions by negating or dismissing them; on the other hand, they stood firmly upon them, and thereby revived tolerance and ecumenism.

And now, McLaren, Bell, Campolo, and other emergents would have us sweep aside the tradition. They see many, many aspects of it as troubling, and want to found a new movement that can happily leave those aspects behind without concern. They emphasize questions over answers, but I think this is mostly a sign that they haven't thought much about where their project will lead, nor about whom they are really taking cues from. Most of them wouldn't be concerned to know that their language and their stances stem mostly from Spinoza and Nietzsche; but rest assured, Spinoza and Nietzsche, who believed (for better or for worse) that Christianity is a social evil which must be removed from society, would laugh at this.

I can respect Spinoza and Nietzsche - indeed, they are my friends, even if they see my religion as evil. I think both of them could have smiled at that fact. But the emergents, who would like to sweep aside large chunks of a vital two thousand years tradition with the wave of an arm, merely because their modern-aligned conscience deigns it necessary? - I don't have any friends in that camp. I don't know if I can even identify any enemies there; an enemy of mine would have to be able to coherently state a position, and I haven't found anyone in the emergent movement who could do that yet. All they can seem to say to me is that certain parts of the tradition should be rejected on the basis of some debatable modern ideas introduced in the last four hundred years. To borrow an old, but sometimes useful, phrase: what's new in the emergent stance isn't true, and what's true isn't new.
posted by koeselitz at 6:00 AM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Goofyy: “What makes anyone think that God is the same thing to all, or that the path to an understanding of God is the same for everyone? Just say "no", to dogma.”

Faith is not dogmatic; faith is contemplative. So said St Gregory the Great, so said St Thomas Aquinas, and so, along with all the doctors of the Church, say I.
posted by koeselitz at 6:03 AM on February 12, 2010


In point of fact, the emergent movement is profoundly negative; indeed a negative stance toward the whole Christian tradition is its sum and total.
Like I said, I find it difficult to take that comment seriously from anyone who's not in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The grand tradition of Christianity is attacking the previous orthodoxy, announcing a new one, and teaching one's children that Things Have Always Been As They Are.

This is not to say that there are not those who, individually, take a different view. But to pretend that 'Emergent' speakers are wholly negative because they follow the grand tradition of Christian theological evolution strikes me as profoundly dishonest.
posted by verb at 6:19 AM on February 12, 2010


deign to discuss the particulars of the argument, but will reach down to put a mark on the argument and cast his opponent as having a particular character. It doesn't matter to him that these words - so-called 'f-bombs,' et cetera - are words which we on Metafilter tend to use all the time, not any more than it matters that valkyryn was arguing a very careful and thoughtful position. What instead matters is whether valkyryn is 'caustic' - and interestingly so, since we can very rarely tell if someone's actually being caustic over the internet.

I heard someone say once "Who you're being is so loud, I can't hear what you are saying."


I did engage what valryn said here and I agreed with some of what he said.

I also made a reference to that interaction when I stated that following: "The interactions that took place with valkyryn revealed areas where I need to look at how I interact with folks and why many in the Church react to these concepts the way they do."

Again he occurred to me to be caustic at the time. If I misinterpreted that then I extend my apologies, for that. I have no stake in making him look bad or appear to anything other than what he is. I would welcome whatever he has to say, however he feels he needs to say it.



many emergence folks seem leery of erecting any barriers with anyone, including those who criticize them the loudest;” but you yourself say this not two paragraphs after stating that the movement “flies in the face of the top down structure that has pervaded the Church for most of its history” ! This is utterly dishonest, this feigned attempt to 'avoid raising barriers' whilst making very strident and bold statements about where the Church has been wrong for so many years. It's dishonest and it's unfair, yet it very often succeeds in making those of us who happen to find great meaning in pondering the multifarious manifestations of the tradition look like cruel negative nabobs. For you emergents attack, attack, attack the traditions we care about most, in the most invidious and subtle way; and yet, when we counter-attack or even disagree, you piously imply that we're only interested in tearing others down.


And now, McLaren, Bell, Campolo, and other emergents would have us sweep aside the tradition. They see many, many aspects of it as troubling, and want to found a new movement that can happily leave those aspects behind without concern

Emergence even outside of this context is a bottom up structure. I was not saying the top down structure was wrong, however with out saying a word emergence is the inverse of that structure. In trying to understand why the reaction to emergence sometimes gets by those in the traditional church I was making that observation. There are many mainstream denomination that are incorporating emergence into their structures. I think that some people see it as an "either or" it can be seen as an "and both". The emergent folks tend to be sensitive to that and not add to that.


But the emergents, who would like to sweep aside large chunks of a vital two thousand years tradition with the wave of an arm, merely because their modern-aligned conscience deigns it necessary? - I don't have any friends in that camp.

Again, it is really a structure. If you don't like the ideas of a few folks, great. The idea of emergence extend beyond that. There is not statement of faith, there are no doctrines for emergence their are voices. I site in the post voices that are distinct from tradition. I don't see see Campolo especially saying to do away with the any of doctrine, McLaren is another case. In fact he is still in the camp of traditional Evangelical Christianity, and expresses concern that it continue. What he does say is that it may not be able to in it current structure and with it's current alignment with the Republican party.


You mention reading Nietzsche, me too and it made me look a what kind of Christian I wanted to be. I take it to heart when he says "I might believe in the Redeemer if His followers looked more Redeemed."

If there is a common thread with emergence it is to examine the structures of belief, of the church, life, ministry, and politics at all levels starting with the individual and working its way up. It's about people owning their ideas about these things not having them dictated to them. Many of us really can't find something that resonates with us. We Jesus talking about turning the other cheek and then you see a religious leaders supporting war so they try the progressive chruch and find the message too diluted with other agenda's. One form of emergence is the House Church movement.

These structural changes aren't new and the trend over history has been for less top down. The Catholics Church tends toward the hierarchal side of the scale the Baptists and others tend toward a more democratic model. What is somewhat distinct with emergence is that everything is on the table, not just church governance.

One of the questions that McLaren and Campolo both ask is why has the evangelical Church aligned it self almost completely with the Republican party?


One important distinction to make is that questioning something does mean throwing it out.
posted by empty vessel at 8:40 AM on February 12, 2010


In fact he is still in the camp of traditional Evangelical Christianity, and expresses concern that it continue. What he does say is that it may not be able to in it current structure and with it's current alignment with the Republican party.

That was in reference to Campolo not McLaren. Just read that and it didn't seem clear.
posted by empty vessel at 8:43 AM on February 12, 2010


Insert indirectly related, off topic levity here.
posted by empty vessel at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, koeselitz. That about sums it up for me. A movement which at is very core is destructive to everything orthodox Christians hold dear cannot be criticized, because that makes us "negative," "caustic," blah, blah, blah. We must be "open" to all ideas, even when those ideas have been considered, discussed, and rejected by wiser men and women than we centuries, even millennia ago. For what it's worth, I'm Protestant, but I'm right there with you on the centrality of tradition.

empty vessel, you're trying to have your cake and eat it too, and while in some sense I hope that works out for you, I know it won't, because no project as self-negating as "emergent Christianity" can possibly endure. My only glimmer of hope here is that the church has seen idiots like Bell/McLaren/Campolo before, and they're gone while the church isn't. Why? Because Christianity is a tradition, steeped in faith, and any attempt to "move forward" and "engage" which has as its basic premise a rejection of tradition--and quite possibly faith--is doomed to failure from the start.

And make no mistake, koeselitz is right about one thing in particular: if you don't understand why orthodox Christians like myself find this emergent stuff so absolutely abhorrent, it's because you don't understand orthodox Christianity. This isn't terribly surprising--most Christians today know less about their faith than most medieval peasants--but it is sad, and what's sadder is that unlike heretics in ages gone by, these wolves in sheep's clothing now have the Internet and publishing conglomerates to get their message out. But you would do well to try to understand exactly what it is you think you don't like before you start leaping off into a warmed-over heresy as old as the church itself. Gnosticism changes its appearance every few centuries, but it's always the same, deep down. You're shunning the Bread of Life for food which will make you hungrier than you started.

pater alethias, the reason I've been so hostile here is that I've seen far too many people I care about, people who are spiritually starving, wasting their time and lives on this garbage. They need liturgy, tradition, sacrament, and instead they get "discussion," "engagement," and "openness." I've seen Evangelicalism, and this, its most virulent form, work far too much damage in far too many lives to be sanguine about it anymore. And you're completely right in that MetaFilter really can't handle internecine discussions like this, regardless of whether we're talking about Christianity or any other culture complex enough to have internal conflict. I'm certainly open for that beer if we ever happen to run across each other.

That's all I got, gents.
posted by valkyryn at 5:05 PM on February 12, 2010


My only glimmer of hope here is that the church has seen idiots like Bell/McLaren/Campolo before, and they're gone while the church isn't. Why? Because Christianity is a tradition, steeped in faith, and any attempt to "move forward" and "engage" which has as its basic premise a rejection of tradition--and quite possibly faith--is doomed to failure from the start.


Did they disappear or were they killed off like so many other "heretics"?
posted by empty vessel at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Valkyryn, I find it fascinating how passionate you are about this, and how it inspires you not just to lash out against emergents, but anyone whose Christian faith differs from yours. I mean, it doesn't shock me, but I find the direction you're taking the discussion here really interesting. You seem to be bouncing between two fundamentally incompatible responses, or at least responses tailored to fundamentally different groups.

On the one hand, there is the "these emergent people are cowardly pansies, and make us look like intellectual lightweights" argument. It's deeply rooted in the common idea that The World may mock the details of Christian doctrine, rigorous standards of morality, and so on -- but deep down they respect it because it's hardcore. It's a theological version of "the jocks may pants us, but really, they respect us for being academic powerhouses." There is, perhaps, some truth to that: the Emergents sometimes try to have things both ways, claiming the rich history of Christianity while deftly sidestepping unpalatable theology without doing the hard work of addressing how that theology arose. On the other hand, the fact that they reject unpalatable aspects of Christian theology isn't making you look like a lightweight -- it's just making you look like someone who holds views unpalatable to non-Christians. You can call them names, and say that God is on your side, but for better or worse that kind of response only lends more weight to the Emergent analysis of your dogmatism.

On the other hand, there's the inside-baseball "what people really need is my particular doctrinal subgroup" stuff. And you're right in that the emergents are anathema to that kind of posturing. For better or worse, they tend to brush aside fine-grained claims to exclusive doctrinal truth. Scary, innit?
Why? Because Christianity is a tradition, steeped in faith, and any attempt to "move forward" and "engage" which has as its basic premise a rejection of tradition--and quite possibly faith--is doomed to failure from the start.
I used to believe that - and realized, eventually, that it was nothing but hollow words. Orthodoxy is evolution but every shift paints itself as a rejection of false doctrine or manmade tradition in favor of true, eternal truth. The defenders of the existing view shout about tradition, the new hotness folks talk about true faith, and eventually folks forget there was ever a debate in the first place. Ironically, the things that the 'Emergents' are speaking out against strongest are themselves recent developments in the church.

It's doomed to failure because at some point, aspects of Emergent thought will be absorbed into the Christian mainstream while other aspects are forgotten. Just like most other slice-of-a-slice-of-a-slice religious movements. In that light, the seething, blistering rage you seem to focus on them reads like theological hipster-hate. They're not just wrong, they're wolves in sheep's clothing! They're not just anti-establishment, they're out to destroy everything that's good! They're gnostics! Heretics! Etc etc.
My only glimmer of hope here is that the church has seen idiots like Bell/McLaren/Campolo before, and they're gone while the church isn't.
That's like saying that Menudo has seen many other acts come and go.
empty vessel, you're trying to have your cake and eat it too, and while in some sense I hope that works out for you, I know it won't
While in some sense I hope that your faith works out for you, I know that it won't. I have seen the trajectory you are on, and I have seen many colleagues, heros, loved ones, and companions in faith follow it. It never ends well. (Dismissive condescension is awesome, isn't it?)
the reason I've been so hostile here is that I've seen far too many people I care about, people who are spiritually starving, wasting their time and lives on this garbage. They need liturgy, tradition, sacrament, and instead they get "discussion," "engagement," and "openness." I've seen Evangelicalism, and this, its most virulent form, work far too much damage in far too many lives to be sanguine about it anymore. And you're completely right in that MetaFilter really can't handle internecine discussions like this, regardless of whether we're talking about Christianity or any other culture complex enough to have internal conflict. I'm certainly open for that beer if we ever happen to run across each other.
I'm not trying to be snarky, here. I just find it really, really fascinating. There's an awful lot of WHUTXIANS? that goes on in these threads, but I find it interesting that you are responding with the most bile and vitriol to those who are honestly discussing the issue, and are participating with more insight than your dismissal would suggest.

What you seem to be angry about is not that people on MeFi discuss Christianity in a particular snarky or antagonistic way: it's that those who can discuss it thoughtfully do not agree with you. "What people really need is liturgy, tradition, and sacrament" is not The Christian Position That MeFites Make Fun Of. It is one particular viewpoint inside of Christianity, and you are attacking those who find the emergents anything less than monstrous because they represent a different camp.
posted by verb at 6:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Went through some of the main links at the top, and still can't really pin down what it is that these people are advocating that stirs such passionate feeling in Valkyrn and Koeselitz. Please bear with me, if you both are still hanging around, but while both of you have used words like tradition and orthodoxy, I'm not quite sure what traditions and orthodoxies are being threatened.

Is this emergence movement threatening the belief in the Trinity? Is it doubting the divinity of Christ? The Resurrection? The Lord's Supper / Mass?

Are we talking about the tradition of male priesthood / pastors? Is this about the organization of churches like the Episcopal Church or Anglican Church or Catholic Church?

If I have missed answers to these questions in the thread, I apologize. I've made a good faith effort to read all the posts made yet so far, but haven't noticed them if they have. The whole conversation, relatively for both sides of the argument, have been argued either in generalizations or as if each side knows exactly what the other is speaking of and feel no need for specifics. I thank Pater, as he offered perhaps the more specific response of any so far.
posted by Atreides at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2010


Is this emergence movement threatening the belief in the Trinity? Is it doubting the divinity of Christ? The Resurrection? The Lord's Supper / Mass?

As far as addressing doctrine goes:

Again, emergence doesn't offer answers and there are no off limit questions. As far as all these go the answers you get will vary from person to person.

The purpose of emergence is to work with each other to share your story of faith, what you believe, how you came to that, what's important to you, what are the questions that your are asking right now.

Sometimes it is about discussing the validity of The Trinity for the sake of discussion and thats it. No pastor or teacher telling you to believe in it but everyone in the discussion offering their perspectives and gleaning what they can. Someone in the discussion may have an M.Div and be able to contribute the rational for the traditional view, some one else may have read something by a Unitarian Minister, another may come from a Jewish tradition, and there may be an atheist who is brings a scientific perspective to it. The point is to encourage discussion from a place of humility and mystery and to learn from each other.

If someone shows up at there priest\ministers\pastors door doubting any of these concepts that religious leader is almost always going to do what they can to explain why that person should believe that. It's almost a given and people know that. It's kind of like asking Karl Rove if we should have invaded Iraq. You know what the answer will be even before you ask. In an emergent co-hort discussion they will get a bunch of perspectives and everyone formulates their beliefs.

Just to be clear if someone comes from a tradition they are encouraged to continue with it if they are so inclined. No one that I have run into is trying to pull anyone away from what they believe and it's not for everyone. It's all about conversation and inquiry. If you are a curious person and you want to engage it's for you.

Each tradition has it's narrative and in emergence those narratives get examined. There are significant voices that have emerged that contradict some of the traditional beliefs or expand on them.

A good example of this in my own inquiry is this. I am reading about Christian gnosticism. This was a sect that was contemporary to the early church with ties to the Apostle Thomas. The Gnostic Gospels were not included in the Cannon and the emperor Constantine had many of them put to death and the texts destroyed. In the 1950' or 60's some of these were discovered. For me is begs the question is this valuable and why was it not included? I am in the process of reading them and so far I find them interesting so far. I would say that including them in the Cannon now is problematic in that what we have is from after 500 AD. Again this is my own inquiry. I chose to look into this on my own.


As far as Church structure goes:

They are not trying to undo the current structure but offer an alternative. If the top down thing works, stick with it. If you want something more bottom up then emergence is for you. Many of the people I have run into are disillusioned with the church. I know I was, not because I didn't know my Church history or Theology. I just got caught up in the politics and when I saw "how the sausage was made" I left. There are others who just want to ask certain question with out being looked down upon.

I thank Pater, as he offered perhaps the more specific response of any so far.

I agree. The problem is this thing by it's nature is a bit shapeless. One of the site I have been looking at is called The Ooze.

Emergence is never clear looking at the parts. It's all about looking at the whole. If you look at an animal from the cellular level you will find a diversity of cells. You can tell things about the nature of the animal but its hard to get an idea until you get a look at the whole.


This animation by the South Park guys of a recording by Allan Watts does a good job of illustrating what I am trying to get at.






















Are we talking about the tradition of male priesthood / pastors? Is this about the organization of churches like the Episcopal Church or Anglican Church or Catholic Church?
posted by empty vessel at 9:17 PM on February 12, 2010


Sorry for that left overs at the end of the last post. I'm about fried right now.
posted by empty vessel at 9:18 PM on February 12, 2010


Atreides, those are good questions. One of the major reasons I agree with Pater Alethias that these sorts of discussions can't happen productively here is that they depend on large amounts of outside reading and experience, which 1) generally can't be gotten in any reasonable amount of time and 2) generally require significant offline reading. So koeselitz, myself, and the others who have the most invested in this conversation are speaking from years, even decades of experience, none of which is really detailed, because there isn't any way of doing that here.

But yes, there are issues of those sorts on the table. For me, the key issue is that the emergents, as empty vessel has so frequently asserted, are willing to question everything. As anathema as it is to modern types, that isn't actually the position encouraged by Christianity--or any other monotheistic religion for that matter. There are certain things which are not subject to question, certain things which we believe because we have been told are true. I'm much more willing to have a discussion about what the core set of beliefs one must hold to legitimately claim the title of "Christian" than I am to consider the idea, as the emergents would have it, that there is no such set.

As a result, yhe specific doctrinal issues aren't necessarily the point here as much as the way of "doing" doctrine is. Emergence as applied to Christianity is essentially a license to believe whatever your particular brand of discussion/engagement/openness leads you to like. Gnostic texts seem interesting? Don't like the idea of the Trinity or the incarnation? Can't stomach the idea that someone can tell you what to do and you have to obey? Disregard the fact that the church settled these ideas well over a thousand years ago! Whatever floats your boat!

The very idea that there are "no answers" and "all questions are on the table" runs counter to the way Christianity has operated since the first century. Even worse, it runs counter to the core relationship between Creator and Creature which the church has always believed Scripture teaches, i.e. God gets to call the shots, not you. God almost never provides explanations for his decrees. You can ask anything you like, but if the church has already answered the question, the faithful response is to struggle with that answer, not make up your own or seek outside counsel. As the emergents basically refuse to do that, it's hard to fit them inside any traditional definition of "Christianity" with which I'm familiar.

In addition, there's significant cross-pollination between emergents and the open theists, a movement which is just straight up heresy as classically defined. That isn't really evident from anything linked here earlier, but I've seen and read the connections, so that's going on in the background, and some of the ill will I bear towards that movement is spilling over here.

verb, your response is insightful, I grant that, but all I really get from it is that I should moderate my tone. Which is true. But two things. First, the fact that I come off as an asshole doesn't really affect the validity of my position as much as you seem to think that it does. Second, and here's the real kicker, as koeselitz has indicated, playing that card isn't fair. The argument runs something as follows: you're an ass, therefore you're theology is wrong. It's as pure an ad hominem as can possibly be conceived. The result is that we have arguments directed entirely at tone and style but with massively significant theological conclusions. You can't get there from here. You want to talk about the fact that you're disillusioned with church? Okay, let's talk about that. But the premise "These people are assholes" does not logically lead to the conclusion "Everything the church believes is up for grabs," and making that move is just shenanigans.

And yes, I'm far, far more upset by Christians who proclaim falsehoods than by any of the traditional stunts pulled by your average the rank-and-file MeFite. The former should know better; the latter is just living up to expectations. Betrayal is always worse than simple enmity.
posted by valkyryn at 12:24 PM on February 13, 2010


valkyryn - and this is asked in good faith - if they called themselves something other than Christians would you be OK with it then?
posted by desjardins at 2:42 PM on February 13, 2010


For me, the key issue is that the emergents, as empty vessel has so frequently asserted, are willing to question everything.


I would assert that is no requirement to question everything but that the emergent movement is willing to question anything.

Why would that be? An evil plot to destroy the Church, hardly. It is because for many people those questions are already there. Emergences allow for those questions to come out in a forum that is guided by a couple of key concepts. Humility and Mystery. Why? These questions are there, the natural state that one deals with a question is from a space of not knowing.

If I don't know why I should believe in the Trinity and "because I said so, or I said God said so." is not a sufficient answer for some one. Then the person is already in a place of not knowing. Emergence doesn't encourage the not knowing, it acknowledges it and deals with where the person is and not where they ought to be. It also see's the danger in thinking ones knowledge is complete, not that one cannot know anything.

Just as the knowledge or fact that I have a perfect bill of health from my doctor prevents me from being hit by a bus. (Why is this always a bus by the way?)

The argument runs something as follows: you're an ass, therefore you're theology is wrong.

I agree completely with that statement. However when anyone appears to be acting or speaking in a way that is inconsistent with what their theology is, or what is implied in their theology. The perceived disconnect is a distraction from what ever validity their statements may have.

I have a similar issue with Heidegger. I like many of the ontological concepts in his writing, but his involvement with the Nazi party and his lack of any public statement of remorse cause a disconnect and make me very cautious when I read anything he wrote. This is a constant distraction for me.

I am not equating you to being a Nazi, or anything close to that. Lets not go there.


For the record:

I believe that the Trinity is a valid, yet limited view of God. I do believe that God is not limited to it or in any way. I do believe in the Divinity of Christ, I believe in salvation by grace, and in free will along with many of the key tenants you mention. If we sat down and compared our core beliefs I don't feel there would that much difference. I do believe in the established tradition of the priesthood of all believers. I have expanded what I believe to be the message of Jesus to include caring for the poor and standing for justice for all people, thats not new either. (This a small part of my entire belief system)

These are my conclusions, not expecting anyone else to buy into them, but don't expect me to keep my mouth shut when self proclaimed Godly people start supporting things that impose or cause poverty and oppression. Don't vindicate violence and murder by saying Gods on my side and expect me be silent in the name of obedience to God.

I don't sleep well at night because I happen to believe the right things or that I avoid the wrong things. I sleep well when I do the right things. What keeps me up at night is not my doctrine but the suffering I see in the world and yes seeing that suffering causes me to doubt and question. I have stopped doubting God, I do doubt the Church and it's addiction to inaction or insufficient action. I find one of the best sources for where that is happening are those don't believe what I do or have become disillusioned. The folks that attack a belief in God here often use as evidence the atrocities and failings of the Church. That enlightens and informs me it causes me to ask questions I may not want to ask, I am better for having asked them.

If you want to talk about ad hominem attacks how does accusing me or people like me of destroying peoples lives count as inbound?If you want to go on that metric the tradition church has racked up quite the body count.

You can't have it both ways clinging to the wonderful traditions and orthodoxies while ignoring the violence and murder carried out in the name of defending them. I think that any institution that has has as much blood on it's hands as this is worth questioning and examining. I think that the ideas it saw as so threatening that it had to kill people to suppress them are worth investigating. Do I question a structure that even in recent times signed pacts with Nazi party promising not to interfere or oppose them. Ignoring and covering up the sexual abuse of children to maintain that appearance of grand tradition and piety.

Do I have questions about an institution that is commanded to love every one "as God loves them" but then excludes many based sexual orientation? (I don't see that asterisk in my copy of scripture.)


I do believe that the Church and the last 2000 years of it's history and the way it went about it's business warrant questioning? Yes I do and I find myself in good company. This is not because those of who are willing to question it are ignorant of this history, but because we keenly aware of it and the impact it has had humanity it's over history.

Why am I willing to do that? Because there are beautiful and wonderful things that are in it's history and doctrine as well. Why am I willing to allow someone else to ask any question, because I may have that question my self someday. That it would be supremely arrogant to judge another's doubt indulging by own secretly. When Thomas doubted Jesus after the resurrection he didn't deny him the inquiry, he told him to place his hands in His wounds and Thomas did so and came to a place of belief. I ask these questions not for my own comfort. I do so in order that that the institution will become what is was meant to be. God's presence on earth, doing His divine and loving will.

In it's exiting structure or in an emerging one.

(steps down from soap box)
posted by empty vessel at 4:21 PM on February 13, 2010


desjardins, that's a rather more complicated question than you probably thought, but I'll take a stab at it.

A lot of emergent and other "post-Evangelical" types actually don't like calling themselves "Christians," because they don't like the bad press of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, and they want to distance themselves from anything that appears to be traditional Christianity in any form. They use the term "Christ follower" instead, which is just a literal translation of the Greek word from which we get "Christian."

I think that's problematic for two reasons. First, it displays a lack of willingness to deal with substantive issues, as if simply using a term which means literally the same thing but doesn't ring the same cultural alarms is a satisfactory response to the fact that Christianity has an image problem. It does have an image problem, but being cute with your terminology is not the solution. But second, it displays a lack of willingness to suffer with the saints throughout the ages who have gone by that term. The fact that the word has fallen into disfavor is no reason to abandon one's connection with those that have gone before by refusing to bear the same name that they bore. It's the functional equivalent of looking at the martyrs and saying "I'm not with them." So much for that great cloud of witnesses. If you want to claim the benefits of being in continuity with the saints of old, you also need to claim the costs, which occasionally include people wanting to kill you. You can't pick and choose.

But it's not just a question of what term the emergents use to describe their movement. The fact is that the whole project revolves around distinguishing itself from orthodox Christianity while claiming to represent a true and valid way to God as orthodox Christianity understands it. Most of them will want to say that they preach Christ, i.e., they want to end up with the same kind of eschatological goal as orthodox Christianity, they just don't want to have to deal with all the historical, theological, and cultural issues that go along with that. This is both a cop out and a material misrepresentation. It's a cop out because it pulls the "I'm not with them" move I discussed above, and it's a misrepresentation because there are, in fact, aspects of the Christian faith which are radically opposed to contemporary culture, e.g. you don't get to call the shots, you suffer for things which are not your fault, and you have obligations which you did not choose and may not abandon. I could give you a longer list, but that really isn't the point. The point is that the Gospel without the hard parts isn't the Gospel at all.

If some Buddhist sect started using the New Testament as a holy text in their quest for nirvana, I wouldn't care in the slightest. They don't want the same thing that the church wants, and they don't pretend to. Buddhists aren't looking for salvation from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they make absolutely no bones about that. As a result, what they teach isn't any of my concern. But when somebody comes along saying that they do preach the real message of Jesus, but it turns out that somehow all the things which have characterized the essence of that message for two thousand years are suddenly up for grabs, well, Galatians comes to mind. I've been harsh here, but I don't hold a candle to the can that Paul opens up. Being touchy about people who appear to be messing with the Gospel is just about as old as the Gospel itself.

So would I care as much if they weren't calling themselves Christians? Well, maybe. If they stopped claiming that their message has the same ends as Christianity, i.e. stopped claiming to preach the Gospel, then maybe I wouldn't. But replacing the name while trying to keep those ends is both cowardly and disingenuous.
posted by valkyryn at 4:23 PM on February 13, 2010


empty vessel, I think my previous post can serve as a partial response to your last one. You don't like the image problems the church has, i.e. its bloody history, its dogmatic claims, and its non-progressive stance on sexual ethics. Instead of looking to the church and its history to understand the church and it's history, you decide to look elsewhere for your fun. The church doesn't give you the answers you like, so you'll find your own. I mean, isn't it obvious that since you don't understand how the New Testament could say all that about homosexuality that the traditional position just has to be wrong? Who needs to read potentially centuries of engagement, discussion, and arguments about it? That's way too hard!

The really ironic thing is that the emergents self-described method for discovering truth, discussion with opposing viewpoints, is basically what the church has always done. The difference is that the emergents want to re-open settled issues without making reference to how they were previously settled. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity took centuries to nail down. And we now accept that formulation on faith, because essentially all of the possible theories have been considered. So in a sense, emergence is less a method for finding answers than a denial that there are any. Which is a position Christians cannot in good faith hold.

And before you tell me that that isn't what you're about, you've freely admitted that you don't care whether or not your conclusions have anything to do with reality. If they did, you'd care whether other people believed them too. But you don't. You're content to let everyone believe what they will.

You'll forgive me if that doesn't strike me as the way Jesus approached things. I don't think there was a "If you feel like it" or "If it sounds okay to you" or "Do you want to talk about it" attached to the "Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me." What that looks like isn't something you get to make up for yourself. Indeed, making it up yourself is the antithesis of self-denial, as it puts you in the driver's seat.

Humility? Hardly. You're saying that you, and you alone, get to decide what's true for you, and that while you'll deign not to say that others have to follow you, no one else can tell you what's true. Yet you calling me arrogant and dogmatic. I may sound that way, because I'm making truth claims which I apply to others, as if I've got it all figured out, but don't you see? Everything I've been saying is accepted on faith! I'm just telling you what I've been told. I'm forwarding a claim to someone else's authority, not my own.

And mystery? Farthest thing from it. Or, at least, the mysteries the emergents tend to be interested in aren't the really important mysteries. Mystery is understanding how the Crusades, the Great Schism, the Reformation, the European wars of religion, the Second Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, and yes, even the emergent movement fit into God's plan for his people. Mystery is knowing that the Spirit still guides the church, even if you can't for the life of you see how. Mystery is being willing to accept that the Scriptures' take on ethics is God's will, even if you don't understand or like it. Mystery is realizing that texts two and three thousand years old are more applicable to your life today than anything written since. In fact, the mystery of faith is proclaimed every Sunday in faithful churches across the world: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again". If that's not mysterious enough for you, I don't know what would be. Mystery is not picking and choosing the issues you like (Ministries of mercy? Yes! Sexual ethics? No!) and punting on the really hard issues (Suffering for the glory of God? But that would interfere with our ability to reach hipsters!).

Look, I'm the last one to say that the church doesn't have an image problem, or indeed, real substantive problems. I can criticize the church with the best of them. Heck, I'm Protestant, which should say something in and of itself. But yeah, "worship" is watered-down drivel, ministries of mercy are ignored, "evangelism" is reduced to handing out tracts, and Christian ethics limited to not drinking, not smoking (tobacco or weed), and not having all that much sex. The American church, like other churches throughout history, has gotten too involved in politics and traded the city just beyond sight for the city of this present evil age. "Theology" has become a bad word. Oh, and guys like Rob Bell can suddenly become the pastor of thousands of people and influence thousands more via electronic and print media.

So absolutely, the church has ignored its heritage. But the emergents' solution? Ignore that heritage even harder, as if the solution were more of the problem. Don't stop with benign neglect, transition into active disparagement! I don't think anyone has the right to start coming up with new ways of thinking about God and the Gospel until they've really dealt with the orthodox ways of doing so, and there's nothing to suggest that the emergents--or you personally--have come anywhere close to that. The church is completely okay with people asking questions. Everyone has questions, and any Christian who is even the slightest bit serious about their faith will have questions about how this is all supposed to work and what it's all supposed to mean. But refusing to accept the church's answers is not the same thing as asking questions. Questioning, even doubt, can be faithful. The point where faithful questioning transitions into impious self-idolatry is when the answers are rejected.

You don't have to understand the answers. That's where mystery comes in. You don't have to like them either. That's where humility comes in. But you do have to accept them. That's where faith comes in. And frankly, I see little of any of those in anything the emergents are doing.
posted by valkyryn at 5:15 PM on February 13, 2010


valkyryn, what is the meaning of the term "orthodox Christianity" you keep using? I assume it isn't a reference to capital O Eastern or Oriental Orthodox churches.
posted by chinston at 7:02 PM on February 13, 2010


Being touchy about people who appear to be messing with the Gospel is just about as old as the Gospel itself.
Valkyryn, this is the part that makes me sigh every time. Arguing about what the fuck the Gospel is is as old as the Gospel. Your references to 'orthodox faith' are, also, curious. Are you a member of the Eastern Orthodox church? If so, I'd be very interested in hearing more about how you see their perception of evolving theology conflicting with the Emergents. If you are not a member of the Eastern Orthodox church and you are lecturing emergents about abandoning tradition, it's nothing but pot vs. kettle. I'm not saying that to be confrontational, just noting that the history of Christianity is a long trail of instances in which "The Gospel" was "messed with." Reading further, I see that you consider yourself a Protestant. You are a theological Johnny-come-lately, when seen at the "Christianity's history" scale.

I am by no means an "emergent" -- I just find it profoundly hypocritical when people get the vapors about their theological adventurousness when that sort of drift is part and parcel of the historic faith. The drift is integrated into a new "accepted narrative" of what authentic Christianity has always been, and older contradictory traditions are reframed as deviations from that true faith -- man's religion! Clanging symbols! Etc etc.
Look, I'm the last one to say that the church doesn't have an image problem, or indeed, real substantive problems. I can criticize the church with the best of them.
Yes, it tells me that you are are missing my point entirely. Again, that is not an attempt to be confrontational, or an attempt to suggest that the emergents are returning to some "older and more legitimate" strain of the faith. But neither were the Catholics, or the Anabaptists, or the Lutherans, or the Seventh Day Adventists, or... Well, you get the idea.

Ironically, a number of "emergents" I've known have found that their path ends up leading to the Eastern Orthodox church. As I've noted, that's a group that gets some good hard laughs when Protestants talk about protecting tradition. It isn't all a giant sprint to Unitarianism.
verb, your response is insightful, I grant that, but all I really get from it is that I should moderate my tone. Which is true. But two things. First, the fact that I come off as an asshole doesn't really affect the validity of my position as much as you seem to think that it does.
I said no such thing. Rather, I suggested that your angry vitriol directed at the Emergents (and those who were insufficiently horrified by them) was papering over the fact that their fundamental critique of the modernist church remained compelling. You've gone out of your way to ascribe the worst possible motives to those who come from different theological perspectives, you've thrown "I know your inner soul better than you do" condescension at other users here, and when others in the thread have asked for details, you've appealed to the classic "Well, you all aren't as knowledgeable and educated about the things I know, so you'll have to take my theological word for it." And you wrapped it all up with a bow that reads "If you note that I'm just waving my hands and shouting, you're attacking me."

This does not make you wrong, and I have not suggested that it does. It just means that you are unwilling or unable to actually engage in an honest discussion around these issues Emergents and their fellow travelers find compelling. If you are as horrified as you claim to be that they might trap some desperate soul with their pretty words, your own behavior is the problem, not some distant, far-off PR problem. You want to talk about the fact that you're disillusioned with church? Okay, let's talk about that. But the premise "These people are assholes" does not logically lead to the conclusion "Everything the church believes is up for grabs," and making that move is just shenanigans.
I'm not disillusioned with the church. I have no desire to talk about it with you. Why would I? I've made it abundantly clear that if I do not accept a particular baseline set of doctrinal points, I am a wolf in sheep's clothing, roaming and looking for innocents to devour. I'm here because I find the emergents an interesting, if occasionally daffy, splinter of traditional Protestant culture.
So would I care as much if they weren't calling themselves Christians? Well, maybe. If they stopped claiming that their message has the same ends as Christianity, i.e. stopped claiming to preach the Gospel, then maybe I wouldn't. But replacing the name while trying to keep those ends is both cowardly and disingenuous.
Indeed. After many years of grappling with these questions, I came to the conclusion that people who believe as you do actually are the legitimate protectors of the authentic Christian faith. That realization is what caused me to abandon the faith, accepting that it might mean spending eternity in hell.

In exchange, I am allowed to be honest with myself and others. I consider the tradeoff worth it. I find it interesting that the Emergents attempt to grapple with the same things while remaining inside the body of Christ. I can't share their optimisim about its feasibility -- but I will continue to point out the hypocrisy of those who attack them from within the Church for their honesty.

posted by verb at 8:30 PM on February 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Alas, a blockquote got messed up in that post. I suspect that only three of us are still reading, though.
posted by verb at 8:31 PM on February 13, 2010


empty vessel, valkyryn, and verb, thank you for continuing the discussion and working to answer my questions. I really do appreciate it. Yesterday I started the day off with debilitating back pain, and not until having received some powerful painkillers have I had the ability to sit and read your responses (mind you, keep this last sentence in mind if my response doesn't come off as clearly as I hope!).

I do have a better idea of both your perspectives with these follow up responses. Myself, I do think there is a balance between the two which is important for helping to develop a strong faith. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, and one could arguably say I drifted toward a Deistic view of Christianity during my teen years. In my 20's, through the encouragement of my now fiancee, a fantastic pastor in a Southern Baptist Church, and personal exploration for answers about my religion, I believe my faith is stronger than it has ever been.

I don't think I would have necessarily reached this point if I hadn't developed questions about Christianity and then sought out the answers. Granted, my search for answers were predicated on finding them within a Christian framework, though I would also say that the questions I had were influenced by knowledge of other philosophies and religions. In the end, I was able to find the answers that solidified my faith in Christ. So I see a certain validity with regard to the Emergence movement.

At the same time, I agree with Valkyryn's perspective in that there are some aspects of Christianity which aren't up for questioning. It draws upon a history of Christianity which I believe that a majority of Christians simply are unaware of or have never had the chance to learn. There isn't a need to question X, because it has been questioned and some of the most brilliant minds of Christian thought have found an answer. Though, it's hard to argue that this opinion isn't based on the place where I am now, rather than where I was when I began my search for answers.

I also wonder if part of the Emergence movement rejection of the answers as developed by the Catholic Church (and prior to the greater divide between it and the Orthodox Church), isn't based upon a general discredit of that history due to the wrongs and sins that have occurred in the Church's history. Yes, the answer is there, but it's an answer from an institution that allowed this to happen or encouraged that to happen. Thus, the conflict that arises between views like empty vessel's and Valkyryn's, one man's terra firma is another man's rocking and unreliable boat.

I've appreciated reading this discussion, so thank you to all contributors.
posted by Atreides at 10:00 AM on February 14, 2010


I like the premise that "it was decided a long time ago" equals "all possible options have been considered." That seems like a good way to build a belief system.

"Why do we believe X? I don't understand it based on my reading of [holy text]."

"Somebody figured it out a long time ago."

"But what reasoning did they use? What about [recent cultural development which has problematic intersections with doctrine]?"

"HERETIC! GET OUT OF MY CHURCH, YOU QUESTIONING QUESTIONER!"

I mean, really. The people who nailed down the doctrine were fallible humans just like everyone else. Just because they had those conversations many years ago doesn't mean we can't have the same conversations and potentially come to different conclusions. We have different information at our disposal, and our spiritual situation may well be different from theirs in some significant way. It's hardly un-Christian to question the underpinnings of faith. Faith without understanding is meaningless, and accepting things blindly means you lack understanding.

Frankly, someone who really truly believes that the fine points of doctrine were all nailed down perfectly a thousand years ago should be quite at ease with the idea of a new sect of Christianity which seeks to reopen those questions. Since we already know the right answer, it should end up just like a mathematical proof and come right back to the same conclusion, ne?
posted by Scattercat at 10:17 PM on February 14, 2010


I don't think I would have necessarily reached this point if I hadn't developed questions about Christianity and then sought out the answers. Granted, my search for answers were predicated on finding them within a Christian framework, though I would also say that the questions I had were influenced by knowledge of other philosophies and religions. In the end, I was able to find the answers that solidified my faith in Christ. So I see a certain validity with regard to the Emergence movement.

Thank you for sharing that! Keep in mind that with emergence that you chose who to engage with. There are many hyphenated emergent folks out there. There is no explicit requirement for who to engage with or need to separate from the existing Church structures. In my case my involvement with a co-hort is parallel to participation in an established church.
posted by empty vessel at 10:34 PM on February 14, 2010


And before you tell me that that isn't what you're about, you've freely admitted that you don't care whether or not your conclusions have anything to do with reality. If they did, you'd care whether other people believed them too. But you don't. You're content to let everyone believe what they will.

You'll forgive me if that doesn't strike me as the way Jesus approached things. I don't think there was a "If you feel like it" or "If it sounds okay to you" or "Do you want to talk about it" attached to the "Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me." What that looks like isn't something you get to make up for yourself. Indeed, making it up yourself is the antithesis of self-denial, as it puts you in the driver's seat.



I'm not sure where you got this from? You seem to be reading some of what I have been saying and glossing over the rest. What you do latch on to seems be whatever correlates to some straw man image of emergence that you hold. I am actually okay with that.

It's a bit insulting when you make it personal. You really don't know what I believe, or what my background is. You have made statements about the kind of church I go to and what kind of evangelism I must participate in. None of which is even close.

As far as having faith in any doctrine, I pass. I will stick with having faith in God. Doctrine is something one ascribes to, believes to be true. One thing I've learned over the years is that knowledge, doctrine, scripture don't feed souls or fill stomaches. That gets done when Christians honor those things and act. on them. You can't elevate scripture and purity of doctrine above loving and serving God.

Mark Ch. 9

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward
posted by empty vessel at 11:07 PM on February 14, 2010


Scattercat: “The people who nailed down the doctrine were fallible humans just like everyone else.”

I don't believe that that's true. People are not equally wise. People are not equally good. And people are not equally fallible. That's not to say that certain people lack the ability to be wrong, but it does mean that some reverence with regards to the tradition is called for an often beneficial.

Notice, Scattercat, that the way you're speaking seems to utterly nullify the idea of sainthood. And that's not to say that nullifying the idea of sainthood is so strange or new - Protestants have been avoiding that idea for centuries, partially, I think, out of a democratic urge to equalize everyone and everything.

However, I think that, given the choice between that democratization and the dogmatic inquisition you're concerned about, there has to be a third way. There has to be a way to revere the tradition and yet keep it alive through inquisitiveness. I've noted before in this thread that the greatest philosopher that Christianity has ever known, St Thomas Aquinas, seems to have believed that faith and inquiry are in essential ways the same thing - that faith is not really faith unless it asks questions and seeks to understand. I know that even the way I said that - 'the greatest philosopher,' etc - can make people nervous, because it elevates one human being over others; but I'm not making any arguments from authority, and a reverence for a tradition can be thoughtful and whole.

valkyryn: “Being touchy about people who appear to be messing with the Gospel is just about as old as the Gospel itself.”

verb: “Valkyryn, this is the part that makes me sigh every time. Arguing about what the fuck the Gospel is is as old as the Gospel. Your references to 'orthodox faith' are, also, curious. Are you a member of the Eastern Orthodox church? If so, I'd be very interested in hearing more about how you see their perception of evolving theology conflicting with the Emergents. If you are not a member of the Eastern Orthodox church and you are lecturing emergents about abandoning tradition, it's nothing but pot vs. kettle.”

Just one point: this isn't really fair. I know it might seem to be, and I know it might annoy people that valkyryn seems to be taking the side of something he (nebulously? we don't know) calls 'orthodox Christianity.' But he isn't required to be a member of any Eastern, or Western, Orthodox Church in order to argue in favor of it. I'm willing to step out and say this: I am not officially a member of any Orthodox Church, but I'll argue the side of it, because I see myself as spiritually and intellectually on its side.

It is no more unfair for valkyryn to argue in favor of the orthodox Church than it is for you to occasionally take up the side of emergents, even when you yourself are clear on the point that you believe that essentially Christianity is dogmatic and uninquisitive (please correct me if I'm wrong):

“After many years of grappling with these questions, I came to the conclusion that people who believe as you do actually are the legitimate protectors of the authentic Christian faith. That realization is what caused me to abandon the faith, accepting that it might mean spending eternity in hell.”

There is more to the context than that, and I want to explain that a bit more, for those of you who I take it are somewhat vexed by our insistent tone. verb, I know it seems like I'm quoting you a lot, but I agreed with this early statement of yours in this thread:

“Protestants in particular have a long history of basically treating the guy with the best book sales [most viewers|fewest scandals] like the Pope.”

This is absolutely true. And it's why I'm profoundly uncomfortable with Protestantism. Maybe it's my proximity to it, but I can't help but feel that Protestantism is the sect of Christianity responsible for more bloodshed, hatred, animosity, pain, suffering, and general evil in the world than any other. Protestantism in our time has almost degenerated into a completely capitalistic and money-driven faith - like most religions in America - and is hell-bent on exporting itself to other countries all over the world. This worries me. And looking back, I can't help but feel as though Protestantism has been like this for a lot of the time. After all, its spiritual father is a rigid anti-Semite, right?

That's not entirely fair, I know. The Anglican Church, for example, has produced a large number of very holy and spiritual thinkers and writers. So I can't just write of Protestantism completely. However, there are a lot of us who turn away from 'mainstream Christianity' because we see all sorts of things in it that seem absolutely corrupt and misleading and sad. That's why a lot of us turn toward Orthodoxy; because it represents a clear tradition that actually seems coherent and intact, a tradition of some very good people and some very bad people, but a tradition that remains. I think tradition is central to the Christian faith; in fact, I think it's central to human spiritual life in general, as well.

Yes, I agree that the same things often drive people toward the emergent movement: a dislike of the mainstream acceptance of corruption and hatred and bloodshed, say. And, yes, I know that the Orthodox Church is accepting, and often provides a great stopping point for those who might see themselves as part of the emergent movement.

But - to put it as bluntly as possible - my own definition of the emergent movement is 'an opposition to tradition.' The emergents may dislike the dogmatism, or the sexism, or the racism, or whatever else, in the tradition - but their central conclusion is: we must break with the tradition and build something new. I think that's what bothers us most. And I'm aware that maybe we're simplifying, or maybe not noticing how much we ourselves break with tradition, or how much tradition itself asks us to build our own lives. But still, I always come back to this point: the emergent movement - even its very name - stands for making a break from tradition.

And this is where our hesitation and discomfort with it come from - the last time we 'broke with tradition,' it was at the behest of a bunch of schismatics led by a vile little man who has the distinction of being the first German to publicly suggest using gas chambers to dispose of Jews. And it led to what we have today - a Protestantism which seems on the verge of destroying the world. Does it seem so odd that we're hesitant to follow people suggesting a break from tradition?
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 PM on February 14, 2010


Well, this has officially been Godwinned.
posted by desjardins at 6:34 AM on February 15, 2010


And this is where our hesitation and discomfort with it come from - the last time we 'broke with tradition,' it was at the behest of a bunch of schismatics led by a vile little man who has the distinction of being the first German to publicly suggest using gas chambers to dispose of Jews. And it led to what we have today - a Protestantism which seems on the verge of destroying the world. Does it seem so odd that we're hesitant to follow people suggesting a break from tradition?

Wait, Martin Luther suggested gassing Jews?

It seems, at least for you Koeselitz, and forgive me if I'm not representing your point correctly, that you're not so much adamant against the Emergence movement for what it is today, but what it represents in a long line of Protestant thought of challenging the status quo as upheld by either the Catholic or Orthodox churches. It's a continuation of something that began around five hundred years ago. Which strikes a chord with me, as I see it as also a challenge of the status quo as represented by the mainstream Protestant movement. Revolution within revolution.

I think it's a mistake to assign to Protestantism an edge of world destructiveness, as prior to the 1500's, neither the Catholic church of Orthodox church upheld some form of sanctified position as peace makers. It was in part the Catholic church that saw the upending of native culture in much of the Americas prior to the 1600's. It was the Orthodox church that did the same in Russia's aggressive expansion to the east and southeast. (Not least to say the religiously condoned violence that began by Papal decree in the 800 to 900's which evolved into the Crusade movement).

I think that is more fair to say of those Churches and of Protestantism, isn't so much that they have been responsible for what has happened, but simply were the dominant belief system in a society of men who were as equally driven less by faith but for other more material and secular reasons. So today isn't necessarily about the destructive nature of Protestant in the world, but the destructive nature of man in a world dominated in part by Protestantism.

The orthodox (small o) churches of Christianity rely on the weight of tradition to move forward, and this is a good, but also a bad thing. To an extent, the more successful Protestant churches that emerged from the Reformation, did so by retaining what they perceived to be the best traditions of the Catholic church, which they decided upon due to questioning the status quo. Through the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic church even sought to question certain elements about itself. As I believe pointed out previously, there's a long tradition of questioning within at least the Catholic church. So the Reformation, or even the Emergence movement, aren't so alien to this landscape.

The Catholic church emerged stronger after the counter-reformation, and while I may not agree with the Emergence movement in the possible cases where its inspired go too far in their questioning, I do think it can be a beneficial force for the Christian faith as a whole.
posted by Atreides at 7:33 AM on February 15, 2010


koeselitz, you're right in that some of my comments to Valkyryn were unfair. In reading over my statements, I think it's clear that I made some personal jabs that weren't germane to the discussion. Valkyryn, I'm sorry -- the whole emergent/tradition/orthodoxy discussion has more than enough potential for deep, tangly discussion and there's no need to muddy it up.
Just one point: this isn't really fair. I know it might seem to be, and I know it might annoy people that valkyryn seems to be taking the side of something he (nebulously? we don't know) calls 'orthodox Christianity.' But he isn't required to be a member of any Eastern, or Western, Orthodox Church in order to argue in favor of it. I'm willing to step out and say this: I am not officially a member of any Orthodox Church, but I'll argue the side of it, because I see myself as spiritually and intellectually on its side.
Just to be clear, I don't mean that that Valkyryn isn't allowed to argue in favor of Capital-O-Orthodox theology. Rather, I think that a Protestant talking about the sanctity of Church tradition is just an example of the fundamental "drift" that characterizes Christian doctrine. Indeed, it characterizes almost any religious faith.

There is a strong tendency inside the Protestant church to refer to Protestant consensus as "orthodox Christianity." But it was, unarguably, the result of a rejection of what "Christian orthodoxy" was at the time. It was the result of abandoning tradition and key points of doctrine. This does not mean that all rejection of tradition and doctrine is just as 'legitimate' inside of Christianity as the Protestant/Catholic split or the East/West split. But it should give us pause when someone appeal to tradition and orthodoxy without honestly acknowledging the long history of changing orthodoxy. So many of those changes are glossed over, and a generation later the new way is "how it's always been."
It is no more unfair for valkyryn to argue in favor of the orthodox Church than it is for you to occasionally take up the side of emergents, even when you yourself are clear on the point that you believe that essentially Christianity is dogmatic and uninquisitive (please correct me if I'm wrong):
A fair point, to be sure. Realistically, if I were taking sides I too would come down on the side of the Eastern Orthodox church rather than the Emergents as a place to point someone looking for long a place in the Christian tradition. As I mentioned, a lot of the "emergents" that I have been in contact with ended up in the Orthodox church as a result of their searching. That's one of the reasons I find the heated, vigorous attack on emergents troubling: for better or worse, often, it boils down to an attack on the act of honestly asking questions, rather than an attack on a particular set of 'ends'. The ends, more often than not, are the very traditions that Emergents are accused of trying to eradicate.

With any kind of religious faith, there will be points of belief that act as a fundamental litmus test. If you come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was not in some capacity the Son of God... well, you're not a Christian. That isn't a point of attack, it's a point of definition. There are, though, many more non-negotiables inside of each specific strain of the Christian faith. The old joke in the church is that there should be unity in the "essentials" -- but that everyone disagrees on what the essentials are.
But - to put it as bluntly as possible - my own definition of the emergent movement is 'an opposition to tradition.' The emergents may dislike the dogmatism, or the sexism, or the racism, or whatever else, in the tradition - but their central conclusion is: we must break with the tradition and build something new.
I suppose that is where my experience of the Emergent movement is different. The emphasis, at least in circles I interacted with, was on a willingness to approach questions honestly and openly even if they related to fundamental "givens" in Christianity. Some of those things are fundamental 'foundations' of the faith, others are commonly held beliefs (sexual mores, political viewpoints, etc.) that are not explicitly part of Christian dogma. This means being willing to break with tradition, but given the fondness of many emergents for Eastern Orthodox tradition, the writings of the early church mystics, and so on... I question the suggestion that it is explicitly hostile to tradition. Hostile to the idea that appeal to tradition is sufficient to answer questions, but not hostile to tradition per se.

It's a subtle distinction, and one that you could say is a moot point in the lives of most who would be considered part of the new 'movement." But that describes almost every argument in church history.
And this is where our hesitation and discomfort with it come from - the last time we 'broke with tradition,' it was at the behest of a bunch of schismatics led by a vile little man who has the distinction of being the first German to publicly suggest using gas chambers to dispose of Jews.
While I'm a big fan of poking fun at Protestantism, I don't think this is something that can be restricted to that strain of the Christian faith, or even to the Christian faith itself. At the end of the day, when human beings have an ideology they consider bigger than themselves, even bigger than the people around them, they tend to make hash of things. That's true when it comes to politics, faith, open source software, economics, pop music... You name it. That making-hash-of-it doesn't inherently invalidate a given ideology, but it should give us pause when the time to mark off "in-group" and "out-group" comes.
posted by verb at 12:00 PM on February 15, 2010


The emphasis, at least in circles I interacted with, was on a willingness to approach questions honestly and openly even if they related to fundamental "givens" in Christianity.
To be fair, that emphasis can lead to a fuzzy life of theological drift inside of a nominal Christian faith. There is a point at which some people just need to admit that they're agnostics and join a Unitarian church if they want to be part of a "church structure." But that isn't unique to the Emergents, either. Spong, at least in my mind, long since passed the point where he could be legitimately considered a Christian writer. Perhaps a spiritual writer existing in the general Christian tradition? It's fuzzy.
posted by verb at 12:08 PM on February 15, 2010


A number of people have asked what I mean by "orthodox Christianity," and it's a question worth answering, I think. The word simply means "right opinion" or "proper thought." So "orthodox Christianity" is Christianity which conforms to the core of what it means to be Christian.

What I mean is those traditions--and "tradition" as such is important here--which adhere to the ecumenical creeds and councils, at least up through Chalcedon. This gives us, roughly, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy (note the politics in the names there: you're either not "catholic" or not "orthodox"), and confessional Protestantism, i.e. Anglicanism, Lutheranism and Presbyterianism, and to the extent that they toe this line, their various misbegotten children.

Christianity is a complex beast, where numerous opposing tensions are at work. There are certain things about which it is permissible to be "wrong," i.e. about which faithful minds can differ. Intracacies of church government, some (but not all) of the mechanics of justification, the church calendar, these are all examples of things about which Christians can and do disagree but which ultimately don't make all that much difference. Temperment and culture play as much a role here as doctrine. Some of these can be contained within a single organizational structure. Others, unfortunately, cannot. But it is possible to recognize that legitimately Christian churches exist with significant differences of opinion about important issues.

But there are other things which one must hold if one wishes to be part of Christianity, e.g. a fairly narrow range of expressions of the Trinity, the reality of the incarnation, the nature of the person of Christ, the historical fact of the Resurrection, etc. These things constitute the essence of what it means to be a Christian, and they are the foundation from which all other doctrines flow.

A word about how Protestantism fits into this. Protestantism didn't start with anyone wanting to break with either Rome in particular or tradition in general. Rather, men like Luther and Calvin took one side of an ongoing conversation within the Western church--one about the nature and mechanics of papal authority, among other things--both sides of which were considered legitimate until the sixteenth century. At that point, the Roman hierarchy went one way and the Protestants went the other. But Protestants, when they remember their history, take the position that this is something you're allowed to be wrong about. So while the traditional Protestant line tends to be that papal infalliability is wrong, don't confuse hating on the medieval popes--many of whom even the Vatican is kind of embarrassed about--with utter rejection of any kind of hierarchical authority structure. Being a Protestant excited about tradition is not hypocritical and not a contradiction in terms, and it doesn't require one to believe that the entire church was wrong until 1515 (like some fundamentalist Baptists pretend to).

To make this mess more complicated, a lot of the time the two sides of an issue have perfectly valid reasons for holding to their own version and being suspicious of the alternative. Turns out that sin breaks things. Take, for example, the Protestant/Catholic debate on the authority of the pope. Protestants reject the idea that a single person, even one supported by the weight of tradition and the wisdom of a cabinet of advisors, can speak authoritatively for the entire church, believing that such will lead to abuse, theological innovation (which is a bad thing, historically speaking), and stagnation. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that only a single earthly head of the church can preserve both the communion of saints and purity of doctrine, and that anything else will lead to chaos, fragmentation, heresy, and dissention.

And you know what? They're both right! Protestantism is fractious, disorganized, and theologically suspect. Protestantism has led to the multiplicity of denominations and all the problems which go along with that, as well as fruitcakes like Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, etc. Catholicism is slow to adapt, subject to corruption, and theologically "creative." Catholicism took almost a thousand years to conduct worship in a language most people could actually understand, its centralized structure has created the possibility for long-term, large-scale priestly scandals impossible in Protestantism, and its mechanism for pronouncing dogma has led to some decidedly bizarre inclusions in the magisterium.

But note that both sides believed they were and were deliberate about acting within the bounds of tradition. They were all willing to believe that certain matters were established. The divinity of Christ, the nature of the Trinity, the salvation from sin, were not really points of discussion. Anyone who wanted to mess with those issues was considered heretical by both groups, and the truly heretical positions of the Radical Reformers (anti-Trinitarianism, etc.) have largely been abandoned by their modern successors.

To bring this back on point: I use the term "orthodox Christianity" to mean those who are deliberate about being faithful to the apostolic tradition, even though there may be differences of opinion about what that means. While many evangelicals are ignorant of the ecumenical creeds, they are trying to be faithful to the apostles, even if they don't know how, and they generally have no problem signing on to the creeds once they figure out that such things exist. They're ignorant, not heretical. But the emergents, in general, won't sign on to anything: it's too dogmatic, too restrictive, too decided. Or, at least, I haven't seen any evidence that they're willing to toe any particular line.

Again, I'm going to come back to the difference between "questioning received wisdom" and "rejecting received wisdom". You can question all you like. The church is completely okay with that. And for your benefit, records of previous question and answers are available for your edification. Indeed, just about every confessional tradition has a catechism, a series of questions ans answers by which the church instructs the flock. Whatever your particular question happens to be, odds are really, really good that we have a record of someone in the history of the church dealing with pretty much precisely what you're dealing with. The faithful response at this point is to engage that discussion, figure out what the teaching of the church is, and struggle with it while accepting it on faith. Those two are entirely compatible. The unfaithful response is to ignore and/or reject what the church has taught and look anywhere but there for answers. That's not compatible with Christianity.

A final word about emergents finding themselves in Eastern Orthodox churches. I've got Orthodox friends who have seen some newcomers along these lines, and the emergents are almost uniformly viewed as tourists. The Eastern church is even more tradition-bound than the Western churches, and yeah, they're generally more aesthetic and mystical than us Westerners, but a lot of emergents confuse that for the sort of progressivism they're shooting for. They're no less dogmatic about their beliefs than Rome is, but their authority structure is significantly less streamlined, so for the uninitiated, this can look a lot more chaotic and "loose" than it actually is. On most ethical issues they're completely in line with Rome, and if anything, they're even less interested in modifying their liturgy than Rome is.

In short, post-evangelicals who are leaving their churches looking for tradition they've been starving for can easily find themselves at home in an Orthodox church, but those leaving because the Western church is too dogmatic and traditional don't tend to fit in any better in the East.
posted by valkyryn at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


And you know what? They're both right! [Catholicism and Protestantism]
that viewpoint is in and of itself a controversial point of disagreement inside many Christian circles. You can say that those who call Catholics heretics are wrong, and they say you are wrong. As I said earlier, the idea that there is disagreement in the church about "the essentials" does not mean there are no essentials. It does, though, mean that
The faithful response at this point is to engage that discussion, figure out what the teaching of the church is, and struggle with it while accepting it on faith.
For a very, very small set of doctrinal issues, yes: you can't deny, say, the divinity of Christ and still honestly refer to yourself as a Christian. But the approach you describe above -- "you're supposed to find out what the official answer is, then accept it on faith" -- is not something that can be applied outside of a very narrow denominational context for the majority of issues.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I would by lying if I accepted those things on faith: I did not, fundamentally, believe the church's answers were true. And if I said that I did because I desired the emotional payoff of connection to a greater whole, I would have been lying for selfish reasons. Another friend of mine saw things differently: after much study and consideration, he was chrismated in the Orthodox church.
The Eastern church is even more tradition-bound than the Western churches, and yeah, they're generally more aesthetic and mystical than us Westerners, but a lot of emergents confuse that for the sort of progressivism they're shooting for. They're no less dogmatic about their beliefs than Rome is, but their authority structure is significantly less streamlined, so for the uninitiated, this can look a lot more chaotic and "loose" than it actually is. On most ethical issues they're completely in line with Rome, and if anything, they're even less interested in modifying their liturgy than Rome is.
Interestingly enough, though, the Capital-O-Orthodox believers I've talked to can explain very clearly why the emphasis on tradition is there, what it means, and what purpose it serves. The ability to engage, to accept that there are unanswerable questions, and to find purpose and direction outside of the echo chamber of Sola Scriptura, is regarded by many Emergents I know as a fundamental strength.

The fuzziness of 'Emergent Theology' makes the term itself an oxymoron in many ways. That's one of the reasons I object to the over-the-top moustache-twirling characterizations of it. Talking about emergents as if they were some sort of diabolical wolves in sheeps' clothing is no different than Jack Chick saying the same thing about 'The Papists.' It is useful for keeping one denomiation's faithful from venturing out of the metaphorical fold, but fundamentally unhelpful when discussing what these ideas are.
posted by verb at 12:58 PM on February 15, 2010


"It does, though, mean that--"

Yeah, that got cut off a bit. Basically, I'm just trying to emphasize that claims of 'orthodoxy' should be understood as fundamentally contextual. That's not just about Christianity: it's true for almost any faith.
posted by verb at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2010


But the emergents, in general, won't sign on to anything: it's too dogmatic, too restrictive, too decided. Or, at least, I haven't seen any evidence that they're willing to toe any particular line.
A fair observation, but that raises the question of the purpose of the creeds. Are they the equivalent of an employment contract? "Agree to these terms, and we'll let you in!" Or is are they intended to be descriptions of one's own beliefs? If the former, your framing would be correct: the emergents are essentially rogues who want to jump onto the Christianity ride but refuse to pay for a ticket.

If the latter is a more accurate description, though, their unwillingness to "confess" a particular creed unless they actually believe it, and can understand why they believe it... Well, that hardly seems subversive. It simply seems honest.
posted by verb at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2010


verb, no offense taken. Indeed, I get the impression that you were responding to much of my earlier comments as if they were directed at you when they weren't. You and empty vessel are coming at this from what appears to me to be rather different directions, and a lot of the things I said which were intended for him really aren't applicable to anything you said. Your response thus confused me somewhat, which is why you've been able to come up with another comment before I was able to get back to you.

Also, I think that my immediately previous comment should illustrate what I mean by "orthodox Christianity," including the fact that I use this far more broadly than most Protestants tend to. At the moment, I consider myself "just Protestant enough not to be Catholic," a place where I'm pretty comfortable. Unfortunately, many Protestants, not just the emergent ones, are actively hostile to tradition, so I can easily see and even agree with your critique there.

But while modern Protestants are inadvertently betraying their own tradition, most of the emergents I've come across, either in person or through their writings, have been pretty deliberate about starting from scratch. I consider this problematic not just for the anti-traditional mindset about which koeselitz and I have gone on about ad nauseum, but because they not infrequently wind up teaching actual heresy as a result of failing to do their homework.

This happens because most heresies are actually pretty obvious solutions to theological tensions in complicated doctrines. Because they're obvious, it's pretty easy to come up with them on your own, and unless you're working in a tradition which sets the boundaries for orthodox belief, you can wind up propagating ancient heresies really quickly. E.g., empty vessel's flirtation with Gnostic texts. But I've seen guys like Rob Bell run really, really close to pantheism in their discriptions of how the Trinity works or the nature of the human person, when even a cursory engagement with any orthodox tradition would set of immediate alarms.

So in short, it's a mindset which itself may be heretical, and it easily leads to heresy by demolishing even the relatively low barriers against it maintained by Protestant traditions.

Lest we get confusion on this term too, I'm using "heresy" in the technical sense, though "heterodoxy" might work. Still, the former suggests a graver sort of error than the latter, and that's what I'm getting at. Though most confessional Christians would consider credobaptism to be heterodox, it isn't heretical in the same way that Arianism is. By saying that everything is on the table, emergents can and do flirt with things as serious as that.
posted by valkyryn at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2010


Thanks for the clarification, valkyryn. Your point about the "easy answer" nature of heresy is taken. Given the carefully constructed complexity of many doctrines in the Christian faith, it is very easy to stumble into what is now considered heresy if you try to figure things out just by reading the Bible.
Lest we get confusion on this term too, I'm using "heresy" in the technical sense, though "heterodoxy" might work.
Yeah, I figured that -- although it's worth keeping in mind that Protestants are officially heretics in the eyes of the Catholic church. 'Heretic' is a heavy word with some serious implications, but being called a heretic by someone who claims not to be a heretic has never been the be-all end-all of Christianity. It just means that somewhere, someone thinks you're not on the straight and narrow.
Though most confessional Christians would consider credobaptism to be heterodox, it isn't heretical in the same way that Arianism is. By saying that everything is on the table, emergents can and do flirt with things as serious as that.
I'm just not sure why that's so threatening. Some heresies are pretty easy to explain: "Someone proposed X as a solution to Y. After a lot of arguments, though, that conflicted fundamentally with doctrine Z. A critical mass of church leaders decided Z was more important, and X became 'heresy.'" I've yet to meet an emergent who didn't find an answer like that interesting and compelling: perhaps I've only been exposed to a tiny subset, and perhaps my experience is not representative.

Then again, I'm technically an apostate. So my interest in this, while intense, is somewhat abstract. I don't really have a horse in the race, I just find the sport fascinating.
posted by verb at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christianity ride but refuse to pay for a ticket.

This may be true in some cases, however many emergent believers come to the conclusion that they want to head in a missional living. Not all emergents are missional, but there are many who are. They move to neighborhoods that are in need, dedicate large portions of their time and income to helping those around them.

If you are saying that all one needs to do is believe the right things and thats it. I call that cheap grace.

valkyryn,
People weren't sainted merely for their doctrinal contributions, many of them were sainted for acts of tremendous faith, charity or martyrdom(see Foxes Book of Martyrs.) These aspect of Christianity don't seem to really interest to you.

I find it interesting when religious purist hide behind God's robes to defend their bigotry elevating themselves above God in doing so. "I have nothing against homosexuals, but in the Bible some guy named Paul said God won't let them in." Paul who by his own admission in Romans confesses his own imperfection and limited perspective. This is just as cowardly and more repugnant than the "devil made me do it" school of thought.

The epistles contain the struggle between Peter and Paul, law and grace. In reading them each author resolved them in their own way, the resulting disconnect left the church to resolve them. The top down process established in the power structure of the day (i.e. The Roman Empire was mirrored in the Papal structure) started to the process of establish the accepted truth more than 250 years after the ascension of Jesus the executions were included from the get go starting with the Gnostic's. Your disdain for my even mentioning them is evidence of the church's propaganda that justified their execution at the time they were excluded from cannon. The very act of establishing cannon marked the beginning of the blood shed. The threat you perceive here is this: "That if every time a significant threat to the Churches stances or power arose (emerged?) and the opposing view was violently suppressed it leaves the whole house built on a shaky foundation."

You know what else, pretending it didn't happen and revising all the history around it isn't going to change that. Maybe the positions were correct but when the other point of view has been executed or marginalized, it leaves it open to questions pretending those aren't there ain't going to make them go away either. Regardless if we're talking about Constantine or Luther.

The entire point is to get past these questions and on to the ones that really matter like, "What should the church be doing to heed the call of Christ?" or "Where in my life an I falling short of what God want's me to be doing?"


Those who have been willing to ask the hard question are the ones who have been paying.

While we're on the subject of pretending, since you seem to want to continue to engage with your straw man version of all this send me five bucks and I list of everything I believe and I will create a sock puppet for you to deal with.
posted by empty vessel at 8:24 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


verb: “As I mentioned, a lot of the "emergents" that I have been in contact with ended up in the Orthodox church as a result of their searching. That's one of the reasons I find the heated, vigorous attack on emergents troubling: for better or worse, often, it boils down to an attack on the act of honestly asking questions, rather than an attack on a particular set of 'ends'. The ends, more often than not, are the very traditions that Emergents are accused of trying to eradicate.”

valkyryn: “In short, post-evangelicals who are leaving their churches looking for tradition they've been starving for can easily find themselves at home in an Orthodox church, but those leaving because the Western church is too dogmatic and traditional don't tend to fit in any better in the East.”

I actually don't believe I'd put it precisely that way, valkyryn, because I think I understand the draw of the Orthodox Church to emergents to a certain degree - though I will agree that I believe the emergent movement is directly opposed to Orthodoxy. The draw is the tradition itself – and this is the curious thing about tradition, a thing that seems so very foreign and strange to us moderns: tradition is freeing. The framework of a tradition, of a common teaching, affords a person much more flexibility in thought and freedom to inquire and investigate. That's counter-intuitive to us because we see a tradition as limiting; we constantly use the phrase 'bound by tradition,' as if tradition is a set of rigid rules which must be adhered to and rigidly enforced.

verb, you had a good response to this notion of mine that the emergent movement is anti-tradition:

verb: “I suppose that is where my experience of the Emergent movement is different. The emphasis, at least in circles I interacted with, was on a willingness to approach questions honestly and openly even if they related to fundamental "givens" in Christianity. Some of those things are fundamental 'foundations' of the faith, others are commonly held beliefs (sexual mores, political viewpoints, etc.) that are not explicitly part of Christian dogma. This means being willing to break with tradition, but given the fondness of many emergents for Eastern Orthodox tradition, the writings of the early church mystics, and so on... I question the suggestion that it is explicitly hostile to tradition. Hostile to the idea that appeal to tradition is sufficient to answer questions, but not hostile to tradition per se.”

This was sort of my point earlier; I know that emergents themselves probably wince when I say that they're 'anti-tradition,' but I don't think there's any other way to see it. Rereading it now, all my talk about positivity and negativity might have sounded like a swipe at empty vessel, but I really think all that. You can't put forward one opinion without immediately negating its opposite; the emergent movement may wish to hem only to welcoming questioning and openness to different viewpoints, but no one can do that absolutely and still express any thoughts or opinions at all. So when the emergents say, for example, that they want to move beyond certain ideas that the church 'traditionally' has had, they are standing against tradition itself. In fact, this idea of moving beyond tradition seems absolutely fundamental to the emergent movement - so much so that it gives the movement its name as an 'emergent' philosophy hitherto unseen. This is true, I think, even though - perhaps specifically because - the emergent movement doesn't seem to have a very complete grasp of what that tradition is.

This is not something I object to merely within the emergent movement. All around us nowadays, in these dark, dark times, one hears people talking about 'openness' and 'tolerance of diverse opinions,' people who are often in fact afraid to express any opinion at all because they worry that expressing an opinion means offending someone somewhere, or worse still because they worry that if every opinion is equally right then every opinion is just as much equally wrong. I don't like that for many reasons, but the most immediate is that I think conflict, debate, and disagreement is a fundamental condition of humanity, and I welcome that struggle. Pure tolerance and openness ironically annihilates conflict, and I think that's an almost inhuman approach to the world. Conflict and discord, confusion and disagreement, are not the root of happiness, but they're necessary conditions of life. They may need a resolution, but one can't resolve discord by simply ignoring it.

Tradition is, I believe, the best human way to resolve that discord. And, despite the popular conception, tradition can provide more freedom and openness than simple ambivalence, because it affords people a common ground from which they may survey life and consider it together. There's a complexity about this, I know, because emergents and many new Orthodox Christians are motivated by a common discomfort with the past few hundred years of Christian history. However, there are, I believe, fundamental differences between the attitudes of emergents and Orthodox Christians. The chief, to me, is that emergents seem position themselves in correlation with some idea of progress, whereas the Orthodox are motivated by return.

I can point to two documents which influence me in this view, and indeed my view toward faith and modernity in general. The first is (I believe) the Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss' finest and most important essay, a transcript of a series of lectures he gave at the University of Chicago Hillel House entitled Progress or Return? Contrary to popular belief, Leo Strauss hated contemporary politics, and had no ambitions there whatsoever; he mostly like old books, particularly old Greek books. Though the essay has much better bits, I quote from the initial opposition of which Strauss there speaks:
Let us try to clarify this issue somewhat more fully by contrasting the life characterized by the idea of return with the life characterized by the idea of progress. When the prophets call their people to account, they do not limit themselves to accusing them of this or that particular crime or sin. They recognize the root of all particular crimes in the fact that the people have forsaken their God. They accuse their people of rebellion. Originally, in the past, they were faithful and loyal; now they are in a state of rebellion. In the future they will return, and God will restore them to their original place. The primary, original, initial, is loyalty; unfaithfulness, infidelity, is secondary. The very notion of unfaithfulness or infidelity presupposes that fidelity or loyalty is primary. The perfect character of the origin is a condition of sin—of the thought of sin. Man who understands himself in this way longs for the perfection of the origin, or of the classic past. He suffers from the present; he hopes for the future.

Progressive man, on the other hand, looks back to a most imperfect beginning. The beginning is barbarism, stupidity, rudeness, extreme scarcity. He does not feel that he has lost something of great, not to say infinite, importance; he has lost only his chains. He does not suffer from the recollection of the past. Looking back to the past, he is proud of his achievements; he is certain of the superiority of the present to the past. He is not satisfied with the present; he looks to future progress. But he does not merely hope or pray for a better future; he thinks that he can bring it about by his own effort. Seeking perfection in a future which is in no sense the beginnning or the restoration of the beginning, he lives unqualifiedly toward the future. The life which understands itself as a life of loyalty or faithfulness appears to him as backward, as being under the spell of old prejudices. What the others call rebellion, he calls revolution or liberation. To the polarity faithfulness-rebellion, he opposes the polarity prejudice-freedom.
It's in that context that I see the emergent debate - and it seems to me that, while things are rarely black and white, most emergents have more feeling for progress than return.

Another part of my context is the philosophia perennis, a movement of the last hundred years which teaches that the 'perennial philosophy,' the truth about God and the universe, appears in all orthodox religions. Even so, I am certain that the perennialists would stand firmly against the emergent movement, just as they stood firmly against, for example, Tielhard de Chardin, Joseph Campbell, and most 'ecumenists.' This is because the perennialists, who also refer to themselves as 'traditionalists,' believe that, no matter how much one may believe that there is appreciable truth in all religions, it is imperative for spiritual growth that one choose and be active within one of those traditions. I quote from James Cutsinger's classic Advice to the Serious Seeker:
I need to make sure, however, that no one—whether scholar or seeker—is left with the impression that the perennial philosophy is some kind of substitute for a revealed tradition, or that metaphysics and esoterism are the same as religion. Although I have approached your question strictly from the point of view of the Intellect, one must never forget that there is more to the human being than intellection alone. "If every man possessed Intellect, not merely in a fragmentary or virtual state, but as a fully developed faculty," then there would be no need for Revelation, since "total intellection would be a natural thing." [Frithjof Schuon, Stations Of Wisdom] The problem, however, is the fall. While the "total Truth is inscribed, in an immortal script, in the very substance of our spirit," [Frithjof Schuon, Light on the Ancient Worlds] we are now cut off from that substance, cut off from the Self, and cannot re-enter our center save with the aid of grace—the grace that flows through those objective manifestations of the Divine Logos which are the revealed religions. "The Intellect contains in its substance all that is true," but this Truth cannot be fully known, much less fully realized, unless "the Intellect is deployed in the atmosphere of a Revelation." [Frithjof Schuon, ibid.] For Revelation is to the macrocosm or human collectivity what intellection is to the microcosm or individual. "What the different Revelations do is to 'crystallize' and 'actualize,' in different degrees according to the case, a nucleus of certitudes which not only abides forever in the Divine Omniscience, but also sleeps by refraction in the 'naturally supernatural' kernel of the individual," [Frithjof Schuon, ibid.] that kernel precisely which is the intellect.

It follows that each of us must be living the life prescribed by a religious tradition if we wish to find our way back to that inwardness where man and God are but one. "In normal conditions," that is, before the advent of the modern, secular world, there would have been no question as to the necessity of such a life, and we would have learned "a priori the reality of Divine things through Revelation." Only "a posteriori" and as a matter of consequences would the man of a gnostic temperament have had access "to the truth of these things through intellection, which reveals to us their essence lying beyond received formulations." [Frithjof Schuon, Esoterism as Principle and as Way] Owing to the skepticism and general loss of faith in the modern world, however, one is often obliged to proceed in reverse and go straight to this essence, since "only esoterism" can "restore the lost truth by referring to the total Truth." [Frithjof Schuon, ibid.] And yet this does not mean that Revelation is no longer necessary. Although "the spiritual chaos of our epoch permits or requires that the 'inward' be manifested 'outwardly,'" [Frithjof Schuon, Roots of the Human Condition] this is no reason to think that the inward alone can take the place of the outward. The dogmas, the moral code, and above all the sacramental rites of an orthodox tradition are essential provisions for everyone making the spiritual journey.
I know I've been quoting stuff at extreme length, but I guess this late in the thread I'm less hesitant to do so, and I think these things kind of give a better picture of where I'm coming from. I'm pretty alarmed at a whole bunch of aspects of the modern world, and I can't help but feel as though those within the emergent movement are being taken in, to a certain degree, by its deceptions. I think these texts, anyway, give some context as to what I'm trying to say.
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


empty vessel, your ironies never cease to amaze me. If the entire point is to get on with "important" things, why in Heaven's name do you and the emergents insist on bringing up issues that have been settled for thousands of years? And how can you possibly say the emergents are really all about the practical stuff when they're constantly exhuming buried theological corpses? Are you serious here? Because the limits of my credulity are being seriously stretched.

Second, your take on hermeneutics is precisely what makes traditionalists like myself and koeselitz nervous. As far as I know, the idea that Scripture is in conflict with itself and comes to multiple solutions to the same problem is a very recent idea, i.e. the nineteenth century, and it was first suggested by people who didn't really pretend to believe Scripture in any serious way. I can't even engage your take on homosexuality because your conclusions are based upon heterodox resolutions of logically prior issues, specifically whether Scripture is viewed as an organic, unified whole containing the revealed will of God, or an imperfect approximation subject to later revisitation. If you're going to take the latter view--and you have to if you want to take any position on homosexuality other than the traditional one--there really isn't much we can say to each other on the subject, as you've placed yourself firmly outside the bounds of orthodoxy. As such, sexual ethics are the least of your problems, and I refuse to treat that as a live issue while there is fundamental disagreement about the very nature of Scriptural interpretation and the church itself. It's obvious that no resolution can come on higher order matters when the fundamentals are in dispute, so why bother?

Third, your take on church history is also 1) decidedly jaundiced, and 2) not actually in keeping with what we know of church history from Acts. You're putting for the kinds of arguments from people like Christopher Hitchens, whose rather juvenile criticisms do not merit serious engagement. You simply can't come up with a story like the one you've told if you really dig into the history even a little bit. But again, more to the point, if you're in the position of viewing church history as propaganda, it's patently obvious that you aren't trying to be faithful to it. One can be critical of church history without throwing it all out as deliberately cynical machinations. The former is merely mature faithfulness, but the latter is beyond the bounds of faithful engagement with tradition, having moved into active repudiation. More to the point, authority structures in the church appeared as early as the Council of Jerusalem in approximately AD 50. It's in Acts 15. Peter and Paul seem to have been there, and they assumed that they had the authority to tell believers in other regions what to do and what to believe. True, the papacy didn't emerge for quite a while later, but you don't really need the papacy to be a firm believer in tradition, and there is very early evidence of the church viewing itself as having a certain amount of authority long before the Vatican emerged on the scene.

Oh, and I can't find much evidence that the Gnostics were killed for their beliefs. None of the major Christian-Gnostic writers appear to have been killed, and I can find no good account of a major purge of any sort. They were excommunicated, surely, but not executed. You're going to have to come up with something more than assertion if you want to take that line.
posted by valkyryn at 6:55 AM on February 16, 2010


If you are saying that all one needs to do is believe the right things and thats it. I call that cheap grace

IF you believe the right things you will do the right things. If you claim to believe the right things and there are no deeds, then you can't really call that biblical saving faith.

The book of James lays that one out pretty clearly....but to summarize: Only faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus will get you saved-you can't earn salvation by works. Works are simply the evidence of saving faith.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:11 AM on February 16, 2010


verb, I'm glad that cleared things up a bit. One other point though: I'd hope that you'd agree with me that there's a difference between starting from the position that there are, in fact, essentials to the Christian faith and then fighting about what those are, and starting from the position that everything is up for grabs and letting the chips fall where they may. Even the Catholics I know--and I got a degree from Notre Dame, so I know a few--tend to be far more willing to engage with conservative Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians than they are with the emergents. "At least it's an ethos," as it were. For example, Rome doesn't like Calvinism very much, but it knows what it's dealing with and recognizes a coherent system, even if it disagrees strenuously.

I guess what I'm getting at may be the equivalent "Asked and answered." When an attorney asks a question which a witness answers, and then the attorney, not liking his answer, attempts to trip up the witness by asking the same question again, opposing counsel can raise the objection "Asked and answered," i.e. you've already gotten your answer, so if you don't like it you can say so in closing arguments, but don't try to get a different answer by asking the question over and over again.

If the emergents, or anyone else for that matter, don't like the answers the church has for various issues, hey, there's a faithful way of engaging with that. But the way to do that is to work with the answers that have been given, not acting as if we're dealing with a blank slate or even worse, acting like the previous answers are invalid because the church gives them. But taking the position "It makes the Baby Jebus cry! And I know this 'cause all these universally-recognized heretics say so!" isn't going to win much approval.

Thing is, those who, as koeselitz describes, have a mentality of return won't see any need to come up with a trendy name for themselves, or to cast themselves as doing something new and exciting--especially when what they say they're doing isn't new at all. The description would simply be one of doing what the church has always done, i.e. seriously engage with the struggles and complexities of the faith by using the resources of two thousand years--three thousand even--of tradition. But those with a mentality of progressivism (small "p" or large) approach the problem differently, and it's that difference which raises red flags, particularly when they start staking out positions which depend on heterodox assumptions.

I'm willing to admit that a lot of that difference stems from ignorance, as most Protestants are woefully unaware of their own congregation's history, let alone their denomination or Protestantism generally, but that only goes so far. I've known dozens of people who, when they decided to get serious about their faith, did so by digging in to their tradition, and sometimes even finding a new traditional home. But I've also known people who, when something similar happens, strike out on their own. This rarely leads to them sticking with the faith for very long. As such, the whole emergent trend strikes me less as the first step to a deeper faith as the last stop on the express train to syncretism at best and apostasy at worst. Which bothers me, because I care about this stuff, if that wasn't apparent already.
posted by valkyryn at 7:27 AM on February 16, 2010


This was sort of my point earlier; I know that emergents themselves probably wince when I say that they're 'anti-tradition,' but I don't think there's any other way to see it.
I thought I'd explained the idea pretty clearly, but I guess it's a point of fundamental disagreement rather than misunderstanding now. I see a distinct difference between "rejecting tradition" and "refusing to accept mere tradition as a sufficient explanation for beliefs." The former is, as others have suggested, often a theological tantrum with no real endgame. The latter view is still capable of accepting tradition as a valuable component of religious faith.
You can't put forward one opinion without immediately negating its opposite....
This is true. The problem, in my eyes, is when things that are related, and sometimes conflicting, are incorrectly framed as "hard opposites". It's a bit like the claim that Emergents are wolves in sheeps' clothing, roaming around and seeking gullible innocents to trap. There is a middle ground between "martyrs for truth" and "evil deceivers."
posted by verb at 7:33 AM on February 16, 2010


St. Alia of the Bunnies: “The book of James lays that one out pretty clearly....but to summarize: Only faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus will get you saved-you can't earn salvation by works. Works are simply the evidence of saving faith.”

I don't think there's a difference between 'faith' and 'works.' In fact, I think the whole argument about 'faith' and 'works' is a mistake.
posted by koeselitz at 8:38 AM on February 16, 2010


Smells like heresy!

(I kid, I kid)
posted by verb at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2010


One of the first things Constantine does, as emperor, is start persecuting other Christians. The Gnostic Christians are targeted...and other dualist Christians. Christians who don't have the Old Testament as part of their canon are targeted. The list of enemies goes on and on. There's a kind of internal purge of the church as one emperor ruling one empire tries to have this single church as part of the religious musculature of his vision of a renewed Rome. And it's with this theological vision in mind that Constantine not only helps the bishops to iron out a unitary policy of what a true Christian believes...

The Arian Controversy, the Council of Nicaea, and its Aftermath

Early in the fourth century a dispute erupted within the Christian church regarding the nature of the Godhead, more specifically the exact relationship of the Son to the Father. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that there was a time when Christ did not exist, i.e. that he was not co-eternal with the Father, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were three separate and distinct hypostaseis, and that the Son was subordinate to the Father, was in fact a "creature." These teachings were condemned and Arius excommunicated in 318 by a council convened by Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria. But that did not by any means close the matter. Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordova, Constantine's trusted spiritual advisor, failed on his mission to bring about a reconciliation.
Constantine then summoned what has become known as the First Ecumenical Council of the church. The opening session was held on 20 May 325 in the great hall of the palace at Nicaea, Constantine himself presiding and giving the opening speech. The council formulated a creed which, although it was revised at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82, has become known as the Nicene Creed. It affirms the homoousion, i.e. the doctrine of consubstantiality. A major role at the council was played by Athanasius, Bishop Alexander's deacon, secretary, and, ultimately, successor. Arius was condemned. [[24]]

If Constantine had hoped that the council would settle the issue forever, he must have been bitterly disappointed. The disputes continued, and Constantine himself vacillated. Eusebius of Nicomedia, a supporter of Arius exiled in 325, was recalled in 327 and soon became the emperor's chief spiritual advisor. In 335 Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria and unbending in his opposition to some of Constantine's policies, was sent into exile at far-away Trier. [[25]]


What we see in history is a state that needed a single religious point of view to consolidate it's power doing what ever it took. It happened to land on the side of the Trinity. This is exactly the sort of thing that McLaren is talking about in the video in the OP.
posted by empty vessel at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know all of that.

But you alleged earlier that there was violence used, that the early church killed people that disagreed with official doctrine. But you still haven't given any evidence that this is true. Excommunication is not the same thing as execution, and nothing in the second link suggests that violence was used, which makes your "whatever it took" line a lot less credible.

Arius was indeed condemned as a heretic, but he was not executed, and he died of natural causes. Gnostic texts were suppressed and Gnostics themselves excommunicated, but I find no evidence that any of them were killed for what they believed.

Rather, it looks to me like the early church did precisely what the emergents say they want want, i.e. talk about things until a conclusion is reached. Only unlike the emergents, the early church was then willing to actually treat those conclusions like real conclusions and move on to more important things.

Also, your first link is borked.
posted by valkyryn at 6:20 AM on February 17, 2010


A couple of thoughts I'd like to throw into the mix here (now that things seem to have calmed down a bit):

You've already gotten your answer, so if you don't like it you can say so in closing arguments, but don't try to get a different answer by asking the question over and over again.

This seems like a central point to you, valkyryn, and you've expressed it a few times in various forms. I'd only like to make the case that it's important, even essential, that adherents to any faith continue in every generation to examine the important questions of that faith and come to the answers that make sense for them. As verb already argued, this doesn't mean a knee-jerk rejection of tradition qua tradition, just an openness to new perspectives in the spirit of honest inquiry. For one thing, it's the only way for tradition to truly endure, as I've seen it; the alternative of rigid obedience to the established "answers" is ultimately anathema to our nature as inquisitive, curious beings. But also it's important to revisit old questions because, while the source material or underlying logic may not change throughout the years, we do change; the filters we use to view, frame, and contextualize old ideas and texts, the social mores by which we construct ideas of ethics, even the ways we think about text, language, and the relationship between author and reader--all of these are constantly in flux. And without the ability to constantly reorient ourselves to the received wisdom of the past, we run the risk of straying from the path of becoming better people.

To take an example from my own background in Judaism: The question of slavery appears, if examined simply, to have been "asked and answered" in the Bible. While the central story of the Israelites is the liberation from slavery in Egypt, the immediate addendum to this story is a set of laws governing how the Israelites should treat their own slaves, including Hebrew slaves (Exodus 21). So, the context makes it clear that it's not slavery per se that God objects to, just the enslavement by Pharoah of the Israelites which inhibits their ability to worship Him. (Many people forget the second half of God's words as delivered by Moses, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me.") So how, then, are we to make sense of the Bible as a source of ethics, when by our contemporary standards of human rights, it seems so fundamentally wrong on this essential question? The answer, I believe, is to look beyond the simple interpretation, "God endorses slavery" and see the underlying message of the laws of Exodus 21--that we should treat slaves with respect. Or as Tikva Frymer-Kensky put it in Reading the Women of the Bible (I'm paraphrasing), the Bible teaches us, in contrast to the conventional wisdom of other ancient societies at the time, that those in a position of powerlessness are not by nature inferior or deserving of their social subordination; ultimately, this paved the way for an understanding of universal human rights and civil equality. But without a willingness to challenge the apparent authority of the text, we would be left only with the option of rejecting it or fighting a losing against the tide of social progress. Interpretation offers us a third way, allowing the tradition to bend so that it doesn't break.

Another classic story (paraphrased) from the Talmud, which in a way is also about the Talmud: Two rabbis are arguing some very minor point of law, and one rabbi says to the other, “If I’m right, may an angel come down from heaven and say so,” at which point an angel does, in fact, appear out of heaven and says, “Yes, the rabbi is right.” And the other rabbi turns to the angel and says, “You stay out of this!” The point being that it’s up to us to find the meaning in God’s words, and once we are charged with that responsibility, not even He can interfere, the way that a parent can raise his/her children to obey certain rules but with the ultimate hope that they’ll become independent and make up their own minds. (The follow-up commentary to the story is that one of the rabbis asks the Prophet Elijah what God was doing during that whole debate, and Elijah says that He was laughing and saying, “My children have defeated me!”) Put another way, the law itself comes from God, but the correct interpretation of it is our task, and that struggle is itself a holy activity—an extension of God’s revelation. The word Israel itself means “he who struggles with God.” Another rabbi said about the Talmud, “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” Put simply, I reject the dichotomy koeselitz presented of Progress/Return because, to me, progress is a return to tradition.

However, I agree with you that too much questioning can prohibit real progress. As a mathematician, I have to rely on a set of unquestioned axioms (although some are the subject of debate, even to this day), as well as the meta-axioms that govern how those axioms can be combined, and so on. Even my belief in the importance of asking questions is based on an assumption: that open-mindedness is a virtue. Without some kind of consensus starting point, we could never build anything of any real beauty. But that's ultimately an aesthetic judgment as much as it is anything. How do I justify drawing a line there and not somewhere else (and how do I know there's even a line that needs drawing)? The best answer I can give is that it's an act of faith. What's truly amazing (inspirational, really) to me about the Emergence movement is their optimism that through questioning even the most fundamental axioms of Christianity, some kind of consensus theology can emerge. That is, it's not just deconstruction they're after, but reconstruction.

This brings me to the second point I'd like to make, which is just that everyone at some point decides where to draw this line. Even the Church fathers you rely so heavily on had to make choices of which questions were in-bounds and which ones would have been too destabilizing, too heretical, too counterproductive. I take from your comments that you think the questions being asked by the Emergence people fall into this category, cutting too close to the bone, so to speak. The question I'd like to ask you, then, is this: What do you think should be the consequence of your disapproval? You'd like to label them as heretics or dilettantes, but what are you really advocating in the end? Excommunication? Forced conversion? How do you reconcile the fact that these people grapple with the same issues as every Christian in history and yet seem to come to different conclusions? Put more bluntly, Who asked you? Your claim is that their open-minded approach doesn't meet the needs of people who are "spiritually starving," but where do you derive the authority to judge what people need?

I don't mean to make this just about you. It's interesting to me that the Emergence folks seem to ruffle the feathers of so many devout Christians; I think it's because they fall into a sort of uncanny valley of religiosity. Unitarians and other modern syncretic religions can be dismissed as too wishy-washy and far afield, but Emergent Christianity is like a dissonant chord to the ears of someone steeped in tradition--what they're doing looks and sounds like Christianity but is just different enough to be disturbingly annoying. I can see why that would be troubling, but so what? To my Jewish ears, they mostly just sound like people who are trying to revitalize something old that was starting to lose relevance to them, a process I feel is completely necessary to the continued evolution and survival of any tradition.
posted by albrecht at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2010


For a very, very small set of doctrinal issues, yes: you can't deny, say, the divinity of Christ and still honestly refer to yourself as a Christian.

Some people deny the divinity of Christ and consider themselves Christian:
I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.—Thomas Jefferson
posted by No Robots at 11:04 AM on February 17, 2010


Also, your first link is borked.

Corrected link

Constantine conducted 2 purges, one of the church and one of the royal family. In the later he had 2 of his sons executed. This what is meant my persecute and purge.
posted by empty vessel at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2010


An interesting response, albrecht, but one which I think that serves to highlight the differences between Christianity and modern Judaism more than it does to undermine my position, which I attempt to align with orthodox Christianity as much as I understand it.
The point being that it’s up to us to find the meaning in God’s words, and once we are charged with that responsibility, not even He can interfere, the way that a parent can raise his/her children to obey certain rules but with the ultimate hope that they’ll become independent and make up their own minds.
For orthodox Christians, this is not the point. Central to the Christian faith, from the very beginning, is the idea that God works through the Holy Spirit in guiding the church to truth. I am not aware that Judaism has any similar analog, so the idea that God gives his revelation and then leaves us to figure it out for ourselves works in Judaism. But it doesn't work in Christianity. The entire argument I've been making--and the one the church has made since the first century--is that the reason we can trust what the church says is because God promised that he would guide the church to truth. So to borrow from your parable, the orthodox Christian church has believed something very similar to an angel coming down and choosing sides, while the emergents are far more like the second rabbi, who wants to figure it out himself. It's unsurprising that you find the emergents so attractive, as it is in a sense a far more humanistic approach to Christianity than has been traditional. But it's also kind of gratifying to lear that, because it confirms my suspicion that this differs from traditional Christianity in important ways. Christians aren't supposed to be any more impressed than Jews when the entire world thinks they're doing it wrong.

This goes a long way towards answering your second question, about authority. Me, I don't have any authority, and never claimed to. What I claim is to faithfully represent, as best as I am able and subject to correction, someone else's authority. There are mechanisms for how that authority functions, e.g. church councils, pastoral discipline, ordination, etc., but orthodox Christians have always believed this to be real. Even most Protestants believed some version of this until the Second Great Awakening in America sent the church down a radically individualistic direction more compatible with the American, modern, mindset. What I am in essence claiming is that the church speaks for God, and you ignore it at your peril. So when the emergents come along acting as if there is not in fact any authority by which controversies and complexities can be resolved, it sounds un-Christian if not actually anti-Christian.

Again, I don't seem to recall any equivalent tradition in Judaism. The Jewish Scriptures don't seem to contain any similar promise, so it would make sense that there wouldn't be. But this is a place where Trinitarian theology actually does make a pretty big difference.
posted by valkyryn at 8:04 AM on February 24, 2010


empty vessel, what Constantine may or may not have done doesn't really help you. He was a Roman emperor. Roman emprerors killed their family members all the time, and killed other threats to their power way more often than that.

Is he a big figure in church history? Absolutely. History in general, in fact. But is he someone to which the church actually treats as anything other than a political authority? No. Henry VIII instituted big changes in church history too, but no one cites him as having any kind of theological authority any more than they do Constantine.

More to the point, we really don't know why Constantine had them killed. Wikipedia suggests that we may never know, but that the official story had something to do with sex. Nowhere is their theology mentioned, and I can find no other record which would suggest that they were heretics at all, much less executed for it.

This is not to say that the church has never persecuted theological minorities. It most certainly has. But you need to look centuries down the road before things like execution and torture come into play. Again, looking at wikipedia, it seems that the first person to have been executed for heresy was in 365, and that was done by the Emperor over the objections of church leaders. The sorts of things you're talking about don't seem to have cropped up in any serious way until the thirteenth century.

I really think you need to reconsider your understanding of how this all went down. The condemnation of Gnosticism as heresy and indeed, the church's historical response to heresy in general, was likely a lot more civilized and a lot less bloody than you seem to think.
posted by valkyryn at 8:33 AM on February 24, 2010


what Constantine may or may not have done doesn't really help you. He was a Roman emperor. Roman emprerors killed their family members all the time, and killed other threats to their power way more often than that.


I didn't mean to imply that he killed his family for theological reasons. That aside and the what is meant by persecution thing aside as well. I have been digging online and seemed to have run out of resources that say anything more than what we have found. I am guessing I need to stop at the library and start looking at books. I would love to find out that your assessment is correct.

It still seems to me that the The Nicaean Counsel was organized by Constantine to consolidate his power by providing a single religion for the empire, not to reach any sort of legitimate truth. The empire had always had a state religion and he was transitioning to a new one. He couldn't have allow any fragmentation persist, it was counter to his objective to unify the empire under a single Christian point of view.

It's interesting to me the way this could all play out. By asking these questions and digging into them there could be a few things that could happen.

1. I find out that my concerns are not valid, but I have more knowledge about church history and a better understanding of why the church is the way it is.

2. I find that some or all of my suspicions are true and I am left to deal with the questions that these discoveries lead to. From that I can grow as well.

Either way I am not seeing the down side.

As far as the doctrine thing goes. I really am not on a witch hunt to deconstruct all the traditions and orthodoxy. I have no problem with them. I think that my use of the word question could be seen in an anti establishment sense of the word. This would imply that I was looking to disprove it. A better word might be investigate it and see where I end up after that investigation. The concept of not knowing in this context is really to enter the investigation setting aside any preconceived ideas and see where you end up. It's as close to objective as a human being is going to get.


I guess the other value in not knowing comes into play in more personal and subjective things. Many people believe things about God that are necessarily true. This could look like blaming God's wrath for what happened in Haiti. There are just things that happen in life that are beyond explanation one of them is God's role in tragedy. Did he cause it, let it happen, doesn't care? Is it in Gods plan for this to happen? You can find scripture to support many of these perspectives.

It all boils down to authority. The Catholic Church say that it is the authority. The protestants say it is scripture. The Unitarians Universalist say it is some form of reason\ conscience\ common sense. Emergence says it's praxis.

They all have their pitfalls. The Church is full of fallible human beings, many protestants elevate the scripture above God, and can you always count on your conscience, many people have done heinous things in "good conscience." So where do you go from there? I have found comfort in not knowing, not because we can't, but sometimes we don't. Your previous concerns are not with out merit.

I work in the IT field and on many occasions I have come up on an engineer working on a problem and he is sure he knows what the problem is. Three hours later he is still working on fixing that problem. In the end many hours later it turns out that wasn't the problem. Approaching something from not knowing allows one to see things they wouldn't normally see.

Emergence in nature functions on rules. There needs to be some rules for emergence in the church as well. They have some, but they don't really call them that.

Here is what I see as common and a base definition as to how they are being utilized in this context

Mystery- Coming from not knowing

Humility - Seeing ones point of view as just that and respecting others point of view

Accuracy - Going to valid and verifiable sources

Legitimacy - No just making stuff up. This goes back to mystery and not knowing. If you make it up then you are coming from knowing.

Compassion\Love - What you are saying\doing ultimately is to better serve others.

Your body is an emergent network of cells, no one cell is very intelligent on it's own. In concert the many types of cells combine to make a human being. As long as the cells work according to the rules you have a healthy one. When the cell start not sticking to the rules and they can replicate incorrectly then you have a human being who has cancer.

What I am seeing is that emergence done correctly provides a way into faith, it did for me after 17 years away from the church. By engaging with out an agenda people are willing to be more open.

I agree that done incorrectly it could be a cancer. That doesn't mean that all the cells are cancerous.
posted by empty vessel at 10:51 PM on February 24, 2010


A couple of things.

First, on Nicea. Yes, Constantine called that council for political reasons. I don't think there's anyone who isn't writing hagiography who would dispute that. But he beyond saying "Okay jokers, figure this out once and for all," he didn't actually have much input in the Council. The fathers didn't submit a draft for his consideration, and he had no say over the output. Indeed, it's likely that he didn't care what the answer was as long as there was one. This would not be the first time nor the last that politics have had an influence on church history--Anglicanism, anyone?--but really, does it matter? The issue needed to be resolved, and it was resolved in the way that the church had been resolving issues for more than two centuries at that point. The fact that the Emperor was the immediate motivation for the Council doesn't seem relevant to the outcome.

Second, on authority. I think your analysis isn't granular enough, and it certainly isn't historical enough. The Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant stories about authority aren't mutually exclusive. Catholics/the Orthodox believe that Scripture has authority, and traditional Protestants believe that the church has authority. The disagreement is not over whether there shall be authority, i.e. whether there is some standard to which you must submit, but about the relationship between two possible procedures for developing that standard. Until about 1500, the two existed in tension within the Western church, and they still do within the Orthodox church, though it's drifted closer to Catholicism since the Reformation. Political concerns lead to a parting of ways, but again, there was never a question about whether there was to be authority. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that Orthodox, Catholic, and confessional Protestant (Anglican/Lutheran/Reformed) traditions all have mechanisms for not only expelling individual members from communion, but for exerting hierarchical oversight over the activities of congregations.

Protestantism's radical children on the other hand, including most stripes of Baptists, Evangelicals, non-denominationals, emergents (really just another stripe of non-denom), Unitarians (who don't really count, but you brought them up), have no such mechanism. There is no authority to which one must submit. Every believer can come to conclusions about Scripture which are equally valid. There is no guidance, no structure, no means for shepherding investigation towards truth. Pastors, congregations, entire traditions can spring up out of nowhere. And lest you think this is a good thing, it's this that has led to the things you like least about the church; the materialism, the politicization, the intolerance. Fred Phelps could not have emerged in a tradition with any kind of spiritual oversight, and I doubt James Dobson could have either. Indeed, there is increasingly no consensus that there is any particular truth out there, i.e. emergence theories are starting to take off. Look at everyone who embodies something about the church that you most dislike, trace back their influences, and you'll find someone who just struck out on his own, starting from scratch, like the emergents want to. There's your praxis. This is a fundamental shift from traditional, orthodox Christianity, and it isn't a good one.*

Third, the idea that emergents are trying to be objective about this. While I've no problem granting that they are in fact trying to be objective, I should think that someone as disinterested in authority claims as the emergents would be more skeptical about the legitimacy of such a project. Objectivity is impossible, and the emergents of all people ought to know better. This being the case, the question is not whether one can start without assumptions but whose presumptions are going to be used. The emergents are entirely content to start with late twentieth and early twenty-first century assumptions, because they don't really view their own assumptions as, well, assumptions. For example, the idea that homosexuality is perfectly natural and acceptable and we need to find a theology that makes that work. This depends on a number of startling and modern assumptions about the nature of the human person, the fundamentals of ethics, and the interpretation of Scripture that are entirely unexamined and, I would suggest, in conflict with orthodox Christianity. But because the position is trotted out as objective, it isn't subject to further examination.

Finally, your metaphor of the body contains another assumption, namely that the body is an "emergent" network. Okay, fine, the human person is indeed more than the sum of its parts. But that's because it was designed that way! Don't you see? In the Christian view, the human person is so much more than an interesting set of phenomenon which emerges from a series of chemical processes. We were designed by God and bear his image. Punt the scientific parsing of the narrative if you want--I and most theologians do--but you can't get around the theology. It's just there. So yeah, if you think about the human person as a Darwinian, it would make sense that theology should be something you just sort of let work itself out. But if you believe that humans have a pattern, which is something you really can't get around in monotheistic theology of any stripe, there's no real incentive to do that. Instead, you'll be looking for designs, for the way things are supposed to be, and to do that you need revelation, i.e. authority. Muddling through isn't an option; there's a call to be heeded. So the metaphor you use is evidence of a fairly strongly materialistic worldview, one which isn't terribly compatible with Christianity.

That probably comes across harsher than I mean it to. Struggling with materialism (the metaphysical sort, not the acquisitive sort) is something every Christian in today's society has to do. I'm constantly discovering more ways in which I act as if the world that I see was more important than the world that I don't, something which the Scriptures take great pains to emphasize isn't true. Christianity is a voyage of discovery, but not one of self-discovery. It's about figuring things out, but not on your own terms. It is, ultimately, a long obedience. It's about figuring out what works for God, not what works for you. All of these require submission to authority on some level or other. That's humility. Saying that you can be objective and come to truth on your own, or maybe with a little help, is not. I have to remind myself of these things more than every day, especially as I'm currently without a church home to provide that structure for me.

I would agree with you that I see absolutely no downside in you continuing to pursue this. I'm more than happy to keep talking about this if you want (and we can transition to MeMail or something more private if you like). But I do think that you may find yourself moving in a direction you didn't expect. Traditional Christianity doesn't always get it right, but it's capable of doing so, because there are structures which facilitate quests for truth, i.e. knowing God. This takes virtue, hard work, and no small measure of grace, but it's possible. But step outside that, and there's no guarantee you'll end up anywhere worth going.

Note that I'm not just picking on emergents here. Their problems mirror earlier problems that go back centuries.
posted by valkyryn at 6:55 AM on February 25, 2010


Fred Phelps could not have emerged in a tradition with any kind of spiritual oversight, and I doubt James Dobson could have either.
Long and interesting posts on both sides, but I want to point out that this particular statement ignores the long history of pretty much everything.

Fred Phelps and James Dobson are Protestants, and Protestantism emerged from a tradition with a lot of spiritual oversight. Those individuals argue that the reason you disagree with them is because you don't respect proper spiritual oversight. Going farther, traditions with a strong history of spiritual oversight (Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, in your framing of the issue) have birthed just as many hateful and repugnant personalities and movements. The only difference is that Protestantism groups the personalities into a far more chaotic and branch-filled taxonomy. Historically, that seems to have very little impact on whether the people and movements are healthy and constructive or ugly and destructive, even if it leads to more frequent small-scale arguments about who's Really In The In Group.

As I've said numerous times, this is the history of the church. It is the history of belief. Denying that is ultimately a losing battle against history and experience.
posted by verb at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2010


verb, I get what you're trying to say, but you're oversimplifying things. Yeah, they're Protestants. But not all Protestants are the same. Someone like Phelps or Dobson would have a really hard time gaining traction if they got their start in, say, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, which keep a pretty tight lid on what gets said in their name. On top of that, unlike in more structured tradition, the left-wing of the Protestant movement (which, ironically enough, is traditionally right-wing in its politics) doesn't has no structure which can provide an opposing voice from within the community.

Just look at your history. Sure, Catholicism has spawned its fair share of loonies. Apparitions anyone? But the people who claim to speak for Catholicism tend not to be those people. The Roman church is pretty able to control its message, e.g. the liberation theology controversy, which after Cardinal Ratzinger used his office as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to give them a thumping, gained far more traction with liberal Protestant types than it did with most Catholics. My own tradition is currently dealing with a problematic theological innovation, possibly heretical, but there's enough structure there to say "No, this is not what our church believes."

But when you've got people just sprouting up out of nowhere, not claiming allegiance to anyone or anything other than their own interpretation of the Bible, you find that people like Phelps and Dobson can attract major followings from the untutored. Phelps is a Baptist. Dobson's a mainstream evangelical if no particular denominational pedegree (links to Church of the Nazarene, but if there's a better example of bland, mainstream evangelicalism I don't know what it would be). In neither place is there anyone in their traditions with the statute or authority to stand up to them. Things just have to "emerge" on their own.

I'm not arguing that the church always gets it right, or that getting it right will make people happy. But I am arguing that in the absence of any kind of organizational principle, anything can and does go.
posted by valkyryn at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2010


Valkryn,

So my inquiry this weekend got as far as the renting the following documentary. I was hoping it would settle the whole issue with the persecution of the Gnostic. It didn't go there but it does go into the entire anti-semitic bent the Church has taken through out it's history. This file focuses on the Catholic Church in the past and the Evangelical church in the last few years. I was pretty bummed after watching. I see that non-structure and structure are not the issue here. If some one is going to misuse religion they will do it from either a position of authority or from the fringe is they cannot gain a position of authority.

This sounds a lot like the anarchy is better than the rule of law, if the government is oppressive. In one case anything is possible and in the other oppression is certain. (Not advocating for anarchy here) If we think about the founding of this country then what was that groups of people dissatisfied with the oppression starting having conversations and what emerged was the constitution. At some point the conversations had to come together to some sort of order and statement.

I think that treating emergence as an end point is a mistake. I think that something drastic needs to emerge. The church needs to deal with it's past head on. The conversations to have that happen are not taking place in the normal structure, and to be frank in very few places in the emergence movement. In many places it seems to be some sort of hipster, cool from of Evangelicalism. In a few it is asking some very hard questions not because it's cool but because no one else is.

My inquiry left me depressed with a headache most of the weekend. I got past that. The dissonance between what the church is and what it is called to be is painful, but maybe we need to experience that pain. In it there can be repentance and a turning to what the church is called to be. It might mean that we take a step back to the beginning and start reconciling the wrongs that have occurred. Saying that it always has been this way and can't be questioned leaves the church on it current trajectory.

On a side bar I am not sure what the issue you have with liberation theology is. Assuming that it is not the flavor that advocates the armed rebellion. I really don't see where justice for the poor should be a problem for any Christian doctrine? Ratzinger also reversed the Vatican II moratorium on referring to Jews as the Christ killers. Another example of Constantine's potential tampering, interesting how the Roman's are just the pawns of the Jews in the crucifixion. This is very convenient for a Roman emperor establishing a state religion. How awkward would it be to establish Christianity as the state religion if it blamed Rome for killing it's central figure?
posted by empty vessel at 6:28 PM on March 1, 2010


FYI, there was an FPP on Constantine's Sword that surprisingly didn't get any traction.
posted by desjardins at 7:38 PM on March 1, 2010


empty vessel, you aren't going to get much argument from me about the latent--and sometimes not-so-latent--anti-semitism which has plagued the church for centuries. It's a problem, and I won't defend it. If one of your hang-ups is that the organized church has done bad things, let me just say that yeah, it has, and no, I won't defend them. Repentence is in order, and where it hasn't happened already, it needs to. Fair enough? The problem is that, especially in recent history, we'll probably disagree as to what counts as bad behavior. But in general, I don't feel any particular need to defend sin.

If anything, that documentary--which I have not seen--might highlight a place where you and I are in agreement, i.e. that the church's grasping Constantine's sword of temporal power has been a huge problem for the better part of two thousand years. It's pure counterfactual, but I'd like to think that if the church had refused establishment, i.e. intermingling with earthly political authorities, the Reformation would have been just another internal reform movement which never led to schism. It was the political ramifications of Luther's argument more than the theological ones which seem to have motivated the Vatican to take the hard line that it did. Faced with German princes in revolt on one hand and Galileo on another, the idea that the pope could not unilaterally resolve issues without consultation was not something the hierarchy felt it could give up if it hoped to resolve all the other issues going on at the time. But if the church had eschewed political power from the start, it's entirely possible things could have been different. In short, yeah, Constantine was a problem, and the establishment of Christianity as a state religion has never been good for it. Ever. Jesus always resisted attempts to coronate him, and it's a shame that prelates didn't follow his example.

In a few it is asking some very hard questions not because it's cool but because no one else is.

I think maybe what you're missing is the fact that these conversations are taking place within traditional churches. Not everywhere, and not in public, but they're definitely happening. The thing is that you need to be pretty heavily invested in those communities and traditions before any of them become apparent. A lot of the discussion is on a pretty high level and deeply integrated with each particular tradition's own history. It's not the sort of thing a casual observer or even an interested outsider would be able to pick up on. You really have to dig a lot of the time.

This shouldn't be that surprising. Most people, regardless of their community, aren't all that interested in the meta-level, philosophical and historical issues which their daily practice implicates. They just do what they do. Only a handful of people in any given place are interested in understanding the "Why" of anything. This is just as true of the church as it is of corporate America.

But it is happening. Read this. Churches from across the Protestant spectrum have started to notice that an increasing number of people under the age of about 35 rejecting the feel-good, bland, health-'n-wealth, politically-valanced Christianity of the Boomers in exchange for more traditional forms. Calvinist theology is making a comeback (not terribly surprising, given that the vast majority of Protestant denominations are historically Reformed). A theologically solid, committed, conservative Presbyterian church is one of the largest on Manhattan, and its pastor is gaining national prominence. Liturgy and liturgical studies are becoming more important. Political views are moderating. Groups of artists are actually making good, relevant music. Alasdair MacIntyre is a major philosopher (at one of my alma maters) who has been a central figure in rehabilitating virtue ethics with its attendent emphasis on praxis.

This is the reason that guys like the emergents are getting the attention they are: people are realizing that the church has been around for more than twenty years. But because the vast majority of Americans have absolutely no idea what happened for the past two millennia, people start making things up. Just because everything one knows about the church is bad doesn't necessarily mean that everything about the church itself is bad. It probably just means that there's more to know about the church. But the one thing that almost all of the emergents have in common is that they were not part of a terribly structured church before they started their gig. Campolo is a Baptist. McLaren and Bell are straight-up non-denominational. I haven't seen any of their materials that would lead one towards a deeper engagement with tradition in any serious way.

I completely agree that the way forward is to engage with history. But I don't think the way we engage with history is by throwing it out. I'm all for questioning. But as I've said time and again, there's a difference between "questioning" and "rejecting authority entirely." I'm all for the former, but the emergents represent the latter.

I see you've brought up the dichotomy between tyranny and anarchy. I'd be willing to argue that the historic Christian position is that anarchy is always worse. "But what of the suffering!" you object? Well, since when has suffering been viewed as an entirely bad thing in Christian history? Even dying isn't the worst that can happen to you. The call is not to a life of ease or to live in freedom. The call is to faithfulness, and if that means suffering, than consider yourself blessed to be counted worthy to suffer with Christ. But if there's ever a place in Scripture where we're taught that it's okay to disobey authority and not expect to pay for it, I've yet to be shown it.

My "issue" with liberation theology is that it isn't simply arguing for justice for the poor. If there's any institution in world history that doesn't need to be lectured about that, it's the Catholic Church, and that was true long before a few Latin Americans decided to introduce Marxism into the mix. In effect, the some liberation theologians argued that the message of Jesus has more to do with reforming political structures than with reforming the human heart. This is a perennial temptation of the church and Ratzinger was right to reject as Marxism, not Gospel. Ironically, this is exactly the temptation which the church failed to resist in the fourth century AD. The problem is not that the church adopts the wrong politics, it's that it adopts politics. Marxist politics are no exception. The liberation theologians were praised for emphasizing important parts of Catholic social teaching, but they ultimately went too far, and were chastized for it.

I'm still interested to hear your thoughts on my analysis of the emergence movement as fundamentally in conflict with Christian values though.
posted by valkyryn at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2010


I should have added that it's precisely the structure of tradition and community which enabled the saints of old to bear up under unimaginable suffering. I'm not just saying things suck, I'm trying to point at the solution too. And the solution is not innovation, but grace and prayer.
posted by valkyryn at 1:20 PM on March 2, 2010


The problem is not that the church adopts the wrong politics, it's that it adopts politics.

I am in agreement with that 100%.


In effect, the some liberation theologians argued that the message of Jesus has more to do with reforming political structures than with reforming the human heart.

I was listening to Campolo's podcast and he said the same thing.

I should have added that it's precisely the structure of tradition and community which enabled the saints of old to bear up under unimaginable suffering.

I would argue that the 4th century church bore more in common with the emergent movement than with the current structure.

- They met in peoples homes, they were organized in to smaller cell groups, were locally missional, and there was much more diversity.

A theologically solid, committed, conservative Presbyterian church is one of the largest on Manhattan, and its pastor is gaining national prominence.

He and Rob Bell endorsed the same book and someone leveled this criticism against him for it. This is what I have been referring to all along, emergence has become this catch all accusation based on a straw man version of what it is really about.

I'm still interested to hear your thoughts on my analysis of the emergence movement as fundamentally in conflict with Christian values though.

I am guessing that you are referring to assertions like this:

Christianity is a voyage of discovery, but not one of self-discovery. It's about figuring things out, but not on your own terms. It is, ultimately, a long obedience. It's about figuring out what works for God, not what works for you.

I agree with this as well. It seems that Christianity has this "relativity alarm" and it is set a bit sensitively. If I say I see mystery with God, i.e. I don't know all the answers, that doesn't mean that I reject the concept of knowledge, I am being authentic. Humility is admitting that I don't have all the answers and that I may never have them, but I still obey. I will honor any church authority that honors God and what God commanded, not the version distorted over the last 200 years.

I believe that we are given enough reason and wisdom that we can discern truth. Jesus said seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened. I also see a tendency for certain traditions to step over places where Jesus says that He has come that we might have life abundantly and that His yoke is easy. Getting to abundance of life and an easy yoke comes from obedience. I don't see where the emergence movement denies any of this. If anything they are more focused on making these ideas real for people. In allowing them to seek and find truth praxis empowers them to live that truth out. It no longer becomes somebody else's truth but their truth. It's not about making up your own truth but engaging your own process to come to those conclusions. That is the purpose of the co-horts to keep people honest. In a discussion to be frank exactly like the one we have been having in this thread.

Welcome to the movement brother! : )
posted by empty vessel at 6:10 PM on March 2, 2010


I will honor any church authority that honors God and what God commanded, not the version distorted over the last 200 years.

Should have read:

I will honor any church authority that honors God and what God commanded, not the version distorted over the last 2000 years.
posted by empty vessel at 6:12 PM on March 2, 2010


Welcome to the movement brother!

If that's your conclusion, you've been missing what I've been saying for the past month. How?

I will honor any church authority that honors God and what God commanded, not the version distorted over the last 2000 years.

This is in effect saying that you'll honor any authority that you choose to honor, because you're going to evaluate whether or not that "authority" is correct by your own standards before you "submit" to it.

This isn't obedience or submission in any significant sense, and it's what I've been trying to get you to understand all along. Saying that you'll obey provided you agree isn't obedience. It's consensus. And consensus isn't something you reach with a real authority. It's something you reach with a body of equals, where every involved party has an equal say in the matter.

A real authority, on the other hand, is someone who can tell you want to do, and you have to do it whether or not you agree, because their authority is not based on your recognition of said authority. You don't get to withhold your allegiance until they say things you like. They get to tell you to do things that you don't like. They get to judge you, you don't get to judge them.

While the emergents, being good moderns, hold no truck with this, this is the way the church has always operated, even in the first century. Your summary of how things looked--meeting in homes, de-centralized organization, if organized at all, etc.--is a common but overly romanticized view of what we know about the early church, which was hierarchical within the first generation.

It's hierarchical too. The apostles in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch assumed that the apostles had the ability to intervene in Antiochan local affairs. It's all in there. The sort of hippie-style commune-type thing that the emergents champion... doesn't seem to have existed anywhere in history other than the commune-type societies that pop up every couple of centuries, e.g. the Anabaptists, the Hutterites, etc. While it seems to be a permanent fringe movement in the church, there's no reason to think that it characterized the early church in any significant way.*

Yes, the early church met in each others homes. Why? Because they got expelled from the synagogues, where they naturally belonged. Just read Acts. The church always stared out in the local synagogue. Heck, the apostles led daily worship in the temple in Jerusalem until the Jews finally kicked them out. "The apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers" is best understood as "Preaching, fellowship, sacrament, and liturgical worship."

Ultimately though, while it's gratifying to reach a rapproachment on a personal level, I think the conceptual difference is as great as it ever was. The emergents are a distinctly modern group. Christianity is distinctly pre-modern. All these ideas about individual freedom, personal authority, popular sovereignty, and freedom of conscience? Really hard to find in Christian tradition until the modern period (say seventeenth century onward). The idea that you only have to obey those authorities who, in your judgment, comply with what you understand of God's commands is entirely inconsistent with the sweep of Christian tradition.

Admitting you do not know something is not humble if it is coupled with the assertion, implied or otherwise, that you can decide for yourself the things that you know and the things you do not know. The church is completely comfortable with mystery. I've gone over this before. Faith does not require that you understand, and indeed, faith frequently precedes understanding. But calling something a mystery on which the church has taken a clear position is no better than calling something clear which the church regards as a mystery.

But if there's only one thing I'd like you to understand from all of this, it's that the sorts of conversations you want to have exist within the traditional church and do not require something different to "emerge" from anywhere. The Spirit works in his church, as he always has, and Christ dwells with his church, as he always will. You step away from the church, and you're striking out on your own. The fact that God can work wherever he chooses doesn't mean that there's any reason to believe that he actually will work in ways he hasn't promised to.

Matthew 18, you say? Jesus is talking to the apostles, not the masses. When we say we believe in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church," we aren't kidding, and you don't need to believe in Apostolic Succession** to believe that there's something special about the organized church. There is something you get from Mother Kirk that you can't get anywhere else. There are no substitutes. And earnest theological conversation over coffee in someone's home, while a vital part of any healthy Christian community, will not, can not, feed your soul the same way as the preached Word.

In short, everything you are looking for is already here, and you don't need to get creative to find it. Honest conversation? Sincere inquiry? Mission emphasis? None of these have gone anywhere. They're as hard to find as they always have been, but you don't need to join the Makin' Shit Up Club to find them. I'm completely okay with the emergents critique of the contemporary American church--you don't have to be terribly observant to think something's amiss--but their solution, to scrap the whole thing and start over, is not a faithful response. It's a modern one. The solution is to recover the foundations of Christian faithfulness through earnest engagement with the tradition, which is precisely the one thing the emergents seem unwilling to do.

*I'm aware of Acts 2 and 4. That's describing the rather unusual situation where several thousand pilgrims, who were hundreds or thousands of miles from their homes, converted to Christianity all at once. Indeed, all of Acts 2-5 describe the events connected with Pentecost and its aftermath. The next "chapter" in the story doesn't really get started until chapter 6. As a model for how the church is to deal with a sudden influx of non-local converts, it's very characteristic. But it isn't held forth as a model for how the church operated under normal conditions, even in the first century. Certainly there's no hint of such arrangements in any of Paul's epistles.

**But that's certainly one way. How exactly this works was a point of controversy long before the Reformation. The Orthodox church took one approach, while the remaining two main approaches existed in tension within the Catholic church until the Reformation.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 AM on March 3, 2010


This is in effect saying that you'll honor any authority that you choose to honor, because you're going to evaluate whether or not that "authority" is correct by your own standards before you "submit" to it.
I'll just stick my head in and note, once again, that this is the story of Christianity. If you can explain how emergents differ from Protestants in this regard, other than the fact that Protestants have more book deals and rent larger movie theaters for their Sunday services, I'm all ears. If Protestantism is good enough for you, why is that approach poisonous and bad for emergents?
This isn't obedience or submission in any significant sense, and it's what I've been trying to get you to understand all along. Saying that you'll obey provided you agree isn't obedience. It's consensus. And consensus isn't something you reach with a real authority. It's something you reach with a body of equals, where every involved party has an equal say in the matter.
You're misrepresenting empty vessel's statements pretty blatantly: he was discussing the process by which one decides whether or not someone who claims to be an authority is legitimate. Saying that doesn't count is like saying that marriage doesn't count if you agree to it.
A real authority, on the other hand, is someone who can tell you want to do, and you have to do it whether or not you agree, because their authority is not based on your recognition of said authority. You don't get to withhold your allegiance until they say things you like. They get to tell you to do things that you don't like. They get to judge you, you don't get to judge them.
Scripture is pretty clear about the fact that such submission is God's to demand. empty vessel's entire point is that there are many claims about who is in an authoritative position to speak for God, and it would be foolish not to carefully weigh those claims and their sources before 'submitting.'

Or are you suggesting that theological authority comes from the ability to force compliance? That sounds a lot like the kinds of problems that the Political Church got into after it sold its birthright for Constantine porridge.
posted by verb at 8:00 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you guys just come over already and hash this out in person? I'll make waffles.*

*actually he does all the cooking
posted by desjardins at 9:28 AM on March 3, 2010


verb, I don't think I'm misrepresenting anything; I think you're reading more into my comments than is strictly necessary. I'm fully aware that there are competing authorities out there. Discerning between them is one thing, but that's a subtly different position to take than "I'll obey you if I think you're legitimate."

And you'd be right in your conflation of the Protestant and emergent takes on authority if contemporary Baptists actually held the historic Protestant position on authority. Protestantism emerged over a dispute over the mechanics of authority. There was no suggestion that the church lacked authority or that Christians are bound by it. There was no attempt to revisit settled issues. Indeed, the Reformation occured precisely because there were issues which weren't settled, namely the authority of the pope and the nature of apostolic succession. Rome didn't reach its current position on the issue until after the Reformation. The Lutheran tradition is still mostly magisterial, and the more conservative Reformed traditions look a lot more authoritarian than most American Protestants would be comfortable with.

It's one thing for there to be a disagreement about an issue inside orthodox Christianity which is unsettled, and for that disagreement to lead to a parting of ways. It's another thing to start from a position which has always been outside orthodox Christianity and expect to weave that in. Protestantism did the former. The emergents are doing the latter. It's a subtle difference perhaps, but theology is nothing if not a subtle discipline.

desjardins, I'm all for it. I think we're probably long past the point where the Internet is a productive medium for this sort of thing anyways, but being good MeFites, that hasn't stopped us. Let's see if we can work something out.
posted by valkyryn at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2010


The first rule of waffle club is that.. you.. um. Must eat waffles!

I'm in.
posted by verb at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2010


Plus, if you guys need to "take it outside," we live right next to a big park.

Anyone else still reading this who likes waffles and endless theological pedantry discussions, let me know.
posted by desjardins at 11:10 AM on March 3, 2010


i keed, i keed
posted by desjardins at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2010


Aren't you in Houston Desjardins? I could totally swing a summertime waffle and theology meetup. :) (Has to be summer so I can drop Igor at the grandparents. He's good at theology, but you don't even want to see the volume of waffles a 7 year old boy can consume.)
posted by dejah420 at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2010


No, we're someplace with snow on the ground. Wait, that's half the US.

Seriously, though, we're in Milwaukee, although we could be coaxed back to Chicagoland for the day if someone else can host.
posted by desjardins at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2010


I have greatly enjoyed reading this thread and would love to get in on the theology-and-waffles meetup, as long as it's not during Pesach. :)
posted by albrecht at 5:53 PM on March 3, 2010


If that's your conclusion, you've been missing what I've been saying for the past month. How?

A little levity on my part. I haven't missed what you were saying. It seem like anyone who doesn't agree with anyone in conservative Protestantism gets called emergent these days.

It's one thing for there to be a disagreement about an issue inside orthodox Christianity which is unsettled, and for that disagreement to lead to a parting of ways. It's another thing to start from a position which has always been outside orthodox Christianity and expect to weave that in. Protestantism did the former.

I don't think the Pope saw it that way when the protestants broke away. Then again there wasn't always a Pope or an orthodoxy.


waffle and theology meetup

Sounds like an emergent co-hort meeting to me, but meetup sounds less controversial. (Again, I jest)

Seriously, though, we're in Milwaukee, although we could be coaxed back to Chicagoland for the day if someone else can host.

I thought you married me for my cooking? I am fine with opening our home and if anyone needs to crash we have room for that. If Chicago works better for everyone that would be fine too.


Has to be summer so I can drop Igor at the grandparents. He's good at theology, but you don't even want to see the volume of waffles a 7 year old boy can consume

We have two dogs. They love to hang out with kids and eat waffles, or is it the other way? They don't do theology well, though.
posted by empty vessel at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2010


The emergents are a distinctly modern group.

Funny, they are almost universally labels as post-modern. Unless I misreading your use of the word modern?
posted by empty vessel at 6:40 PM on March 3, 2010


They don't do theology well, though.

And the cats are nihilists.
posted by desjardins at 6:52 PM on March 3, 2010


But if there's only one thing I'd like you to understand from all of this, it's that the sorts of conversations you want to have exist within the traditional church and do not require something different to "emerge" from anywhere.

This doesn't give with my experience preparing for ministry or in this tread. Even broaching certain subjects is ground for marginalization, the evangelical version of excommunication. The one place that I seem to be able to have these sorts of conversations is the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, even they really don't seem to understand what this is. They are willing to discuss it though.
posted by empty vessel at 6:59 PM on March 3, 2010


Can you guys just come over already and hash this out in person? I'll make waffles.

We want to discuss theology, not have someone figure it out first hand.
posted by empty vessel at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm in northeast Indiana, so I could do either Chicago or Milwaukee. Chicago is a long day trip, but Milwaukee's an easy weekend. Switch to MeTa or MeMail for logistics?
posted by valkyryn at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2010


This doesn't give with my experience preparing for ministry or in this tread. Even broaching certain subjects is ground for marginalization, the evangelical version of excommunication. The one place that I seem to be able to have these sorts of conversations is the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, even they really don't seem to understand what this is. They are willing to discuss it though.

Not entirely surprising, given what I know about the ecclesiastical situation in Milwaukuee, but interpreting one's own experience as the sum total of what's out there is usually unwise.

I've had quite the opposite experience. The people I know who are most interested in these sorts of things are also those most committed to traditional ecclesiology, sacramentology, etc.
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2010


Waffles with a side of theology? Hmmmm...sounds tasty.
posted by jeanmari at 7:08 PM on March 7, 2010


Meta (well, meetup)
posted by desjardins at 6:08 AM on March 8, 2010


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