The ECM and the Gospel: A Potential Problem and Definite SolutionSunday, August 27, 2006
Traveling is hard on my knees. They sit in one place for more than three hours and they start to scream at me for a break. So on my pilgrimage to Nashville for company training I stop at the Krystal's in Murfreesboro, TN. This is where I give in to my craving, which occurs about once every two months, for "gut grenades" as I have come to call them. The food products here taste so good but are so terribly bad for my intestinal system....and probably for everyone else's intestinal system were I to consult a doc about it. (Click on the square hamburger to see the menu...be careful not to lust.)
So here I sit, where the free Wi-Fi transmission travels about as slow as a cold front in the Gobi Desert, listening to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cindi Lauper (involuntarily, of course), awaiting on the manager to personally deliver my #1 Combo with a small chili and a hot apple turnover.
You can tell I'm a hardcore blogger, though not like my dear friends John Schroeder (Blogotional) or Adrian Warnock. They are hardcore in a different way - sitting close to a computer most of the day where they can post their thoughts periodically throughout the day. Me? I travel all week long and have to wait to each evening to blog...or when I'm on the road on an "off day" and can stop along the way. The problem with traveling is that my mind is like a sponge, taking it all in, and eventually needing a squeeze before I go crazy. Stopping on a lengthy road trip at Krystal to blog on my most recent thoughts is just such an attempt to maintain sanity amid this kind of job with my kind of brain.
On today's menu is the Emergent Church....yes...again. Today? Combo #24. Evidently, this is the most blogged about topic on my blog...numbering 23 posts so far. Yet thankfully, the sheer number of other posts reveal that this does not consume all of my feeble intellectual efforts.
My focus in this post is to point out a probable root cause for some (or much?) of the philosophy that guides the Emergent conversation and a biblical solution for it. To get right to the point and without Emergent, first-person documentation to back it up right here in Krystal's, my perception and observation is that so much of Emergent conversation is just that...a conversation....a journey as it is often described. As such, there is an inherent and deep connection to skepticism and cynicism, especially with regard to the most popularly reflected forms of the local church in American or Western culture.
Much of this simply stems from the ordinary, inherent sinfulness rooted in each individual from birth. And my guess is that given this already present condition, an opportunity arises in neo-orthodoxy theology (remixed in our generation) for our sinful hearts to find a way to not have to submit to authority. I think that my statement is pretty accurate, especially given the sometimes very overt rebellious attitude that some in the ECM have displayed toward the sound doctrine that has been passed down to us since the early church.
Now, my purpose in this post is not to criticize or analyze this particular feature of the ECM or Emergent conversation. I've already done that in the other 23 posts. Instead, I'd simply like to offer a possible explanation as to why this exists, other than the one called depravity which I've already suggested.
Here's what I'm thinking, hurrying it up as the indigestion quickly sets in. I'm thinking that some of this exists due to the intangible nature of what the Bible calls for and talks about. Let's see if I can briefly explain this.
Consider first that tangible things are those which I can perceive with my five senses. Consider second, that there are two parts to perception: a reality and a proposition that correlates with that reality. There are two and a half plain cheese Krystal's left on my tray is a proposition. The reality to which that proposition correlates are tangible, edible, and tasty plain cheese Krystals (two and a half of them to be exact). However, if there were not these items on my tray, then the proposition would be called into question, right? If I can't see them how do I know they are there.
Could it be then with the ECM and Emergent conversation that part of the skepticism and cynicism toward "modernism" and its theological constructs is because the reality to which our/my propositions argue is largely intangible? And could it not stand to reason then that if they are intangible, hard to perceive with our senses, if not impossible, that they are argued or outright rejected.
Not all of it is intangible, of course. There are very specific responses and obligations God makes upon us in the Scriptures that can be touched, seen, heard, felt, etc. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for the homeless, speaking an encouraging word, greeting others with holy affections, etc. are all very tangible expressions of godliness. But to make my point, they stem from and are motivated by intangible expressions of the gospel in the human heart. And the gospel in the human heart is also an intangible teaching, doctrine, set of truths, etc. as told to us in the Bible.
So it could stand to reason then that according to the last paragraph, about two-thirds of the Christian life is intangible, unable to be perceived by the five senses. And it is focal point of the teaching, instruction, explanations, or arguments of this two-thirds around which so much of the controversy between the emergent conversation and their supposedly "modernistic" opponents is surrounded. The gospel as a doctrine, and any other kind of biblical teaching for that matter is not something that we can taste, feel, hear, see, or smell. Therefore, in the minds of those on the emergent journey, could it not be that this is at least a possible reason why they react against any certainty that someone claims to have about it all?
If so, what's the solution. The burgers are now cold and I'm ready to arrive at the destination of my own journey (something oddly enough that my emergent friends also strongly react against). The solution is found in Jesus' reply to Thomas in John 20:29. “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven’t seen me and yet believe anyway” (NLT). In other words, those of you who have believed Me because you perceived me with your senses are happy. But those who believe in Me yet do not perceive Me with their senses are even happier and more satisfied.
Belief is intangible, and according to Jesus it does not have to rest on tangibility. It rests simply on the testimony of others who themselves tangibly experienced Jesus Christ. This is certainly the case of the apostle John, isn't it? He wrote at the beginning of his first epistle, “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ. The Word of life. This one who is life from God was shown to us, and we have seen Him…And now we testify and announce to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us. We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3, NLT).
John and his friends saw Jesus, heard him, touched and handled him, and now teach others about him....others who could not and would not ever perceive Jesus in the same way John and the disciples did. His testimony was enough for the believers in Ephesus to whom he was writing. His own testimony provided certitude amid the intangible nature of the truth he was testifying to. And if they believed it, they were more blessed than the apostle John was! So faith is the answer! Belief is what it's all about!
Problem is, this faith –which is saving faith, by the way – is rooted in the preaching of the Scriptures, an unfortunate turn of theological events for the one on the emergent journey. For the Scriptures and the way we see them are the things always up for grabs along the journey. Therefore, the faith that saves is a faith always out of reach. According to an emergent, we cannot know with certainty what the Bible is really saying. And that hearkens back to my original point that the intangibility of what the Bible is really saying makes it difficult for an emergent person to perceive it and accept it….because that perception and acceptance comes only by faith…saving faith.
The only solution for the emergent person then is to step off his “journey” and onto the narrow road walked by Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is a road one enters by the narrow gate (the wicket gate), opened by the gospel (Evangelist), and headed inevitably toward heaven (the Jordan River). The gospel is the counsel one receives along the way. The gospel gives the answers to all the questions asked. The gospel solves any problem along the way. And it does all of this and more only because of the saving faith that Christian places in it, believing it is what it claims to be, never questioning it, or expressing desire to re-examine it. In fact, Christian’s path along the narrow road is the polar opposite of the journey along which the emergent ‘Christians’ are traveling now.
In the end, a firm resolve to lay aside the inherent rebellious nature of our hearts, and an equally firm resolve to find happiness and satisfaction in an intangible saving faith, formulated in an intangible theology handed down by the apostles through the early church and passed down to us to this day, and placed in an unseen Jesus Christ are the only solutions. They are solutions, however, to problems that many emergents cannot see, do not acknowledge, or reject altogether. In rejecting what has been passed down to them in the apostolic faith, and choosing instead to re-examine it all and put it all back together again aright, they dangerously unhand and discard the very thing that can give meaning and fulfillment and satisfaction to their “journey” and provide them with an actual destination.
May the Lord give us more opportunities to speak together with them on eternal matters like these.