Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Theology Stupid (chapter 4): But Not Quite Yet

A post on chapter four of Tony's book is on its way. But before we go there, I wanted to make an observation. I discovered this past week that there are people out there in the blogosphere who don't just think emerging Christians are wrong about this, that or the other thing, but think too that they are a bunch of people with various sorts of character flaws. I for example have been identified as a slothful, sophmoric half-wit by some of emergent's critics. Now, there's no doubt that emerging Christians have character flaws. We all do.

To see me taken to the mat (quite unfairly, I think) go here. That link will take you to a blog of someone whose name we do not know and whose identity remains safely hidden behind the blog handle "dissidens". Dissidens' prose is crisp and easy on the eye. He's a good writer. The problem (to my mind anyway; certainly not to his) is that he has no desire to listen, to try to understand or to engage in a discussion. Well, actually, that wouldn't be a problem if that was a place he came to after an earnest attempt or two at engaging and listening.

Here's a difference between what I hope can go on here (on this blog) and what (apparently) goes on over at his. Here I hope there can be disagreement, even spirited disagreement, without impugning the character of someone who disagrees with you. For example, I have voiced pointed disagreement with Pete Rollins and John Caputo and worried over some things Tony J has said. So far as I know I have never engaged in ad hominem attacks against anyone and neither Pete nor Tony has ever said to me with guerilla-like rhetorical flourishes "What? You disagree with me? Well obviously you're an idiot then, because if you were an honest and sincere truth-seeker, you'd agree with me; since you don't agree with me, you're not just mistaken, but there's something wrong with you."

Over at "dissidens" blog, it's pretty clear that since he and I don't see eye to eye about semantic plasticity or biblical interpretation, I'm an idiot or if not an idiot at least a half-wit. Apparently he doesn't like the way I used the English word "sexed" or the Latin word "secare" in a previous post. Forget for the moment that he attributes claims to me that a close reading would reveal I didn't make, still it's obvious that we disagree about what words can mean and about how to interpret the scriptures. (We do actually agree on how to spell half-witted, but on typing my comment at his blog I apparently misspelled it only to discover that that was sufficient for showing that I was, in fact, a half-wit, as if there wasn't enough evidence already.)

Now, you'll recall from my previous post on Stanley Fish that I am not immune to dishing out pointed criticism clothed in equally pointed and colorful rhetoric (minus the ad hominem). And some commenters on this blog rightfully and respectfully pushed back. The tone from all interlocutors in the discussion that ensued struck me as civil and respectful even if the passions of many of us were not always packaged in tame words.

I thought perhaps dissidens might actually be interested in engagement, the kind I'd like to think goes on here when what goes on here is at its best. So, I asked him a couple of questions on his blog, which he published. He answered those questions and in so doing made it quite clear that respectful engagement was not among his interests. So I left him a curt and pointed reply to that effect. He removed that comment, and has continued to add to the scorn. That's fine. It is very much in keeping with his handle dissidens. He apparently enjoys sitting apart and disagreeing from a distance and not from a position of engagement. That's fine, too. But in that case why invite comments?

Maybe it's because I've been in the academic world for a decade now that I've gotten used to spirited disagreement sans the character assassination. (How a half-wit like myself was ever allowed into the academy and into the society of analytic philosophy I can only guess remains an utter mystery to dissidens.)

If given the choice (and I guess all of us are) between a fox-news style of "engagement" (replete with caricatures and sniper-fire) and the style of engagement we aim for here on this blog, I'll stick with this style. It seems to me more productive, more fruitful and, quite frankly, more Christ-like.

27 comments:

Stephen Krogh said...

Hmmmm....why did it erase my post?

I'll try again with what I said

Social order in many ways falls apart on the internet. One can say things online he would never say in person (or if he did, wouldn't have many people around for too long to listen) and say them in a manner he would never say in person; hell, I feel quite brave in front of the screen as well. There is a level of protection in the anonymity of the internet, which seems often to bring out the worst in people. Our friends at Remonstrans have not risen above the temptation. I suppose, though, that a wounded animal is the most fierce, and dissedens (what is up with the Latin names?) may feel angered by the emergent movement because their critique could have hit a little too close to home. Rob Bell receives some of this from the CRC and RCA communities in Grand Rapids; his success is contingent upon their failures and they know it. Perhaps dissedens has experienced this in his church life? If so, then we ought to pity him as we would pity a recalcitrant alcoholic, who, upon driving off anyone who may have loved him, sits lonely and embittered cursing everyone but himself for his sorry state turning only to his hooch for comfort. That is as charitable a suggestion as you'll find from me. I could be less charitable, but I'll work to maintain the integrity of your blog.

The spelling critique was most unattractive. The reasons are obvious enough that I'll not waste the time to point them out (much as I don't spend too much time pointing out the sun to passers by at noon). But, for all of his writing (and I agree that he is a good writer), which showcases at least some ability to think critically, he dashed any chance for me to take him seriously by critiquing, among other things, someone's spelling. Yeesh.

And, finally, the OED? Are we being serious here? When did language become so rigid that once some Englishmen pen down a definition it becomes unquestionable cannon from which any deviation is linguistic heresy? I certainly (and apparently wrongly) thought that language was more fluid. I guess this is a chicken-or-the-egg question. Do we use words as defined because the OED defines them as such, or does the OED define them as such because of the way we use them? The answer, by my dim lights, seems as obvious as the aforementioned noon day sun and so I'll not waste my time. Cheers

themethatisme said...

Yes, it can be challenging at times but I would not take too much notice of those who hide their identity entireley and resort to snide comments rather than discussion. Different blogs do different things. Stick with those which work for you.

brett tilford said...

Good thoughts Kevin. I can relate to you in small way. I launched my blog 3 months ago and was surprised by some of the nastiness.

Cheers

Chris said...

I'm sure that "semantic plasticity" works great in something as unimportant as theology, but when it comes time to part with really important resources like money, language takes on a whole lot more significance. Take a look at your mortgage some time and ask yourself whether you would appreciate some realtor applying your language theory to the monument of your significance.

victor eremita said...

Dissidens is a curmudgeonly fellow, and a nasty blogger to tangle with. However, it is worth recognizing a couple of things.

First, when it comes to what has traditionally been understood as "culture," emergents do not have it or appreciate it, and thus any people who do are understandably suspicious of them. Though emergents like picking some ideas from people N.T. Wright, they don't follow him in his deep appreciation of tradition, liturgy, and culture.

Second, what you said was crass, even if it was understandable. If Christ-likeness is the goal, would not a humble apology for coarse language be the best way to prove that conversation is what you care about? Or will you say that Jesus Christ would recommend that people masturbate as a tu quoque? I do not believe he would.

I don't think Dissidens is particularly interested in engagement, and he has a long track record of not admitting error, so I'm not defending him per se. But I do appreciate culture, I do believe that in the Western world some art, music, and literature is better than others, and that some forms demonstrate fitness in the communication of certain content, while other forms actually distort the content they are supposed to communicate. All of this seems terribly elementary to me, and I have difficult taking seriously peopel who would try to convince me that somethings are not better than others (not that this is necessarily an emergent position, but it certainly is associated with postmodernism).

Kevin Corcoran said...

Chris:

Huh?

Victor:

I'm not sure what you mean by "culture". It seems to me that emerging Christians both appreciate and critically engage culture at every turn. And many have a deep appreciation for tradition and liturgy as well. Indeed, many emerging communities are much more sacramental than most protestant churches.

My second comment on dissdens blog was, on reflection, a bit over the top. His response to my honest questions seemed to me nothing more than an opportunity for him to engage in self-stimulation (as opposed to convesation or communication) and the term "masturbate" seemed to convey that thought pretty accurately. The term "masturbate" does not strike me as coarse. Yet the comment was, I confess, unnecessary. Finally, you say:

I don't think Dissidens is particularly interested in engagement, and he has a long track record of not admitting error, so I'm not defending him per se. But I do appreciate culture, I do believe that in the Western world some art, music, and literature is better than others, and that some forms demonstrate fitness in the communication of certain content, while other forms actually distort the content they are supposed to communicate. All of this seems terribly elementary to me, and I have difficult taking seriously peopel who would try to convince me that somethings are not better than others (not that this is necessarily an emergent position, but it certainly is associated with postmodernism).

I'm not sure what or who this might be aimed at. Who, exactly, in the emerging movement has tried to convince you that there are no standards for judging art? I can appreciate people disagreeing with what emerging Christians might think about various topics, but why would you not take seriously people who disagree with you, especially if those people have come to their views after careful reflection?

victor eremita said...

To ask why I wouldn't take seriously those who disagree with me is to generalize in an unwarranted way from my statement that if someone holds a specific position (which I delineated), I have difficulty taking them seriously. Someone who claims to have, though careful reflection, come to believe that there is no difference in quality between Britney Spears and Mozart will force me to seriously question what they mean by "careful reflection." The whole point is that some positions, like the one I mentioned, are incongruous with careful reflections. When postmoderns like Stanley Fish try to, in a paragraph, eliminate the subject-object distinction and absorb authors, texts, and readers into interpretive communities, they may have reflected until they were blue in the face, but I will still have difficulty taking them seriously.

If you could provide some concrete examples of what you mean by tradition and liturgy, that would be helpful. Tradition to me inclueds things like respecting and affirming creeds, preserving and passing on distinctives (e.g. of Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, etc.), and being very slow to change historic belief in practice for the sake of novel cultural pressures. When some person or movement is notorious for not wanting to be nailed down on basic orthodox positions, I begin straining to understand what "tradition" means for them.

By culture I denote those things one learns about in humanities classes, or to use an oft-maligned phrase from Arnold, "the best that has been thought and said." I mean "culture" in its original sense, which has to do with formation, cultivation (Bildung). I don't mean that bland and neutral "culture" that Christians are called to engage.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Victor:

You say:

Someone who claims to have, though careful reflection, come to believe that there is no difference in quality between Britney Spears and Mozart will force me to seriously question what they mean by "careful reflection." The whole point is that some positions, like the one I mentioned, are incongrous with careful relfection....

I guess I need a concrete example. I've never heard anyone in emergent say there's no difference b/w BS and Mozart. Moreover, I myself would be willing to defend such a claim as that the works of Bob Dylan or U2 are just as culturally important as those of Mozart. There are obvious differences b/w the former and the latter, but in terms of quality, and allowing for differences in genera, I think both are of the highest quality.

By tradition I have in mind the stories and beliefs that make up ecumenical orthodoxy and have been passed down to us through those who preceded us, such as the Nicene or Apostle's Creed. I also mean the story I find myself caught up in and want to invite others into, i.e., the story of a new reality, a new way to be human, that God inaugurated in Christ.

By liturgy I mean such routine practices as the recitation of something like the NC and the ritualized observance of the Eucharist, confession, baptism, etc. And, yes, such practices and observances are very important to many in the emerging conversation. As is tradition.

Speaking for myself, I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and resurrecter of Jesus. I believe that God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come (as well as one holy, catholic and apostolic church and one baptism for the forgiveness of sins).

The emerging Christians I know would have little difficulty w/any of that.

I also believe I see a through a glass darkly and that even although I believe with great conviction all of the things I just confessed AND, perhaps above all, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and that those things are true, I nevertheless realize that God is bigger, more glorious and grander than these or any formulae are capable of expressing.

And I would point out that there is nothing in any of the ecumenical creeds proscribing a particular view of creation (e.g., that creation did not occur through natural and evolutionary means), a particular metaphysics of persons (e.g., that we are immaterial souls as opposed to material beings), a particular view of atonement or salvation (e.g., that penal substitution is the only metaphor capable of expressing what God did for us in Christ's atoning death or that there are no second, third, fourth, etc., etc. chances for salvation postmortem), a particular view ecclesiology, etc., etc.

Finally, as for culture being the best that his been thought or said, I'm more than a little skeptical. "Best" with respect to what and according to whom?

VC said...

Yes, a whiff of the late 19th century - early 20th century is in the air.

"that penal substitution is the only metaphor capable of expressing what God did for us in Christ's atoning death or that there are no second, third, fourth, etc., etc. chances for salvation postmortem"

Is Calvin the new University of Chicago Divinity School? Is James K.A. Smith the new George Burman Foster? Are you Shailer Mathews?

We've seen all this before, and quite frankly it stinks - and it stinks more with a PhD behind it. That only seems to authorize the nonsense.

Maybe I need to call the trustees a Calvin and pull my pledge of 50 million when I die. Perhaps, that would get their attention.

Unfortunately, we won't have any heresy trials this time. There is no body of Christ in which to practice schism.

I'd say you're a little over a century too late.

And . . . you are still a MODERN. Don't your forget it.

Chris said...

Your house, Kevin, your house. Would you sell your house using this logic? If you draft a document on your house outlining the terms of sale that includes certain provisions for the buyer, would you expect those provisions to be followed, or would semantic plasticity allow him the liberty of interpreting your wishes on his own terms? Does he get to pay you with Monopoly money, for example, because he doesn't think it's all that important who prints money?

You have a terminal degree in philosophy and you're proposing that we go ahead and do theology in a way that you wouldn't dare conduct secular business. How has that worked out historically?

Kevin Corcoran said...

Chris:

My point about semantic plasticity is simply this: a dictionary is not the best thing to consult to discover the meaning of words. This is why in many discussions we take time to "define our terms," i.e., so all parties to the conversation or discussion mean the same thing when employing the same terms. This is especially true in philosophy and theology. Not so much in the day-to-business of buying and selling houses, though.

Take for example, the word "eschaton" or "eschatology". Eschatology has to do with "last things" or "final things". I claimed that sexuality is aimed at the eschaton. I said that sexuality can be understood as that drive or energy in human beings for connection, community and relationship. And following a long line of theologians (like Augustine) the end for which we have in fact been created is communion and relational connection, with God. And so, I said, sexuality and eschatology are intimately related. I stand by that claim.

If I'm not permitted to use the terms "eschatology" and "sexuality" in this way, I guess I want to know who made up that rule? Who made up the rule that the meanings of words must conform to OED definitions?

I often tell my students in philosophy that when writing a paper they should avoid using a dictionary to discover the meanings of words. Why? Well, take for example the word "identity" or the phrase, "the same as". We use these words in garden variety discourse in such a way that it makes perfect sense to say that you and I have "the same" computers or "identical" cars. We even speak of "identical twins." But, in philosophy/math, the English word "identity" has everything to do with the number 1. And in this sense, of course, we do not have "the same" computer or "identical" cars. You have one and I have one and 1+1=2; yet "identity", in the philosophical/mathematical sense, has everything to do with the number 1; in fact, identity is a relation that each thing necessarily stands to itself. Most dictionaries would not tell you that, however.

Make sense?

Chris said...

It makes sense, but it doesn't seem to do anything productive or helpful for the study of theology.

Godspeed as you "converse," I think I will continue to "study." The former is your word, do whatever you want with it. The latter is Paul's word and God's, and I would graciously commend reverent treatment of it.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Chris:

I gather from the tone of your last comment that you have little interest in understanding me. But, just in case I may be misreading you, here's this:

You say:

It makes sense, but it doesn't seem to do anything productive or helpful for the study of theology.

What doesn't do anything productive or helpful for the study of theology? What is "it" that doesn't do anything helpful?

And then this:

Godspeed as you "converse," I think I will continue to "study." The former is your word, do whatever you want with it. The latter is Paul's word and God's, and I would graciously commend reverent treatment of it.

What's that all about? Who said anything about "conversing"? Actually, I do know a little about "studying". Funny that the former is "my" word and the latter Paul's and God's. Are you insinuating that I know nothing of Paul or God?
I guess what gets me, Chris, is that I hear a lot of people say you just can't talk to those emerging types, that they're smart-alecky and unwilling to communicate. But I must say that I find your comments rather smart-alecky, and I'm just guessing you're not "one of them." I've recently come upon another angry, smart-alecky fellow who has his own blog. Perhaps you know of him?

VC said...

Kevin:

You said: "Who made up the rule that the meanings of words must conform to OED definitions?"

Let me answer that question:

People who wanted to converse.

You mentioned that this was the reason why we defined terms in a conversation. OED was simply an attempt to do this on a grand scale - to add some efficiency to the process. Sorta like those long lists of acronyms at the beginning of the scholarly journals (some in which you publish, perhaps)

Later you said: "I often tell my students in philosophy that when writing a paper they should avoid using a dictionary to discover the meanings of words."

Listen, we all understand that real estate and terms have three important rules: location, location, location. Language is fraught with conundrums. I just don't see where your semantic plasticity gets us past the these issues. It only seems to multiply them. Oh, yes, Dilthey was bummed because he couldn't come up with a universal language. Yes, sometimes we think too much of what language can accomplish.

Let me ask you a question: When you grade a paper, and the student says, "but,you misunderstood me"; how do you handle that?

Interestingly enough, you claimed to use the term "masturbation" in an equivocal sense; but the punch of your retort was to be taken in the univocal sense. The real semantic plasticity was in your understanding of St. Paul in Ephesians 4:29.

I'm not certain that meaning can only be found in the web of context. The spiritualization of Heidegger and all his linguistic children (contrary to RO's assertion) only immanentalizes the world. There is no possibility of the transcendent. What you and your ilk have done is merely "flatten" (BTW Smith overuses this term)reality along another axis.

But, hey, you've got the PhD. You've chosen your side. Years ago people on your side of the fence doubted the veracity of God's Word. Now, you've gone further - you just doubt the capacity of the Word to hold the truth.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who? Who let the dogs out?

Why are you guys so angry? You know what I'm glad for, VC? I'm glad that God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--is my judge. Not VC. Not Mr. D. Not Chris. God.

Whoever slaps you on the cheek, turn to him the other also.

Slap away, brothers! And remember:

Whatsoever you do the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.

Look at this, VC:

What you and your ilk have done is merely "flatten" (BTW Smith overuses this term)reality along another axis.

That's a bald assertion.

And this:

But, hey, you've got the PhD. You've chosen your side. Years ago people on your side of the fence doubted the veracity of God's Word. Now, you've gone further - you just doubt the capacity of the Word to hold the truth.

What side have I chosen? And how in God's name have I dobuted the capacity of the Word to hold the truth? How many blog entries of mine have you read, VC?

You know, I'm not a big fan of John Piper. But you know what, there's a guy who I found is at least willing to listen and actually engage in fruitful dialogue. He took issue with something I wrote in Books and Culutre a couple of years ago and blogged about it. And you know what? We had a very pleasant exchange, which he posted on his blog. (You can probably google both our names together and find it.) You know what else? He didn't hurl one ad hominem or question the sincerity of my commitment to Christ. He disagreed with me, and I with him. But, boy, it was quite a different sort of experience I had with him than what I've had w/you, Mr.D and Chris.

Chris said...

The "it" to which I refer is the same "it" to which you referred when you asked if it makes sense without stating the "it" to which you referred.:) You asked if your post made sense, I responded that it did, that I follow your reasoning, but I reject that reasoning because it doesn't assume an objective set of standards for arriving at truth.

Your link between sexuality and the eschaton does not make sense, but I understand how you arrived at it, and what you use to support it. It's not valid because it is based on rules of language that do not formally exist. I don't know if there is a way to say that without sounding offensive.

"Converse" is your word by virtue of the company you keep. It's the word that's in all the books I read about how truth is best arrived at by the consensus of the crowd as they apprehend (or misapprehend) data. I know that you have studied; I worry that you have abandoned studying and set out to undermine the things you studied by intuition. You seem to have set to sea without your charts and are content to navigate by consensus based on observations from the bow of the ship. Historically this has had bad results in theology.

Sorry about the dismissive and rude nature of the last comment, and my tone in general, but if you can look past the invective, I mean what I say.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Chris:

You should read what I've actually written. If you would, you would have noticed that the views you accuse me of holding I reject. Truth by consensus? I've said such a thing as that? When? Where? Please show me. Just one instance will do. You, my friend, are too anxious to pick a fight. First read what I've actually written. And then, but only then, come back to me with claims that I have made to such an effect as you accuse me of. For starters, read my post on postmodernism and the the one on Stanley Fish.

Also, I'd be careful about your penchant for "guilt by association". Jesus kept company with harlots and tax collectors. What did that make him?

Your invective is unbecoming, Chris. Sometimes the medium is the message, my friend. And the message you send is ugly. Have you heard the good news? Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

SFMatheson said...

Y'know, I wasn't crazy about the sex/eschaton thing either, and I thought Mr. D-head correctly identified the reason why severing/separation lies at the etymological root of sex.

But there's no point engaging thugs like him, and I get some twisted joy from the observation that he's reading and posting on a book by one of the clowns of the Discovery Institute, one David Berlinski. Hard-ass Christian posturing by Mr. D-like characters is almost always accompanied by nearly limitless credulity when considering evolution, and Mr. D. is unlikely to disappoint. I don't intend to watch the show, but I'd wager significantly on Mr. Duh swallowing the line and even the sinker.

In any case, if you do decide to browse the OED more often, let me know if you come across this definition I found when looking for the meaning of an, um, alternative alias for the blogger you've dubbed Mr. D: "someone or something foolish or contemptible;an uncompromising term of abuse..."

Kevin Corcoran said...

Steve:

Yeah, I'm done with Mr. D. I figure if he or his D-ciples come round these parts showing signs of clearly never having read what I say about certain matters but feeling nevertheless perfectly justified to saddle me with views they "know" I must hold, and on top of that making groundless and bald assertions amid a flurry of Mr. D-like arrogant-filled invective, I'm just gonna quote scripture at them. I don't think I've ever done that before, but I must confess to a perverse sort of enjoyment at the thought of replying to the D's with nothing but bible verses.

BTW: did I hear you say that Mr. D is credulous w/respect to ID? You must be joking, right? Surely there is some character defect in you that prevents you from seeing "the truth". What is "the truth"? Well, it's whatever Mr. D. decrees, under of course the Lordship of Christ and his apostles of truth, John MacArthur, John Piper and Al Mohler. 'nuff said.

Jack said...

Kevin said: "BTW: did I hear you say that Mr. D is credulous w/respect to ID? You must be joking, right? Surely there is some character defect in you that prevents you from seeing "the truth". "

Steve said: "Hard-ass Christian posturing by Mr. D-like characters is almost always accompanied by nearly limitless credulity when considering evolution, and Mr. D. is unlikely to disappoint."

You guys have me really confused! Did you mean to sling an ad hominem at Steve regarding his character, or was that a joke of some kind?

I have to say that I am confused about Steve's statment. I would understand it if he said "... limitless credulity when considering (YEC, ID, etc.)..." not "evolution". Because in my experince guys like Mr. D, have no room whatsoever in the way they see the world and for evolution in any form.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Jack:

Sorry to confuse you! This Mr. D fellow...how shall we say it...ripped me a new one last week. Twice. Okay, that's overstating the case. Basically he called me lots of names and attributed to me various character defects on his blog. So, that's the context for my response to Steve. And where I referenced ID, Steve referenced evolution. (I meant evolution too.) I hope this Mr. D thing is behind me. If it isn't, I may have to resort to quoting more scripture at him.

VC said...

Kevin:

Thanks for the reminder to leave my personal judgments as to what train of doctrine (or lack thereof) I happen to think you are on.

I will refrain from such ill conceived modern behavior. I do enjoy your cheering section. They seem to be modeling Christ for me. I could learn a lot from their engagement with the issues. I will ammend my behavior such that I only use invective, ad hominem, and name calling against my own position.

Okay, enough said - conversation has only degenerated.

Needless to say, Chris and I don't accept some of your assumptions and nearly all your conclusions.

I thought it was telling that you did not really answer much of my other substantive material regarding your position - except for the "bald assertion" and my comment on the Word.

Set that disagreement aside for the moment. Have you read much of the early 20th century religious modernists - particularly from the University of Chicago?

For entertainment some evening, read what Calvin has on and by George Burman Foster. Now, I'm not saying that you believe the same thing - but does not your theology offend orthodox sensibilities in much the same way?

A.H. Strong in the wake of such theology commented in his 1907 introduction to his Systematic Theology that he feared that this new modernism was "a second unitarian defection." When I read how Foster turns modernity on its head and remains a committed modernity, I am reminded of emerging theology's use of theology. These were the sort of theologians that concerned Strong.

I see amazing cultural, philosophical, and theological parallels between the vaunted Chicago School and the Emerging School.

I see the deplorable sacralizing of creation in such a way that, although it falleness is played lip service, seems not to fully comprehend that same falleness. I don't think that we can completely exorcise all the dualisms out of the world.

When I first starting reading in the Emerging movement about seven years ago, and then started reading RO, I was really hopeful. I gave these guys a reasonably fair hearing. This seemed, at first like the sort of thing I was looking for. It seemed to hearken to the ancient catholic voice of the Church. It had a place for the contemplative and mystical. It claimed a revival of Augustinian epistemology. It didn't treat theology like a laboratory science. It seemed to treat community seriously.

But (read strong adversative conjunction here), instead I found an incessant cherry picking of Scripture - picking what fit and ignoring what didn't. I saw an amazing amount of kitschy faux orthodox sentimentality in liturgy. I grew weary of Rob Bell's undying whine - the whine of this generation's evangelicals - limp and insipid. I saw a torturing of Augustine. (Although, I must admit, I sort of liked the rehabilitiation of Aquinas - I always thought he got a bum rap). I saw just another template for gospel universalism. And most appalling was the dismissive attitude cultivated toward those who question emerging assumptions. It reads almost like a teenager's diatribe against a parent's unusually dogmatic good sense.

Can an emerging universalist be a child of God? With some qualification, yes. The Spirit gives life even to universalists - all sinners, as is everyone of us. For those who disagree with universalists and post-mortem regenerationists, very much is at stake.

So Emergent Man, engage us lowly bediviled, numb-skull fundagelicals. Why should we accept your doctrine without some tough biting questions? What right have you to insist that I question my Sache whilst you remain comfortable in yours?

I hope your answers are ready to hand, for I am dying for conversation beyond the one-sided monologue of the monograph.

I'm sorry about the apparent over-zealous nature of our attack. We have a great deal at stake in this debate. We don't trade whimsically on our Weltenschauung. We are not your students. We don't think in the same ways as you. Put the lure to your philosophy. Answer our concerns. Do violence to our difference.

Or, dismiss us as your friend did, as "thugs."

Kevin Corcoran said...

VC:

Fortunately, I can't devote as much time to these comments as I do to the posts. I've got students to corrupt, papers to grade, classes to teach and books to write. So, let me respond to just a few things you say.

You ask:

For entertainment some evening, read what Calvin has on and by George Burman Foster. Now, I'm not saying that you believe the same thing - but does not your theology offend orthodox sensibilities in much the same way?

I can't say I'm familiar with this guy, but I can be really clear about what I believe. I'll tell you what I believe and then you tell me what offends orthodox sensibilities. Okay? Here goes:

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.


About the "deplorable sacralizing of creation," I can speak only for myself. I believe that when God created the world, blessed it, and said it was good, God meant that it was good. Though it has sunk into sin and misery, I also believe that God has gone to great lengths to redeem and restore creation. I believe that God's reconciling, redeeming work in Christ encompasses all of creation. While I believe that God's kingdom is not of this world I believe it is very much of this earth. So, along with emerging Christians, I am hopeful about where things are going. Where things are going is the consummation of God's kingdom. While we're on the way to that reality, I take my task as a Christian to be that of sowing little signs of God's consummated kingdom, to offer the world glimpses of the New Jerusalem. I'm not a triumphalist. I don't believe I am called to "reclaim" the world or the like of that. I believe I'm called to anticipate the kingdom come and still coming.

If that's what it means to sacralize the creation and culture, then I'm guilty as charged and proud to join God in his program of reconciliation and restoration, proud that is to "sacralize creation and culture".

VC, I think we have very a different understanding of what God's kingdom looks like and what God's up to in the world.

Finally, if you wanted to pick (say) one issue, one claim I've actually made, and give me reasons for why you think I'm wrong, I can work with that. Asserting that I'm wrong, calling me names and such, well, there's not much I can do with that. There's no doubt that we would disagree about a lot of things. And probably after you've given your reasons for why you think I'm wrong and I respond w/reasons as to why I'm not persuaded by your reasons, we would still disagree. But what then? Do we live and let live or engage in more feet-stomping and fist-pounding?

So far as I can see, whatever huge issues you see as being at stake, there nothing essential to orthodoxy at stake as nothing I have actually said, let alone what you have accuse me of saying, contradicts anything in the ecumenical creed above. And for that reason alone, I say live and let live.

VC said...

Kevin,

Pulease! I'm not some snot nosed kid from "Way of the Master."

It is not what you just affirmed in the creeds that offends orthodox sensibilities. You know that much. The Bible is a little bigger than those creeds. Is everything beyond those creeds pick and choose?

Let's start with your views on personal eschatology. If I said you were orthodox in these, you would have to say that my orthodoxy is generous. You obviously have some sort of universalist slant. If you have an article that states your position succinctly, I'd be interested in reading it.

Let's move onto your corporate or universal eschatology. Sounds strangely Rauschenbuschian to me, but you do have that lack of bringing in the kingdom thing. I like the fact that you are not trying to reclaim anything. That is best left to Christ - either in the here and now or in the eschaton. Nevertheless, I would like to hear you again on the matter.

Finally, for now, I'm suspicious of your view of spirituality. Almost everywhere else there is this emerging trend toward panentheism and even a getting beyond the relgiosity of the Christian faith. Indeed, you may affirm the creeds, but you may believe that these creeds can be contextually replaced by the Koran, the Vedas, etc. In this instance especially, it is not what you affirm that bothers me. It is what you fail to deny.

I'm sorry to disappoint. No footstomping here. No raised fist. Remember, St. Paul placed a premium on sound doctrine that seemed to go beyond the creeds you cite. Generous orthodoxies don't lend themselves to "full counsel" type theologies. I know, this seems much too Cartesian and Protestant Scholastic-like for some people's tastes. It is culturally unfashionable.

By the way, on almost everyone of the points I mention above - if I'm right about panentheism - you are in substantial agreement with G.B. Foster. He was the first radicals of the Chicago School. If you have not read Gary Dorrien's three volume set on Christian liberalism, you ought to. You might find the history almost mirror-like. Liberals kept the creeds. They kept Christ. They even kept Scripture, to a large degree. The eschewed penal substitutionary atonement and hell. I guess you could say after taking over nearly all the mainline denominations that they had one hell of a good time. I believe that hell may still describe the time that they are having.

Liberals were notorious for their slipperiness. In his taxonomy of Christian liberalism, Kenneth Cauthen quotes an oft spun saying about the evangelical liberal Shailer Mathews (dean of the Divinity School U of C): "What is modernism? Why that is what Shailer Mathews teaches at the University of Chicago. What is fundamentalism? That is what Shailer Mathews preaches at the Convention." (or something like that).

No foot stomping. I cannot judge your heart as to its beliefs. But, as to your teachings, I do not believe that they measure up to Scripture. At best, I can only think of you as a strangely misguided Christian. At worst, you are a wolf in sheep's clothing doing all that leading of silly women captive (surely a sexist Apostle!).

James Barr's critique of the Biblical Theology movement comes to mind when I assess the Emerging movement. Sometime down the road we will be in for a paradigmatic shift and we will find that orthodoxy wasn't reading its contemporary perspective into things so much after all. That, perhaps, communication happened quite adequately. That maybe our attractiveness to the culture was not something we really needed to worry about. I personally find the idea that we appeal to the culture in a counter-cultural manner to be somewhat disingenuous. Why not just have church culture among the saints that happens because of the gospel? Let the culture around us react to us, instead of the opposite. Some of these themes I actually appreciate in RO, but it phrases them to be so fashionably hip.

Is Trucker Frank really that much different than the Piss against the Wall preacher? Aren't they both pandering to the same lowest common denominator - the thing anyone can get to without the aid of the Spirit?

Oh well, I've rambled and I'm sure, given your background, that you have some friends who care little for your brand of theology. They have, no doubt, warned you of the things their fears envision.

Kevin Corcoran said...

VC:

You say:

At best, I can only think of you as a strangely misguided Christian. At worst, you are a wolf in sheep's clothing doing all that leading of silly women captive (surely a sexist Apostle!).

That about says at all. I don't even fully understand what you say here. But...wow.

If I said you were orthodox in these, you would have to say that my orthodoxy is generous. You obviously have some sort of universalist slant. If you have an article that states your position succinctly, I'd be interested in reading it.

Well, here again, no citations, no references to anything I've actually said, just "you OBVIOUSLY...." I do have an article on this in fact. On my view of orthodoxy, what one believes about universalism is not a matter of orthodoxy. I let the ecumenical creeds set the parameters. It sounds to me like you believe there is an orthodox position on universalism, and, I bet, on a lot else besides. I think of my beliefs as a Christian as falling on a series of concentric circles, what's essential to orthodox faith is in the center, and summed up in the Nicene Creed. My other beliefs (e.g., my beliefs about women's ordination, the morality of war, homosexuality, evolutionary creation, universalism, etc.) fall somewhere outside the center and toward the periphery. I will be shocked if on judgment day God consigns someone to hell b/c of their beliefs re: the ordination of women or evolutionary creation or human nature or universalism or separationism, etc. And it's not these issues are trivial or unimportant. It's just that they're not essential to ecumenical orthodoxy.

You say:

Let's move onto your corporate or universal eschatology. Sounds strangely Rauschenbuschian to me, but you do have that lack of bringing in the kingdom thing. I like the fact that you are not trying to reclaim anything. That is best left to Christ - either in the here and now or in the eschaton. Nevertheless, I would like to hear you again on the matter.

I don't understand this paragraph. So, I don't understand what you would like to hear me again on.

I'm suspicious of your view of spirituality. Almost everywhere else there is this emerging trend toward panentheism and even a getting beyond the relgiosity of the Christian faith. Indeed, you may affirm the creeds, but you may believe that these creeds can be contextually replaced by the Koran, the Vedas, etc. In this instance especially, it is not what you affirm that bothers me. It is what you fail to deny.

That's a pretty telling paragraph, too. It's not sufficient that I affirm what Christians throughout the ages have affirmed. No. I have to deny certain things, too. And it bothers you that I don't. For what purpose do I need to deny certain things? And who gets to make up the list of what I have to deny? And what are the criteria for inclusion on that list? These are rhetorical questions, VC. You see, you and I have very different intuitions and sensibilities about these matters.

You say:

By the way, on almost everyone of the points I mention above - if I'm right about panentheism - you are in substantial agreement with G.B. Foster.

Excuse me? VC, you can't just make these sorts of assertions without at least appealing to something I actually say. This is really frustrating. What do I say that is in substantial agreement with this guy I've never heard of?

You say:

I cannot judge your heart as to its beliefs. But, as to your teachings, I do not believe that they measure up to Scripture.

My teachings? What teachings? VC, here's how this ought to go. "Kevin, you say [followed by something I actually say], but here's why that doesn't measure up to scripture or why I don't agree." And then I can respond. But you don't do that VC. You just assert and reassert that what I believe doesn't measure up to scripture or isn't this, that or the other thing. That's no good VC. That's not how we play the game here.

I'm sure, given your background, that you have some friends who care little for your brand of theology. They have, no doubt, warned you of the things their fears envision.

Well, thanks for that VC. You are right. I do have friends who disagree with me about particular beliefs. But so far none has told me I'm a heretic or unorthodox. But here's how my exchanges with them differs from my exchanges with you. First, we listen to each other. Next, we give reasons for believing what we do and we don't regard every issue as essential to orthodoxy. That someone's affirming everything in the Nicene Creed is not enough to convince you of their orthodoxy just blows me away.

Alright, VC. I've been extremely patient. I've addressed as many issues of yours as I could, given my obligations. And I think it's probably fair to say that we've come to the end. I do--and I mean this--I do appreciate your investment here, VC.

Pax vobiscum, brother.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Perhaps you ought to read Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism." You may get a different picture of what VC has stated - only in a manner which compares and contrasts Reformed orthodoxy with turn-of-the-century Liberalism. Perhaps you may even be converted.

Kevin Corcoran said...

Anon:

I doubt I'd be converted. Orthodoxy suits me just fine. I've never been much of a fan of theological liberalism.