Recently Doug, Jen, Will, and others have commented on the rising attacks against all things Emergent by several different evangelical authors. I have hesitated to comment on these concerns as this is really an “inside” conversation rather than a broader one across the traditions. You see, those of us in the so-called “liberal” mainline traditions have already sat through these types of concerns and attacks before. For most of my adult Christian life, I have been hearing persons question the tenets of my faith. “You don’t believe in the Bible!” they would say. “You have no standard of truth!” “You are nothing but a damn (however you say that in Baptist) heretic.”
Of course, these attacks were far from accurate. But no matter the accuracy, the reality was that we lived on two different planets. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, than the difference between those of us who believe in progressive revelation and those who maintain that revelation is fixed (in the scriptures as they were interpreted by the Protestant reformers) are in two difference galaxies. It is almost impossible to talk with one another for our brains are wired differently. Is this a function of nature or nurture? Who the heck knows. What I do know is that attempts to remain in conversation have often been futile. It’s one of the reasons that folks on the extremes in my adopted United Methodist tradition decided that schism was better than they continuing bickering (a decision that was rejected by the majority like myself in the middle).
These arguments exist on so many levels. As one who is firmly in the Arminian tradition, I see commonalities going back to the debates between Whitfield and Wesley over which is better — Calvinism or Arminianism. Steve Camp’s entire argument rested on an argument in favor of Calvinism. I have often suggested that the Emergent tendency is basically a group of folks rejecting hard core Calvinism and moving toward Arminianism (more on the differences between the two in a later post). Of course, the age old (well, at least since the late 1970’s) debates on scriptural inerrancy versus interpretive frameworks continues. Unfortunately, we find ourselves talking past one another than attempting to find reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
The arguments in the future have to move from “right and wrong,” otherwise we find ourselves mired in the failures of modernity. This is where Wesley’s “Letter to a Roman Catholic” may be helpful in pointing a way which holds some central commonalities (belief in the power of Jesus, God’s creative act, etc.) which unite, and recognizing that the “opinions” only have the power to separate us if we let them.
I’ve been through these battles before. Back in the stone age when I was an employee of the Southern Baptist Convention, I experienced first hand the bloody battles in that denomination between conservatives and moderates (at that time, there were almost NO liberal Souther Baptists, with the exception of Will Campbell). During my time in the United Methodist fold, I have seen the battles over sexuality continue to be brutal and mean. I have been labeled a communist by one side and called a Nazi by the other at one time or another.
What is required then is the determination of how we will respond. Do we get caught up in the war, or allow God and Christ to define us and give us love and compassion for the other.
Don’t expect that we will ever win on the terms set by those who are attacking.
After all, Jesus didn’t.
What we have to remember is that the tables have been turned and the terms changed. In the economy of God, the answer to 2 plus 2 is purple. Chris Rice was so right when he sang that trying to understand God was like trying to smell the color nine. That is the reality that we are all living into.