Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Truths” of the Emergent Church

Christianity is about receiving certain powerful (Romans 1:16-17), transformational (Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2) truths about our Lord (John 17:26; Romans 10:14-15). Truth is central. While truth establishes those who receive it, untruths can undo us (Titus 1:7-11; 2 Tim 2:24-26; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Cor. 4:4; Matthew 13:19; Col. 2:8).

Consequently, doctrine (teachings) is the life blood of the church (Heb. 5:12-14). Nevertheless, we have to be quick to admit that our knowledge isn’t perfect (1 Cor. 13). We grope for understanding. We can only fathom the blurred contours of our God (Isaiah 55:8-9). Nevertheless, the imperfect knowledge that we have is still meaningful (1 John 5:20) and can impart to us the treasures of assured knowledge (Col. 2:2-4). This is a far cry from the messages that emerge from the Emergent Church (EC):

• This fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction form another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping…and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry. (Tony Jones, The New Christians, 234)

If we can’t “capture” anything of God through our doctrinal “structures” and if all of our attempts represent “idolatry,” how then can Jones’ charges of “idolatry” not come back to indict him also? He too claims to be the recipient of certain truths. That’s why he’s writing!

Instead, our God actually instructs us to “capture” Him “in our finite propositional structures.” In fact, a relationship with God is brought about through a these doctrinal “structures.” He leads us into the knowledge of Him to marry us to Him:

• We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Jesus even prayed,

• I have made you known [doctrinally] to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:26)

Doctrine – the knowledge of God – is essential for our entire life. One Christian gave me a poignant example. She had been tormented by the fact that she wasn’t experiencing the joy that she thought she was supposed to experience as a Christian. However, she learned from Scripture that the hardships were necessary to make her more like her Savior (2 Cor. 4:10-11; Heb. 12:5-11. She now knew that there was a purpose behind what she had been experiencing.
Consequently, as a result of learning this Biblical truth, she was now eager to patiently endure. Doctrine had enabled her to find cognitive rest – peace!

This reminded me of my own experience. While working for the NYC Department of Probation, I had experienced a great deal of rejection from my co-workers. Already having a strong tendency to feel rejected, I found this extra burden devastating. These experiences indicted me as an inadequate failure of a person. However, they also drove me deeper into Scripture, where I was reminded and deepened in the understanding of my Savior’s unfathomable love for me (Eph. 3:16-20). My painful feelings also deepened my resolve to find my self-definition in God’s thoughts alone:

• Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

Over-concern about the opinions of others will kill us. However, when our ultimate concern is invested in God’s opinions, we find life. I can now look back on those painful times with thanksgiving. He taught me so much through them. However, Scripture played an essential role in this spiritual victory.

In contrast to this, Emergent guru Jones writes:

• Giving in to the pressure to petrify the conversation in a ‘statement’ would make Emergent easier to control; its critics could dissect it and then place it in a theological museum alongside other dead conceptual specimens… (235)

Coming to a firm doctrinal resting place is something that Jones likens to calcification, death and formaldehyde. Since “truth” is in constant flux, we have no mental resting place – nothing to lean on in the midst of doubts and fears. Instead, we are to search, ask questions, discuss, but never find, because once we “find,” we become “dead conceptual specimens.”

Sadly, Jones is searching without any expectation of finding. He also writes without any hope that anyone will be persuaded, because if they are, they too will become “specimens” packed away in formaldehyde.

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