Monday, March 16, 2009

Emergent Thoughts

Here’s a quote for you to consider. I read it and thought it sounded a great deal like another odd quote from Brian McLaren. At first glance, to me it sounds like some kind of Emergent Church challenge that says we really don’t know enough about what God’s Word says to make any kind of definitive statement about what it tells us, save that we should be universalists. The problem with our Christianity is the traditional and orthodox interpretations of the Word of God, and Christianity have become old and antiquated because it is just culturally irrelevant.

Mystery Quote:

The Bible itself and its various interpretations which have become a part of traditional theology form the biggest obstacle to the study and understanding of life beyond death by the average man… The other scriptural idea blocking our pursuit of this path is the belief that the so-called New Testament theology of resurrection and future judgment invalidate anything research may claim to discover. It is possible that the opposite is true; that is, that the results of careful investigation may force a rewriting of some of our theology.
Well, anyone want to guess where this quote came from? Think about it for a few minutes and keep reading. I'll tell you soon.

Think about whether there is any merit in the statement and whether new evidence may call for a rewriting of some of our theology. After all, times have changed and maybe some of the traditional wrappings that we use as Christians should be recapitulated. Maybe they should be deconstructed? Maybe the application of Scripture should fall to every man’s perception of it rather than what some old and crusty medieval monk thought about what dead languages used to say, when people don’t even think the same way that they thought, once upon a time.

In the book “Relativism,” Beckwith and Koukl state that when people come to you and say “Who are you to say” something about the rightness or wrongness of a belief, you should respond with the identical comment. If I do not have the right to challenge someone’s opinion, then the reverse should also be true. Reciprocally, they should have no right to challenge mine either. Their argument is self-refuting. If it’s all interpretation, then all is fair, no? The statement is the passing of a moral judgment by claiming that you have no right to assert any moral judgment. Our authors call it a “cheap shot.”

From Page 146:
It says, in effect, “What authorizes you to make a rule for others? Are you in charge?”

This challenge miscasts my position. I don’t expect others to obey me simply because I say so. I’m appealing to reason, not asserting my authority. It’s one thing to force beliefs; its quite another thing to state those beliefs and make an appeal for them.

Now this is all well and good if we are debating something with an unbeliever. It gets rather sticky though when someone who calls themselves a Christian makes a statement like this one. I know someone who calls herself a Christian and goes on how she was baptized Presbyterian and has a Presbyterian and Christian name. She boasts pride in this. Most everything else that comes from this woman, however, boils down to theosophy and universalism. However, if I met up with this woman and she was a member or perhaps an elder’s wife, I’d have more conflict. Yet more and more, I think this is what our churches look like.

Beckwith and Koukl
offer these tactics to help us counter relativism in the chapter entitled “Tactics to Refute Relativism”:

1. Show the contradictions of relativism.

This basically involves turning the argument back around on the person. We should not force our morality on others, so we are told, yet to make that statement, one must be ascribing to the moral principle that we cannot do so. It is based upon a moral principle and constitutes morality that is forced on others.

2. Press their hot button.

Pick a pet topic (homosexuality, racism) and then make it neutral and relative. The authors say that it will cause their “moral intuition to rise to the surface, undermining their position.” The author talks about how a student asked how to refute their teacher’s statement that morality is relative, and they offer the response of challenging the statement by stealing something from them. Morality suddenly becomes quite important when someone has taken something, violating a basic moral principle protecting private property. Theft is immoral

3. Force the tolerance issue.

People are confused about the definition of tolerance which means that we don’t have to share an opinion but must at least allow others to express these opinions by bearing them, respecting their right to believe whatever they want. They point out that tolerance is extended to those with whom we disagree and believe to be wrong. Yet today, most people believe that if you have an opinion that someone is in error, that this state of disagreement is, in fact, intolerance. This expression of ideas also differs vastly from toleration of behavior or toleration of their person (a type of dehumanization).

4. Have a ready defense.

Ask about who gets to decide the standards and values. “Whose values are right?” If there are moral absolutes, how do we discern them? We are the only ones that can and should judge right from wrong, based on our best reason with compassion and respect. We can make a case for one stance or another and compare them, deciding which one is preferable to another. We may not know if we are more accurate than another choice, but we can use the best evidence available. Some choices are notably worse than others. A few other sub-tactics are explored. The point is that in order to argue that there is no moral code, one must ascribe to a moral code which has been asserted by the opponent.

Okay, so lets go back to the first quote that seems to take issue on the restrictions that traditional Christianity and interpretations pose on understanding life and putting research into perspective. What emergent church author does this sound like? Is it McLaren? Is it something vintage from Dan Kimball? Is it Tony Jones? Maybe it’s Ooze?

Ah. It is an older book. It’s from page 122 of an old Harper and Roe/HarperCollins book written by Archie Matson entitled “Afterlife: Reports on the Threshold of Death.” It argues about psychic phenomena and life after death, speaking of communication with ghosts and such. I found a quote from it in another old book. It is expressly non-Christian, though I’m sure the author would likely call himself Christian in the sense of the way that the Moonies call themselves Christians or that the Mormons call themselves Christians. It’s a nice idea about a loving man, the Christ, who said wise things.

Why, then, does it sound like the language of the emergents?

Notes and quotes taken from
By Francis Beckwith & Gregory Koukl
Baker Books, 1998