Thursday, March 31, 2005

More conversation about the Emerging Church

Still over here at an anti-emerging church blog, I have been chatting with pfgw (and anyone else who would care to engage with me in dialogue) about the emerging church, or perhaps just my own bent little bit of it. I have brought over pfgw's last comment (which is in response to one of mine in response to one of pfgw's ... go check out the comments on the original if you need extra background) and my last response to it, and hope that folks can pick up the conversation over here. Not that I want to deprive Carla of the traffic, so much as if her site's stated aim is to 'expose' the emerging church, I'd rather go for positive dialogue elsewhere. My interest in all this, ultimately, is the Glory of God, the health of his church, and a spiritual home for those Christians who feel they have none at present. I trust these are things all Christians care about, and so to pursue them with honest and friendly (albeit it vigorous when necessary!) discussion is in good order. Thanks, and peace be with you.


Blacke, first let me say that I appreciate the tone of your post,
and your attempt to help me understand the emergent conversation. Unfortunately, I still don't understand it.

You wrote:
"We all put our own spin on things, both intentionally and unconsciously. So, too, did the new testament writers by the way - they were human like you and I. When we read scripture, we wade through a mass of subjectivity and interpretation."

If the New Testament writers put their own spin on things, how do you personally determine which of what they wrote about Jesus can be believed or are a matter of interpretation?

As far as elevating His word above God himself? How could I? He is the Word. I have said this before on previous post that God is capable of preserving His Word. Take for example the dead sea scrolls, practically word for word with today's modern translations. All the monks (God Bless them) in the world copying scripture couldn't alter the intent of what God wanted written. Or do you believe God decided to be an absentee landlord whenever man undertook to write His story?

Blacke I was not brought up in reformed Christian theology, I was brought up Roman Catholic. So I do not hold to the view of the reformation as you have explained it, and to be perfectly honest, I don't think most reformed christians view it that way either. But they will correct me if I'm wrong on this point. I just decided one day to get a Bible and start reading it myself.
I knew nothing of Martin Luther and the reformation (12 years of
Catholic school). That is not a change in framework, that was a change from bondage to freedom.

I know that God can tear down all strongholds. My prayer is that he
shreads at the very foundations of the strongholds that divide all of us.

Thanks for your patience, Blacke.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 10:31:30 PM

the_blacke said...

Dear pfgw,

thank you for your response. And please accept my apologies if I projected onto you views or opinions - which I labeled in some way protestant or reformed - which you do not hold. I would like to continue this dialogue, but am feeling a bit like I'm hijacking Carla's blog (and I'm not 100% convinced that starting constructive dialogue with the EC is her aim) so if it's ok with you, I'll copy your last post and my response over to my blog and, if you agree, continue the conversation over there without overly monopolising Carla's space here.

I would like to comment on a couple of your observations / questions in order to better clarify my position, as I suspect that some assumptions I made about you (i.e. that you have always been a died-in-the-wool protestant) may have prevented me from expressing myself clearly. Again, for my assumptions, I apologise.

"Or do you believe God decided to be an absentee landlord whenever man undertook to write His story?" On the contrary, I believe that God has always been involved with his creation, and has always sought to guide humanity towards the truth of himself. As such, I think God was involved in the writing of scriptures, as he has been equally involved in other Christian writings and preaching throughout history. Let me say that another way: the inspiration that I believe was active in the writing of NT scripture is the same inspiration which has been active in the church at other times, in other endeavours.

I will try to make this clear as it is perhaps a confusing point. Do I hold that the scriptures are uniquely valuable? Yes, I do. Nothing that has been written since stands up beside the bible. But not on account of some special inspiration that affected those writings and those writings only. I believe that Jesus, God incarnate, is the pivotal point in all of human history. He is the ultimate revelation of God, of all that is true, and of all that humanity was created for and is capable of being. I believe that the answer to any and all of life's questions, problems etc lies in the person of Jesus Christ himself, living a reigning as Lord of All. And the bible uniquely testifies to Jesus. The Old Testament, telling the ancient history of God's dealings with his creation, points towards his coming as the great moment when God will put to rights that which is not right in this world. The New Testament, written almost entirely by those who either knew Jesus personally during his ministry, or knew those apostles who did, is a unique and precious record of Jesus life, his teaching, his dealings with his people, and his fulfillment of the hopes of Israel and, ultimately, all of humanity. There is no-one alive today who has known Jesus bodily, nor has learned at the feet of the apostles; therefore there is none who can add to this record of the revelation of God in Jesus.

But this does not speak to inspiration. It speaks to unique circumstance, to that most blessed of privileges for those people to have known Jesus as his friends as he undertook his messianic ministry. And if you want to know if I think the bible is inspired, I most certainly do! I think that the holy spirit have wisdom and insight to the authors as they penned the words, to the apostles as they retold the stories in those decades before they were written down. I think that they holy spirit inspired Paul as he wrote to young churches and leaders, giving him the ability to understand the implications for humanity now that God's messiah had come. And yes, I even think that the leaders of the early church were inspired by the holy spirit as they read through the many documents circling the world at that time, weighing each, and granting some their blessing as being Scripture, while rejecting others.

But none of this, none of any of it, in any way counteracts the fact that the bible is still a book of human authors, whose writers were deeply subjective. They wrote not against their own personalities but according to them, and each author is entirely recognisable by their own style and literary mannerisms. The humanity of this book in no way cancels out the divine inspiration of it; but, so too, its divine inspiration does not cancel out its humanity.

And that, my friend, is where I stop regarding the bible. I do not extrapolate this position further. I do not conclude that, being inspired, it must be infallable, inerrant, internally consistent. God was no absentee landlord during the writing of the bible, but neither was he an absentee landlord at any other time. God was at work in his church during the writing of scripture. God was also at work, in the same way, in his church through the early church fathers like Origen and Tertullian, both of whom had some ideas so screwy that were they alive today there would be blogs denouncing them as heretics: yet God used them in the building of his church, and in the establishment of church doctrines. God's inspiration, God's "presentee-landlordism", has always elevated our humanity, but not counteracted it. As such, I consider scripture to be inspired, unique, precious, while still bearing all the hallmarks and fingerprints of those people who sought to try and put into words the Truth so huge and compelling that ultimately only God Incarnate could actually do it justice.

As Buddha said, the hand that points towards the moon is not the moon. The words which tell us about a perfect God are not that perfect God. The books which tell us about the Word of God are not "the Word of God".

If some of your comments were suggesting that God has intervened throughout history to especially protect the bible, I would in principle disagree. I am of course grateful for the bible's survival as I treasure it, but I don't think a case can be made to suggest that throughout all time the Scriptures have been miraculously preserved. This is of course my own interpretation of history, but when I compare the quality of translations that we have now to, say, the King James, I am aware that in many respects the King James is a truly inferior translation. And while it's existence was a good thing, I have trouble with the idea that God would act to keep a 'bad' translation alive in the church, when in fact if he was going to act, he could have kept a 'good' one alive. (By bad and good, in this discussion, I am in fact aluding to the number and quality of manuscripts which were available to the translators, the quality of the lexicons at their disposal in order to determine how best to translate phrases or ideas, etc.)

Allow me to make one further point about Scripture. Firstly, I prefer not to use the term 'the Word of God' to describe the bible as I find it misleading and unhelpful. To my mind, the bible is 'the Word of God' in the same way that a photograph of Jesus could be said to be 'Jesus'. The photograph is *of* Jesus, but the photograph is not Jesus himself.

In the same way, the bible is all *about* Jesus, the plan and activity of God and the history of God's interactions with humanity. But it is not Jesus himself. And my concern (and this is a great example of how the emerging church often seems to be so negative about the current church, because it is differentiating itself by stating that which it is emerging *from*) is that by putting the bible on a pedestal labelled "the Word of God" we, in that very act, actually put it into a form of bondage whereby we need to be able to justify every word contained within its pages as if they proceeded from the very mouth or pen of God. And that trap, I believe, has actually drawn the church's eyes away from God (throughout history, not for all of history), and back to the book whose purpose and gift is to demonstrate that in fact we can lift our eyes back to God our creator!

I once saw a book entitled "every contradiction in the bible explained." I didn't buy it: I'm still waiting for the book entitled "every contradiction in the bible embraced," which recognises the fact that throughout all of time God has worked in and through fallable humans, and that his glory is all the greater for that fact. Where are Christians to go if there is something in the bible which doesn't make sense, or is unclear? Where they have been going since before the new testament was even written: to God their father, on their knees.

I want you to know that I am not anti or against the bible. I do not view it with suspicion, I do not think that it cannot be trusted. It is my family history, a legacy that has been handed on to me from the very friends of Jesus who lived and travelled with him for those three years. It has been handed down from one generation of Christians to the next because each has recognised its value and worth in telling the story of Jesus in a way that is faithful and true, written by friends and loved ones who were faithful and true to the best of their ability. The community of God's people have always upheld the scriptures' worth and value for the Christian, and I do not deny it. But what the scriptures do is lead me to the God, not contained in its pages, but described in its pages who in fact cannot be contained! My study of the bible allows me to learn new things about the character of God, and his dealings with humanity. But ultimately if all the bible does is inform me about God then it has failed, or I have failed it. The bible exists to help me establish and maintain a relationship with the true and living God. Were I to lose my copies of the bible, that relationship would remain. Were every copy of the bible in the whole world to be destroyed, God would be none the less. Had the New Testament never been written, Jesus Christ would still live, and reign. He would still build his church, and people would still bow the knee to him. Christianity is served by the bible, but it does not depend upon it. Christianity depends upon the loving faithfulness of God, of which the bible is but one example in so many.

I suspect that this is more than enough for now. pfgw (and anyone else so inclined), it is my hope that we can continue this discussion, and continue to explore each other's faith for our mutual edification. I would like to understand those aspects of what I have said with which you agree, as well as those with which you disagree, and why. I would like to know if any of this has prompted you to start to see things in a different light. I would like to hear about those things which you would encourage me to see in a different light, or think that I need to do further thinking about. In all this, let us remember that we are all working towards the same goal: to live our lives in humble devotion and adoration to Jesus Christ, and to embrace and undertake the work which he has left for his church until his return. I am copying this over to my blog so as to not monopolise Carla's any longer. I would be honoured if some or all of you would come continue this discussion over there.

Grace and peace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 9:27:35 PM