As we have already looked at things, we’ve seen the problem of churches not wanting theology taught and the possible results of going this course. But now I would like to go back and take a look at what happens when our church wants theology, it just so happens to be they want a “new kind of” theology.
If you have been reading my blog, or just about any other Christian blog for any time, you will already be familiar with the issue of the post-modern/post-conservative/post-evangelical emerging/emergent church hoopla. This, in the most general of senses, is a church movement which is designed to make the church “relevant” to postmodern culture. The problem with this is just how “relevant” they decide to become. As you may notice in my above tab “Emerging vs. Emergent” I have offered my take on this issue by posing a dichotomy of the two main styles of postmodern relevancy. In this post I will be dealing with what I term as Emergent Christianity, the brand of Christianity that goes beyond engaging and actually embraces postmodern thinking.
Among the major issues for theology when it comes into contact with Emergent thinking, there is one which I think is very important to the thought we’ve been developing here. There is, to some extent, a general desire for theology in Emergent churches, which, on the outside, seems to be a point in their favor over many of our fledgling contemporary modern congregations. However, once one takes a look at the actually “theology” that’s being done, things aren’t quite as peachy as they first appear.
The Reformation in Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries rallied around one cry: sola scriptura! And for the past 400-500 years, this mantra of Scripture as the sufficient and final authority for Christian doctrine has carried the day (at least in Protestant and Baptist churches). If you are not familiar with this, you are probably at least familiar with the refrain of “Cause the Bible tells me so,” which is essentially the same idea. Either way, this sort of thinking, that there is a system of basic beliefs by which all other beliefs in an area are founded upon (in this case, the teachings of Scripture), is called Foundationalism in the field of epistemology. It basically means, in terms of Christian theology, that any belief is a justified (correct) belief if and only if it is based upon the teachings of Scripture or a chain of justified beliefs which eventually rest upon a teaching of Scripture.
Now, I apologize for going all academic here, but I think once you see the payoff you will understand. As a traditional, modern American Christian, we basically take for granted Foundationalism as our theory of justification in Christian theology. Every thing must flow from the pages of Scripture to be true. However, most Emergent theology denies this, and instead holds to a nonfoundational Christian theology. Instead of viewing Scripture as a foundation of basic beliefs out of which all theology grows, they view theology as “emerging” from an ongoing “conversation” between Scripture, tradition, and culture, in which no partner has any more privilege to the truth than any other.
If you can’t see it already, some of you may be asking, Why is this bad? Well, recall my comments about what Tony Jones said recently? He argues for church sanctioned monogamous homosexual relationships as being in no contradiction to biblical Christianity. This is a radical view to most of us. What contributes to this radical nature is that, while he eschews some of the traditional Scriptural arguments against such a thing, Jones readily admits that a large factor in his decision is the role of the cultural partner in the conversation. Turning away from Foundationalism to a conversation where three partners are equally footed and equally likely to produce the “truth” has led to such an incredible statement coming from the theology of someone who self identifies with the Emergent movement.
I would similarly point to Scot McKnight’s biblical interpretation method from The Blue Parakeet (though he makes claims to be Foundationalist I argue in my post that he pretty much contradicts this in his methodology) and Phyllis Tickle’s out-and-out denial in The Great Emergence that sola scriptura is a sufficient basis for Christian theology, as being further evidence of what happens when one starts trying to do Christian theology from a nonfoundational perspective.
In the end, I think we must conclude that, though it may go unnoticed to most onlookers, the Emergent eagerness for theology has to be taken with a grain of salt, because what lies beneath the surface is not always good. When a “theologian” decides to take on a nonfoundational perspective it should give us immediate concern. If the Bible is not our foundation and does not have any greater claim to truth than our experience and human tradition, then the best we can expect is an unsure theologian who is sufficiently confused by the fallenness of the human input they are mixing in with their theology, and the worst is a “new kind of Christian” which is no kind of Christian at all because their god is formed imago homo hominis (“in the image of man”) instead of the other way around; neither of these extremes, or the area between them, is desirable and should not be accepted as a substitute for good theology, even if the hunger there is lacking.