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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

Is the Emerging Church really a new path?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

David Fitch has written a great thought-provoking post demonstrating how the traditional perspectives of Evangelical Fundamentalism (EF) and Protestant Liberalism (PL) are two sides of the same coin (see also Maggi Dawn's link and comment 'here'). While his analysis may well be open to critique (read on after Fitch's post for some interesting discussion), the comment that got me thinking was...

"What I often suspect in the emerging conversations however, is that what we are really getting is an ad hoc conglomeration of the PL theology onto some assent of the basic evangelical affirmations. We are not getting a third way that engages the postmodern worlds, or a third way that avoids the pitfall’s of the old dichotomies between EF&PL"

I guess this comment reflects some of the recent criticisms levelled at the emerging church from the likes of Carson and Hammett, but Fitch's agenda is altogether more positive, with his closing comment...

"For now I affirm that the demise of modernity has cleared a third way that makes it possible for us to hold firmly to our most precious orthodox beliefs in Christ yet not fall prey to the EF mistakes exposed by PL, and the PL mistakes exposed by EF, of the last century. I believe the emerging churches provide a space for this third way, the way I think we all must go."

My take on this, for what it's worth, is that the key difference between the emerging church (EC) epistemolgy and that of both PL and EF is that the EC is trying to get away from a purely cerebral autonomous faith. There is a renewed recognition that, while our God-given critical faculties should cause us to seek a greater 'understanding' of God, his Creation and our place within it, this quest should never expel the place of mystery and open questions. In rediscovering the biblical concept of journeying with Christ, knowledge is something we acquire along the way rather than a predetermined formula that we have to assent to at the start (be it EF doctrine or the dogmatics of PL). This knowledge will be moulded, shaped and even radically changed along the path of the journey - theology is not static because relationship is not static.

Whether this is the 'third way' that Fitch is calling for or simply a return to 'The way' is open to debate!!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:22 AM


These are helpful comments on Fitch's article. Thanks.

commented by Blogger Mark, 12:55 PM  

hi malcolm - happy to have come across your blog today. hope you are well maggi

commented by Anonymous maggi, 4:40 PM  

Hi Maggi - very well thanks! Good to hear from you - hope you are well too and that life in Cambridge is good! Maybe we can catch up over a cuppa at GB again in August!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:46 PM  

Hi Malcolm,

Nice to catch up on what you are doing - love the blog.

"In rediscovering the biblical concept of journeying with Christ, knowledge is something we acquire along the way rather than a predetermined formula that we have to assent to at the start..."

Coming at EC and PL from a position of ignorance in my mainstream eveangelical Anglican perspective, isn't there a place for biblical truth in our knowledge - issues where there are rights and wrongs?

As David says "...a third way that makes it possible for us to hold firmly to our most precious orthodox beliefs in Christ..."

So isn't it a combination of the two - firm adherence to biblical truth combined with a growing relationship with God and wisdom?

Or have I missed the point again?

commented by Anonymous Chris Goodman, 10:37 PM  

Hi Chris - good to hear from you after all these years!

Thanks for your comments. I agree entirely that there is a place for biblical truth, for right and wrong, and I'm certainly not advocating an unrooted free-for-all. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we don't have that 'Truth' completely sussed from day one (or day 1000, etc...) - God reveals so much more of himself along the journey and some of this may well impact, even change, our previously held concepts of truth. It's a process of growth and discovery.

My problem is that when we attempt to 'sell' a truth package from the start, we sell short this exciting journey of faith. I was listening to Alan Jamieson earlier this week and he said that we tend to celebrate the start of the race (i.e. 'becoming a Christian') far more than the race itself or winning the race at the end. By contrast, Paul's focus was on the race and the end point, not simply on assenting to a Christian package.

I'm struck time and time again by how when Jesus called people to follow and they did, they were known as 'disciples' from that point without really knowing who they were following or why or that the cross was to come or what that meant. To be in the journey with Jesus was (and is) discipleship. The task of the church in mission I believe is to point to Jesus. Sure, this will require teaching certain things about Jesus (what you and I may refer to as 'the truth'), but the most important thing is that people encounter Jesus and allow him to shape their beliefs.

I don't know if this makes sense - I guess I want to rediscover what it means to be 'following' Jesus and see that as a dynamic thing rather than as a static cerebral thing.

Keep the conversation going...!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:53 AM  

Hi Malc

really interesting debate which i suppose all of us who care about 'connecting' with god and his creation need to engage with and be part of. The following is aprt of a piece i wrote a while back now as a consequence of my MA Thesis - hope it adds something to the debate. I will post the whole article on my blog later today...and i hope you and your tribe are well

'More than fifty years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer predicted that the renewal of the Western church would come from a new monasticism whose only connection to traditional monasticism would be Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). New conceptions of church have been a central component of contemporary Protestant mission in the West. This plurality of ideas has led to many different types of church communities. These changes appear to have risen from the conviction that traditional churches are themselves a problem. Many have come to believe that, if the Christian faith is to become a viable alternative within a post-modern culture, then the form of the community of faith must journey towards the blurred edges of the post-evangelical mood and be re-evaluated and reformed. It is a genuine practical concern about the possible manifestations of Bonhoeffer’s new monasticism that has led me to ask: can, in this macro-cultural context, a contemporary monastic movement bring about the kind of reformation of our incarnational religion that will enable Christian people of the West both to relate their faith to the world, and also form, in a micro-cultural context, the kind of community which allows them to explore that faith fully and so bring rest for their souls?

Ronald Roheiser prudently observes that, ‘we, the children of Western culture, post-modern, adult children of the enlightenment, struggle with practical atheism. Our churches are emptying and, more and more, the sense of God is slipping from our ordinary lives.’ An observation I concur with and one that saddens me, as I always get the idea that Jesus is more interested in the ordinariness of our at times mundane difficult existence than anything else. Bonhoeffer seems to be suggesting a return to ‘camp side community’ where the coal carriers of today become the embodiment of the Sermon on the Mount. To push the analogy a little further it may be that in the imperishability of salt we have a guarantee of the permanence of the divine community – that community being a new monastic order. Historical and sociological insights urge theologians to look hard at situations where church praxis is worked out. Ideas in isolation are not enough. Theology needs to be seen in relation to the events which will eventually shape it. Bonhoeffer’s theology is best understood as an account of the continuity of God’s identity interpreted through the identity of Christ – which would then inform the Christian identity through the Sermon on the Mount. Christ then lives in and works through the new monastic community, so demonstrating a Christological pattern of human relationship that affirms the intrinsic value of integrity and faithfulness.'

I would have said that to being in the process of Emerging is to follow Jesus. For many of us, we saw Jesus leave our church buildings and return to the World where he has really always been. And so we find that the world has a greater grasp of God and of life and struggles and of GRACE than us church have had for quite some time. It is the nature of God to empower the powerless, so now we as church are making ourselves powerless, following Jesus' directions to the RichMan to throw it all out - the holy bath water and the long-dead baby - in order to suffer, grieve and live our lives with God again.

Bonny-Boy was a dude.

commented by Blogger DAMNFLANDRZ, 10:17 PM  

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