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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!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Scot McKnight has posted the statement by LeRon Shults explaining why it would be inappropriate for Emergent US to publish a 'statement of faith' as many have asked them to do. It's well worth reading (go 'here') and has much to do with the conversation arising from my previous post. The following quote puts much better what I've been trying to say in my rambled way...

Why is such a move [proffering a doctrinal statement] unnecessary? Jesus did not have a "“statement of faith."” He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent. The very idea of a "“statement of faith"” is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 5:00 PM


Why does Emergent US need a name?
Is it a **shuder** MINISTRY??!!!

commented by Blogger DAMNFLANDRZ, 10:20 PM  

I read the same post as well. Thought that it connected at a personal level too and named significant reasons why I don't like signing a personal "statement of faith."

commented by Blogger Paul Fromont, 11:42 PM  

But how far do you go with this line?

I was recently in a discussion with a number of Pagans and Christians and the question came up as to whether Mormons were Christian. I found my self in the position of having to expain some of the essential distinctives that differentiated monotheism and henotheism whilst the fundies sat there gobsmacked. Are you saying we should not be prepared to give them an answer?

In other contexts I have conversed with Christo-pagans who affirmed Christ as teacher whilst simultaneously affirming faith in the tripple goddess of Wicca. Surly an ability to sensitively articulate faith in God as Trinity wouldn't go astray in such contexts?

The problem with Emergent US approaching this exclusively from a post-fundamentalist direction is that they risk making an error of the opposite extreme with people emerging from a post-pantheist direction.

The problem of refusing to define what we are 'for' is that we forever tie ourselves to what we are 'against'. This position of Emergent US, far from distancing themselves from fundamentalists, actually ties them to them.

To be truly emergent we must cease being post- anything and start articulating where we are going. Be fuzzy about peripherals by all means but at least lets develop a hazy idea of what we are centering ourselves around. Can we at least articulate faith in a trinitarian monotheistic God? Do it with water features if paper seems to rigid.

commented by Blogger Matt Stone, 2:59 PM  

I would echo Matt's point. I see an unnecessary and invidious problem here that drives a wedge between relational community of integrity in faith and statement of faith. Why is this regarded as an antinomy of either/or polar opposites; when surely it is both/and".

The lesson of church history is when "both/and" becomes "either/or" you end in schism, heresy and sectarianism.

I would also question the view here that the NT writers (and the character of Jesus) are not interested in confessional statements or creedal declarations.

Jesus did not hesitate to recite the Hebrew community's "shema" from Deut 6 "Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One" and then from the Decalogue two items that form a confessional statement (Mark 10:28-34).

If we burrow back into Exodus the preamble to the Sinai covenant not only recites the acts of salvation from Egypt but frame them in such a way that they point to a specific genre of confession of belief in Israel's theology. (Ex. 19:3-6).

NT commentators have pointed out that 1 Cor 15:1-7 is an embryonic creedal confession about the gospel and the resurrection. In the case of 1 Cor 15 the language Paul uses refers to him receiving a tradition which he then recites and passes on to the Corinthians, which intimates that a creedal formula was already emerging in the early church prior to 56 AD (the approximate date for 1 Cor).

The hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 is also regarded by NT scholarship as forming an early apostolic creedal confession.

Again NT commentators aver that there is a clear creedal confession in 1 Timothy 3:16 about the incarnation of Christ.

Again in the Johannine literature the 1st epistle makes it very clear there was an elementary creedal confession concerning Jesus as Lord, and the litmus test is set forth distinguishing who is genuine and who is false (1 John 4:1-6 and 15). Again proto-confessional formulae are discerned in 1 John 5:1-13.

There are other NT examples but the above should suffice to make the point for critical reflection. If Jesus was prepared to orally confess the Shema and the two great commandments, and if the apostolic band have set out certain creedal or doctrinal confessions in their epistles, then it IS appropriate to consider statements of faith at the very least on some core teachings and precepts.

There seems to me a problem arising over confusing formal theological points that are confessed, with the praxis and social context of a loving community. And the missional impulse for calling people into discipleship (a la Matt 28 great commission) involves the process of a baptismal formula associated with teaching the observance of all Christ taught (which at the very least includes the Shema as a confession).

As relational-communities form the inevitable sociological/historical fact remains that leaders emerge, structures do form (that is simple group dynamics at the very least), and with it comes an identity. A community identity (whether a small group or a larger gathering)will include the need for identifying appropriate boundaries of praxis and belief. And as that occurs groups find it helpful if not necessary to arrive at some formal statement of what they stand for or stand against.

Moreover I feel that the assertion that a statement of faith or of beliefs in propositional statements is coterminous with the evils of dreaded "modernist" thought is mistaken. Should one conclude then that the 2nd century church was modernist for framing the Apostles Creed?

While John 14:6 gives us "the truth is a person" (Christ), it remains the case that Jesus' own disciples did form creedal statements and this were not judged by the Holy Spirit as leading the faithful astray into abstract logic.

Finally, in the face of mix-and-match sampling that many non-Christians partake of in their spiritual exercises today (like in New Age, Neo-Pagan, do-it-yourself folk religiosity etc) one must come to some dialogue about whether one can serve Christ and also give allegiance to other deities. The NT shows us how in response to the apostolic preachment idols were abandoned and various forms of occult divination were likewise discarded (e.g. Acts 19:18-19). At some point as the old Dylan song goes "you're gonna have to serve somebody" and that call to discipleship will entail making choices over what one considers worthy enough to worship and what one confesses orally (not just mentally).

As one who has spent many years as a missionary with new religions and new spiritualities one does not have to start a doctrinal argument and confront people as heretics. However at some point as dialogue occurs the confession "Jesus is Lord" is something seekers need to face, and behind that simple three word sentence lies an entire missiology (Missio Dei) and theology (Incarnation, Atonement etc).

commented by Blogger philjohnson, 2:49 AM  

Good points raised.

Personally I understand the current need of the church to be humbleand IN the world. Seeking out Jesus in and with people, learning to rely on our World again, instead of offering them answers to questions they don'tunderstand. While a central understanding of Jeebus may be essential to such an unchurched-church, I would still caution againtst "unifying statements".

Such things are the old ways, the ways of division,heirarchy and separatism. If we truly seek Jeebus in and with others, including them into our unchurched-church community as we travel, we are affirming Christ far more than any "statement" ever could. IMO.

There will be a time for statements and answers, right now is a time for grief, loss and searching. IMO.

If Emergent US inc. feels differently, then I'm even happier to drop the label "emergent" and distance myself and my community from them and draw closer to the World Jeebus lives in. ;)

commented by Blogger DAMNFLANDRZ, 7:11 AM  

Interesting you appeal to a time of grieving.
My colleagues have long gotten over the "rivers of Babylon" experience. We have seen the detritus of "zion" -- ruins and rubble. Nebuchadnezzar's forces knocked it over years ago.

The trouble is for those who still think Zion is standing sturdily.

Lament by all means.

But in our missional praxis and missional theologising we have moved on because the pluralist context warrants it.

We've moved from the frustration of exile to post-exilic renewal, opportunity and change. We're already dialoguing with those Magi folk from Nebuchadnezzar's court (just like those folk who centuries ago watched Daniel walk the tightrope of no compromise and seizing the opportunity for witness).

We have seen the valley of dry-bones and yes they "can live again" in a new context. That context involves "both/and", not "either/or". There's more to the conversation than the musings.

We'd just like to see those in the conversation to take a peek at what we have encountered.

Trouble is geo-centric issues -- I'm from that place known as the last stop before the South Pole; and I realise that is the last place that folks in the northern hemisphere (generally) might even pause to consider. We who live in a continent settled by Europeans where church did not have a cultural tap-root of any depth have burrowed deeply into pluralism, culture and the way people see and experience life. These things churned away here and some northern hemisphere contexts are catching up with what we saw happen 20 years ago.

commented by Blogger philjohnson, 8:05 AM  

This is a great conversation - thanks for all your contributions. Perhaps surprisingly, given my original post, I find myself agreeing with much of what Matt and Phil write, but I am still cautious about doctrinal statements for the following reasons...

1. my experience is that doctrinal statements have tended to get more and more restrictive and 'defined', and so by implication more and more exclusive. We have an inheritence of faith (the 'Christian story' to use Tom Wright's language) which includes confessional creeds (e.g. Apostles, Nicene and the biblical examples that Phil cites). To deviate from these significantly would be to reframe 'Christian' according to personal taste. However, has this not been happening from the other perpective? By introducing ever more complex doctrinal satements of faith, the understanding of what is authentically 'Christian' is being re-framed so as to exclude more and more followers of Christ. There must be a better way to remain faithful to the story. Maybe my May 9th post helps here.

2. I'm unhappy with the way that doctrinal statements seem to be used as qualifications to begin the journey with Christ. I'm sure that there would have been a wide divergence of theological understanding amongst the disciples and wider group of followers of Jesus, but they were united in the very fact that they were 'following' Jesus. For this reason, Dream has as it's first core value 'Christ-centred' - which is not an attempt to make theological assumptions about Jesus but just to say that we are community in our desire to follow and centre our lives on him. This understanding of discipleship seems to be thoroughly biblical. It's in relationship with Jesus as his followers that our theological understanding grows.

To uphold a doctrinal statement as qualification for entering into this journey is to put people off from becoming disciples. It becomes nothing more than a new pharisaic code introduced to identify the 'truly faithful' to the exclusion of all others.

Maybe a correct credal belief is the prerequisite to succesfully completing the journey (I'll leave that act of judgement up to God), but should it really be a prerequisite to beginning? What I see is Jesus simply calling people to, 'follow me'.

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:56 AM  


Thanks for the clarification re your view and the quoted view of LeRon.

In your response you point to a particular group dynamic concerning belief statements and barriers/acceptance.

I feel that the issue here then is no so much the construction, articulation and affirmation of a creed, but rather the attitudes and social dynamics of those who identify themselves with the creed. That is, what you find troublesome is how some Christians behave towards the "alien other" who has not or has yet to concur with what is stated in the creed. The creed is the proverbial badge of acceptance as to whether you (i.e. the stranger) feels she/he belongs or is excluded.

If we take some time to reflect on the conduct of the "in-group" we might discover other vistas that have been overlooked. That is, the problem may not be so much the formation of belief-statements, as the way in which people socially construct their reality and the manner in which they habituate themselves in behaving towards those who do not "share the same reality".

Basically, I'm suggesting there is something more than just a theological question about "to creed or not to creed". Here I suggest that some social scientific angles need to come into consideration.

One of the helpful angles is found in the sociology of knowledge. In this discipline an attempt is made at understanding how people/people-groups construct their view of reality. Since the 1960s (via Berger and Luckmann) various studies have been undertaken into the social construction of knowledge. As none of us are transcendent (and hence can see the whole universe and comprehend it), we are finite and we try to make sense of the world around us according to the social contexts we inhabit. When a network or group forms the participants construct their beliefs and their praxis about the world based on shared ideas, values, sub-cultural factors, customs of social protocols etc.

When a group finds its view of reality impinged on by a contrary view of reality, there are different possibilities for the group. One is the group rearranges its view of reality to incorporate new insights; another is to render an account of the impinging view to explain "why" it exists, why it is a "threat", and then developing an internal-group discourse that will nihilate the rival view as deficient, unbelievable, evil etc.

These processes occur sometimes at a sophisticated level of discourse from group-intellectuals; other times it may be informal and grass-roots and perhaps less refined when articulated. If one also considers the psychological profile of a group, and the disposition of "personality types" who aggregate as the majority, then it is highly likely that the group will reflect a group-mindset of shared outlooks, often with various participants helping to reinforce by words and deeds what is the acceptable group-mindset, group customs and protocols and so on. Here the boundary-markers are identified and then defended in discourse and deeds. The greater a contrary view impinges or is represented as a threat, the greater the intensity to defend the boundaries and efforts to negate the rejected view.

If we reflected on the specific problem you have referred to, it would be possible to then comprehend the congregational or para-church gathering dynamics as constituting a socially constructed view with an emphasis on reality-maintenance and the concomitant of resistance to deviant behaviour and deviant views that fail to conform to the group's expectations and protocols for acceptance.

While the verbal discourse may entail an appeal to "here is our statement; you must believe it in order to belong", the problem is not so much the existence of the creed but something else which is obscured by the discourse "believe and you can belong".

Let me give you an example. This week in my home town a series of public bible-talks are being presented. The talks have been advertised in a colourful quality brochure. The intention is to deliver messages for non-Christians to reassess their life's values and so on. However, if we take a peek at the advertised topics, it is evident on reflection that boundaries are being defended. One topic is: "Why Money Doesn't Buy Happiness and Why We Don't Believe it." This is is interesting because the second half of the title shows the boundary-marker -- "why we [the in-group] don't believe it." The title subtly (maybe inadvertently) signifies it is "self-talk", reassuring the in-group and nihiliating a false or rejected view. By implication, the stranger to the group who does not share this opinion is already excluded, and if one wants a badge of acceptance it is clear one has to align one's values to negating "money=happiness".

Now on a wider template, these dynamics occur in all kinds of Christian settings (and the same is true if one looks at non-Christian settings). At issue here is something more than just a creed, or even a creed becomes a deed. If you wanted to you could suggest that the intensification of boundary-marking can resemble the righteousness of the Pharisees in Jesus' day.

If we were to consider the social dynamics of the apostolic church (and were to read them in a first-century lens and not bring our back-pack full of our problems to the text looking for solutions), we could see instances of how there were tensions about boundary-markers: Palestinian Jews and Hellenist Jews in early Acts; should Samaritans be included?; Peter and Cornelius; Peter being "TC" in the face of Judaizing critics and Paul's "rebuke"; the Pauline work with Gentiles.

Then with the inner dynamics over ethical behaviour the call for rebuke and correction or even rejection (Ananias and Sapphira; the various rebukes to the factions at Corinth; rebukes to the Galatians), and the implications of that in conducting Gentile missions.

In our setting there is a tendency to see conversion as event (Paul on Damascus Rd as normative) and less interest in slow growth (Peter's zig-zag commitment in the Gospels, and in Acts). This colours the method of outreach to "believe" then "you may belong". The contrast is with Jesus' call to discipleship "to follow" long before questions of "what to believe" arise.

Even allowing for EC innovations and strenuous efforts to reverse the trend "you can belong" and then later on "you shall believe", we must not be naive about group dynamics and social settings in EC.

I observe that EC is heteregeneous not homogeneous (hence generalisations must be kept in check); yet I do detect in the conversations a simplifying tendency to treat "modernity" as homogeneous and ignore its "heterogeneity", and ditto on "Boomer churches" are homogeneous.

If we look a group formation within hetereogeneous EC we will likely find a spectrum of group dynamics occurring. Even with this diversity though there are bound to be some parallels in the way each EC sector constructs its view of missional reality, develops mindsets and attitudes and protocols. Leaders and structures arise, personality types will dominate and give shape to the ways in which "like attracts like" and by extension how the alien other will belong or not belong.

While the ideal that is espoused is about eschewing the faults and failures of "modernity" and "modernity churches" and "boomer churches", my background in new religious movements tells me that dynamics of legitimation, formation of structures and leadership, social construction of reality and boundary-maintenance activities are unavoidable.

If heterogeneous EC aspires to form, survive, thrive and pass on a new heritage shorn of older errors, it needs to consider (amongst other things) the parallels between itself as a burgeoning movement and the dynamics of the 1980s-1990s with New Age. There are many phenomenological (but not theological) parallels to be discerned. The sampling, mix and match processes of New Age enshrined eclectic self-spirituality that partly deconstructed modernity, but also reframed modernity into esoteric spirituality. This approach did not foster the formation of communities, but reinforced the consumer as the individual source of authority who has "do-it-yourself" spiritual experimentation.

While the social energy for New Age has since dissipated as it became "mainstream", the self is celebrated and adorned in many ways as "divine" and various redemption kits flourish. But no communities have formed because "creeds don't matter". And in this ethos "I believe something, but I don't belong" prevails. And slip in this reflection to meditate on:
New Age (and insert other new religions) is the mirror image reflected of all the things we the church (traditional, EC etc) have neglected.

I see in the heterogeneous conversations of EC desires for community formation and places to belong. Yet ironically many activities (not all) reinforce to some degree the individual (blogging for example can turn into a luxurious form of self-indulgence). These polar tensions are in operation: centrifugal and centripetal.

D G Hart has provocatively "deconstructed evangelicalism", as he detected a socially constructed ideal that has itself fragmented precisely at the same time EC arises out of the rubble.

Perhaps savvy EC people might try to engage in "deconstructing EC". It would be helpful to consider how EC is projected out as a construct, and to go deeper and assess whether the socially-constructed view of postmodernity corresponds to an actual reality or suffers from degrees of "self-talk" that reifies a concept as if it exists (but not necessarily exist in the way it is spoken of).

Christians are good at reifying other religions and cults, and this has more than often impeded successful missions inside the western contexts to disciple adherents of those other pathways. Are self-confessed EC folk immune from this? And what impact could reification have on:
a). The construction and deconstruction narratives about modernity, postmodernity, evangelicals and liberals?
b). The project to become contextual missionaries at home (rather than in non-white continents) is it shaped by reified images and ideas of postmodernity?
c). The development of missional theologies that pays the "unpaid bills of the church" -- are the "unpaid bills" know of, acknowledged, addressed and responded to? If we do not ask the question relative to urban life (since new religions and DIY spiritualities and new folk religions are under construction as preferred options to any kind of institutional religions), then how can we be audacious in missions if we do not even have these spiritualities on our radar screens? Once they do come into purview the creeds come back at us as needful and helpful items. The question that follows again is then not the creeds, but what we do with the creeds -- when boundary-maintenance overtakes discipling those not yet-following Christ, then contextual missions flounder or will collapse in favour of piece-meal extracting "brands from the burning" and the dynamics of exclusion will carry on unabated.

commented by Blogger philjohnson, 2:22 AM  

I echo Phil’s points. I come to this conversation as a former New Ager and see many parallels between what is happening in the Emerging Church now, and what happened in the New Age Movement back then in the 1980s-90s.

The phenomenon was, to a large extent, creedless and polymorphic, just you are claiming for the EC here. It hit society with a bang, but its energies soon dissipated as it failed to form traditions that communities could crystalize around. How could they? It was too ill-defined. So slowly but surely its innovations were commodified and appropriated by corporate interests till it represented little else. It reshaped the spiritual landscape, but it is all but a memory only 10-20 years later.

Of course, the situation was far from homogenous and some traditions loosely associated with the movement did consolidate and have thrived beyond the movement’s dissipation. One tradition I have watched particularly closely is Wicca (a form of NeoPaganism), which is now the fastest growing religion in the west. What distinguishes that which thrived from that which dissipated? Without exception it was subgroups that had a clearer idea of who they were and what they were on about than those which burnt out. They were groups that were prepared to define themselves in some way, however loosely.

Only last week a Wiccan acquaintance reinforced this for me. In reference to do-it-yourself approaches to spirituality he said he reckoned people should be free to worship whoever or whatever they liked, he didn’t care, but he said if you’re into worshipping ‘rock lizards’ you can’t call yourself a Wiccan. Cause Wicca does mean something.

Now the question that raises for me is, how come Wiccans, who worship a plethora of gods and goddesses into their pantheon, who incorporate pantheists, polytheists, animists and atheists within their orbit, who’s ethics are so flexibly defined that public sex magic can be considered a legitimate form of worship (and even ordination) by some, how come they more clearly see the necessity of self definition than the Emerging Church? I can only put it down to the inexperience of the EC. Wiccans are hardly less post-modern that us guys. Whilst the Emerging Church is still playing around the wading pools of post-modernity they have dived naked into the deep end. Yet they still see the need for some forms of self-definition. It is rather ironic Emergent doesn’t, given their emphasis on ancient-future faith. Even Pagans see this is a rather significant baby you are proposing to throw out with the fundamentalist bath water.

Like Philip I believe real problem is not creeds and statements of faith per se but group social dynamics. Many within the Emerging Church have a hang over from fundamentalism. And what we are seeing here is with Emergent is a teetotaling over-reaction. I think the healthier course is to learn to drink in moderation from our creedal heritage. Consider this, when you are truly free from fundamentalism you won’t care what they say of your creeds, you won’t give a flying toss. To creed or not to creed won’t be conditioned on what fundies may or may not do with them. When you’re fully missionally engaged you’ll only care about instructing the unchurched in the essentials of the faith and coaching them in adapting it to and communicating it within their own context. And instructing people on the essentials (like: Jesus is the one we follow) means first being prepared to articulate them. Yes this means correcting some who might otherwise see sex magic as a legitimate Christian practice and reincarnation as a legitimate Christian belief…but so what? …if you’re sensitive about it?

But the way, I am not joking here, one of the members of my cell group does see reincarnation as a legitimate Christian belief. What would you have me say to him? Should I be vague about the importance of resurrection in Christian teaching? And the rabbit hole goes a LOT deeper than this. I do not speak out of airy abstraction.

commented by Blogger Matt Stone, 7:54 AM  

These two quotes may illustrate Matt's point about the similarities between emerging churches and Paganism.

The first is by Karen Ward near the start of 'Emerging Churches', which you've probably read (Gibbs/Bolger, 2006, p.27):

"The emerging church is being willing to take the red pill, going down the rabbit hole, and enjoying the ride. It is Dorothy not in Kansas anymore yet finding her way home. It is Superman braving kryptonite to embrace Krypton. It is sight seeking wider vision, relationships seeking expanded embrace, and spirituality seeking holistic practice. It is a "road of destination" where Christ followers, formerly of divergent pasts, are meeting up in the missional present and moving together toward God's future."

The second quote is from the intro to 'The Paganism Reader' (Clifton/ Harvey, 2004, p.1):

"Paganisms make explicit and engage many of the most interesting tendencies of the contemporary world. In doing so they challenge any attempt at neat categories such as pre-modern, modern and post-modern. By drawing on hymns to Classical Greek deities or trance practices suggested in Norse sagas, blending these with modern romantic ascriptions of value to "nature", reclaiming the authority of women, and challenging all hierarchy with the essential plurality of self-constructing individuals and societies - and so on - Paganisms transgress many established boundaries."

It struck me at the time that were the terminologies and cultural references within each quote to be transposed, either could be speaking of the phenomenon of the other.

Note for example how Karen Ward's cultural references are about 'transgressing established boundaries' - the taking of risky substances; the pursuit of self (gender?) identity away from preconceived cultural values (Kansas); the embracing of irresponsible behaviour (my challenge, who'll be the first emerging church to be served an ASBO?).

In turn, Clifton/Harvey's list of Pagan practices sound very like the agenda of a 'good' emerging church - drawing on ancient traditions, valuing nature, refusing to place anyone within a pre-existing power structure.

Finally there's the concept of 'self constructing individuals and societies', which pretty much summarises Karen's two closing sentences(and also Kester Brewin's analysis of 'complex christianity').

So the question arises, if the exteriors are essentially the same, what can truly be said to be different? An interior, 'new', life? The presence in the Christian of the crucified and risen Christ? But how can this be identified? and more to the point, in a 'No Logo' society, does it have to be?

I believe this is important because it gets to the nub of a question I don't hear much about in the emerging church debate - what form should evangelism take? More of which, and some tentative explorations I am making, in my comment on the May 9th blog.

And if you've got this far, I'll be at Greenbelt '06 volunteering with the visual arts team. A beer sounds great.

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 10:09 AM  

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