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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!

what we need is dialogue not demonising...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why oh why are there so many people intent on destroying the emerging church (EC) with polemic attacks and demonising accusations? If you aren't aware of some of these, you might want to take a look at three of the more recent examples (but have a strong cup of coffee first!)...
  • Sydney Anglicans accusing Graceway (Auckland, NZ) of 'shaking Christian orthodoxy' (see it also from Steve Taylor's perspective).
  • Chuck Smith's paper, in which he accuses the EC of belittling sin and undermining belief in the uniqueness of Jesus (Andrew Jones has some good comments on this 'here')
  • J Jacob Prasch's frankly laughable-if-it-wasn't-so-offensive email to Andrew Jones
I've never really been able to get my head around the reason why it is that those who shout the loudest about 'salvation by grace alone' often seem to have so little grace when it comes to attacking the people they don't see eye to eye with or understand. It's seems a little ironic and even undermining of such a gospel of grace (I hope I'm not falling into the same trap).

So thank God for Walter Henegar's article, in which he feels able to voice his concerns without having to demonise the emerging church and those involved in it. Henegar is a Reformed scholar who has actually made the attempt to understand the emerging church and its missiology, rather than simply shoot off against it. As a result, his critique comes as a challenging dialogue, rather than as an offensive polemic. He's not necessarily a signed-up fan of EC (if such a thing exists!), but he does affirm many aspects, and not just in a tokenistic kind of way. His overall tone is one of humble concern which is well reflected in his conclusion, calling for dialogue and mutual learning to the benefit of all. (Hat-tip to Andrew Jones for pointing the article out!)

While my own writing is not up to the standard of Henegar, and so I'll leave other responses to the more articulate readers of this blog (and others), I did want to pick up on one thing that he said and question the foundational assumption of his comment (hopefully in a tone like his)...

"the Emergent emphasis on the visual and concrete can easily swing too far from the word-centered nature of Christian faith. The God of the universe is a God who speaks, both in history and through his Word. Christians are people who interpret our whole lives (bodies, relationships, thoughts, and things) according to those words. Emergent worship forms such as candles, icons, incense, and meditation stations, easily lead to a corresponding decline in biblical proclamation."

I agree wholeheartedly with Henegar that the Christian faith is 'word-centered' (SIC), but the Word at the centre is surely Jesus, the person - the Word who "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) In my understanding, the greatest distinguishing feature between Christianity and the other major world religions is that our source of salvation is not a book that sits in heaven which we have a closely-guarded copy of, and it's not to be found in simply following a set of rules and regulations or even propositional beliefs. Our source of salvation is Jesus, and him alone - the living breathing enfleshed incarnation of God: THE Word.

So, if the use of candles or icons or incense or meditiation stations (which, incidentally, are often very heavy on biblical content) helps a person connect with the Word, Jesus, then how can these things be negative or lead to a decline in biblical proclamation?

Surely the task of the Church is, and always has been, to journey in relationship with Jesus as his disciples and invite others into that same journey. The teaching, the proclamation, the doctrine, the propositions, may all help us (or hinder us) in this journey of discipleship, but they are not the Word at the centre of Christian faith - Jesus is.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:40 AM



I clearly remember as a young adult my mother telling me: When ever you have an argument with people, you can never guarntee to win, but you can always hurt people, and if you hurt them, you win the argument.

I have spent my entire life unlearning her advice and what our family practiced then and still does today.

My questions:

What would we know about Jesus the person if we did not have The Bible. If we come across other stories about Jesus that are not in the Bible, are they equally valid as what we have in the Bible?

Jesus said that if you oby my teaching, you love me. How do we know what he teaches, it is in the Bible.

Is it possible for someone to be a disciple of Jesus without ever making reference to his teachings in the Bible?

And if he teaches about Jesus from his experience only, is he to be listened to?


commented by Blogger Timothy Wright, 7:55 AM  


thanks for your comments. Your questions are really important ones and a useful balance to my initial post. Indeed, what we know of Jesus is based in the Bible and we seek to live faithfully to the story of God's relationship with humanity, found in the Bible. I am persuaded by NT Wright's theory of the Bible being a story in five acts (creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, 'Church'), of which we occupy and live out the final act beginning at the Ascension and Pentecost. Our role, then, is to 'faithfully improvise' - to live in a dynamic relationship with Christ, fully engaged in the missio dei, while remaining faithful to 'the story so far'. That means being informed and formed by the first four acts and the New Testament as the opener to act 5. I'm certainly not advocating that we ignore the bible, but simply that the bible is not the centre of our faith - Jesus is.

Regarding whether it is possible to be a disciple of Jesus without reference to his teachings as contained in the Bible, I don't know. My gut reaction is 'not really', but I know of Muslim people, for example, who have become followers of Christ through the Qu'ran's testimony about him and through the direct work of the Spirit in their lives. I guess, though, that having come to faith in Jesus the Bible then becomes essential in the journey of discipleship.

For the record, I do believe the Bible to be 'God breathed' and 'useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error and correcting fault'. The Bible plays a very high role in my life of faith. I guess the point I was trying to make was that statements about the bible being the centre of faith may, in my view, come dangerously close to idolatry - Jesus is the centre of faith and the Bible attests to him. Following Christ is not simply about assenting to statements and beliefs about Jesus, it is a whole life direction with him.

Hope that helps and doesn't muddy the waters further!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:00 AM  

Not that I find much to agree with in Sydney these days... but... maybe it is about time that 'Crhistian Orthodoxy' is shaken a bit!

commented by Anonymous Mark Berry, 11:39 PM  

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