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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!

experiencing, understanding, believing and sliding...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I've been involved in an interesting email discussion over the last week or so, which arose in response (initially) to my posts on this blog about Ikon and Pete Rollins' book. Since the spark for the discussion came from these pages, I asked the other person (Tim) if I could post the last few emails here for others to join in and add their perspectives. If you want to know (before reading this long post) what issues we've been discussing, I guess you could some them up as: experience of God vs understanding of God; how we believe vs what we believe; and is the Emerging Church a new liberalism? If any of these issues grab you and you'd like to add your comments, read on...

Hello Malcolm,

I have written to you before and saw your positive comments on Pete Rollins book about How not To Speak to God. I read the book and thought it was confusing, and the stuff I think I understood, I disagreed with. I thought his main point was: that we can not understand God but we can experience God. Am I accurate in my understanding of his book?



thanks for your email. I don't think I read Pete Rollins in quite the same way as you have described. From what I gleaned, Pete was simply trying to challenge the modernist assumptions that rational understanding is the ultimate goal of spiritual endeavour, and argue for a more experiential faith drawing on the ancient resources of monastic spirituality and the like. What I found particularly helpful was his reminder that the closer we get to God (in our experience and understanding) the more we realize the limitations of our understanding concerning him.

As an illustration to this I blogged some time back (on Dream's Lent blog - now offline) about a visit I made to the Angel of the North in Gateshead. From a distance you could see this amazing sculpture and get a handle on the overall picture. From close up, however, you could see the rivets and the corrugated iron sheets - i.e. the detail, but could not take in the whole sculpture. In other words, the closer you get to it the more intimately you see it and the more you see the detail, etc, but the more you also realize that there is a bigger picture you only see a part of. I think this is something like what Pete was saying with respect to our relationship with God.

Pete points out that whereas we tend to understand revelation as the opposite to concealment, biblical revelation is often the unsettling of knowledge. That is, instead of being in a position of not knowing then we get revelation then we know, we find ourselves in a position of knowing (or thinking we know) then we get revelation then we realize that we don't really know (and so, paradoxically, we come to know at a deeper level). I think there's a lot in this and it certainly seems to be the level at which Jesus was operating in relation to the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day.

I hope this helps!

Hi Malcolm,

I am going to reread his book and try not to react. I remember a thought from his book that shocked me - it was like we need to be concerned more with how we believe that what we believe. I thought that what I believed is the foundational aspect of behavior, not behavior the foundation of belief. Maybe I am just too old and have such a totally different way of looking at things. I was talking to Peter Maiden the head of OM and he sees emergent as the first step in the new liberalism that will fully emerge in two or three generations. I am afraid of this also.

I have no concern for emergent theology impact the Muslim or Buddhist world. Nothing withstands the wave of Islam except pure Jesus as you know from your time in Pakistan. My friends who are living in Kabul right now are laying their lives on the line for Jesus. Emergent folks are at seminars and churches in the western world, but not at the coal face of missions.

Do you have concerns that Emergent is wanting to dilute the gospel?

Hi Tim

thanks for your email - I think the concern you raise is a valid one, although I don't think the 'how we believe' is simply about behaviour. I guess how we believe is pretty much tied up with what we believe - for example if we believe in a God of military conquest, then wars in the name of God are ok. If, on the other hand, we believe in a God of love and grace then we will love people we don't agree with and allow them to hold differing beliefs no matter how much we may feel they are wrong, misguided or whatever. So how we believe (eg. humbly, dogmatically, aggressively, lovingly,...) is intimately tied up with what we believe.

As to whether Emergent is diluting the gospel... I cannot and would not want to answer for Emergent as an organisation (be it the US or UK version) but the Emerging Church conversation (as it has been labelled) is exploring the possibilities of going beyond the old polarities or Evangelical, Liberal, Catholic, etc to see if Biblical faith (and Jesus) is more inclusive than we first thought. I guess this is the basis of McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, which I found very helpful. If this is risking taking the first steps to a new liberalism then I think it's worth the risk. However, where it (or should I say, where I) differ from some forms of 'liberalism' is in the desire to remain thoroughly Biblical, but to do so while remaining open to the possibility that what I thought was Biblical is in fact not so. I am open to learn from followers of Christ of all traditions and, hopefully, in doing so discover a deeper relationship with God.

I don't know if that makes sense or not. I would 100% agree with you in your statement "Nothing withstands the wave of Islam (though I wouldn't necessarily put it like that) except pure Jesus", but I would follow this up with the challenge as to what is 'pure Jesus'? Is our (evangelical) interpretation of the gospel 'pure Jesus' or is it 'Jesus with bits added'? I guess my desire in joining and exploring the Emerging Church Conversation is to better discover that 'pure Jesus' so that in my life and ministry I may point people to him and him alone.

Thanks for the conversation - keep the comments coming!


Quite simply 100% pure Jesus is that Jesus is God's only and Final revelation through which to know him. No other world religion, cult, ideology, is from the heart of the Father. I am not saying that other religions do not contain slivers of truth, but only through Jesus can we come to know the Father and walk in his Kingdom while we are alive and will be with him when we physically die. Everyone else is eternally separated from experiencing the love of the Father if they do not know Jesus as the way to the Father.

That's 100% Jesus to me!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:53 AM


Malcolm, can I just applaud the spirit in which the two of you have held this conversation... the points are well made and the tone is generous. Needless to say I am in gerneral agreement with your responses... can I just say Tim, I deeply respect your friends in Kabul, but the 'Emerging Church' is very much at 'A' 'coal face' of mission, for most of us that particular 'coal face' is not the other side of the world, but right here, right now! In the very towns and cities in which we live and in the culture which is emerging today in the post-christian west.

commented by Anonymous Mark B, 7:01 PM  

The thing that strikes me is revolutionary about the emerging Church (at any time in its 2000+- year history) is that liberals and evangelicals in all cultural circumstances can own its words with a clear heart.

I know that I, for one, can sign up to every word in Tim's last email - though not necessarily in a way that he might find immediately comfortable. The same for every last word of scripture. But I also believe there is a god-given integrity behind science, literary theory and art, without which they would not be worthy of the name. Exploring how the at times contradictory statements may both be true is, as I understand it, part of what Pete Rollin's book is about. That he demonstrates it is possible is for me a sign of the great glory and loving-kindness of God.

Karl Rahner wrote, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all" (Theological Investigations, Vol. XX, 1981, DLT).

I see a future with the breadth of interpretation of the best of the liberal church and the scriptural power of the best of the evangelical church, both rooted in the love of Christ.

And actually, I think we've got that future with us right now.

By the way, and this may sound contraversial, to Paul it mattered not one whit whether he lived or died for Christ, he counted both as gain. That missionaries are prepared to die physically in overtly violent cultures and spiritually in covertly violent cultures like our own is a testimony of their commitment to the resurrection life of the Gospel, not of the weakness of one position as against another.

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 10:15 AM  


I am the Tim in this story. Good points all around. And Steve after reading my post again about my friends in Kabul it didn't come out the way I meant so forgive me.

My concern with loosing our moorings from "the Bible" is that everything is not true. I still believe in truth. If not its open season on doing whatever you want because you believe it to be true.

I am looking forward to rereading his book again with a more open mind & generous spirit. Both would be helpful.

How far in the future Rahner is talking about I don't know if everyone will be a mystic in 2,000 years or 200 years.

I see no value in the liberal church. When I mean liberal I mean, Christ denying, lack of trust in scripture, everything is ok. You want to marry a sheep or your brother go for it as long as you do it love. The man who molested me told me he loved me, funny I didn't believe it then or know. I don't believe the "Liberal" church either.

Sooner or later Emergent will be putting up boundaries. Or be in different emergent camps and different emergent conferences. Ineveitable.

commented by Blogger Timothy Wright, 9:23 PM  

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