Friday, April 12, 2013

Theology at Missio Alliance

I think there may be a sense around here at the Missio Alliance that one of the reasons the Emergent Village didn't really go anywhere or do anything is that it wasn't theologically grounded well. The emergent movement knew what they didn't like about evangelicalism-as-usual, but they tried to ground the thought of the movement in postmodernism. Since postmodernism is an anti-theology, that left the movement without any real grounding that would stick.

The theological framework invoked at the conference so far is missional, with Scot McKnight, Cherith Fee-Nordling, and David Fitch so far as its theologians.

Scot McKnight
You won't be surprised to hear echoes of his King Jesus Gospel here.  The idea here is that the gospel is about Jesus as king.  It's focus is not about some narrow sense of getting people to pray for forgiveness and get baptized.  With the good news being about the kingship of Christ, then we have a robust sense of salvation that not only includes helping the poor and redeeming societal structures, but a sense of conversion that extends beyond a moment to a pilgrimage.

Nevertheless, I think I picked up a hint of a view of theology with which I disagree. If I heard him right, he invoked a distinction between an approach that aims at "the right way" and one that looks for relevance.  This reminds me of the Barth-Finney debate over whether God is responsible for the effect of the word or whether we can do things that bring about a better sermon effect.

It may, although I'm not sure if McKnight meant it, have a tinge of Platonism and presuppositionalism that creates a dichotomy between truth and effect.  Wesleyanism tends to be what I am now calling a "pragmatic theology."  What I mean by this notion is that truth should not be divorced from its effect but that, to a very large extent, truth is a function of effect.

Truth in this universe is, in general, what works in this universe.  God has built truth into this universe as what works in this universe.  In that sense, it is misguided to mistake ideas as the sources of truth that somehow play themselves out in this universe, as if the universe is some kind of Platonic copy of a divine ideal. Nor will we most accurately understand truth if we think of it in terms of revelations in God's mind that he has revealed to us in the Bible.

Rather, when God reveals truth, he is revealing the way he has made us and the world, how we and the world work. Therefore, theology when it is most true is also most useful. I may post on this later, but my point is that theologians should not think that revivalist traditions are unthinking because they do not always articulate a theology "behind" their practice. Rather theology is intrinsic to practice. It is most accurate when it is most closely tied to its effect. This is a superior form of theology to the abstracted version of it so loved by the stereotypical theologian.

David Fitch
I'll mention Fitch first.  It was interesting to have him next to Howard-John Wesley.  HJW's presentation might not contradict his as much if you take the pragmatic theological approach I just offered. The question becomes, "What do their theologies look like in practice?"  If their theologies result in a similar effect or look, then they are kindred even if the abstractions contradict each other.

And they did at least sound like they did. But I do not think HJW's disagreed with David's so much in practice.  

Fitch was trying to move beyond old fundamentalist categories like inerrancy to a storied approach to the Bible.  We live into the world of the Bible and experience its authority as the authority of God over us in his story of walking with the world. There's no question in my mind that this is a much more accurate theological abstraction than the one neo-evangelicalism came up with in the 50s.

Cherith Fee-Nordling
Her presentation by far has been the best of the conference. If I were to sum up her main point it would be a plea against Gnosticism. The world is not evil, only fallen.  God created a good world.  We are not spirits waiting to be released to our true heavenly home.  Rather, the earth is our eternal destination, a redeemed earth. Jesus might have become human just to be with us, even if Adam hadn't sinned and didn't need redeemed.  Jesus was truly and fully human... and he liked it.

I continue to think that the best theological descriptor of this group sociologically is post-conservative and that the best theological category to describe it is "missional."  Wesleyanism at its best fits well here.

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