...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Progressive Christianity on Pomomusings

Adam has done it again - made a couple of posts stirring up controversy and debate; Progressive Christianity: Vol 1 and Progressive Christianity: Vol 2. The posts are based on the first 2 points (of 8) on what it means to be a "progressive christian" from the Center for Progressive Christianity. Adam is planning similar examinations of the remaining points. The 2 points in question are:

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

The points were originally written thusly:

1. Proclaim Jesus Christ as our Gate to the realm of God

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the gateway to God's realm

Obvious theological problems aside - and there are clearly quite a few - the exchanges in the comments section are what trouble me. In the first post, Adam says "I want to be open to new theology...new ideas...newness, freedom, openness, all of things [sic] seem important to me." I have previously posed a question to Adam about how we should think about theology. In his mind, theology is nothing but "God-talk" and is communally shaped - it has no definable or objective connection to the reality of God. Keeping that definition in mind, why wouldn't he want to be open to "new theology"? Such theology could only come from a big, group conversation that would create warm bonds of friendship and fellowship. A commenter, correctly in my opinion, links Adam's desire for newness with both a desire to distance himself from those dour, judgmental “old” Christians and our consumer culture:

I think ["new"] is really just code for, 'Hey, I am not like those others (read: lesser) over there. I am a cool Christian. I am a trendier, sexier, sleeker model of what you have seen before.'

It also seems really silly to call ourselves 'a new kind of Christian' because of our consumer culture. We always want 'new' things. Look at how we treat cars, toys, spouses, and friends. We almost always associate "new" with 'better.' Why do we have to pimp ourselves with terms like "new." Any church that claims to be 'new' just seems to desperately need to be consumed.

I like that - "seems to desperately need to be consumed." If, as this poster suggests, the desire for newness is driven by external opinions then it is absolutely based on the “desperate need to be consumed.” Validation can only come by being tasted and favorably compared to older vintages. This is, to me, a damning critique of Adam’s position – it bases the validity and worthiness of our theology & praxis on whether or not the world likes it and will consume it. It is a model driven, not by the Spirit, but by good branding and marketing. Inexplicably, though, the commenter goes on to say:

I think it would be a much more honest church that just allowed itself to be defined by those who were affected by the community of faith. How do they see us? How would they define us? Who do they say we are?

What is the logic of allowing the church to be defined by anything other than her Head? It would certainly be a more contextually responsive church that asked these questions, but even for those who desire no change to the core theological & ecclesiological formulation, the manner in which those questions are asked can lead to subtle cracks in our understanding of being the church. If “they” see us or define us differently than we see or define ourselves, who is wrong and how do we correct that? But, of course, even that question is wrong – we are defined by the Spirit, and with that the question is thrown into instant clarity. How the world sees us can be a useful measuring stick in determining whether nor not we’re being faithful to the Gospel (sidebar), but its view cannot and should not define us as the Church.
The second post is equally troublesome. I give you the first half of the comment from Sibeal:

Ekapa -- Try rethinking Kingdom as kin-dom, to remove the idea of a hierarchy (go with Reign of Christ if you need a substitute for King of Kings). Substitute kin-dom during the Lord's Prayer and it will make a difference in your thinking (along with debt/debtors). The idea being, of course, that Jesus came to bring us together has Brothers and Sisters in Christ -- as a Family, not as a political structure... as a family that takes care of each other through good times, through hard times, in differences and agreement, etc.

DENNIS: Oh king, eh, very nice. An' how'd you get that, eh? By exploitin' the workers -- by 'angin' on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic an' social differences in our society!
WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--
…WOMAN: We don't have a lord.
DENNIS: I told you. We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
DENNIS: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,--
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: --but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more--
ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
WOMAN: Order, eh -- who does he think he is?
ARTHUR: I am your king!
…WOMAN: Well, 'ow did you become king then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, [angels sing] her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!
DENNIS: Listen -- strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: I mean, if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me they'd put me away!
ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up!
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!
ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!
DENNIS: Oh, what a give away. Did you hear that, did you here that, eh? That's what I'm on about -- did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn't you?

Ahh, that pesky hierarchical God – can’t he see we’re all on equal footing?
Can’t he see that “king” is an outdated and oppressive political tool? Shouldn’t he have used the infinitely more democratic “president” or even “prime minister”? Though perhaps even that is too repressive.

In both of Adam’s posts & their comments, there is a lot of talk about Christianity being a “man-made religion” and progressives wanting to get past the “man-made” rules that restrict freedom and personal conscience. This anthropocentric understanding of the faith is precisely the problem. If man’s role in the formation of the faith was more prominent than God’s, then obviously our theology, our churches, our morality, even our Bible, should be open to revision. If this is not the case, then monkeying around with these things is dangerous and wrong. The question really comes down to how we think about the church, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the pomergent understanding is deficient in many, many respects.

1 comment:

Doug said...

What a mess... I continue to read up on the pomo/emergent thing through Blogodoxy and your site here, and I'm just not impressed. I'm afraid that they're in danger of degenerating into a kind of "Gnostic Agnosticism," if you will. On a related topic, for some thoughts on this trend toward tossing out the language of divine revelation, I'd recommend Patrick Henry Reardon's Essay on "via negativa vulgaris" at Touchstone: