conversation with Kevin

Kevin:

I will try not to repeat the questions and comments from Bill and Doug, which I agree with, but will attempt to respond to your points and concerns with a few observations.  Thanks again for indulging us and our questions.  Your responses have helped me to better appreciate your perspective and what you heard in my question.  Even if we decide that we disagree, it has still been a fun and learning experience for me.  So thanks! 

1. I think that my view that followers of Jesus need both right belief and right practice is a moderate, balanced position rather than the extreme which you caricature.  I clearly prefaced my question at the symposium with the statement that beliefs by themselves will not save, for even demons believe and tremble.  Of course our beliefs must be embodied in Christian practice.  I said so at the symposium, and no one I know would dispute it.  I’m simply asking if merely loving our neighbor and caring for the poor is sufficient to be considered a Christian, or must followers of Christ also know and put their trust in him?

I do not understand how this question leads you to conclude that I have “a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith” and think that “being a Christian is fundamentally and primarily about beliefs in such facts.”  Perhaps painting me as a cognitive extremist makes it easier for you to take the other extreme that beliefs are not necessary, but let’s be clear that I am not arguing for the position that you are discrediting.

I do think that your view is an extreme.  You say that “given the choice between settling all the theological facts/debating at the level of rarefied reflection and being the location of transformation, becoming an agent of reconciliation and hope for the world, I’d choose the latter.”  I agree, but you have set up a false dualism, caricatured the side you’re against (“rarefied reflection”) and then said that you’ll have the other.  If these are the only two choices, then I’m with you.  But why think that these are our only options?

2. I agree with you that beliefs and actions are inter-related, with beliefs leading to actions and actions leading to beliefs.  My argument is not about which must come first, but whether both are necessary to be a Christian. 

3. As the other comments indicate, you can open your New Testament just about anywhere and find passages that indicate our need to both believe and obey the gospel.  To take just one example, 1 John 3:23 says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”  Do you think that John suffers from “a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith” because he said that we must “believe in the Son”?  Please tell me how my question is anything other than a restatement of this verse.

4. Regarding the first disciples of Jesus, I agree that their understanding of God and Jesus were not as developed as ours who live after the councils of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.  Revelation is progressive and theology does develop across time.  Your argument that the Trinity and the deity/humanity of Jesus are not essential for Christians today because they weren’t spelled out by the original disciples ignores the progress of theology.      

At the symposium I cited Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31.  When asked what he must do to be saved, Paul said that the jailer must believe in the Lord Jesus.  So I conclude that Paul thought that those who want to follow Jesus must at least believe that they are sinners who are saved by the Lord Jesus.  All Christians must believe this, and, once we learn of them, we must also not reject the church’s orthodox statements on the Trinity and person of Jesus (see the Athanasian Creed).

5. I would be interested in hearing your answer to the question, “what makes someone a follower of Jesus”?  If believing in Jesus is not essential, then what is? 

6. I don’t mean this to be nitpicky, but am asking merely for the sake of clarity.  You said that everyone on the panel would affirm that “Christ came in the flesh.”  I am glad to hear it, but I wonder, given Pete’s statements on revelation and his refusal to say directly whether he believes that Jesus physically rose from the dead, would he say that Jesus Christ is “the Son come in the flesh”?  I.e., is Jesus ontologically both God and man?  I hope that he would affirm this, but it wouldn’t easily cohere with other statements that he has made.  I like Pete a lot, and I hope that you or he can affirm that he does in fact believe this.

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  1. Mike,

    My thanks to you and Kevin and others for taking the time to make this dialogue available to us. I am a pastor in a small church in a small town, removed from the Mecca of Grand Rapids. Seeing this on your blog gives me a chance to sip coffee while listening to those of you at the table.

    I understand you’re even offering a seat at the table — I measure my words carefully enough that I am just drinking coffee and listening and thinking for now. I’m not sure that I have anything to add that hasn’t been said already.

    But, I do have a doctrinal study tonight at church on faith and repentance and you all will be featured in the introductory segment.

    I printed the discussion out and killed a tree in the process. Not very green of me.

  2. Kevin and Mike,

    There is one more perspective that I thought worth adding, and I only do it in a preliminary way, without making an elaborate case for it. Kevin has emphasized “transformation” which I understand him to include both personal and communal/societal, etc. And I agree that the individual believer and believers together as church should be committed to and experiencing both.

    But it occurred to me (while worshiping with my church family around the Lord’s Table last night) that, again and again in the New Testament, the nature of, and the motivation for, such transformation are connected to, and fueled by, theological belief.

    For example Romans 6, with its focus on personal transformation, understands such transformation as rooted in “knowing” and “reckoning” certain things to be so when it comes to the believer’s relation to Jesus and his atoning work through his death and resurrection. “Do you not know….?” Paul asks, preparing to explain how certain “Jesus facts” are crucial to ongoing transformation. Much more could be said in such passages, in relation to personal transformation. (cp. Gal.2:19-20; 6:14).

    When we turn to the Christian’s/church’s mission in the world – it is indeed one of reconciliation (as Kevin affirms), and one of the crucial passages regarding that ministry of reconciliation is 2 Cor.5:16-21. First, it’s worth noting that, for Paul, the ministry of reconciliation is fundamentally tied to a “message” (v.19) and it is a message constituted by, again, profound “Jesus facts” about what God was doing/accomplishing in Christ in his atoning death. I cannot conceive that the apostle could disconnect the task of transformation and reconciliation with the message and realities regarding the person and work of Christ that drive them forward. (Cp. also 2 Cor. 5:14-15).

    Or consider what Paul turns to in calling the Philippian congregation to love and unity? Whatever one’s specific understanding of Phil.2 (particularly v.5), it is clear that Paul views congregational unity as the inevitable corollary and effect of what happened in the story of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and exaltation.

    Again, this is only a suggestive sampling. It seems to me that the ongoing transformational effects of Christianity (personally, in the church, in the culture) are ultimately structured and motivated by the essential Gospel truths (“Jesus facts”) concerning Christ, focused on the meaning of his death and resurrection – the gospel that saves in “the hour I first believe.”

    In other words, faith/belief in the Jesus facts launches, fuels, defines and directs authentically Christian transformation and mission. Therefore, to disconnect mission and transformation from such belief/theology would be, it seems to me, fatally debilitating to the transforming mission itself.

    Sincerely,
    Doug Phillips

  3. This is a rather long post but based on what has gone before that seems to be the order of the day.

    Belief and faith are interrelated in the New Testament. They are words used in all but two of the twenty seven books in the New Testament. From what I understand ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ has four meanings. This is the crux of this debate and one of the driving forces propelling the emergent movement.

    The first meaning has to do ‘with the head’ the other three ‘with the heart’.

    1) Faith can be derived from the Latin assensus which is related to our English word assent. When seen this way faith or belief (which I will use interchangeably throughout) is about giving mental assent to a preposition. The churches I have been a part of these many years use this as a touchstone for being Christian. You believe these “suppositions” and you are in. You can be a rather nasty person (you shouldn’t be—but you could be) and still be a Christian.

    2) The second word is feducia. The closest English word we have has to do with fiduciary which has to do with trust. “A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances which give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence.” To use this term in association with belief means we put ourselves in another’s hands…In my understanding the ‘another’ is Jesus. I have faith he will deliver me, I have faith that He is able. I trust.

    3) The third word is fidelitas. English translation is ‘fidelity’ and has to do with loyalty and faithfulness ‘as in a marriage covenant’. It is the heart of a commitment or covenant. When understood for all it’s worth this ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ is at the heart of love. I pledge a ‘fidelity’ to the way of Christ.

    4) Finally faith or belief can be viseo. It has to do with ‘seeing the whole’ with vision. I feel this meaning is related to our understanding of a ‘Christian or God like worldview’. When we commit to viseo we are saying that we want the ‘kingdom as Jesus envisioned it’. This leads to a radical trust generating a willingness to ‘spend and be spent’. We step into the ‘dream of God’. Christ was poured out for the sake of this vision. He saw something and gave himself to that. We in turn are called to ‘be spent’ for that vision. Paul modeled that beautifully when he writes things like:

    Philippians 1:21 ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better’
    or
    Galatians 2:26 ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’

    What I believe the ‘emerging church’ is saying (or at least this is what I am saying) is that we are weary of an emphasis on the first meaning predominately. The Christianity I grew up with said you must believe to be saved and the other stuff…fiducia, fidelitas, and viseo are well…kind of add-ons or options. You ‘should’ be about these things but if you are not then, well…you’re still saved because of ‘assensus’. The evangelical motif is actually built on this foundation. We have to get people ‘saved’ by persuading them to ‘say the prayer’.

    This is perhaps one reason why ‘emergents’ seem slippery…they don’t want to settle for a ‘prescriptive’—believe this and be saved sort of position.

  4. Mike,

    I’m behind 8-ball what with classes starting today (for me) and my just getting round (last night) to finishing the syllabi. So…I’m afraid I must be brief and won’t be available to follow up any time soon on this. But, let me say the following and then get on w/my calling to corrupt the youth.

    You say:

    “1. I think that my view that followers of Jesus need both right belief and right practice is a moderate, balanced position rather than the extreme which you caricature. I clearly prefaced my question at the symposium with the statement that beliefs by themselves will not save, for even demons believe and tremble. Of course our beliefs must be embodied in Christian practice. I said so at the symposium, and no one I know would dispute it…”

    Me:

    We’re agreed, then.

    You:

    “I’m simply asking if merely loving our neighbor and caring for the poor is sufficient to be considered a Christian, or must followers of Christ also know and put their trust in him?”

    Me: Keeping in mind that “being a Christian” is itself progressive, that I am even now “becoming” a Christian, I would say that followers of Christ must, of course, put their trust in him. I must put my trust in him: today I must; tomorrow I must, and the next day I must. My frustration with myself is that I often put my trust in Christ one moment and then take it back the next. That’s why I’m a debtor to grace. My ultimate hope and confidence is not in myself, but in Christ.

    You say:

    “3. As the other comments indicate, you can open your New Testament just about anywhere and find passages that indicate our need to both believe and obey the gospel. To take just one example, 1 John 3:23 says that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” Do you think that John suffers from “a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith” because he said that we must “believe in the Son”? Please tell me how my question is anything other than a restatement of this verse.”

    Me: I do not think John suffers from a highly intellectualized and overly cognitive view of faith. It didn’t strike me that what you said in the original post was a restatement of that verse b/c it seemed do me that you built a lot more content into your “belief.” You seemed to say in the original post that one must believe THAT God is three, THAT Jesus was both human and divine, etc. John simply says that God’s command is to “believe IN his Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps I misread you.

    You say:

    “5. I would be interested in hearing your answer to the question, “what makes someone a follower of Jesus”? If believing in Jesus is not essential, then what is?

    Me:

    I take you to mean what is it in virtue of which someone is a follower of Jesus? I answer, surrender. It’s possible, I think, for someone to be utterly captivated by Jesus, to see hints of the kingdom among us and to be drawn into the orbit of the new community, and to set about sowing their own parables of the coming, consummated kingdom of shalom and to, in the midst of this, learn and then find him or herself believing and confessing the content of the Apostle’s Creed. Was such a person not a follower UNTIL they could confess the content of the AC? I think perhaps they were. Is believing, then, not essential to being a Christian? I don’t think so; I think belief IS essential. But just as life is not a single, synchronic event but is instead spread out over time, I think the question “Is belief essential?” must be asked and understood diachronically or across time. Diachronically speaking, the answer is most assuredly, yes; belief is absolutely essential. Synchronically speaking–asked about a specific point in time–my answer is, I’m not convinced it is. But if one NEVER, over the entire course of one’s life, comes to believe that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self, then I would say that such a one was not, over the course of one’s life, a Christian.

    You say:

    “…You said that everyone on the panel would affirm that “Christ came in the flesh.” I am glad to hear it, but I wonder, given Pete’s statements on revelation and his refusal to say directly whether he believes that Jesus physically rose from the dead, would he say that Jesus Christ is “the Son come in the flesh”? I.e., is Jesus ontologically both God and man? I hope that he would affirm this, but it wouldn’t easily cohere with other statements that he has made. I like Pete a lot, and I hope that you or he can affirm that he does in fact believe this.”

    Me: I love Pete. He is (becoming) a good friend of mine. If you read my chapters for the book that were posted on the Worship Symposium website you would have seen that I am critical of Pete’s positions at various points. But here’s what Ive learned after many conversations w/him. I mentioned this, in fact, in the symposium. Pete has little (not none, but little) interest in debates at what we might call the theoretical level. Pete resides at the phenomenological level, the level of lived experience. When you or I ask Pete “Do you in fact believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus?”, Pete wants to push back and ask “Are YOU living the resurrection? Are YOU the location for resurrection in your home, work place, neighborhood and community? You who say you believe in the resurrection are YOU living the resurrection?” That voice is a prophetic voice and I highly value it. I value it because I am a master at self-deception and unfaithfulness. It’s voices like Pete’s that won’t let me get away with self-deception and complacency. When it comes to faith I am, after all these years, still a beginner. I am always ever a beginner. I’m coming to see, I guess, that I am still learning to believe, still learning how to believe. For a long time I was preoccupied with what to believe. As I get older I’m coming to see that how I believe is of equal importance. I am coming to see that belief is something that takes practice and something one learns to do over time.

    While I’ll let Pete speak for himself if he cares to, I will say that I myself have no doubt that Pete assents to the relevant propositions you cite and in fact self-consciously find himself caught up in the Christian story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. But when you say that you hope that he can affirm his belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and that Jesus is God incarnate, it reminds me that even if Pete didn’t affirm these things it would not detract in the least from the prophetic role he plays for the church. And that’s because, as a big fan of Balaam’s Ass theology, I realize that God can speak to me and work for my own transformation through anyone and anything, and especially through people I might be prejudiced against hearing.

    Mike, thanks for inviting me into this conversation. I hope my answers offer at least some insight to how I think about these issues.

    Grace and Peace to you!
    Sincerely,
    Kevin

  5. 1 John 3:23 says more than how Kevin quotes it. It is not merely “believe in Jesus” it’s “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (as Mike cited it). “Name” entails the self-revelation of his character and attributes (cp. Jn.17:6,12 etc.).

    I know that he is a philosopher, not a NT scholar, but can someone suggest to me people connected to the emergent movement that do careful exegetical work (e.g., commentaries, etc.)

    Thanks…

    Doug

  6. Mike G. (not Wittmer) February 4, 2009 — 12:52 am

    One really blatant passage that I think has been overlooked is 2 Peter, chapter 1. If we accept this as the Apostle Peter, let us remember the context of Peter. Peter, based on how he is portrayed in the gospels, always had a passion for doing. He was first to suggest doing something when Jesus was transfigured and he was the first to grab a sword when Jesus was handing himself over to the authorities. When Jesus restores Peter, he first asks him a belief-laden question “Do you love me?” After each affirmation of love by Peter, Jesus responds with a command to do something “feed my lambs.” With this in mind, consider the instruction given by Peter to “those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours…”
    We find later in the passage that “participating in the divine nature” not only includes “goodness” “godliness”, “mutual affection”, and “love” but also “knowledge.” Peter’s point seems to be that we need to be growing as Christians in all these things. He says, “For if you possess these things in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in you KNOWLEDGE of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    The knowledge issue comes up a lot and we may argue that it was because Peter had the wrong “knowledge” about Christ that his belief before the Resurrection was misplaced. Peter seems very concerned about what we know about Christ because he was very wrong in what he thought he knew about Him. Peter goes on and says, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.”

    So, what I am concerned is not that “emergents” are denying right beliefs, but I am more concerned that many do not teach or remind people of them again. So Peter Rollins and others may not have “denied” the key tenants of the faith, but by keeping silent they failed to clearly proclaim them which is just as offensive to the gospel of Christ. Remember Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

    So my point that you’re free to kick around is this: Heresy is not always what is said, but what is left unsaid because of shame, timidity, or seeking the approval of men. This is where I believe many emergents are guilty. Wasn’ it our Lord Jesus himself who said that “whoever denies me, I will deny before my Father…” My point is denial can be both active (preaching falsely) or passive, (not speaking the truth or proclaiming the gospel).

  7. Mike G,

    I believe it was St. Francis who said, “Proclaim the gospel always; when necessary use words.” An observation. What I am hearing you and others say here is “hey, emerging folk: can you please use words every now and again; at least sometimes.” And what I hear those with some sympathies for emerging concerns saying is: “Hey, evangelical folk: can you please not use words so much. Can you please incarnate the gospel with works of love and reconciliation and a be a bit more concerned about your own further conversion then you are about making sure everyone other than you believes what you think are all the right things.”

    I am of the opinion that in the emerging context the words of the evangelical folk need to be spoken. I am also of the opinion that in the evangelical context the words of the emerging folk need to be spoken. In the words of my friend Pete, each can be used for the other’s further conversion. I suspect, however, that each group will always the place the emphasis elsewhere than where the other desires, just as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox will always place an emphasis on sacraments (visual proclamation) and protestants on preaching (verbal proclamation). What was that song a few years ago? “It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms….” It is indeed!

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  8. Kevin,

    About 15+ years ago I thought that my opinion was important, until I realized how quick opinions can change – like the tax code.

    My main issue with the emerging, emergent, emerged…is that they desire conversation without grounds, and are subsequently tossed about with every passing fancy.

    Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). I don’t think Jesus could have been much clearer in the New Testament and what we are to do with His message (Matthew 28:18-20).

  9. Kevin’s quote from St. Francis is pithy, and has a kernel of compelling truth to it; but, overused and over-applied, it is, I think, mis-leading.

    The Gospel is a message and it is news that is to heralded and communicated in words by faithful ambassadors/stewards/heralds who are scrupulously concerned to tell the message of reconciliation faithfully (or else they are disqualified from functioning in that role). The saving, transforming Gospel is “the word of the cross.” (2 Cor.5:19-20; 2 Tim.1:11; 1 Cor.1:18)

    Evangelical Christians have an incorrigible connection with words and beliefs rooted in the fact that the God of the Bible is a speaking (Heb.1:1ff.) and writing (Dt.32:16) God who chose to communicate to his covenant people through prophets and apostles. And so through Moses we hear, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” (Dt.32:45ff.) And David rhapsodizes regarding the transformational power of the words of God (commandments, precepts, statutes) in Psalms 19 and 119.

    And it was the Lord Jesus himself who, when he encountered those who no longer wanted to follow him because they were offended by the specific and theological “Jesus facts” he had spoken to them, turned to the twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Their reply is relevant to the discussion here: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn.6:60-69)

    The words of Jesus were the catalyst for their believing and their knowing, a knowing that was rich with content, and a believing that was the essential motivation for their following.

    I think the reason evangelicals resist every trend or attempt to disconnect inscripturated words from life/transformation/mission is that we have come to believe, from Jesus himself, that the words of Scripture are living words that foster the faith and transformation that they describe and inspire.

    No wonder then that Paul counsels the new covenant people of God too, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” (Col.3:16). And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that if ongoing conversion and transformation is indeed going to take place in our midst, it will happen in connection with the penetrating power of the living and active word of God (Heb.4:12).

    Sincerely,
    Doug Phillips

  10. [for some strange formatting reason, my typing out the reference of 1 Cor. 1:18 above turned into an emoticon, and an odd one at that!]

    — Doug

  11. Doug P. and Yooper,

    With all due respect, it strikes me that you are more interested in winning an argument than you are in listening; more interested in what divides than what is shared; more interested in the trees than the forest. Perhaps I misjudge.

    This I think is also a difference b/w emerging types and garden variety evangelicals. Emerging types are tired of arguing; tired of always focusing on what separates instead of what unites; tired of staring at the trees.

    1 Jn.4.7 and 20b:

    “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is born by God and knows God…whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

    That is a message for Christians, emerging and evangelical.

    Humbly,
    Kevin

  12. Kevin,

    My concern in my comments has been to reaffirm the essential aspect of orthodox belief in connection with an authentic experience of following Christ. Your assertion that no such belief was essential is what started this interaction.

    Apparently we still differ on that crucial issue.

    And my reading of 1 John, as I alluded to in previous comments dealing with 1 John 4:1ff., leads me to believe that love, obedience and orthodox belief — all three — are essential to authentic Christianity.

    I’m not sure how continuing to explore ongoing differences is unloving, but it sounds like you consider it to be so. I have tried to be careful and respectful in what I have written.

    In fact, I have focused on what you have actually written, trying to fairly and reasonably engage with this; you are the one who has now made a judgment regarding motivation. But again, in my mind a vigorous debate, conducted with mutual respect, doesn’t signal a failure in Christian love.

    Doug

  13. Mike G. (not Dr. Wittmer) February 4, 2009 — 1:46 pm

    Kevin,
    You’ve leveled an accusation that the two other people that posted were posting just for the sake of winning an argument. I do not believe that was their desire. I think their desire was to correct, reprove, and rebuke. (which is also a message to both emerging and evangelical Christians).
    I also don’t see you directly responding to my comments on 2 Peter. I think your assessment of what the two camps (emergent and evangelical) are saying to one another is not completely accurate. Evangelicals have said that faith is not just belief in words but also action. But evangelicals are hearing from emergents that the words or “Jesus facts” are subservient to our actions. Wittmer’s case is that we need both belief and action. Emergent’s seem to argue that we should work really hard at good action and beliefs come later. That’s why Rollins can say something like He ‘clearly and uniequivocaly denies the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ That I believe is a very careless statement to make if you want to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus. Why didn’t he say, “I believe that Jesus is risen from the dead and I pray that my life would reflect that reality.” Instead, he leads people astray by his careless comments, no matter what his motive or intention. I agree words can be destructive and I believe that Rollins makes a good example of this. But the response to that should not be the other extreme of no words, but as Peter rightly observed of Jesus; he had the “words of life.”
    Please correct me if I am misreading you, but you portray emergent people as being more loving because they are tired of arguing and avoid speaking about some of the key foundations of our faith. I would have to say that that is a very unloving thing to do.
    If you see someone walking toward a pit that can bring them great harm is it not a loving act to yell, “Hey, watch out for that pit!”
    I connect this Jude’s words: (20-23)
    “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
    Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
    Or what Jesus says to a church in Revelation: (2:12-17)
    “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
    These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

    In both these passages, “snatching people from the fire” or not allowing people to hold false teachings are actions commended by God just as strongly. In fact, it could be suggested that being faithful in proclaiming the truth is a loving and merciful thing to do. Interestingly also how Jesus is described in the passage above, as the one “who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” The response to wrong teaching is not to tire of arguing and keep on loving, but to “Repent!” Jesus says otherwise he himself will come and “fight against you with the sword of my mouth”

    So, Kevin, I may suggest that perhaps your view of love is too narrow. Thoughts?

  14. Mike G,

    I guess I don’t see how anything I’ve said would suggest that I “portray emergent people as being more loving because they are tired of arguing.” Intolerance and an unloving spirit are equal opportunity employers.

    But I do sense, as I said, and continue to sense in the tone, tenor and content of these most recent comments a desire to win an argument. That’s not really an accusation. It’s a first-person report of consciousness experience. It’s autobiographical. It’s what I sense.

    I have conceded, over and over again, the point about belief and practice needing to go together. So we’re agreed! Ah, but I sense disinterest in lingering and dwelling there. Let’s instead list all the things we disagree about and then try to get “the other side” to repent of their “false beliefs” and leave the dark side.

    We do still have differences. Of course we do. I, for example, think the view of belief assumed in many of the comments fixates on one and only one grammar of belief when there are other eminently fine grammars of belief available, grammars many find more hospitable to their understanding of the gospel.

    I have no desire to rebuke or correct you, however. There are scores of believers who speak the language spoken here. And that’s fine. But there are others for whom the language and ethos doesn’t resonate. You (Mike G) seem to think those emerging Christians need correction and rebuke. And that’s okay, too. I’m going to listen to the emerging folk, though. I think they’ve got something important to say to me.

    What I’m also NOT going to do is get into a pissing contest w/you and address EVERY verse of scripture that gets brought up. I’m not up to the task.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

  15. Mike G. (not Wittmer) February 4, 2009 — 4:18 pm

    Kevin,
    I appreciate your candor and your clarification. I see we do agree that belief and practice are both important. My aim is not to figure out all the things we disagree on. Actually, I hope that by putting forward specific areas of doctrine we can find out where we are in common agreement.
    Although, I don’t have a problem if you were to tell me you disagreed on a certain area of doctrine. I’ve actually found that when I’m in discussion with people it is the times that people are in disagreement with me that reform on both sides becomes more possible. There are many wrong views I had about scripture and Jesus until I shared my views with people and they were honest when they shared they had a different view than me. This led to some of my own views changing because they presented their case in a gracious and humble manner.
    For instance, I grew up in an ultra-dispensational church that did not practice water baptism. Through genuine conversation with friends, pastors and dialogue with professors at GRTS, I realized my few was an extreme one. Now I view baptism with water differently with a tendancy to lean toward believer’s baptism while I see the merits of those who practice infant baptism. I would approach those who practice it differently with charity as long as the aim was to bring honor to Christ and be faithful to scripture.
    I hope I have not come across as trying to find out all our disagreements so I can hammer my own views. If that was your impression I truly apologize.

    Mike

  16. Mike,

    While I suspect we have different views of various specific doctrines, pertaining to this discussion the main point of disagreement is our understanding of belief. I take the grammar of belief to be fundamentally about
    an orientation toward the world, about having one’s whole experience of the world turned upside down, redirected and reoriented. You seem to take belief to be primarily concerned with intellectually assenting to facts that, when things go well, will issue in actions.

    So, take my belief in the resurrection, for example. The “fact” of the resurrection is, alone and all by itself, meaningless. So assenting to the bald assertion that Jesus rose from the dead is rather empty, in my understanding. The reason is that that bare fact gets its significance from a six-thousand year long story. Abstracted from that narrative the “fact” of a guy rising from the dead is meaningless and can, in fact, become an idol.

    Since I think belief is fundamentally about transformation, redirection and reorientation, I’m inclined to think of belief as on-going, in need of repeated practice and diligent learning.

    Another way of putting it is this: I’m more interested in belief at the level of lived experience and you, it seems, are more interested in belief at the level of reflective theorizing. The first disciples had their lives turned upside down. It was many, many years later, and as the result of reflective theorizing, that the church produced such things as the Apostle’s Creed and the Chalcedonian formulation of the dual natures of Christ. Now that says to me that one can be a follower of Christ without first confessing the deliverances of reflective theorizing.

    I’m not saying that you’re not interested in belief at the level of lived experience or that I am not interested in belief at the level of reflective theorizing. I’m pointing out where it seems to me each of us is inclined to place the emphasis. And since both–belief at the phenomenological level and belief at the theoretical level–can’t occupy the primary place, even though both can be essential and important, this marks a difference.

    Moreover, I think people can be Christians, can have their lives upended, radically altered and redirected by the living Christ, even if they never leave the level of their lived experience and rise to the level of reflective theorizing. You, I suspect, would not grant such a possibility.

    The really funny thing to me in all of this is that I am an analytic metaphysician. The theater in which I discharge my calling just is the ontic level of reflective theorizing! In fact, I’m teaching a metaphysics seminar this semester. I told my students yesterday that I live at the phenomenological level, the level of lived experience, and I work at that theoretical level. Which, of course, means I commute to work…in more ways than one!

    Finally, I’m not sure an apology is necessary; but, I appreciate the humility and willingness displayed in seeking forgiveness if forgiveness were needed.

    I doubt there’s anywhere left to go. I think the differences have been laid bare. Now, if you think my views present a danger to Christians or even to myself, if you think they are heretical, then you might seek to rebuke, reprove or correct me. I think I understand you and that we disagree. But I find the language of rebuke, reprove and correction to be out of place here; so, I will rather just lay my views out there and try to make them as attractive as possible in the hope you might think “well, he’s got a point.” Or, alternatively, “I see what he’s saying, but I think he’s mistaken.”

    Fair enough?
    Kevin

  17. Kevin,

    Many thanks for your candor and openness here. I may be wrong but it apears to me that much of what emergent is pushing back against is an overbearing – call it ‘legalistic”- faith that values content more than true transformation of life. I can attest that in my growing up years that would be an accurate description of many people I was aquainted with and truth be told many people I know today.

    Here is the rub, if the gospel is true, it must be based on an unchanging reference point. i.e. the unchanging word of God. I hope you would affirm that. If we are to have true life transformation, transformation that puts the glory of Jesus on display, how do we do that without an on-going growth in the knowledge of God? Knowledge that is experiential and manifested in love for others but along with it a growing understanding of God through His word.

    I really feel that Mike has hit upon a significant part of the answer when he argues in his book for a middle way. That is a balance between knowledge/action, faith/works. The push back against knowledge that is worthless if it does not affect the life but equally a push back against the life that is empty if lived without a true knowledge of God through Christ.

    I really think I am beginning to see where your are coming from. Please do not jettison 2000 years of gospel history out of frustration with the current state of the church.

  18. Daryl,

    You said, ” The Christianity I grew up with said you must believe to be saved and the other stuff…fiducia, fidelitas, and viseo are well…kind of add-ons or options. You ‘should’ be about these things but if you are not then, well…you’re still saved because of ‘assensus’. The evangelical motif is actually built on this foundation. ”

    I am sorry your experiance was as you describe it here. I am also sorry that you seem to believe your experiance is typical of Evangelicalism as a whole. I concede that much of Pop evangelicalism and even perhaps a majority of Evangelicalism is guilty of the description you pictured in your statement.

    My own experiance and observation has been different. Over the years, much of the argument that has taken place in Evangelicalism, part of the “arguement” that our Emergent friends are so weary of, is over the issue of “easy believism” vs. “Lordship salvatin” and what is the character of true spirituality. Yes, I concede and admit that to often those questions were answerd in a way that failed to distingush cultural norms or expectations from Scripture principal, and to often made the application of principal equal to the principal itself. But my point is that Evangelicalism has been wrestling for a long time in its struggle to have a wholistic view of faith that includes not only assensus, but fiducia, fidelitas, and viseo. This is not something that just recently came up in emergent circles.

    You said, “. The evangelical motif is actually built on this foundation. We have to get people ‘saved’ by persuading them to ‘say the prayer’.

    In my experiance and observation, this is NOT true of Evangelicalism as a whole. Again, it may be true of much, even the majority of Evengelicalism, but it is not true, and has not been true of all of Evangelicalsim, and at the very least is is not true of a significant sizable minority of Evangelicalism.

    Frankly this is one of the things that disturbs me about “emergent speak”; sweeping generalizations about the whole of evangelicalsim that upon reflection do not hold up to the light of critical historical examination.

    Evangelicalism is a very diverse group that covers a pretty wide spectrum and a long history. To draw conclusions about the whole based on observations of only a few parts is fraught with the danger of miss-representing the whole.

    My own assesment of Mike W.’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is that he is calling for a wholistic view of faith that balances assensus, fiducia, fidelitas, and viseo; all the points of what faith is as you outlined in your note. He also voices the concern is that some of our emergent friends want to embrace a view of faith that in actuallity is not wholistic because it minimizes “assensus” instead of holding all the senses of faith including “assensus” equally.

    I share that concern.

    In Conclusion:

    “To beleive Him, not just when I accept Christ as Savior, but every moment, one moment at a time: this is the Christian life, and this is true spirituality.” (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality) .

    Peace…

  19. Bill:

    Thanks for ‘conceding’ but it really isn’t necessary because you are more than welcome and encouraged to present your view.

    I am not looking for an argument but am simply trying to answer Mike Wittmer’s question as honestly as I could (since I am, in his words, a self-proclaimed emergent…whatever that means.)

    It was in that spirit that I wrote. I believe that is what this and the previous post which sparked this conversation is about.

    I am convinced the evangelical portion of Christianity has been about conversion and characterized by an emphasis on believing a set of statements. From the Roman Road to Evangelism Explosion to the crusades of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham there has been an emphasis on ‘believe this and you will be saved’. From Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws (1.5 billion in print) to Youth for Christ rallies to the Willow Creek model of reaching ‘unchurched Harry and Mary’, the song remains pretty much the same across the board.

    Seldom did the ‘evangelical’ church, for example, talk of the vision of God for a renewed creation, or God’s justice and human injustice and what we might do about it. It was the mainline churches that came out strongly in the civil rights movement rather than ‘evangelical’ churches. Why was that?

  20. Layman Speaks,

    Is that your first and last name or a sort of title? Just curious. I like the ambiguity: is it a name (for I know people whose first name is “Layman” and other people whose last name is “Speaks)? Is it a declarative sentence ‘the layman speaks’? Cool!

    In any case, I most certainly do not want to jettison 2000 years of gospel history. In fact, and in a way, I’m suggesting that some of the commentators here have forgotten the first 1500 or 1600 years of church history, believing that church history starts with the reformation or even the Enlightenment. I say this b/c of my conviction that the view of belief assumed in this discussion is a fairly recent invention (the last 300 years, say).

    You hope that “I affirm that if the gospel is true, it must be based on an unchanging reference point. i.e. the unchanging word of God.” Hmmm. I’m not sure I understand what you mean here. I guess I think the truth of the gospel, in one sense and probably the sense you have in mind, depends on it being the case that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self (and all that that entails: incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, etc.). Well, was God? At the level of lived experience I say, yes. Every fiber of my being shouts that at the center of things is love and redemption, healing and reconciliation. I can’t deny it. There is a reality, a story that has caught me up, captivated me and changed me and at the center of that story is Jesus.

    What about at the level of the ontic, the level we reach for when we think, “but WAS God REALLY in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self? Is that in fact what happened?” Well, I believe so. Absolutely. And if one were to respond, “but, I’m not asking about your beliefs; I’m asking about the thing itself—God’s being in Christ reconciling the world—did IT happen?” I would say, I’ve come to the end, I can say no more.

    In the past (and at the Symposium) I have claimed that emerging Christians value epistemic humility, born of an awareness that our knowledge of God and the world is always partial, provisional and fragmentary owing to the fact that we are frail, finite creatures. There is no way for us to transcend our radical situatedness, no way to extricate myself from the grand story I find myself in (the Christian story), and to adjudicate b/w it and all the other grand stories that get told and others find themselves in, like, say, atheistic naturalism or consumerism or Marxism. This is not to say there is no truth; it’s just to say that claims to truth are always contestable and it may be I who has the blindspots, I who am mistaken.

    In the end, I guess I prefer to hop on board God’s program of all inclusive love and reconciliation for the world and to be about the business of sowing little parables, as best I’m able, of the New Jerusalem, God’s kingdom come and still coming. I’d prefer to SHOW the good news concretely and embodied, than to dwell at the level of the theoretical, the level of intellectual assent to what I fear often becomes discarnate, arid and abstracted propositions.

    Does any of that help?

  21. I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear in my posts on this and the previous thread.

    Am I alone in sensing that the Inspired Word of God is being shelved and replaced by the latest emergent author’s best seller?

    I continue to hear various themes heralded with words that may vary, however, the message is generally a departure from any absolutes – with the exception of those “absolutes” of the author. The phrase “a different kind of center” comes to mind. Where and what are the checks and balances when man’s opinion is at the center?

    If an individual claims the book of mormon as the source for his/her beliefs and practice, is not that person a Mormon? Is not the Koran the source for the beliefs and practice of a Muslim? How could a Mormon (who never cracked open the Koran) be considered a Muslim? Is this not happening each time it is implied that all are Christians?

    God led me to His Inspired Word and Church and by the blood of Christ I have been saved (Eph 2:11-13).

  22. Kevin:

    Your last post was eloquent, well spoken, and resonated with me…hopefully this paragraph will find its way into a book soon…

    In the past (and at the Symposium) I have claimed that emerging Christians value epistemic humility, born of an awareness that our knowledge of God and the world is always partial, provisional and fragmentary owing to the fact that we are frail, finite creatures. There is no way for us to transcend our radical situatedness, no way to extricate myself from the grand story I find myself in (the Christian story), and to adjudicate b/w it and all the other grand stories that get told and others find themselves in, like, say, atheistic naturalism or consumerism or Marxism. This is not to say there is no truth; it’s just to say that claims to truth are always contestable and it may be I who has the blindspots, I who am mistaken.

    “partial, provisional, and fragmentary owing to the fact that we are frail, finite creatures” is particularly good.

    Thanks

  23. HUHHHH????

  24. Kevin,

    Yes, what you have written has been helpful in bringing to my mind a measure of undertstanding. I do have some questions though.

    You say: ‘What about at the level of the ontic…if one were to respond, “but, I’m not asking about your beliefs; I’m asking about the thing itself—God’s being in Christ reconciling the world—did IT happen?” I would say, I’ve come to the end, I can say no more. ‘

    Me:What are we to do with scripture passages such as Romans 8:14-17 “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” Here is one reason the Holy Spirit was given; so that we might have certainty.

    My question: Why do I not hear more mention about the Holy Spirit in these discussions? It is the Holy Spirit that draws people to Jesus, cements the relationship, and affirms our security; not our intentions.

    You say: ‘In fact, and in a way, I’m suggesting that some of the commentators here have forgotten the first 1500 or 1600 years of church history, believing that church history starts with the reformation or even the Enlightenment.’

    Me: With even a cursory reading of the New Testament I cannot see how some can say that the early church did not have a robust, developed theology. The theology of Paul has still to be fully mined. Of course the “formal” doctrines we are familiar with were delineated for us at a later time. Just about every time the clarification and delineation was in reponse to some new teaching that had to be studied to “see if it is so”.

    My question: How, in emergent thinking, does one check to “see if these things are so”?

    You: ‘Is it a declarative sentence ‘the layman speaks’?

    Me: Yes

  25. I’m guessing by the tags y’all have used that I’m joining a conversation of all boys — that true? are we also all white? Hmmm…I was present at the Symposium Forum and am interested in where this string has gone–also all white, and 6 boys to 1 girl.

    Except for, possibly Yooper, everyone is staying at a pretty theoretical level. So, I’m going to see if I can add something different to this conversation.

    I am beginning to consider whether I’m “emerging” and I think it fits me to the extent that I’m Gen X with a rather broader tolerance for multiple truths. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Ultimate Truths, just that I have no chance of comprehending them this side of the grave. I see through a mirror dimly and know only in part.

    I’m married to a Jewish guy, which profoundly informs my understanding of the religious tradition of Jesus. The more I learn of Judaism, the deeper a sense of my own Christianity I have. This interfaith relationship (if it is going to remain a healthy, faithful, respectful one) requires that I honor and respect his beliefs and tradition, not tolerate it, not correct or rebuke it — after all — this is Jesus’ faith.

    Judaism is not a credal system — you do not have to believe anything in particular, but you are expected (if you are faithful) to behave in Biblically, ethically informed ways. Christianity, as Kevin pointed out, did not begin with a creed, but began with “follow me” and immediately they did.

    Christians would do well to re-learn from Judaism how to live the faith we say we profess. I think Emergents may be trying to do this regardless of whether they know the Judaic roots of it. Mike, I know that you very clearly are holding together orthodoxy and orthopraxy. However, in the church I pastor (a traditional Presbyterian one, not yet emerging, but hopefully being transformed by grace), I don’t have a problem with folks who follow Jesus in their lives, but are heretical in their beliefs. I do have folks on the rolls who rarely attend, hardly give, and could be mistaken as someone who does not care about hungry folks in their neighborhood or Iraqi civilian deaths, or…

    I don’t think the world would be worse off by having a bunch of non-church goers (who don’t care if they fit someone else’s definition Christian) decide they want to follow Jesus and try to love as he did / does.

    Mike — I’d like to add another reflection on the Forum. The piece of the day I found most disturbing was not the out there ideas from Pete (I found them engaging rather than disturbing). The disturbing comment came from you regarding the salvation of “babies who die in infancy” and people with cognitive disabilities. I recall that Jamie had challenged you about it and your answer was along the lines of: “they were exceptions.”
    Exceptions to what I ask? to grace? to a requirement that we understand the mysteries of G-d? can I get one of those exceptions too? ’cause if my salvation is dependent upon me understanding the trinity (how does that 3=1 math work), or the divinity & humanity of Jesus (100% divine + 100% human = ?) then I’m in trouble.

    I once took communion to a church member who lived in a group home for adults with dev. disabilities. The manager pulled me aside and asked if I wasn’t afraid of giving her the Sacrament. The manager had been taught in a MS Lutheran church that one must “understand” the Sacrament of Holy Communion in order to receive it or their immortal soul was in danger. I was floored — how could the gifts of G-d for the people of G-d damn anyone?!?

    I “understand” that I’m saved by grace through faith, but the grace and the faith are both gifts to me and not something that I get to claim, but only receive. Although, I am willing to admit, that I could be wrong. Maybe none of this is true or True. If that is the case, then I will choose to ere on the side of loving you as best I can, trying to follow the way Jesus loves me.

    peace

  26. All fascinating. Thanks to Susan, as sole female voice, for what seems to me not surprisingly the least confrontational, selfless post so far (we males REALLY have to settle down sometimes – toss away the socialisation!!) as well as (for where I am) the most helpful addition to the discussion.

    My contribution here would just be to say that for those who desire to hold on tightly to concrete/literal declarations of faith as foundational and necessary, you will need to find a more inspiring (exciting?) way to express/convey their importance and value to a generation of youth increasingly influenced by postmodern thought and a postmodern paradigm. Churches across the board report great difficulty in keeping youth in the church, and perhaps part of the reason is an emphasis on tradition – tradition which can certainly have great practical and symbolic value, but at least to my generation has no ultimate or ingrained truth to offer (I wasn’t sure how to phrase that really – hope it makes sense). Maybe that saddens you, but it is a reality that you will have to deal with. Kevin (Prof. Corcoran to me – I’m a postmodern baby who still wants to hold on to respect for elders – maybe it’s just a British thing) may be unusual among his generation for his beliefs about and approaches to faith, but there are millions more coming and we are waiting to be excited by faith

  27. Susan:

    Thanks for coming by. To clarify my “exceptions” comment at the forum, I meant that, according to Scripture, God typically regenerates/converts/saves sinners by the teaching of the gospel. The Holy Spirit may regenerate without a conscious knowledge of sin and the gospel, and we hope for such “exceptions” with infants who die and the mentally handicapped. But the exceptions should not make the rule, which is that the HS works internally while the Word is heard externally (John 3; Romans 10:9-15).

    So while I’m pretty sure you won’t agree with me, at least know that I meant “exceptions” to the requirement to know and believe the gospel, not an exception to “grace” or to “understand the mysteries of God.”

    And while I also am thankful for non-church goers who seek to love like Jesus, I would not call these people “Christians” unless they also believed in Jesus. I disagree with your comment that people can “follow Jesus in their lives” while being “heretical in their beliefs.” I don’t see that taught or even hinted at anywhere in Scripture.

    Paul:

    I wonder what you find uninspiring or unexciting about Christian belief? What is it about the Christian faith that bores you? And do you think that the problem lies with the faith itself or somewhere else?

  28. 1. I strategically and deliberately did NOT say that I myself find Christian belief uninspiring/exciting.

    2. In a similar vein, you ask what it is about the Christian faith that bores me (and others). This is a disappointingly simplistic summary of what I said.

    I simply offered that faith in and of itself is not being communicated in a way that speaks to youth. The Christian faith does not bore me. It is extremely valuable to me. But I am very sympathetic to those in the discussion (I did actually read it) suggesting that Christian lifestyle/acts might deserve more attention than the exact theology/beliefs/canons that underlie them. Of course they are not mutually exclusive.

    Perhaps one approach to this debate (which I hadn’t really gotten into – I was just flagging a moment-in-time-generation-warning) would be to say that it can often (in my experience) be difficult to know exactly what we believe. Sitting here now, I BELIEVE that I believe in Jesus, and in the resurrection, and the Trinity, and a restored creation, and on an application I would check the boxes, and in a confirmation I would repeat the liturgy, but the abstractness of these ideas sometimes leads me to wonder how much I really believe them, or how tangibly I believe them. I am committed to my faith, but do I believe in the constant presence of God? I think I do, but as I think Kevin suggested, belief is in many ways temporal and fleeting (that’s a dumbed down version for me). In an awfully calculated way, I may believe on aggregate in the constant presence of God, but perhaps I am not always conscious of that, or remembering it (actively believing it). Other times I sit and simply force myself to imagine being enveloped by God (of course in prayer especially).

    On the other hand, a Christian lifestyle, while also never constant and perfect, is an unambiguous living out of faith, even if that faith isn’t present/active at the time/moment. Unambiguous in the sense that the decision/lifestyle is what it is, even if the temporary attitudes or faith associated are failing. While I may always doubt how strong my belief is, or exactly what threshold I need to pass to count as believing (passed the check-box belief all the way to 24-7-thinking-about-it-belief?), the way I live out my Christian faith is tangible and is evidence to me of what I “believe.”

    And in the context of evangelism (my original point), Christian lifestyle as “evidence” of Christian faith goes infinitely farther than declaration of faith. I’m sure you would agree.

    The sort of Christian faith that WAS uninspiring to me growing up was that that looked suspiciously/disappointingly like a normal everyone-else lifestyle. Sometimes perhaps a more generous-to-the-poor lifestyle than usual, but often not so. Therefore it is those Christians who have filed their doctrines/beliefs in the background and stressed Christian lifestyle and acts who have inspired me so so so much more than the rest, and who have kept me excited. I believe that this is what the youth of today are craving. Something that really does look different than a godless life, not something that is self-declared as belief.

  29. Paul:

    I agree with you that how we live matters as much as what we believe, but I disagree that how we live matters more. You say that “Christian lifestyle/acts might deserve more attention than the exact theology/beliefs/canons that underlie them.” I would say the Christian lifestyle deserves “as much attention,” but not “more attention.” Why can’t we agree that it is both/and?

    I appreciate your discussion of doubt, and I am not arguing that we must possess 100% logical, Cartesian certainty for our beliefs. But even as we wrestle with doubt, we can still say that we know that Jesus is Lord and that he is alive. In other words, the events of the gospel are a justified true belief (the standard though imperfect philosophical definition for knowledge).

    I am inspired and challenged by your generation’s emphasis on the social outworking of the gospel (I gather that you are in your twenties). My only caution is that if we emphasize the social ethics of the gospel more than the truth/beliefs which underlie them, it won’t be long until we lose the gospel and the social ethics we so desire. If we really care about loving others, we also need to care for the doctrines which inspire such love.

  30. I”ll have another go…
    doctrines have never inspired my faith.

    they may systematize the ideas, but the stories of faith lived (biblical, historical and in my own life) and the experiences of G-d breaking in have been the source of my inspiration, conviction, confession, and on-going redemption and transformation.

    Denominationally: In the PCUSA, 3 questions are asked of folks who want to join a church: Who is your Lord and Savior? Do you renounce evil? Will you be a faithful member? Only one of those is a statement of faith. So apparently, the PCUSA only requires one common article of faith for members. Does that mean that we are not Christian by your definition? Does it matter if we don’t have a common definition of “Christian”? The PCUSA believes that G-d rules each one’s conscience, therefore we believe we can disagree and still be faithful. This model of forbearance could be one of our gifts to the emerging conversation.

    Mike — you want both/and, but the real focus of most churches is to say what you believe and very little accountability for how we live. We do not have a balance — that’s what gen x / y /emerging folks are saying: faith without works is dead.

    Biblically: It is clear that you know which scriptures to site regarding the necessity of belief. By one count “believe” shows up in biblical translation 283 times, pray = 371, love = 714 and give = 2172. Makes me wonder about how Jesus’ priorities line up. He clearly thought feeding and healing and loving were higher priorities that doing the religiously right thing (no work on the Sabbath, etc…)

    Those passages you site are biblical, but not the whole story. I believe that there is a high and narrow path by which one can come to faith, eternal life, heaven, redemption, whatever else you see as your spiritual goal. It is also clear to me that scripture includes broad, wide, generous fields of spiritual journey: Ps 139: where can I go from your spirit?; trees and animals singing G-d praise (presumably without proper education in doctrine); Romans 8: nothing can separate us from the love of G-d in Jesus. If you choose to walk the tightrope of faith, blessings be upon you. You should have a great view. Please know that if ever you lose your balance, some of us in the fields below will try to catch you.

    The abundance of G-d allows for narrow paths, but exclusively narrow paths easily forget the abundant grace of G-d.

    Pastorally:
    You write: “I disagree with your comment that people can “follow Jesus in their lives” while being “heretical in their beliefs.” I don’t see that taught or even hinted at anywhere in Scripture.” I think that this is at the very heart of your criticism of emergents. The scriptural parallel that comes to mind for me is Mark 9:38-41 — it’s a good for all of us to reread when we are feeling right — or righteous.

    It is also clear that you are afraid we will “lose the gospel.” I lovingly suggest that you consider loosening your grip on gospel truth so that you don’t choke it.

  31. Hi Susan,

    The word “the” appears in some 24,246 verses. 🙂

    Each belief system has its own doctrine and source. I know all to well where I was heading, and I cannot loosen my grip on the Gospel/Word of God. Not that it is up to me anyway.

    It really is exciting that Jesus Christ, the Creator/Sustainer of life, became flesh and walked on this sod. The Word of God is Truth, and Jesus did have a dialogue with a man named Nicodemus who asked how it is possible to be born again (John 3). Salvation is found in Christ alone, for only He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

    Susan, I don’t know what you are trusting in as the source of your beliefs – but I pray that it will be Jesus Christ of the Bible.

  32. Susan,

    Pastorally, what is Paul speaking of in the passage below?

    Acts 20:21 “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

    Please notice the order in the following passage, faith preceeds works:
    Acts 26″19-20’“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’

    The notion that we somehow can live like Jesus and thereby so impress Him that we gain His favor is utterly non-biblical. Isaiah 64:6 “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” In the scripture righteous acts come after believing faith and help show that our faith is genuine. Biblically speaking, if there are no righteous acts, a person has reason to question whether or not they are a child of God.

    Mike is right I think. It is not either belief or Jesus like living, it is both/and. To be genuine before the Father though belief/living has to start with transforming faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  33. Susan: Amen. And amen. You said, “Please know that if ever you lose your balance, some of us in the fields below will try to catch you.” In a way, I think that expresses beautifully an animating sentiment of emerging: many of us feel that we sometimes lose our balance but that there are others–Christian brothers and sisters–who are happy to catch us and steady us when we do; we’ve been through patches of life where perhaps we’ve lost hope or faith but there have been others who have been wiling to lend us theirs when ours has run out. For the record, what you say reminds me of one of my all time favorite books that communicates the gospel: Runaway Bunny.

    Paul: Amen. (BTW: today, in the Jellema Room, I introduced myself to a new philosophy student who transferred to Calvin from a school in Wales of all places. We talked for a few minutes and he said, “So, are you a student here?” (-: Now THAT hasn’t happened to your “elder” in a few years!!!)

    Cheers All,
    Kevin

  34. “A virtuous man may be ignorant, but ignorance is not a virtue. It would be a strange God Who could be loved better by being known less. Love of God is not the same as knowledge of God; love of God is immeasurably more important than knowledge of God; but if a man loves God knowing a little about Him, he should love God more from knowing more about Him: for every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him.”

    ~ F. J. Sheed, Theology and Sanity (New York, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1946), 9-10

    (from: http://metanarrative.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/to-know-love-god/

  35. Hmmm….I realize now that I have made 2 assumptions. One is incorrect and one is not shared. I incorrectly assumed, following on the Calvin forum, that we were having this conversation from a Reformed perspective. My apologies — from my reformed and reforming (G-d willing) perspective, I trust holy grace to redeem my shortcomings and misunderstandings rather than relying on my knowledge as salvific. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” thanks Paul.

    My other assumption was that all of us love Jesus and try to follow faithfully where G-d leads as the Spirit inspires. I see now that this assumption is not shared by some. This will make any conversation much harder, as it leads some of us to feel we’ve got Jesus right and others don’t. I labored not to correct or rebuke anyone here. Instead, I have tried to share my testimony of how G-d speaks to me, where I have met Jesus (in the Bible, in history and in the world around me) and how the Spirit enlivens, convicts, and hopefully, sustains me.

    One other aspect of my theological upbringing challenges me to relate to each of you as an indispensable part of the Body of Christ. I cannot say I do not need you. As we experience the resurrection of the Body of Christ, I hope we will realize how much we need each other.

    Of course I am not suggesting anyone let go of the gospel, nor am I suggesting that ignorance is a virtue. I never said belief wasn’t important. Although, “the world did not know G-d through wisdom, [so] God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe” (thanks again Paul).

    What I have suggested is that Truth, or at best our faith / belief in it, is a living thing, like the living Word, our living G-d (who told Mary not to hang on to him). Like all living things, if we squeeze to tightly it dies. Might we be more faithful to hold the gift of the gospel, Jesus hand in ours, the faith & hope of each other gently, lovingly, respectfully?

  36. Susan:

    What makes you think that your Reformed perspective is not shared by the others in this conversation? I may have missed that.

    I’m sorry if you feel disrespected. I welcome your contributions and think that the others in this post, some of whom I don’t know, would also. As far as I can tell, we have been respectful of each other (though again, please let me know if I’ve missed something).

  37. I’m perceiving theology other than reformed bc there is so little room for grace in the midst of so much proof-texting and pharasaic requirements (oughts, shoulds, musts, in order to…) I’m surprised -and relieved- that no one is expecting folks to keep circumcision as a sign of the covenant.

    grace alone — thanks be to G-d!

    And I sure don’t hear affirmation that I am a sister in Christ from some (not that I’m writing in search of affirmtion). Instead, one prays that the source of my beliefs “will be Jesus Christ of the Bible” as though it isn’t. Another implies that I’m advocating ignorance of scripture and G-d. I wrote my honors thesis in Hebrew Bible and spent a third of my seminary courses in Biblical Studies — of course I’m not suggesting folks don’t need scripture. If I had my way, folks would actually read and study the Bible instead of just quoting from it or whacking each other over the head with it.

    What I have hoped for — and not really found here — is sincere, personal response to my attempts to testify about how my faith has been planted in my soul by G-d, nurtured by the stories and encounters with the living Christ, inspired by sisters and brothers of faith and affirmed by the congregations which I have served.

    Instead, most of what I see in this string is desire to be right rather than related within the Body of Christ.

    In my experience as a pastor for 10 years, the balance bt belief and faithful living is not 50/50, but 90/10. And the 10% is the list of naughty things we aren’t supposed to do. The only time the balance shifts toward action is if the action is sexual, specifically homosexual — then, no amount of profession of faith can balance it.

    I hear Jesus’ call to love G-d and one another — that’s what I’m seeking to do. I hope this promotes more faithful conversation.

    deep peace

  38. Susan:

    I think that the issue here might be the relationship between grace and truth (see John 1:14). We’re trying hard not to separate them, but I think that you are sensing that disagreement with your beliefs is tantamount to being ungracious to you as a person. I don’t know how to solve this, only to say that we’re trying both to care about people and what they believe.

  39. Susan,

    This blog is virtual reality. I can’t see you or your experiences. Maybe a youtube link could be included? 🙂 I was pleased to see that you understood that I was sharing my experience and not just theory, however, my experience would be nil without the Word of God/doctrine – which validates my experience.

    It really shouldn’t be this difficult to express the answer for the hope that you have within (I Peter 3:15).

    Take care.

  40. I disagree with plenty of folks who are gracious to me — fortunately. I learn a great deal in deeply respectful conversation with folks of profoundly different opinions.

    Reformed and reforming = we admit we don’t have complete answers

    Grace alone = we believe that even our beliefs aren’t sufficient for salvation. G-d will save whomever G-d chooses.

    Do you love each other? How do you show it? I hear disciples arguing over who’s gonna have the best seats (“no, no, I’m more orthodox!” “I got to the Truth first!”)

    You say you want both/and, belief/living, show me the and…Show me grace-filled lives, then I’ll know what you believe.

    “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words” Thanks, Francis

  41. “My only caution is that if we emphasize the social ethics of the gospel more than the truth/beliefs which underlie them, it won’t be long until we lose the gospel and the social ethics we so desire.”

    Is your concern that in concentrating on living we will refrain from taking as many systematic theology classes as we would otherwise (I suspect not), or that we will in fact forget about Jesus. Several texts were quoted to the effect that righteous acts will not save us, and will not convince Jesus. The main thrust of those verses to me has always been to emphasize that we are nothing compared to God, and all our efforts are miniscule and dependent on God. We can not pat ourselves righteously on the back for the good deeds we do and expect an earned salvation. The context of these verses usually involves self-righteousness from those who have become self-idols based on their strict following of Torah, as opposed to those who are living out Biblical lifestyles but are slightly blaze about creeds.

    ______________________

    “Susan, I don’t know what you are trusting in as the source of your beliefs – but I pray that it will be Jesus Christ of the Bible.”

    Susan mentioned this comment herself, but I repeat it since it deserves one last piece of embarrassed exposure. This is the stereotypical judgmental and self-righteous comment that makes up many seculars’ view of Christianity.

    __________________

    “Susan,

    This blog is virtual reality. I can’t see you or your experiences. Maybe a youtube link could be included?”

    This is extremely unhelpful, similar to the above. Perhaps try to reverse this trend “yooper.”

    _________________________

    I may well have miscommunicated, but do not mean to say that I think that at a conceptual level actions are more important than faith. I agree with a both/and approach. However, where I am fairly sure I part from you is that I believe faith to be meaningless if DEVOID of action, but I do not necessarily believe action to be meaningless if DEVOID of faith. In fact, this second statement needs clarification. I do not believe that truly good action/life can come DEVOID of faith. That is to say, if someone lives out a lifestyle that we say reflects Biblical principles, I would suggest that this person does have a kind of faith. She might not call it Christian, and she might not name Jesus, and she might even go so far as to say that she sees religion as a harmful presence in the world (it is only too clear to me how people’s life experiences might lead them to view religion this way), but if she is living a LOVING life, I must see a sort of spirituality in her. Perhaps most importantly, I believe this since I believe that love is from God, and therefore someone full of love is full of God. I certainly believe that this individual’s life might be fuller/better/holier/whatever IF she did identify Christ and have conscious directed faith, but would see her as able to do more than those demonstrating 90% faith / 10% actions (and I’ll second the obsessive emphasis on not doing naughty things, especially like engaging in a loving, mutual, monogamous, Christian same-sex relationship). An idealistic/silly (I realise) illustration coming to mind for my life is that if I could be mentored to live out a more Biblical/Christian life (that I describe it as Christian, not just as good/loving is significant) by either Gandhi (who by no means holds to any remotely orthodox Christian faith) or my local pastor (who’s great), it would be the former, since he seems to me to have grasped the gospel of Jesus in a more genuine way than so many ‘faithful’ Christians have.

  42. Paul Chaplin,

    Blogs are virtual reality, and we cannot truly know one another this way. It is possible to communicate the answer for the hope that we have within (I Peter 3:15) in written form, however, many are opposed to such.

    What is the answer for the hope that you have within? This is something that every Christian should be thrilled to share.

  43. Paul Chaplin,

    What is the source of your beliefs? We need right beliefs and we need to lovingly live them out in a way that is pleasing to GOD.

    The “loving” scenario that you present is dangerous. If one believes that they are “loving” along just fine without GOD and HIS WORD – why change?

    GOD is love, however, HE does not wink at, or ignore the issue of SIN.

    I do not sense that you hold the WORD of GOD to be infallible, otherwise you would have to be a very “unloving” person. To follow one’s own heart leads to destruction.

    I believe in a literal Hell; an eternal seperation from our loving GOD as taught in HIS WORD. Those that do not believe are condemned already (John 3:18), however, it does not have to be this way, because of GOD’s love.

  44. Yooper you are rambling and there is no way to respond to your unsystematic blah-ing.

    Also, shame on you for not apologising to Susan.

  45. Paul Chaplin,

    Rambling, blah-ing? Do you read what you write? By the way, it was Valentine’s Day when I wrote the above post.

    You still haven’t answered my question. What is the source of your beliefs?

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