Thursday, May 04, 2006

Emergents Want No Doctrinal Statements

Tony Jones, a leader in the Emergent Conversation, and the national coordinator for Emergent US has settled the matter of a doctrinal statement with help from a former professor of Bethel Seminary, LeRon Shults.

His reasons?

1. Jesus did not have a doctrinal statement: "... he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness."

2. "The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry."

3. It might exclude others from the pursuit of God, who wish to pursue him in other ways.
... a "statement of faith" tends to stop conversation. Such statements can also easily become tools for manipulating or excluding people from the community. Too often they create an environment in which real conversation is avoided out of fear that critical reflection on one or more of the sacred propositions will lead to excommunication from the community. Emergent seeks to provide a milieu in which others are welcomed to join in the pursuit of life "in" the One who is true (1 John 5:20).
He concludes with the enimagtic proposition: Any good conversation includes propositions, but they should serve the process of inquiry rather than shut it down.

As I have read the reconstructive and revisionist emergents, it seems to me that the real reason they don't want to have a doctrinal statement is because they are more concerned about people than they are about God and his truth. I know that is harsh, but what other reason could there be? They are denying major propositions of the Christian faith such as the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, substitutionary atonement, exclusivity of salvation in Jesus alone, and the like. In reality, reason number three is their real reason: they want to include everybody and a statement of faith draws lines about who is in or out.

The emergent church (if "church" it can be called) has long been headed down a dangerous path. There are some conservative, orthodox expressions of the emerging church, that preach the gospel. They are not without reasons for concern. But they would stand against the foolishness and nonsense of Tony Jones and the "non-doctrinal" pursuit of a church.

In the end, it seems to me that refusal to express a doctrinal position disqualifies one from being a church. After all, the church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, and if "the truth" is unknown, exactly what is she defending?

Let me briefly interact with these three reasons.

1. Jesus had no doctrinal statement. This is pure nonsense. Jesus called people to a definite commitment to belief in the reality represented by propositions. He called for belief in himself based on the proposition, "I am God (John 5:17-18); I am the Messiah (John 4:25-26) I am the Savior (John 6:35)." He called for belief in the proposition that the Old Testament Scriptures were the word of God that should be believed (John 10:35; Luke 16:31; Luke 24:27, 44). He promised eternal life in heaven with the proposition that "I go to prepare and place for you ... and will come again and receive you to myself" (John 14:1-3). He claimed exclusivity with the proposition "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). So clearly, Jesus did have a doctrinal statement that he believed and lived by. He called others to believe and live by it. We should do no less.

2. Linguistic Idolatry to Capture the Infinite God in Human Language. God apparently did not share this concern, since he breathed out the graphe, which can only be considered as God's attempt to communicate himself in human language. An objection like this is the result of an attempt at sophistication without thought. It would be laughable were it not so serious.

3. Excludes others. Uh, Yes, that's the point of it. In doctrinal statements, we are drawing boundaries. We are saying, "All propositions are not equal." We are not forcing others to agree with us. They may choose to agree with us and associate with us, or they may not. A doctrinal statement simply lays out the propositions that we consider true.

So 1 for 3 isn't bad. In Major League Baseball, that will get you a multi-million dollar paycheck. But it doesn't make for good support of one's original proposition. When two out of three legs are broken out of the box, the stool will surely fall.

Should a church or religious organization have a doctrinal statement? Without a doubt. Emergent US's attempt to avoid it shows only how far from serious about Christianity they really are. It seems they are trying to reduce Christianity to "be a good person" and agree when others talk about what they believe. I cannot help but wonder if the only pursuit of God they will rule out is the propositional pursuit of God, a pursuit based on what God said.

1 comment:

Pittsley said...

It's interesting that they cite the support of "all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin." Both of these two men excluded people quite harshly for unorthodox beliefs. And if John Calvin doesn't believe in doctrinal statements, who does?

Emergents must know that they what they are saying would be repugnant to "all the great theologians."