Q & A: What do “emergents” mean …

This fellow did me a big favor. He sent in questions and then proposed answers, which I thought were pretty good…

1. What “Emergents” Mean When They Says “The Gospel changes”? What I don’t think they mean is that everything about the essence of who Jesus is & what He lived/taught is now suddenly “up for grabs.” Contrary to what I believe to be his – and others’ – fear, I don’t believe they’re trying to lessen the person/divinity/authority of Jesus in any way; they are, in fact – as I understand it – trying to free people, as much as possible, from their false impressions of Him & the community/Kingdom He came to establish/usher in.
0. I don’t think they’re saying, “Jesus is less than what you thought he was,” but are actually saying, “Jesus is so much more than you ever even realized!” Because that’s the case, the “good news” about Him must change, not in terms of the essential, fundamental realities of His nature/life/teaching, but in terms of what we’re communicating as “good news.”
0. No longer can the “good news” simply be “Jesus will forgive you of your individual sins & allow you to live with Him in heaven as long as you receive Him as your Savior & make Him the Lord of your life.” That was never what He intended the “good news” about Himself to be. What we choose to communicate as “good news” must go far beyond this type of (in Dallas Willard’s words) “sin management,” and start encompassing the transformational power of Jesus’ life, teaching & Kingdom on every possible level…individually, corporately, culturally, emotionally, ecologically, economically, etc., etc., etc. This isn’t necessarily a “new” gospel @ it’s essence, but it’s definitely “new” in terms of what we’ve understood Jesus’ life/teaching/Kingdom to really mean and – as such – what we’re choosing to communicate as a result…
0. Am I getting close to what “emergents” (in general) are saying along these lines, or am I way off?
— Well said. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I can’t speak for “emergents” (whoever they are!), but speaking for myself, it’s an obvious fact that the way Christians understand and articulate the gospel changes over time. For example, Paul never invited a person to “say the sinner’s prayer” or “accept Christ into your heart.” John and James never shared “The Four Spiritual Laws” or guided people through a selection of verses called “The Roman Road.” That doesn’t mean these things are bad – just that many of us have an understanding of “the gospel” today that isn’t exactly the same as what Martin Luther or John Calvin or Menno Simons or St. Teresa of Avila or St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Francis or Augustine or St. Gregory of Nyssa or Origen might have held to be “the gospel.”
–I believe the Gospel Jesus preached was the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and that’s the message I hope to embody, preach, and otherwise communicate.
2. What Is – If Any – The Emergent Concept of “Truth”? My understanding is that you/others are not saying that “truth” doesn’t exist, or that “truth is relative” or that “I/we define our own truth,” etc.
0. What I do think you’re saying is that:
0. (a) truth is not a bodiless, ethereal “concept” but an actual Person, confirming what Jesus said about Himself, that HE is the truth; and …
0. (b) though I can give my best effort to express what I believe based on my understanding of God’s Word, the “evidence” at hand & what I believe to be God’s working in my life & in the lives of those around me, I must always be aware of my human limitations, cultural biases (whether known or unknown; conscious or otherwise) & basic capacity for simply being WRONG, with such realizations providing extreme pause when it comes to making sweeping, definitive statements about “absolute truth” or hammering on “evidence that demands a verdict” and INSTEAD simply loving God with all my heart, soul, mind & strength & loving my neighbor as myself – loving Him & them with NO agenda (as Jesus did), pointing people to HIM as “the truth” (about who God is, about what it means to be truly “human,” etc.) & trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to take it from there.
0. Again, am I even in the ballpark here, or have I strayed off into left field & am completely off-base in my grasp of where “emergents” are coming from on this stuff?
— Again, I like very much the way you’ve said this.
3. Are “Emergent” Guys Just “Helicopter Theologians” Who “Hover” Endlessly AROUND Issues of Faith/Practice, But Ultimately Refuse to “Land” Anywhere? I’ve heard this criticism of you guys before …. My internal response to that critique – and part of what I shared with my dad – has been that the very nature of that criticism expresses the very thing “emergent” theologians/practitioners are trying to address.
0. The criticism re: “hovering” & “not landing” carries an inherent assumption that in order to be a “real” Christian or “true” Biblical scholar, you MUST establish a hard, final “landing” spot on issues of faith, practice, Biblical interpretation, etc., and that if you don’t you’re just “wishy-washy,” “afraid to commit,” etc. When, in reality – though it’s definitely well/good to make personal conclusions, hold strong beliefs/convictions, etc. – coming up with (or pretending to come up with) the “right answers” on all the extra “stuff” – apart from the essence issue of who Jesus is & what our response to Him must be as a result – is not only unnecessary for life in God’s Kingdom, but is actually contradictory to the very nature of the life Jesus intends for us to live.
0. Nowhere in Scripture are we charged with “having it all figured out,” or telling others we have it all figured out, or telling them they don’t have it all figured out – were’ actually commanded NOT to do that. Yes, we’re told we must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, but faithfully following through on that admonition is a far cry from what American Evangelicalism seems to have turned it into.
0. I CAN have beliefs/opinions on all the various issues of faith/practice, but nowhere in Scripture am I charged with doing ANYTHING “with” them per se, unless it means allowing them to serve as fuel for LOVING people, SERVING them, sharing the hope of JESUS with them – not the false “hope” of my self-described “final answer” positions on this, that or the other. I must ALWAYS be HUMBLE enough to admit that I – in my fallen, human state – am capable of being wrong; and I must also be CONFIDENT enough to know that such an acknowledgment of fallibility on MY part does NOTHING to change the reality of GOD’s perfection or His perfect love expressed in His Son & in the person of the Holy Spirit.
0. Saying I’ve “landed” on a given theological issue doesn’t necessarily make me “more” or “less” of a disciple of Jesus; and expecting (or even demanding) otherwise is potentially equivalent to those who sought to make circumcision a requirement for life in God’s Kingdom…it is – in most cases – turning a “non-essential” into a false “essential.”
0. It’s sort of like the old saying, “An emergency on your part doesn’t necessarily necessitate one on mine.” Just because someone wants another person to “land” on a given issue, doesn’t mean that person is bound to do so; just because someone carries that expectation for someone else, doesn’t mean that person is bound by that (usually false, unnecessary) expectation. Just because “emergent” theologians don’t necessarily “play by the rules” in the eyes of more “traditional” scholars doesn’t automatically mean one side is inherently “right” & the other “wrong.”
0. Whereas the “traditional” scholar might say, “Here’s the issue & here’s where you must land on said issue…”, I imagine an “emergent” scholar/theologian might say, “Here’s the issue & here’s what I believe to be true about said issue, & I believe there’s strong evidence to back me up on this, but yes, if I’m honest, I must admit, I could be wrong on this one…and even if I AM ‘right,’ if I can’t/don’t/won’t LOVE you in the process, well then I’m ‘wrong’ anyway, and my intellectual belief/opinion on this issue doesn’t really even matter…”
0. Does any of that make sense or have I completely gone off the deep end?
— I think I should hire you to answer my emails! Well said. Thanks! I think your articulations will help a lot of other people who read this blog.