Saturday, October 31, 2009

Emergent Church Theology - Where Does One Begin?

One of the most challenging aspects to providing an analysis of the theology that reflects the beliefs of the EC is that a single theological system does not exist within the movement. Theology within the EC is very liquid. The more you try to grasp it, the more is simply passes through your hands. This makes an analysis of such a system extremely difficult. For this reason, I must disclose at the outset, that not every EC proponent agrees with the theological views presented in this discussion. However, I will attempt to treat those theologies that find more widespread adherence among EC proponents than not.

The core doctrines of Christian orthodoxy will be used as the model by which we measure the corresponding views of the EC community. Naturally, the Bible will serve as the sole authority and final standard for determining the truthfulness of the respective theological position. I realize that many EC proponents will reject this approach ‘out of hand’ because it merely pits one interpretation against another in their view. However, it should be pointed out that such reasoning ends in pure agnosticism. If it is true that the best that any of us can ever do is simply arrive at our own subjective truth without having any hope at getting to objective, absolute truth, we are forever lost in a sea of relativism. Objective truth becomes an illusion at which we will never arrive, even if it is does exist. This method for arriving at the truth has never been recognized as Christian, either from the beginning of the church or at any point in the history of the church. If the EC proponents desire to take us back to arguments anchored in Kantian philosophy, the burden to overturn centuries of deeply held religious convictions is squarely on their shoulders. Vern Poythress writes,

“We Submit to God not only our persons but our thoughts. We test our thoughts by submitting them to the standard of who God is and what he thinks. Moreover, we do not find out what God thinks in an arbitrary, willful way that we might choose, by trying to operate autonomously or independently of God. We know God through his revelation of himself in his word.”

It is certainly the case that if a doctrine fails the test of Scripture, obviously it should be abandoned. I know of no one who would argue otherwise outside of those who do not hold to a high view of Scripture. Oddly enough, one of the views that demands analysis is the very view of Scripture endorsed, or not endorsed as the case may be, by the proponents of the EC. The point Dr. Poythress is making is that our knowledge of God comes through revelation. Specifically, it comes through the revelation of Scripture.

Outside of an understanding of the biblical text, our understanding of God is derived from our own individual, personal experiences and rational speculations which are in turn, affected by a sinful nature, and which have no objective basis in reality to draw upon. We are again swimming in a sea of relativism. John Calvin writes,

“OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Calvin is asserting that our understanding of God and our understanding of man (which is dependent of our understanding of God) are primarily responsible for the integrity and truthfulness of our entire worldview or philosophy of life. Undoubtedly this is true of our theological system as well. Our understanding and knowledge of God is derived through revelation. Therefore, our theological system is also the product of understanding God’s revelation. Frame acknowledges,

“Some people have argued that because our knowledge of God comes through revelation and then through our senses, reason, and imagination, it cannot be a knowledge of God as He really is but only of how He appears to us. In Scripture, reality (God in particular) is known, and our senses, reason, and imagination are not barriers to this knowledge; they do not necessarily distort it. Rather, our senses, reason, and imagination are themselves revelations of God – means that God uses to drive His truth home to us. God is Lord; He will not be shut out of His world.”
All our knowledge of God is the result of revelation. We know God through His revelation in nature or through His revelation in Scripture. The knowledge of God through nature of course is terribly affected by the sin nature. Man knows God, but because he is hostile to God, he suppresses this knowledge of God he has through nature. To arrive at an reliable, trustworthy knowledge of God, two things are required: 1. God must disclose Himself specifically. This He did through the divine revelation in His word. 2. The illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the unregenerate human mind will explicitly suppress God’s revelation in nature as well as twist His revelation in Holy Writ.

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