Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Emergent Church and Autonomy - Part II

The Antithesis of Autonomy

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “
To be or not to be is not the question, nor our choice. We are “thrown into existence,” says Martin Heidegger. We simply find ourselves in a world. We are here, onstage, with many others. Unaided reason cannot tell us why we are here or what we are to do. For existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger, the challenge is to achieve authenticity, which in his view means constantly preparing to play one’s own death scene.” [The Drama of Doctrine, pg. 1]
 The observation is indeed an irresistible one. We are here after all. And someone has some explaining to do. In taking up this explanation, there are basically two very fundamental approaches which may be adopted. The first is called the anthropocentric view. This view is man-centered. It focuses on us. The second is called the Theo centric view. This latter approach is centered on God. It focuses on God as Creator and Sustainer of all that has come to be. Rather than begin and end with man, it begins and ends with God.

Vanhoozer continues,
“Sound doctrine – authoritative teaching – is vital for the life of the church, and hence for the life of the world. Yet in many quarters doctrine is thought to be the problem…The Fault lies less with sound doctrine, however, than with its mishandling, and with a misunderstanding of its nature and purpose.” [The Drama of Doctrine, pg. 3]
 It is too sacred scripture that we must turn to have any hope of understanding the drama of life we all find ourselves in. But this understanding requires outside help. We cannot get there through unaided human reason. We need more information and we need divine intervention in our faculties. We need a new heart and mind if we are to understand the stage upon which we have been thrust. In an article entitled, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture” which serves as chapter one in the book, Hermeneutics, Authority, and Scripture, D.A. Carson remarks,
“To some extent we are all part of the problem; and perhaps we can do most salvage something of value from the growing fragmentation by pledging ourselves in repentance and faith to learning and obeying God’s most holy Word. Then we shall also be reminded that the challenge to preserve and articulate a fully self-consistent and orthodox doctrine of Scripture cannot be met by intellectual powers along, but only on our knees and by the power of God.” [Hermeneutics, Canon, and Authority, pg. 48]
At the end of the analysis of any movement lies the age-old question, “what is its opinion on the Word of God?” This always reveals the underpinning of autonomy or the lack thereof. Suffice it to say, this is no less true for the Emergent Church than it is for any other movement under evaluation. I know, conducting evaluations is just another manifestation of arrogance. It is making yet another judgment about someone’s view on a given subject or even their entire worldview. The most ridiculous thing about this statement is not the statement itself (even though it is quite absurd); it is the fact that educated men who have been educated in some of the finest educational institutions (by secular standards of course) in the world are the ones making these kinds of statement. But it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads Scripture. The unregenerate mind has been darkened by the sinful nature (Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:18; 2 Cor. 4:4).

The Emergent Church and the Bible

Donald Miller wrote,
“The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not…The mystery is the truth.” [Miller, Blue Like Jazz (from DeYoung and Kluck)]
 Miller asserts language is not sufficient to communicate accurately about God. Christianity is about things which cannot be put into words. Yet Miller continues to write things about God and Christianity demonstrating that, as I like to say, People LIVE what they believe, EVERYTHING else is just noise. John says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him.” (John 1:18) If Miller is correct and language fails to convey truth about God, then Christ’s work of revealing the Father to us fails. Miller may retort that Jesus revealed the Father to us in His actions. And I would answer that these actions are conveyed to us in the form of language.

Rob Bell writes,
“It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says. We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people. [Bell: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith]
 It appears Bell desires to replace the authoritative Word of God delivered by Christ with an updated, revised understanding based on the idea of contextualization. We have to decide what the Bible means at this time as if the meaning of Scripture ever changes. In fact Bell implies that time, distance, and culture can all change the meaning of Scripture. And who is it that is making this asserting? It is a man. Bell is the same man who wrote,
“The Bible is a human product…rather than divine fiat.”
 In fact, he writes,
“I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners.”
 It seems that the real objective of the Emergent Church is to remove the Bible as our sole authority for truth and praxis and to replace it with a new system, a new philosophy. This is again the same temptation to behave autonomously.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 clearly tells us that all Scripture is the result of divine activity and therefore is profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Of course it would seem that Bell and Miller would argue otherwise.

2 Peter 3:16 explicitly tells us that people mishandle Scripture to their own destruction. But if Bell and Miller are correct, we should all stay far away from Scripture for fear that we will condemn ourselves. The Emergent Church accuses those who state biblical truth with certain of arrogance. But I cannot think of a more arrogant attitude than to take the autonomous position of making certain pronouncements against understanding God’s revelation.

We are all susceptible to autonomy. It is at the root of the sinful nature. We must face it down every single day. May God grant us grace as we face this daily struggle. But God is faithful (1 Cor. 10:13) not to leave us without help.

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