This new convergence doesn’t resemble biblical Christianity

Old_Bibles-1
“What is orthodox, biblical Christianity?”

A friend responded to my post, A New Convergence, by stating that what he read there doesn’t reflect biblical Christianity.  He asks some good questions, and while I have my own thoughts (and will respond), I wanted to open it up to the broader community to respond, as so many of you commented that you really resonated with the earlier post.  Please consider posting a thought, a link, or a comment in response to one or all of his points.  Here we go.


From Godwin:

Bryan, these observations are likely true about a new emerging spirituality. But this new convergence doesn’t resemble biblical Christianity. And that is awful sad. Feel free to get rid of the bathwater, but babies are cute and important.

Here are a few questions with comments sprinkled in for good measure. I’m afraid this will be long.

  1.  What is orthodox, biblical Christianity? This is the kind of question that can and should be answered, because Paul was always interested in preaching, guarding, and passing on “the faith.” So what is “the faith”? This new convergence doesn’t seem to have a sense of this. It doesn’t have to be a bounded set; it can be a centered set, as Tim Keller and others have worked hard to show.
  2.  Why is it arrogant to be certain? And when did being agnostic equal being humble? Wasn’t the NT written so we can be certain of specific spiritual truths? Faith isn’t some blind leap of faith; it is being certain of something not attained, “the *assurance of things unseen” (Heb 11:1). G.K. please step up to the mic: “Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert-himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt.” Indeed!
  3. What exactly is “the new convergence” converging around *that is new*? And what could be so new that thousands of years worth of fire-forged orthodoxy is lacking? I am baffled at how many proponents of the new convergence jettison parts of historic Christianity (yes, there is a strong and steady stream of this) for their own formulations. While evangelical conservatives have been arrogant, no doubt, it is hard to say that we are the only ones in view of this.
  4. Not a question here, but an observation. I am much more motivated and energized to love my gay neighbor, be civil to those outside the Christian faith, and embrace a prayerful orientation towards scripture (a few examples) when I meditate on, rejoice in, and live out of the historic Reformed truths of the gospel than when I read McLaren, Jones, Elnes, or yourself. So why should I bother with y’all? I guess there was a question there after all.
  5. How do you read the book of Acts, other than a wonderful story of the church exploding through bold, controversial preaching (of specific, historical truths) which shook up the world with persecution and turmoil? Did Paul and others forget to follow Jesus’ passive example before Pilate? Oops. Another related question: in what ways can believers imitate Jesus and in what ways is it impossible to imitate Him because of His unique place in the universe? The failure to see this distinction in biblical interpretation/application can be devastating.
  6. One more.  I agree: claiming that I understand everything about God is arrogant and foolish. But isn’t fudging or rejecting uncomfortable scriptural teachings about God and the things important to God also arrogant? Ironically the latter is happening today far more than the former.

Thanks for reading and interacting. Peace.


He asks some great questions, and they deserve some thoughtful responses.  Let’s give him some.

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12 thoughts on “This new convergence doesn’t resemble biblical Christianity

  1. Thank you for reading and engaging. I see that it is not worthwhile to engage in this forum over these issues. There are far too many foundational assumptions that need to be laid out before a fruitful discussion can take place. I don’t have time for this nor do I think it wise to do so in this online setting. Yes, I opened the can of worms. I only wish we were in the same town so we can dig into the can over coffee, or lunch, or a beer.

    Peace.

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  2. Bryan, you’ve done yeoman’s effort responding to your friend’s questions above. I thank you for the invitation to respond as well. However, I really see little I can respond to. Frankly, his post doesn’t strike me an an honest inquiry and invitation to conversation, but is rather a series of potshots with very little specifics offered. He makes a wholesale dismissal of the many who are seriously striving to follow the Holy Spirit, serve as Christ’s disciples, and do so in ways that are faithful to the tradition. This is exactly the kind of rant that caused many of us to leave Egypt long ago. Only, for me, it was ranting, lack of sincerity, and wholesale dismissal of the “other side” on the part of liberal Christianity (my home turf) that inspired me to leave.

    My history and writings show that I’m all for being challenged and having hard conversations. They also show that I have invested quite a lot of time and energy to give intellectual and spiritual rigor to my work (Has he even read my work which he so resolutely dismisses?), but I don’t think many of us have the time to play games with people who are uninterested in a person’s response to begin with other than to find something more to fire at. Sorry! I’m just not into it anymore.

    But I will offer one thought before moving on to other things:

    Your friend speaks dramatically about holding to a “biblical” faith. Does the Bible, in fact, speak with such uniformity that one can label just one form of faith (presumably his) “biblical.” I would advise Godwin to spend some time studying biblical history more deeply. The “biblical” faith of, say, 1250 BCE is much different than the “biblical” faith of 1000 BCE, which is different from the “biblical” faith following 721 BCE, and 586 BCE, and so on. Of course, this is still different than the “biblical” faith of 33 CE, which is again different than that following 70 CE, etc., etc. And of course, there was actually no Bible to guide one into a “biblical” faith for the first three centuries after Christ … so I wonder how those sorry saps existed without a faith to call “biblical”?

    I don’t mention the above to denigrate in any way the multiplicity of faiths represented in the Bible. In fact, quite the opposite. The Bible really speaks to me – and many – very powerfully precisely BECAUSE the “traditional,” “orthodox” faith shifted and changed over time in conversation (and confrontation!) with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes dramatically! Ask yourself: Why are there three separate law codes in the Old Testament – each written at different times, with different emphases, which contradict each other? Why did one generation look at the code of another and determine, “We need to write different code of conduct? And why did yet another generation look back at the previous two law codes and say, “We need to write yet another?”

    Studying the ways in which the tradition morphed and changed over the centuries, and the ways people innovated upon the received tradition either faithfully or unfaithfully (both are represented in the Bible) has been one of the great joys of my life. For it is how one maintains, supports, and is nurtured within a LIVING TRADITION rather than merely a lifeless traditionalism.

    Lifeless traditionalism is faith that clings with all its might to whatever it has received and believes that by grasping more firmly it will keep the life in it. But you can’t squeeze life INTO a tradition. You can only squeeze life OUT of it. A LIVING TRADITION is not one that seeks to stay alive at all costs but instead follows the path of Jesus through death death and resurrection. A LIVING TRADITION knows it must continually die to its drive for merely perpetuating itself in order to be raised to new life – again and again. (The pattern replicates itself in our personal lives, too!) The beauty of this death and resurrection pattern (besides the fact that Christ told us to let go into it – “He who would save his life …”) is that when it is truly spiritual death and resurrection the person or community undergoes (i.e., letting go of ego; true surrender of heart, soul, mind, and will to God), is that what is raised up is a New Creation. This New Creation is not discontinuous from the health and vitality that existed once before in the old tradition, but one that fulfills what has gone before, at least in part (Paul reminds us: “Now I see only in part, as if through a glass darkly …).

    Your friend is not being loyal to his Jewish and Christian ancestors by throwing out anything that appears in his judgment to be remotely discontinuous from what he considers to be “the biblical” faith (again, I’d still ask, which “biblical” faith is he following?). Those great figures of old ALL underwent the same process of tradition-ing (in contrast to tradition-izing). If it weren’t for the courage and faithfulness of these folks, there would be no LIVING TRADITION to carry on.

    If you want a concrete example of how the apostle Peter underwent this tradition-ing process, I invite your readers to tune into Darkwood Brew tomorrow at 5p CST/6p EST (www.darkwoodbrew.org – rebroadcast with live chat at 9p CST/10p EST) as we look to an amazing – and gutsy – story of Peter in Acts 10-11. This is a story of how Peter had to let go of an authentic “biblical faith” he had followed since childhood in order to respond to something new that God was calling him to do. In so doing, he modeled what makes for “biblical faith” to begin with and opened the door for people like us (at least us Gentiles) to even call ourselves Christian.

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  3. I’ll humbly contribute without having read much detail of any of the responses yet. (apologies for likely redundancy). I think the meaning of certainty, as it looks like clubbers10 already points out, is related to one’s epistemology. What sort of justified true belief is knowledge (what makes it warranted). Can we have knowledge about things that could very conceivably be later shown to be false, even though they are true and we believe them for slightly wrong reasons? As for me, any study of epistemology at all tends to make me feel much more “careful” and I would say humble about what it means for ME to be certain about religious belief or what is orthodoxy. Someone with a different epistemology is free to disagree with me — and yet, there’s the rub. I could have a leaning belief in the exact same doctrine as another orthodox Christian and yet only believe it to be possibly knowledge, simply based on my understanding of epistemology. So, I think it’s arrogant to NOT think we should be humble about most sorts of knowledge. 🙂 On convergence, and on interfaith dialogue, I sat on a plane today next to someone who was raised Catholic and is now more New Age in approach. Had I scoffed at her decision to do meditation next to me on the plane for her lack of orthodoxy, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made a new friend today. Rather, what I found out today was that to her, the Catholic church felt more about head knowledge about debatable issues, and it didn’t seem to involve her heart. And I learned this because I listened to what was important to her about her practice of faith without negating the notion that her experiences were real. I’m inclined to believe that her experiences of God, albeit non-orthodox, might be real, and yet, I don’t KNOW that either. But humility in projecting my beliefs taught me more about God today, most likely, than arrogance would have. I’ll likely now learn something by reading the other comments. 🙂 And perhaps I’ll add more of my own thoughts, whether they be based in certainty or not.

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  4. OK, I’ll jump in. Books have been written (and many more will be) that deal much better and more exhaustively with your points, but I’ll try to at least briefly respond (noting we all have other things to do on a Sat. afternoon).

    1) What is orthodox, biblical Christianity?

    Great question. I think that it might be more accurate to note that there exists multiple ‘orthodox, biblical, Christianities.’ This is part of our dilemma right off the bat.

    To assume that there is only one version of Christianity that is biblical and orthodox is to ignore history and reality. From the beginning, there were myriad versions of Christianity, with unique emphases and characteristics. (See Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities, or Diana Butler Bass’ A People’s History of Christianity or Richard Horsley’s Christian Origins).

    This is especially true prior to the major church councils, in which certain voices were attempted to be ‘cut off’ in favor of the majority (often the ones in power), but it is clearly the case after as well! One needn’t look very far to find in your town a Methodist Church, an Episcopal Church, a Catholic Church, a Greek Orthodox Church, a few evangelical megachurch-types, a few small fundamentalist Bible churches, a Baptist Church or two, maybe even a Reformed congregation, and a whole bunch of others. Which one represents ‘orthodox, biblical Christianity’? They would all claim to. And in some ways, they all do. (See Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy for a thoughtful exposition on why the multiple strands of Christianity should be seen as life-giving streams rather than as threats or competitors over the truth).

    So what is orthodox, biblical Christianity, you ask? Great question, and it turns out there are many answers.

    Many of us are simply discontent with the form(s) of Christianity that have brought us colonialism, slavery, misogyny, homophobia, and that often speak up for a system that protects the haves at the expense of the have-nots, and fuses faith with nationalism. Forgive us for seeking a faith we can be passionate about.

    2) Why is it arrogant to be certain?

    I will defer to clubbers10 on this one. See his comments above.

    3) What exactly is “the new convergence” converging around *that is new*? I am baffled at how many proponents of the new convergence jettison parts of historic Christianity (yes, there is a strong and steady stream of this) for their own formulations.

    As mentioned earlier, much of it isn’t that new. Much of it is a rediscovery of what has been there all along, right under our noses, and we’ve missed it or intentionally brushed it aside. I’m not sure who is ‘jettisoning historic Christianity.’ Most of the folks I know who are interested in this converging, emerging, post-certainty faith are diving into history much more than those who have settled and already arrived. Turns out history is a complex, multi-faceted, wonderful-but-frustrating thing!

    Many of us are not interested in jettisoning anything except that which doesn’t reflect Christ. (Turns out we’ve constantly got work to do on this end).

    4) I am much more motivated and energized… when I meditate on, rejoice in, and live out of the historic Reformed truths of the gospel than when I read McLaren, Jones, Elnes, or yourself. So why should I bother with y’all?

    I’m glad you’ve found ways that motivate you to love, pray and live out your faith. This is your subjective experience. Given the shift of people away from evangelicalism and more conventional forms of faith, and the overwhelming response to my earlier post (and to the writers you list, myself excluded), clearly many, many people feel otherwise!

    5) How do you read the book of Acts?

    I read the book of Acts much as you do, it is a wonderful story about a community of people who defied the usual ethnic, socio-economic, and gender classifications, who followed a crucified messiah who subverted the powers-that-be by refusing to play their game, and who announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand. People who shared everything they had, and broke bread together daily in memory of the one whose body was broken on their behalf. A great story! One that continually calls us to reexamine our own Christian experience. I think the reason we don’t see persecution like that today is because we have stopped really following Jesus (which doesn’t mean enforcing a specific doctrine about Jesus). It means seeking justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God, and laying down our lives for our neighbors (even, perhaps, our enemies), because of the one who did that on behalf of a broken world, and because we believe we’re called to partner with God in bringing about a better world.

    6) I agree: claiming that I understand everything about God is arrogant and foolish. But isn’t fudging or rejecting uncomfortable scriptural teachings about God and the things important to God also arrogant?

    So we agree. But then to assume we perfectly understand ‘uncomfortable scriptural teachings’ fully or the best way is to undermine the point you just agreed upon. Further, as clubbers10 notes, in many cases there isn’t clear unanimity in the scriptural record, but that is partly what gives it its authenticity and its power. It is the record of real people engaging with God. I agree that we ought to engage difficult and uncomfortable scriptural teachings, and let them engage us.

    A thought in closing from Vincent Donovan:

    “Never accept and be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.”

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  5. From Anonymous (with permission):
    “I read his questions, and thought about answering. But I’ve found it a wearying process to argue with guys who come from that neo- reformed place. The questions themselves set the conversation up in their terms. Does the new convergence resemble “biblical Christianity”? No. while that may trouble you and make you want to warn us of our heretical tendencies, we’re fine, thanks, without your brand of biblical Christianity. You want the whole world to converge where you are, and it won’t. That’s even a core tenet of your theology! So relax, and let the folks who think differently do so without answering to you.”

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  6. Neither doubt nor certainty is an end in itself. Either can become an idol. In my experience, both personally and within the Christian community, I’ve seen certainty more abused or misused than doubt. Certainty, in an ironic way, can lead to frustration and nihilism. When my understanding of God, his ways, and the praxis of a Christian faith personally and within community suddenly don’t seem to *work*, where do I land? I’ve seen too many well-meaning folks throw in the towel because what they understood to be true about God and about the Christian faith no longer fit the world they were living in. Admittedly, this phenomenon is primarily in the more conservative or fundamental branches of Christianity. However, the liberal branches in their own way found affirmation in their doubts, (through science, technology, a fuller understanding of history, etc) allowing the unbelief and arrogance to become an unchecked idol. Maybe there’s a third way.
    Maybe we can view doubt as a gift. Doubt takes me places with God that I would never get to if I was certain. It breaks down walls, shatters my idols, it allows me to no longer be God of my belief or understanding. When I find myself certain of specific doctrines, beliefs, or practices, with a spirit of humility I must hold them loosely and allow God to mold them or destroy them. God becomes a bigger God, not a smaller God. In some ways I come closer to God, not leaving him behind, nor is the baby gone with the bath water. In a real way I am dying to self when I give up my long held certainties. That doesn’t mean I don’t pick up the cross. I do. A part of picking up the cross is accepting the gift of doubt and allowing it to mature me, trusting God is not fully done with me yet.
    One last thought. It seems arrogant to me to suggest our present day understanding of the Christian God has been fixed within the Christian community for all ages. It has not. There are a couple key anchors or threads that have been consistent for most of 2000 years, aside from that, we have seen doctrines, understandings, and practices dramatically change over the course of 2000 years. Are we now finished and on top of our faith? God forbid.

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  7. Because “biblical” Christianity has been and is very unchristlike. Their Christ looks like Caesar not Jesus of Nazareth. I stand on the side of the angels and where God is moving….biblical Christianity is an old wine skin unfit for the real cosmic Jesus who is lord. furthermore, When I went to college, I unwillingly learned the truth about the bible. I saw for myself how the noah story is two seperate traditions stitched together. I woke up to the inherent contradictions of the bible. I saw how the early books about god portray someone with anger management issues but later works like Isaiah have a more universal, loving, and considerate God. I learned that certain cities that the book of Joshua talks about DID NOT EXIST in the time of joshua. I learned that the gospels narrative CONTRADICT each other when read has pure history. I saw that the emperor (who is the THE BIBLE, not god) has no clothes. I read Karl Barth and Moltmann and Cobb and I see a way forward following the historical jesus who is also the cosmic christ. I realized it is QUITE POSSIBLE to read the bible and be an arian, not orthodox. (though I am not arian) I see how multiple and contradictory versions of christianity can be VALIDLY created out of the bible. Dethrone the bible. Let Jesus be proclaimed and start using your brain the way we use it to cure cancer and fly planes!!!!

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  8. Some thoughts on #2 and #6.

    “Why is it arrogant to be certain?”

    It isn’t necessarily. I’m certain I exist, but that doesn’t make me arrogant. I’ve been certain of things that turned out not to be true. I wasn’t necessarily arrogant then either.

    Certainty is an epistemic attitude. One can be certain about something that is true or about something that false. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with (or arrogant about) being certain, or even with claiming to be certain, even when one is wrong. It’s not arrogant to say I’m certain the keys are in the glove compartment when I put them in there and have no reason to think they’ve been moved–even if it turns out someone did move them. My attitude was fully justified.

    What is arrogant is to adopt an attitude of certainty (e.g., by refusing to consider opposing views) about something when one a) has little evidence of it’s being true, b) is faced with evidence to the contrary, or c) is dealing with people who are likely to have similarly plausible (or better) evidence for a contrary position. It’s generally epistemically responsible to refrain from claims to certainty in such a situation.

    “And when did being agnostic equal being humble?”

    Being agnostic (i.e., claiming not to know) about something isn’t necessarily humble. One might be ignorant and proud of it. Many are.

    One could also be brilliant, well-educated and know a great deal while remaining humble, even about one’s knowledge. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to increase in humility as they become more knowledgeable: the more one knows, the more one realizes one doesn’t know, as they say.

    Again, the idea is that some degree of humility is appropriate when dealing with difficult, controversial issues. When one does not know something, admitting so (i.e., being openly agnostic) is appropriate.

    With due respect to Chesterton, it sounds nice to say we should be “undoubting about the truth,” but, of course, this presumes we have it already. The issue at hand, however, is whether we do. Should we be undoubting about our own existence? Yes. About the nature of God? No, as Godwin himself admits.

    “[I]sn’t fudging or rejecting uncomfortable scriptural teachings about God and the things important to God also arrogant?”

    No. In fact, it’s unavoidable, given that there are many incompatible teachings about God* and about what is important to God**, even within the collection of works Christians call “scriptures.” (Of course, there is also controversy about what works really are properly scriptural, not only within Christianity but also in the broader religious world.)

    * Including whether there is only one god.
    ** I gave some examples of this in my comments on the New Convergence post.

    -Chris

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