Well, it’s happened. I’ve been pulled in (not involuntarily, mind you) to a conversation about the em church. I’m not sure if em churchers would consider my previous posts as a “conversation” in the sense they like to speak of (though having gotten autobiographical in yesterday’s post, I think I’m getting close). But I am at least engaging in a series of comments and responses. Perhaps it will soon approximate a conversation.
You can see some reaction to my first post at the Open Source Theology blog, in yesterday’s The Emergent Response. Andrew, an em church respondent to that first post of mine, and to whom I more fully responded in this post, faults persons like myself who are critical of the em church for not being more open and for being too judgmental. Perhaps. Or perhaps its just that, as I pointed out yesterday, some of us have “been there, done that” and are warning others away from the very real and present dangers.
Let me say that this post will unfold in two parts, the first of which will be a strong, perhaps even felt to be harsh, response to some of the reaction to my first post. I respond in this way to demonstrate how this reaction only serves to further justify the criticisms folks like myself level against em church believers.
But after this first response, I want to get constructive. So, if my readers wish to skip the first part, they can scroll down.
I think it safe to say that my first post didn’t seem to engender any concomitant open self-reflection on the part of em churchers. “PastorPete” in the aforelinked post highlighting the emergent response to the Pontificator’s and my critiques, writes:
As the emerging church continues itís upheaval, which Iím sure we all feel is a good thing, it will be important for us to remember that weíre shaking peopleís foundations. Thatís a scary thing. Condemnation and/or demeaning are rather common defense mechanisms.
This, of course, presumes that our response is merely a psychological one. This is simply laughable. Without having done any legitimate psychoanalysis on any of us, this reduces–and thus dismisses–our criticisms as psychological defense mechanisms and thus inherently irrational. And if it is irrational, then it need not be seriously entertained. Therapeutically healed, perhaps, but discountable.
It is also insufferably self-important. The author takes on the self-righteous role of prophetic reformer–which assumes that Orthodoxy, for example, needs any reform. He thinks that the em church–which is wholly a late modern, Western, white and mostly affluent, Protestant phenomenon–is somehow unsettling the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Forgive me, but I do not think His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI or any of the Orthodox Patriarchs have gotten the memo.
That specific Roman Catholics like Al Kimel, or specific wannabe Orthodox like myself–both of whom come from late modern, American, white and mostly affluent Protesantism–know about the em church and reflect critically on the phenomenon does not mean the em church is more widely known or feared.
With regard to the Orthodox and Catholic (and Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, if they got wind of this) it seems to me, they feel that we arenít taking seriously all the work and thought that has been done by Christians up to this point. They seem to feel that weíre starting over rather than reading differently whatís been written. Itís very judgmental to label the emergent church so quickly. And I, for one, resent the assumption that I would neglect two thousand years of Christian soul-searching. At the same time, they are right to point out that a lot of thought has, indeed, been put into these matters. Perhaps the emergent church is being too flippant with the tradition. Especially when it comes to issues so central as Jesusí divinity/humanity.
Perhaps folks like myself get the impression that the em church is discounting 2000 years of tradition because it writes things like the following (all from the Open Source Theology blog’s main page):
The marks of a renewed theology
The “Non-Canon-Based” Canon
Jesus vs. Christ – what do/should emergents call him?
Jesus is God… yes & no!
If theology must be renewed, doesn’t that entail the old stuff is wrong? If we must look for a non-canon based canon, doesn’t that reject the Church’s tradition of the canon? If we quibble over whether it is more authentic to call Jesus Christ or Jesus, doesn’t that discount the 2000 year worship life of the Church in which Christ is used ubiquitously? If we must reanswer the question of whether or not Jesus is God, what does that do to the Council of Chalcedon, and indeed the Councils of the first millennium of the Church?
If those of us who are criticizing the em church as generally dismissive of the 2000 year biography of the Church are wrong in our criticism, where is the counterevidence disproving our contentions?
“PastorPete” concludes his post:
I wonder, what do you all hear as the real issues behind the Catholic and Orthodox responses? How would you respond to clarify the emergent position? And, what is at stake for them and others that they resist these emerging ideas?
Notice the em church “resistance” to taking our criticisms at face value. Instead of simply acknowledging and dealing with what it is we actually say, we are subject to condescending psychologizing bracketing that obviates any need to actually listen to what we say. Unfortunately, the further comments to “PastorPete’s” post run along the same lines to the original post.
Is this a conversation?
I do not mean to strike so harsh a tone here. And I suppose it can be partially explained as a reaction to my first post and to some of the comments on Al’s blog and mine. But considering the gripe against us is the alleged unfairness of our criticisms, I can only say that the response to those criticisms justify them even further.
But let’s move on to something constructive.
Em churchers, like my respondent Andrew, have proffered that they seek to take the best out of all the traditions of the Church to forge a new way forward. I know that in the case of Orthodoxy–and I suspect the Roman Catholic Church as well–one cannot approach the Tradition as a buffet line, taking a little here, a little there, and topping it off with one’s favorite dessert. If one takes one thing, in Orthodoxy, and attempts to really engage it in a deep and meaningful way–and not just faddishly or superficially–one will be forced to engage the whole of the Orthodox faith.
Take for example the fairly widespread (as I understand it) practice of the use of icons in em church spirituality and worship. It is one thing to see icons as “religious art,” or as “devotional aids” and to bring these in to one’s own particular practices and disciplines. This is a very superficial, and ultimately false, way of taking icons as one aspect of the Tradition.
No, icons are ancient, stretching back to the first days of the Church. Icons are part and parcel of the historical life of the Church, not something optional and superfluous. Icons have been a part of the life of the Church always and everywhere the Church is. There is, of course, no command to use icons. But just as we need no command to breathe or to eat, neither do we need such commands regarding icons. They simply are part of what it means to live as a Christian. But icons are also part and parcel of the conciliar life of the Church of the first millennium. That is to say, as evidenced by III Nicea (the Seventh Ecumenical Council), icons are inextricably woven together with the essential and nonnegotiable docrtine of the Incarnation. And all seven of the Councils of the first millennium dealt with the Incarnation, and Christology more generally, in some way, making the Incarnation the central doctrine of the Gospel. And thus also making icons a central practice of the life of a Christian.
But if one takes on the use of an icon, and with it the dogmatic and conciliar life of the Church, one cannot but inescapably come face to face with the Sacraments, the Theotokos, the Divine Liturgy, and on and on. In Orthodoxy you cannot take out one thread without unravelling the whole tapestry. It is all one cloth.
To “use” an icon, then, is not to incorporate a piece of religious art or to utilize a devotional aid, though in very partial and incomplete ways, icons can be seen as religious art and devotional aids. No, icons and the reality that they are are much thicker than that. If one takes up an icon, one takes up the whole of it–the Incarnation, the conciliar Church, the dogma of the Incarnation, indeed, the whole of the life of the Church. And if one takes up these things in taking up an icon, one will find nearly everything the em church takes as foundational being utterly swept away.
If the em church truly seeks to be what it claims it is seeking to be, then it will either forego any use of icons that does not take on its full contextual use and understanding, or it will fully embrace icons, and with it the Church that gave them to us.