SHIFT:: breakouts, and limping evangelicals.

10 Apr

Just a quick blurb on the day’s events, then I’m off to bed…again. I tried to sleep a second ago, but couldn’t. Hating the PCT right about now.

I attended two special Point Leader breakouts, as opposed to most here who went to four shorter breakout sessions today, for an additional cost (I thought it was worth it b/c I really wanted the slower and more intentional pace of longer sessions and smaller group sizes… and besides, the McLaren and Claiborne breakouts were full already…..j/k)… Those groups were with Mike Novelli and Dan Kimball. I also had an early coffee date with Scot McKnight.

The theme of the day, much to my dismay, seemed to be the worry of evangelicals who have encountered emergent and like movements, and have found much to admire and that from which to draw inspiration… but, a concern remains about the perceived “over-open-endedness” of such movements. Particularly through the conversation with Scot and others at the table, and also through Dan’s breakout, I was struck repeatedly with the notion that our theological discomforts both reveal our own psychological tensions within ourselves, and that many emergent leaders’ thinking has been shaped by deep personal wounds. In other words, the struggle reveals our brokenness, from both sides. (I think my work as a chaplain is where this insight is coming from….)

With the coffee convo w/ Scot, I mentioned that the emergent movement is a half-way house, or a recovery group of sorts… and that’s not a bad thing. emergent is serving a badly-needed pastoral need for so many who have been wounded by the modern church. I hope that doesn’t come across as dismissive. However, those finding refuge in these “recovery centers” had better be careful about harboring their ill feelings about the modern church until it becomes anger, creating an “other” out of other brothers and sisters in Christ (wouldn’t be the first time) and separating ourselves from them and creating more church division.

With Dan’s group, it was the opposite that I observed: Evangelicals who have encountered emergent and have found resources, vision, passion, freshness, and new frameworks, but are fearful of fully identifying with emergent, are wanting to ensure that the old theological frameworks of “substitutionary atonement,” or “the fall,” or topics like homosexuality in the church, are not being changed. There are psychological ( I should say, pastoral…that is, reasons to be pastoral…) reasons for that. Dan at one point posited understanding theology as having a “core” with certain propositions that do not change, while other propositions contain varying amounts of truth are further from the center. Very Quine-esque, which is well and good…but my question is, what if my central propositions were different? (which they were?) What if I wanted more stuff in there? (as in, the Kingdom of God is at hand, which is pretty central to Jesus) What if I wanted less? (as in, Jesus paid the penalty for my sin)… it seemed to me that many evangelicals are weary of wading into the uncharted waters of emergent and are now floundering in the deep end, grabbing onto the old friends of propositional truths to keep them afloat. What is the fear there? What control would they lose? What fears would they have to confront?

I know sounds all very pompous; I know my theology probably reflects the results of a deeply wounded psyche in me…but I felt like I took a step backward in the second breakout session from the first with Novelli (which was great, and clearly addressed how we can have a clear, articulate faith, that can even be taught to and understood by teenagers, without clinging to propositional truth and even our own theological constructs!!!)… and I know I’m probably the only person in the room this afternoon that felt that way. I did learn from the session with Dan some ideas on how to ask tough theological questions with youth or young adults, and how to use visual media. But I was a little disappointed with the rest, if I may be as brazen to say so. Even so, another great day at Shift on the whole.

(And Bo Boshers impressed me again at lunch with his humility and honesty.)


Posted by on April 10, 2008 in church, emergent, theology, youth


2 responses to “SHIFT:: breakouts, and limping evangelicals.

  1. Michael

    April 20, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Josh,It was great to meet you at SHIFT. I was really encouraged by our interaction. I would love to stay in touch!Michael

  2. Josh Whitler

    July 1, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Hopefully we will. 🙂 I will call or email soon.


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