Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Battle for the Emergent Church

Defining the Emergent Church in the next decade or so will become an important component to the life of the evangelical church. Many of the leaders in the movement will tell you-accurately so-that there is no good way to define to Emergent Church right now. So far it is an effort of deconstruction and not yet ready for construction (although some in the Emergent world are calling for construction and definition).

This is why this moment is poised to be so important. I see disturbing trends in some of the leaders and voices of the Emergent Church, and I hope they can be changed before they become the vanguard for the latest incarnation of evangelicalism. I wish the best for the Emergent Church movement, but I sincerely hope it does not drink the kool-aid and bow its knee to postmodernism.

There are a lot of interesting discussions taking place in the blogosphere concerning the Emergent Church and the nature of Christian theology and philosophy. I recently ran across Nathan’s blog, Fighting the Little Fights, where he details some of his correspondence with emergent bloggers. Additionally, Adrian has been writing extensively about what he labels “neo-liberalism” and the Emergent Church (here, here, here, here). I think “neo-liberal” is a good label for many of the leading ideas in the movement.

In my opinion, one of the jobs of contemporary Christian philosophers and theologians is to reaffirm and defend the concept of objective truth. We have reached a stage in our culture where the notion of truth is up for grabs, and, unfortunately, an unhealthy form of skepticism has reached its way into the church. If the Church does not stand for the truth, who will?


pgepps said...

OK, so define "objective" and "truth" such that "objective" can be used to modify "truth." Go ahead.

I completely agree that inroads against the authority of an inerrant, infallible Scripture are to be opposed, whether they come from the Modernist camp we've been fighting for a couple hundred years now, or the self-destruction of modernism in the welter of post-modern ways of meaning.

I fail to see what "objective" has to do with "truth," though, or why we should be trying to defend such a metaphysical chimera.


passthebread said...

Concerning objective truth. I would say a few things. Admittedly, to a non-philosopher like myself, I would say that to believe in objective truth requires a few pre-suppositions.
1. Anthropology: As a Christian, I believe that God has given the believer the faculty to know God. God is the object of our knowledge and as a subject I am capable of knowing that object. Paul says this when he says that spirtual things are spiritually iscerned. Jonathan Edwards says that "Spiritual light is directly revealed to the understanding". What Edwards means by this is that Spiritual truth is empirical. By empirical I mean that idea finds its source outside the mind itself. So, I am saying that we are capable of knowing God through the rebirth.
2. Theology: God is the God who is there. Meaning God actually comes and is the Immanuel meaning He reveals himself to the subject.
If these two things are true than there is essentially no diference between knowing God and knowing that it is raining in Souhern California.
Now the rub is that our ability to know is not as keen, our faculty not as precise as say my eyes. Therefore, we depend on special revelation from eyewitnesses and apostles who were given to the church with greater gifting (capability) than the average Joe to know. We call that the bible which is the record of:
1. Eyewinesses of events that reveal the sory of God's visitations and
2. The Spiritual discernment of people more discerning than us namely: Jesus, Paul, Peter, John etc.
So these people arethe Newtons and the Einsteins of spiritual things that help us to understand more clearly our less keen empirical experiences with God.

Phil Steiger said...


In one sense you are correct-I believe that the phrase “objective truth” is a little redundant. To speak of truth in such a way as to get to what it really is, is to imply a kind of objectivity, or a transcultural nature.

In another sense, I find it important to classify my use of the idea truth with the word “objective” in order to define my usage. So many people do think truth is a “metaphysical chimera” or a culturally defined concept that I think I need to be clear about what I intend to convey.

Ultimately, your comment, if I understand what you are getting at, has a couple of contradictions in it. It is impossible, in my view, to defend a robust notion of an “inerrant, infallible Scripture” and at the same time belive that truth is a “metaphysical chimera.” It would be silly to assert that the Scriptures are inerrant unless you are carrying with you a defendable notion of “errant,” and if you don’t hold to some form of objective truth, then you can’t defend a real sense of inerrancy. If truth is a methaphysical chimera, then in what sense is Scripture inerrant? It might be inerrant for you and your faith community, but if you lack the tools to assert that across cultural/community lines, then you will fail to hold to a real sense of inerrancy.

You may be more postmodern than you realize or what to admit. One of the cornerstones of postmodern thought is a rejection of truth as objective or transcultural.

pgepps said...

"Objectivity" is one thing. "Truth" is another. Of course there is truth, and obviously if I believe in an inerrant, infallible Scripture, I believe in truth--and that what it teaches about humanity and God are true.

I don't think "objective truth" is redundant so much as--not technically incoherent, but missing the point by so much it's close.

For one thing, and the reason I poked at definitions here, "truth" in common usage seems to be rather slippery. Do you mean "reality" or do you mean "true statements" or do you mean "honest utterances"? I assume you do not mean the last.

If you mean the former, though, then you are just saying that "some things are transcultural"--but not telling me anything new about what is communicable, about the qualities of statements. So I take you to be referring to a quality of speech.

All utterances are from the vantage-point of a speaker, hence are "subjective." That doesn't mean they are lacking in truth, only that it is a mistake to use "objectivity" as the criterion for "truthfulness." Rather, the authority, reliability, and honesty of the speaker are the proper criteria.

Post-structuralism properly explodes the metaphysical chimera of "objective truth." That does not mean that we Christians must punt on "truth," but rather that what historic Christianity has always taught, and what Fundamentalists maintained in the teeth of Modernism's "objective truths" ("knowledge falsely so called" as Paul puts it), must be revived: that "truth" is a quality of speech insofar as that speech proceeds from God, and not insofar as human observation does or does not bear it out.

Now, does that leave significant scope for hermeneutical uncertainty? Initially, yes. But faithful readers of the Word of God will converge on the truths God intended for us to have, and God's Word will have its effect; God is the Author of both it and us.


pgepps said...

P.S. Please see here for a quick sketch of my views on modernism and postmodernism.

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks for your thoughts.

Do you mean "reality" or do you mean "true statements" or do you mean "honest utterances"? I assume you do not mean the last.I do mean something like “reality” or “the way things are in reality.” I don’t believe at all that Poststructuralism has accurately taken anything to task. If anything, it has cut off the very branch it is trying to sit on-not a very good place to be philosophically. It wants me to believe that truth is wrapped up in utterances and the subject uttering them, but can that be true if I utter the opposite? Certainly not.

For instance, you assert that the criteria for truth claims are “the authority, reliability, and honesty of the speaker.” If that were the case, then how are we to judge between the following two utterances made by equally authoritative, reliable, and honest speakers: “The sky is blue” and “The sky is yellow.” Given the criteria you list, it is impossible. And that leads us to all kinds of absurdities. Replace those statements with “There is a God” and “There is no God,” or “Round squares taste loud” and “Round squares do not taste loud.” If, as you say, all utterances are “subjective,” then we are stuck-there is no way to get around the competing and ludicrous claims listed here. If we stick with the criteria touted by philosophies like Poststructuralism we have given up on the notion of truth.

As I mentioned earlier, you need to have a viable notion of “errant” in order to believe in inerrancy. As I see Poststructuralism, it has no such notion.