So far I have greatly appreciated Guder's emphasis on evangelism as a theology, or more accurately, a practical theology, for the church. He encourages us not to loose sight of the evangelistic core of the New Testament. I am looking forward to reading his insights regarding the implications for the church with regard to the shifts in American culture and the shifts in church culture.
My one complaint so far has to do with a passage in which Guder repeats what is becoming a mantra from Emergent Church circles. I do not know myself if Guder 'officially' aligns himself with the EC, but he just might given his take on some of these central issues. The passage I would like to deal with comes at the beginning of his chapter, "God's Mission Is Good News." My first quote here is, I think, essentially true as far as it goes:
This good news about God is rooted in a particular history. Although the modern mind has been affronted by the biblical emphasis upon a particular, specific history as the event of God's self-disclosure, it is essential to the goodness of this news that it be historical....Through the particular encounter of God with Israel, the good news that God is loving and purposeful enters into human history and becomes knowable.
I think such a statement is true in a pretty straightforward kind of way. God revealed Himself to humanity through the people and history of one particular group of people. What Guder says in the next paragraph, however, corrupts his own argument:
Apart from such a particular history, Christianity has no universal message to proclaim. The Bible is not a collection of universal ideas cloaked in a particular history.
I find such an argument not only demonstrably false, but false in such a way as to make the rest of Guder's book pointless if you were to take it seriously. To limit my thoughts to a few nutshells:
To which culture do we limit God's revelation? One might assume that Guder is referring to Israel when he writes "a particular history," but then the New Testament disagrees with that when the Greeks are a crucial part of God's revelation in history. What about the half-Jews of the Diaspora? What about the barbarians, Scythians, slaves or freemen? The point is, although it is hip in Emergent circles to speak of "culture" and how God reveals Himself within a culture, the term "culture" is notoriously difficult to define. If you are going to base a crucial point of an argument on the notion of "culture" then you had better try to define it. I haven't yet read an Emergent author do so. God revealed Himself to Nebuchadnezzar in the OT and I don't think he was Jewish in any discernable way whatsoever.
The very fact that within God's revealed Word there are multiple cultures proves that there are "universal ideas" within His revelation to those cultures. Paul, a Jew, translated the "universal ideas" received in the Jewish Scriptures to Greeks.
What I don't entirely understand is the Emergent fear of "universal ideas." All that phrase simply conveys is that there are things in this world which are the case for all people at all times. Christians, of all people, should cling to the fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. If that proposition (gasp!) is not universal, then we of all people are to be pitied the most.
Guder goes on in the same paragraph:
Such universal ideas are merely the product of human imagination and creativity.
Such as that one? Is it universally the case (the case for all universals expressed by humans) that all universals are merely the product of human imagination? If the answer is yes, then Guder has pulled the rug out from his own argument, and if it is no, then Guder has pulled the rug out from under his own argument.
Again, it is hip in Emergent Church circles to assert that things like universals don't exist, but there is simply no getting around them. To assert that they do not is to assert something which you think is true universally.
Additionally, if you agree with Guder's assertion, you have left yourself in an unenviable position. You have no good reason to believe 2+2=4. Each time you get up in the morning, you have no good reason to believe the laws of physics are the same as they were yesterday. You have no good reason to believe that torturing babies for fun and profit is wrong all the time. I, frankly, don't want to be in that position.
It is unfortunate that Guder's book makes this philosophical move. I think there is a lot of intellectual and spiritual stimulation to be had from his project, and I look forward to what else he has in mind.