Friday, June 29, 2007

Rejected by Wheaton

Last winter, I was one of the plenary speakers at the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference. I was asked to present the emergent perspective on the relationship between the corpus of patristic literature (the "Church Fathers" and the early councils) and the present church. I gave it the old college try, and was greeted with mixed reviews. Some reported their own ambivalence and the feelings of "disaster" among the theological intelligentsia. I was even emailed by one MDiv student that his professor mocked me in class the next week. Nice. Two other influential persons sent me long emails detailing their disappointments with my paper. Several Wheaton students approached me after the talk to thank me for it and express their agreements. So, it was a mixed response.

Yesterday, I received a call from the Wheaton folks informing me that, against the objections of InterVarsity Press, my paper will not be included in a forthcoming book on the conference. When I asked if it was my scholarship that was in question, or that I was "off message," I was told, "The latter." I was then told that parts of my presentation were "provocative but less than helpful." Ultimately, I was told, I did not treat the Fathers and the Councils as normative to the life of the church today. I argued that we're in conversation with the Fathers today, just as they were in conversation with one another in their day. I also posited that the victory of one theological position over another was as much a matter of politics and context as a matter of divine providence. Finally, the lack of marginalized voices in all of the ancient (and medieval and modern) theological debates should give us all pause.

Does that mean that the Councils and creeds and Fathers lack authority today? I hope not. But I hope that they will have a more credible authority if we understand all of the vicissitudes of their times. As in our day, they had pressures on them from all sides, and, while I in no way think this precludes God's Spirit from guiding the process, it was not a unanimous and clean decision on, say, the dual-nature of Christ.

Finally, this: In the last four or five decades, with the maturation of evangelicalism, several schools of thought on the appropriattion of ancient sources have developed. Most evangelical church historians could draw you a diagram of these schools and tell you the various leaders of the schools, as well as telling you into which one they fall.

Emergent, on the other hand, is less than ten years old. As such, we are making our first forays into these hallowed grounds. We're in process. In other words, my paper was in no way a final statement on the authority of the Councils, but a first attempt at a faithful articulation of the emerging position.

What I find a bit troubling, however, is the mixed messages that we're receiving. On the one hand, emergent is accused of not being theologically rigorous enough. But then we're excluded from a book like this on account of our preliminary conclusions. Had my essay been included in the book, I assume it would have come under some sharp critique, and, as a result, I would have become a better theologian.

Instead, I will avail myself of the new media and post it here. Read it and decide for yourself. Please note that these are my notes for the presentation -- they have not been edited for a scholarly book. I was asked to present in such a way that would be approachable by undergrads, pastors, and professors, so I attempted some humor and lightheartedness. And you'll want to scroll along with the powerpoint presentation, too, since that was essential to my paper.

Lemme know what you think...

Get the paper here.

Get the powerpoint here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fire at The Simple Way

From The Simple Way

6/20/07 12:30PM

This morning, a 7-alarm fire consumed an abandoned warehouse in our Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia. The Simple Way Community Center at 3200 Potter Street was destroyed as well as at least eight of our neighbors' homes. Over 100 people were evacuated from their homes, and 400 families are currently without power. Despite this developing tragedy, we are incredibly thankful to share that all of our community members and every one of our neighbors is safely out of harm's way.

This fire will forever change the fabric of our community. Eight families are currently homeless, and in many cases have lost their vehicles as well as their homes. One of our neighbors, the Mahaias Family, lost their three cars as well as the equipment one family member uses for her massage therapy business. Teenager Brian Mahaias is devastated not because he has lost his belongings, but because he fears that this fire will force him to move away from this neighborhood that is his family as well as his home.

The Simple Way has lost a community center that was home to our Yes! And… afterschool program, community arts center, and Cottage Printworks t-shirt micro-business as well as to two of our community members. Community members Shane Claiborne and Jesce Walz have lost all of their belongings, Yes! And…'s after school studio and library were ruined, and community member Justin Donner's Cottage Printworks equipment and t-shirts were destroyed.

We are thankful that we are able to help each other during this time of need, and we will continue to keep your informed about today's events.

We have established funds to support the families who have lost their homes, the Yes! And… afterschool program, and the Simple Way community.

A fund to support the families has been established through a partner organization, EAPE. Tax-deductible donations can be made at . Please make sure to put "Kensington Families Fund " in the memo section.

Donations to the Rebuilding Fund can be made via PayPal to

-The Simple Way Community


Currently Reading

I've just started two books. One of them is George Marsden's magisterial, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I'm particularly interested in Edwards because, unlike Francis, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, et al, Edwards's revival did not reify into an "-ism." In other words, there is no Edwardsism. There is no First Edwardsian Church of Minneapolis. Why is that? It's that question I seek to answer, for I hope and pray that there is never an Emergentism.

(Some will say that Driscoll/Piper/Mahaney represent the legacy of Edwards, but I think they represent only one stream of his legacy. Edwards was a Congregationalist, not a Baptist. We'll see -- it's a long book.)

My favorite line so far:
"Jonathan Edwards is sometimes criticized for having too dim a view of human nature, but it may be helpful to be reminded that his grandmother was an incorrigible profligate, his great-aunt committed infanticide, and his great-uncle was an ax-murderer."

Good Post...

...on the connection between iPhone and church (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church). People want something that looks forward, not backward, in their technology and their church. Check it out.

HT: Andrew Sullivan

What a Classic!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Jerry Falwell

(This is, quite honestly, an auspicious way for me to reenter the blogosphere)

On April 14, just weeks before he died, Jerry Falwell preached a sermon entitled "What's Wrong with the Emergent Church?" I'm especially interested because he mentions me by name.

You can listen to the sermon here (it's also available on iTunes), and you can see his notes here. I suggest you listen as you look over the notes, since he several times leaves the notes and makes some extemporaneous comments.

He's got some things right, and some things wrong in this sermon. And I'll interact with them point-by-point. But the first thing I'd like to note is that this is not a biblical sermon. I mean, it seems to me that Falwell and other evangelical leaders excoriate "liberals" for not being biblical preachers, but in this sermon the Bible is hardly mentioned. He reads a passage from Matthew at the beginning, then briefly and vaguely mentions it later, and that's it. He doesn't interact with it, interpret it, or even preach about it. In that respect, this isn't so much a sermon as it is a speech, and it seems to me that the Bible is nothing more than a covering for a speech about some things that he holds dear.

1) The Intro: Jerry begins by saying that the emergent church started with people who are dissatisfied with evangelicalism. Partly right. Then he says, "I've studied the emergent church, and I'd like to tell you what's wrong with it." Based on what's below, you be the judge of how much "study" he's done.

2) The Passage: what I said above. I think it's funny when he says, "Right answer" about Peter's reponse to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" It's funny because it's cute, and because of how many times Peter gives the "wrong" answer to Jesus in other places.

3) Peter Drucker: Jerry quotes Peter Drucker on cultural shifts, then riffs on all the shifts he's seen in his own life. It's a bit eery that Jerry refers to his birth in 1933 and all the changes since then (ball point pen, computers, etc.). He says that other than the printing press and the steam engine, his parents grew up in a world very much like the Apostles. Hmm. That's curious. "And so the world is changing rapidly," he says, "And, unfortunately, so is the church."

4) Method and Message: Jerry goes on about how great microphones are and how styles of music don't matter. "I remember all of those changes, but they have nothing to do with spirituality. It has to do with preference and taste." I think many people would be hard-pressed to agree that they're musical preference is disassociated from their spirituality. But he does say that the emergent church has become destructive.

5) What is Emergent: He says that Leadership Network is the "fountainhead" of emergent, then he quotes at length from the LN website -- "You can look it up," he says, "At the Leadership Network." The problem is, it's not from LN's website, but from the Emergent Village website. He reads from this page, under the last three subtitles. I wrote those paragraphs, and, I must say, they sound great in Jerry's mouth! I wonder if anyone at Thomas Road Baptist Church that morning thought, "Hmm, that sounds pretty good! I'd better check that site!" I checked our analytics, and out hits weren't particularly high that day, so I guess not.

6) Context: Jerry talks about innovations in worship that are cool by him, then he takes us to task for re-analyzing "the Bible against the context in which is was written." He says that's from our own words, but I don't know where that's from. Nor do I know what it means to read something "against a context," but anyway, I guess he's on the right track here. Hermeneutics is key in emergent...

7) Foundation: He says we've built our movement on the wrong foundation (this is where he refers to the Bible, equating Jesus' statement about on this "rock" I will build my church with a philosophical foundation and with Jesus himself. Isn't Peter the "rock" in this passage???). He then accuses us of
Denying the divinity of Christ (I don't know of one person in Emergent who does)
Denying the Second Coming (I know of about 3 "full preterists" who do)
Denying the knowledge of Christ for salvation (again, I know of a few, but not many)

8) Slippery Slope: That's what he says we're on. Then he says something very curious: "I know the founders [of emergent]. I have ministered with them, and they have ministered here. We have been friends, and we still are friends. And I have cautioned them just as I am speaking here, that you have weak biblical foundations." So, if you are one of those emergent leaders who was friends with Jerry, please leave a comment below.

9) Theology: He says several times that we don't have any theologians in the group, that we don't care about theology, and that we learned everything we know at a few pastors' conferences. "No theology. A bit of knowledge, but no wisdom."

10) Non Sequiter: He talks about neckties and says, "Please bury me in a black suit and a red necktie and a 'Jesus First' lapel pin, or I'll come back and haunt you." Strange. Eery. He also talks about DC Talk, etc.

11) My sinful mouth: Now here's the fun part. We are
"encouraging profane and vulgar speech, in private and now from the pulpit. Tony Jones, who's one of the leaders of the emergent church, recently was speaking from the podium, and he was asked a question about the Bible. Here is what he said -- obviously I can't use the expletive, but I'll just use the letter. These are his words. He's the leader. He's the minister. He said, he said, 'The F Bible is scary to me. The F Bible is scary to me."
He then says that if anyone says that at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the men should rush the stage and remove that person from the building.

Now, I hope I don't have to say that -- unlike some of my friends -- I've never dropped the F-bomb in the pulpit, nor do I have any plans to (breathe easy, Mission Gathering!). What Jerry (or the person who actually wrote his sermons) found was a post at churchandpomo in which I wrote (in the midst of a longer post on deconstructionist readings of texts),
This connection between deconstruction and the Bible is especially meaningful, methinks. I am quite convinced that the Bible is a subversive text, that it constantly undermines our assumptions, transgresses our boundaries, and subverts our comforts. This may sound like academic mumbo-jumbo, but I really mean it. I think the Bible is a f***ing scary book (pardon my French, but that's the only way I know how to convey how strongly I feel about this). And I think that deconstruction is the only hermeneutical avenue that comes close to expressing the transgressive nature of our sacred text.
Well, I could go on and on. He compares a bottle of beer with cocaine. He talks about traveling "with some of them" to Egypt and, at a stop in Zurich, his co-travelers drank wine at dinner. Again, if you're one of the emergent church leaders who traveled with Jerry to Egypt, please drop a note in the comment section so I can hear about that trip. He lists Dave Travis (an LN staffer) as an emergent church leader.

Anyway, you can listen to the rest of it about how Jerry shuns all forms of evil, about drunk gospel singers, etc. It is wild stuff. He even promotes gossip in the choir (that is, tell me if you know of a choir member who is drinking or sleeping around, and I'll be sure they aren't in the choir next Sunday). We are "galvanizing into a denomination."

I must say, it is something to be immortalized by Jerry Falwell just days before his death. I will say this, during the whole "sermon" he seems to have a smile on his face. He was not an angry critic, like some. But still, I don't quite know what to make of it.

Wild stuff, friends. Wild stuff.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


The book is done, revisions and all.

Thank God.