Recently I ventured to the great northwest part of our state to participate in a one day conference. During the conversations about what it means for the church to be “for the world” a panel discussion broke out. Two SEBTS seminary professors, a state Executive Director and a Director of Missions comprised the panel. Our state Baptist paper editor moderated the discussion. You could well expect in a conference touching on the issue of contextualization the question of over-contextualization would come up and so the “emerging church.” The climate in the SBC is to shoot first and ask later. Chalk it up to our genteel southern ways.
The sentiment spreads across the Country as those once affiliated with the evil trio of Pagitt, Jones and McLaren drop off to form their own movements and networks – and of course because these fellows are doctrine averse, relativists, and theologically adrift in a new form of liberalism. Yes, there are two death knells that keep us from conversations with those whom we might disagree with, at least in my tribe. Label them liberals of some ilk and mention the need to listen to voices other than white males and you can be sure we will dismiss them faster than Baptists can get to the table for lunch.
Returning to said conference I found it interesting we should be wary of the dangers of Emergent Village and the emerging church, at least some in the “movement”, and yet should welcome conversations between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (the large amorphous designation that it is). Curiously I asked if we could be as charitable with those in the emerging church, even Emergent Village. For, gasp, I have shared meals with Doug, Tony and Brian. There are ideas the three have had, or positions taken, I could not agree with. Sometimes I will read something in one of their books and shake my head thinking, “Not sure I can follow that line all the way down.” But when it comes to critique of the Evangelical church, one need be careful to be dismissive.
Today, when I read Brian’s response to a question from a grad student who was grappling with More Ready Than You Realize I thought how can we summarily dismiss Brian or others because we heard someone label them beyond the pale. Why even Jim Belcher has been shot at for looking for a third way between “traditional” and “emerging.” Heretic! (Yes, that is the other designation I failed to mention that is a sure conversation killer.)
Here is the part that really caught my attention,
I’d also add that I do think moral standards change – but not in the direction of going down – just the opposite. That’s why Jesus said, “You have heard it said … but I say to you…” in the Sermon on the Mount. Over time, I believe God calls us to higher and higher standards of morality. Let me state this very clearly: the goal isn’t to lower moral standards, but to raise them as we grow more morally mature. So – before it was don’t murder. Now it’s don’t hate. Before it was only one eye for an eye. Now it’s seek reconciliation, not revenge. Before it was love your neighbor, hate your enemy. Now it’s love everyone – including enemies.
So – perhaps we can put this question to rest for good: the issue isn’t morality – with some “fer it” and others “agin it.” We’re all for morality, as we understand it. The issue is two-fold. Postmodern-leaning folks are concerned whether this or that preacher’s claims to have “absolute certainty” about this or that moral viewpoint of his are “absolutely justified,” and whether his confidence will increase the chances of behaving immorally. Modern-leaning folks are concerned whether leaving the door open to the possibility that “we” have been or are wrong will lead to moral collapse. If you let an absolutist system go, there will be nothing left, they fear.
I’d say there are dangers on both sides – the danger of excessive moral confidence on the one side and the danger of insufficient moral confidence on the other. I’m seeking a proper confidence … one that is aware of both dangers on both sides.
In my view, only God has absolute moral knowledge. Human beings have shown a remarkable propensity to misinterpret God, all the while claiming to speak for God on morality, which (sadly) often degenerates into speaking as if they were God. I hope that helps! (Feel free to share this with your class.)
By the way, I enjoyed my time at the one day conference. I found Nathan and Alvin deeply passionate about their subjects. Dr. J bleeds the hope for cooperation for the Gospel. And, my friend John who invited me, longs nothing more than to help churches live out the mission of God for the good of the world. It was time well spent.