Is there a ‘pre’ in Emergent Theology?
Reading over the conversation between MOBSBY and THORPE I find myself wondering in a community of so many ‘posts’ do we have any pre’s. I think we do, I think we have a pre-theology. So lets ask again just for conversation’s sake ‘what does an Emergent pre-theology look like?’ People who like tricky words will like what is about to develop in a moment, those of you who go to gratuitous action movies like myself I hope you will stay tuned regardless.
I think we are asking as a community: What is theology? What should it do for us? To what end are we using it? People critical of some of our friends who have louder voices than us, or have just made sweeping criticism usually say things like, “The EC folk force hardline dichotomies between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, falling down on the latter while we say all they care about is Orthodoxy” or they say, “The EC folk have naively adopted Postmodernity, while we say they have naively adopted Modernity.” Is this all there is to our theological and critical exchanges which between us and them. Hmm, even the sound of that last sentence is disheartening, ‘us and them’. Friends lets raise that question of pre-theology so as to seek shalom in the body of Christ. Let our motives in raising the issue carry over into how we handle it.
What is theology? This like the other two questions attached to it above all fall within the domain of what systematic theologians have dubbed theological prolegomena. The word prolegomena is foreign to most urban bipods so let me break it down, it comes from two Greek words. The first is ‘pro’, which means that which comes before, and the second is ‘legomena’ which is from ‘logos’ meaning word. Now the Greeks were some emergent cats if you ask me, they knew how to put the old with the new and go somewhere beyond. When you put these two together (pro + logos) you get the meaning, before words or better for our nomenclature before conversation. That is what MOBSBY and THORPE are getting at, what happens before we go out and do our emergent conversation thing.
Now I think MOBSBY and THORPE are on to something here. So rather than trying to be creative where they are, I’m going to try and create a new way for us to all enter in to MOBSBY and THORPE’s kind of thinking. What is Emergent theology? For us it’s first and foremost a conversation that seeks to go beyond where we’ve been, while remembering the stories of who we were, how we’ve become, and where we hope we’re heading. Now sure it includes high-tech philosophical stuff like postmodernity, postfoundationalism, post-‘’ you insert whatever philosophical system you’re tired of here. And even includes stuff that still has a little smackin of instutionalization like generous-orthodoxy a term coming out of the mother of institutions Yale, but more than that its about being real with the gospel, and the God who’s message its about. Being missional in a postmodern world with the compassion Christ provides. Just because we don’t look back to creeds or confessions all the time doesn’t mean we don’t ever look back, many times we do look back at the creeds and confessionals – the more well known ones and the more personal ones each of us bears.
What should theology do for our Emergent community? Well eventually or perhaps it has already occurred, our Emergent community will have some kind of clear theological form. Listen, it doesn’t matter what movement has arisen in Church history they have all at some point or another taken on clear forms, whether that form is being impressed upon them by those who write history after them or whether it is a natural one, is moot. And that form will have propositional, cultural, and experiential impressions. What we are asking now is not what we are or will be, but rather what should our theology do for our Emergent community in the now of life issues? First, I think we can happily say it will make us love and serve other communities around us, and nurture those who are already within us. Our theology will be a servant theology, it will do things in a way that will either beautify the institutions some of us find ourselves in or will celebrate the bare creation others of us reside. Our theology will continue to push itself beyond where its been, looking at the word of God, looking at Christ, looking at the world(s), looking at ourselves. Our theology will create art and science, denying the virtue of neither. It will be social and personal.
I have tried to abstain from quotations in this reflection due to the somewhat ‘stranger’ type of authority they carry sometimes, but here I think it is worth alluding to Rob Bell’s metaphor of a trampoline, our Emergent theology will cause to play, to bounce outward rather than remaining in a tight knot of tension.
What is the end or goal of an Emergent theology? In an environment where we are often criticized perhaps the goal of our Emergent theology is just to continue to be …. no, we are not trying to survive we are trying to die. To die for those whose voices have been extinguished by the mantra of traditionalism for traditionalism’s own sake. In honesty we have a prominent place in blog-space, so how can we live out our goal of dying to self where some would say we reign? How do we do what seems so unnatural – die to our defensiveness, die to our need for response? By lovingly giving our lives for those around us forgotten. Let us spend our words on the sake of those who haven’t heard I love you, I believe in you, I want you, I miss you, you are beautiful in any world, modern or postmodern. Let us be careful not to wrestle with who we are in such a way as to miss the opportunity to tell others who the Father says they can be in the Son. The end or goal of our Emergent theology is to invite others into the drama of God’s kingdom work through his Son and Spirit.
I am a surfer from Florida attending a seminary to become a master of divinity, the names for initials are at times ridiculous, I am a past member of a Charismatic community who’s a present member of a Calvinistic community. I’m Emergent, I’ve been, I’m being, and I’m looking to the beyond. If my reflections mean anything to you my prayer is that you will treat them like drift wood on the beach is treated sometimes. Pick it up and use it to create new art which expresses your personal Emergent reflections.
(For those of you more interested in theological prolegomena who have a theological and philosophical background here is a short bibliography I have used; it is unashamedly perspectival and selective and, believe it or not, I think helpful. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena; Robert Jensen, Systematic Theology V1:Introduction; John Franke, The Character of Theology; Hans Frei, The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion V1: Book 1; Grenz & Franke, Beyond Foundationalism; John Goldingay, Models for Scripture; Harvey Conn, Eternal Word in a Changing World; Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine; George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine)