The primary question being asked here is if there are certainties when it comes to theology. The secondary question seems to be how certain individuals in the Emergent Village might handle this question. And then there is the issue if some of the current conversation being had on this matters is constructive or destructive.
Obviously, I am under qualified to answer every one of these questions with accuracy. I can, though, offer my thoughts and feelings in the context I was asked - "With your contact with some from the movement..." As mentioned in the last post, I do have a bit of history here.
I remember when I received my first email to join in on a Google group for the Emergent coordinating group. While that was intriguing in itself, what was even more interesting is the fact that my email address was buried in a list of "who's who" in the "to:" line. Sure, there were some other guys and gals I'd never heard of before, but it felt kind of cool to be asked to sit at the cool table.
So I pulled up a chair.
I understand that the source of many questions about the Emerging Church and Emergent Village has to do with the voices that have been published. Keeping with the metaphor I've established, these people are like the upperclassmen at the cafeteria table who have been around the halls a bit longer than you. This doesn't mean you don't walk the same halls and can't come up with observations of your own, but there seems to be a bit of confidence in the things they say that cause you to think, "Hmm... maybe I should consider that."
In that analogy, though, I'm sure we all knew a few upperclassmen in high school who were just "off" a bit. Maybe they drank too much or were too consumed with one niche of high school at the expense of the rest... I'd argue that in any group of people you'll find extremes like this. For instance, there are some ultra conservative theologians who find that their "spokesmen" often speak for them, and other times they embarrassingly don't.
What I found through the Google Group is that there was clearly a line between the "Emerging Church" and (what would later become) "Emergent Village." To abuse another high school metaphor, the former group were interested in a "pick-up game" whereas the latter group formed a "team." There is still a friendship between both sides, but one has become more defined.
The reason I'm establishing this framework to answer the questions is because there is a difference between the Emerging Church and the Emergent Village... EC is the present-future of the church, whereas EV is an example/element of the present-future of the church. This has a few immediate implications:
- An "emerging" Christian implies one on a journey with God. This is a person who is looking for something, but it doesn't mean they haven't something... rather, they believe there is the potential for growth into more.
Example: Consider the mandate of Philippians 2:12 to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." This implies the continual emergence into something new about something old.
- An "emergent" Christian implies one who has been on a journey with God and arrived at a set of conclusions. This person has "come into view" of something... and it took them some labor to get there.
Example: E-V's beliefs can be found here.
- A "fundamental" Christian implies one who didn't see the need to get on the journey with God because the fundamentals were enough. This person has fixed his view on something... perhaps four spiritual laws (no need for five, apparently) or a a certain mantra "The Bible says it, that settles it."
Example: I remember talking with someone once who said, "At my age I guess I'm just set in my ways when it comes to church." I responded, "Does that sound like you're willing to grow anymore?" He gruffed at me.
From my vantage point, there are things we can be absolutely certain of when it comes to theology. There is only one Savior and His name is Jesus Christ... apart from His redemptive offer of grace alone through His cross and resurrection, we are stuck in our sin and eternally separated from a fully-alive relationship with the Trinity. I think you'd find that most EV people would agree with this... but not all of them do.
And that's the rub. Especially when one or more of them get published, seemingly speaking for the whole group. But they don't, much like a person in a church might believe a certain way about a certain thing that the rest of the church sort of smiles at but doesn't really endorse. Maybe it's an old lady who believes you need to pray in tongues during worship songs or a young guy who thinks that tipping is a greater principle than tithing since God says to give "cheerfully." Imagine if that person published a book and said they were a member of your church... others would assume the whole church thought that way.
What I'm getting at is that there seem to be several different people in the Emergent Village:
- Those interested in renewing: This is the dominant thread of E-V people I connect with... men and women who are asking, "What's really in the Bible?" and "What are our roots?" These are valuable and productive questions, for many church traditions started out nice but along the way became canonized where they shouldn't.
Someone decided not too long ago that being a Christian meant you vote Republican, picket abortion clinics, talk about "the media" with rolled eyes, clap at Christian concerts whenever someone says "Jesus Christ" (yet hiss in restaurants whenever someone says the same), pass out tracts to people that "explain" Christianity, and boycott anything Disney. And be sure to have a 5am quiet time.
What if there is more? The large majority of people who believe these traditions are often robotic about them, though, be it through denominational loyalty or fear of change.
(I think this is why they categorize E-V with the next label.)
- Those interested in reimagining: There are only a few folks I've met that clearly have an agenda to reimagine Christianity. Obviously this is destructive and I won't cite the individuals, but the situations have included everything from personal agendas about gender equality to matters of how science could redefine how we understand the Bible. I wonder, though, if this is just exclusive to E-V. Perhaps in any local church, denomination, association, and so forth there are people trying to reimagine the system into their own image.
Again, this is destructive. One of the reasons I have felt led to remain in E-V is to ask questions when I think someone is pushing something they shouldn't.
- Those interested in rebelling: Even fewer in numbers than the rest, there are a couple of people I've connected with who just want to be "against" the system. Again, this is to be expected in any group. For instance, a church plant can start out this way being "against" the other traditional churches in town. Maybe this is why many of those churches don't last... you can't be against something and last. You have to be for something.
If you asked me to summarize that all, I believe we're talking about 75% in the first category, 15% in the next, and 10% in the last. That is completely opinion, though, so don't cite that.
Speaking of which, Tony Jones is a Christian. This means he's not into universalism, but rather he's trying to foster a framework for all this conversation to take place. The idea of such a deep ecclesiology might frighten some, but what is interesting is that Tony is the most cautious about it of all... fully aware that every slice of structure he helps coordinate has massive ripples to it. I don't envy that role, yet I pray for him in it.
So were the great theologians of the past wrong? To the people of their era they were... and yet here we are, basking in "recent" shifts in thinking like pre-millenial eschatology and the salvation by grace alone. Sure, those were always around... but it took some emerging theologians in the more recent centuries to help us understand what that all meant.
Which is odd how they're right to us, even though they were severely questioned in their day.
For all we know the next revelation in theology is on a blog named "Frank Likes Cheese," and since theology is just that - revelation (not reinvention) -we'd best be praying for Frank.