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Ok, so this has nothing to do with the EM (many of you may be relieved about that). But today I’d like to turn my attention to another social and spiritual issue, one that is very serious and demands our full attention as well as a well-deliberated response. That issue is pumpkin porn. Today more than ever pumpkins are being carved and arranged in risque manners to depict the unmentionables of the human anatomy. With recent advances in pumpkin-carving technology, mankind in all its debased wretchedness has taken that new knowledge and combined it with the worst of his imagination to show pumpkins not as a vegetable the way God intended (or is it a fruit?) but rather as a a person’s hindquarters. I, for one, am aghast.

So people, what are we going to do about it? What happened to the good ol’ days when the only thing you could carve into a pumpkin were triangle eyes, a nose and perhaps some semblance of what could only be called a gingivitis-ridden mouth? With the onset of this monstrosity, who know what tomorrow will hold? We’re coming upon winter; I shudder at the implications this has for the hundreds of thousands of snowmen that will be constructed this year. Modesty, people, is the key.

A very concerned sojourner (me, not the guy below…but he looks like a sojourner too)

My oh my, where do I begin? What an amazing blessing this conference has been! This post could very well be 20 pages in length if I were to adequately respond to all that has gone on here in the last 48 hours. As expected, my opinion has altered slightly since my last post, although “nuanced” is perhaps a better word. I was corrected in my critique of cohorts, and am planning on attending one soon. There was so much great dialogue on both sides of the debate, so much that I want to address, but I’ll restrain myself from “being in the judge’s seat” as TallSkinnyKiwi put it. I accept that criticism from him knowing how my brothers and sisters can be at WTS, but as Mark Traphagen noted, there are many of us here who are simpathetic to much of the EM and I for one am excited to see how the evangelical church can assume what I consider to be invaluable assets of this movement. For me this would, of course, attempt to maintain the Reformed theology while incorporating the missiology and cultural sensitivity so prevalent in the EM (I don’t consider this to be an impossible task!)

One issue that my friend and fellow student Keely raised concerning all this is one I found to be of great importance. It seems that all the current leaders of the EM are all very theologically educated in various backgrounds (again, I can’t say this is universally true, but it is for all the leaders I’ve encountered so far). TallSkinnyKiwi even notes his appreciation of being able to step back and look objectively upon his Reformed history. This, brothers and sisters, is an invaluable gift. We must all look upon our past traditions with scrutiny and constantly measure that against the unchanging truths of Scripture. But what about the people who come to Christ under the EM? What objectivity do they have? I’m afraid the next generation of EM will find itself ignorant of the rich heritage of the variuos historical traditions and simply avoidant of anything dogmatic. To put it metaphorically, I see them being raised on whipped cream by men and women who were fed with beef but didn’t like the plate on which it was served. Is this a fair observation? I’d love to hear some thoughts from the EM folk on this.

All that said, I simultaneously feel a great bond in Christ by mere virtue of the Missio Dei, what God is doing globally through the EM as well as the traditional church. I thank God for all the diversity of His Church and the fact the we are all brothers and sisters in Christ with actively passionate hearts for serving Him. My hope is that here iron shall sharpen iron and we will seek to draw upon the rich assets of our respective approaches to missiology, ecclesiology and what it means to be in the world but not of the world. My goodness, what better theme to discuss on a site dedicated to the life of the sojourner! May God bless us all in our sincere endeavors to make it all about Him and not about us.

A Sojourner

This weekend Westminster Theological Seminary is hosting its annual theological conference. This year’s theme is the Emerging Church. As for me, apart from what I found out on Wikipedia, this is my first real taste of this sweeping phenomenon. And so far, I gotta say I’m not impressed. No movement can survive by stressing one small aspect (or even several aspects) of what the Church is called to be completely. For the Emerging Church those aspects seem to be the following: missiology and ecclesiology. Noticeably missing from this list is theology. Admittedly so, the EM (Emerging Movement) stresses praxis, but not theology. In practice then, you can have several churches that aline themselves with the EM, yet have polemically opposing doctrines. This seems to be an attempt at catering to the post-modern resistance to metanarratives; the speaker today, Scot McKnight, even claimed the EM to be “post-systematic theology”.

Now I can understand and even appreciate the recognition of the need for reform in evangelical circles, but I don’t think this is a healthy approach. First of all, it isn’t sustainable. To be an Emerging Church, the body must agree with the goal and vision of the EM (hmmm, this doesn’t sound very post-modern). But if you have several churches claiming to be the same thing (whatever that “thing” is), sharing a goal and vision yet preaching whatever they want, there is only one eventual certainty: self-destruction. This is actually already happening within the EM circles as one leader has even gone as far as calling another’s teachings heretical. Of course the same thing could happen in a denomination like the PCA (oh, by the way, EM doesn’t have denominations, they have “cohorts” which is just a post-modern name for denominations; change the name of somthing and all of a sudden its new and exciting). Yet there is a system in place for such eventualities, and at least when a person goes to a PCA church, he/she has a pretty good idea of what to expect from the pulpit.

Hear I would like to insert a disclaimer that I have not actually attended a church that is part of the EM and my opinion as of now is flawed at best. I have no doubt that my view will change with that experience, but yet the flexibility that I described above concerning theology is still probably better labled “weakness” and that as much as our post-modern world cries out for flexibility, at the end of the day, what it wants and what it needs are quite different. I think of 2-year-old screaming to get his way, but what he’s really screaming for is to have guidelines, some sort of rigidity with which he can know, “Ok, this is permissible to do, but this is not.”

Does the post-modern context call for us to respond differently with the gospel than we have been? Most certainly. But I do not think this requires us to smack systematic theology over the head with a shovel and throw it in the river. EM claims to be “post-systematic”. That term was never really fleshed out, and I’m not quite sure what that means, but it certainly does imply a divorce and more importantly the idea that the new conception is more enlightened than the old (this, you may recognize is a stalwart of post-modern thinking). One must always be cautious when treading in those waters: to promote something new (or emergent), one should be very certain that what is new is changing the inadequate parts of what was old and not simply responding to the demands of the secular society in which he lives.

Which brings me to the 2nd reason why EM isn’t a healthy approach: it’s superficial. They’ve done away with doctrine (theoretically, but not practically; even non-denominational churches adhere to a very particular doctrine), or at least calling it doctrine since post-moderns seem to shiver at the mere mention of the word. But here is where I find something extremely insightful on their part, something that we as evangelicals need to incorporate into our ecclesiology: creative worship. EM is all about incorporating the arts and involving all the senses in worship. God gave us all our senses, why not use them? Amen, brothers! But putting me in a low-lit room and sitting me in front of a bunch of candles at a “worship station” (the video atop is an example of this) isn’t really going to cut it. I give post-moderns more credit than that. They may suspect metanarratives and be wary of traditional doctrine, but they’re not superficial. It’s like the youth group sunday school rooms we all know and love: on the walls are posters of the greatest Christian rock bands like Petra and D.C. Talk taped up crooked because that’ll make all this God-stuff relevant to the crazy teens. We can’t sacrifice sound doctrine or a solid foundation for relevance. Their focus on missiology, ecclesiology, social justice and involved worship are quite warranted; we as evangelicals need to wake up and see the needs (both spiritual AND physical) of the world around us. Yet it is my opinion that this approach will draw in a great and curious crowd, but after a while the crowd will find itself malnourished and sucking on dust.

A Sojourner

Below is Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church in NYC, speaking on the EM.

Well, this is my second attempt at getting “with it”; my first atttempt at blogging was ill-fated and met its demise shortly after it began. Hopefully this will last a little longer. As you may or may not be able to assume from the title of my blog, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” this site is dedicated to the life of the believer in this world, specifically about my experiences, both past and present. The overwhelming feeling of all my experiences has been exactly that: there is a feeling that I don’t quite belong here, that I shouldn’t get too comfortable, and that I’m really seeking after Canaan. As a Christian I always feel a bit like a social misfit, even called to be so, yet in the world just the same. Never has this reality made itself so manifest as in my time in Ecuador; a 6’5″ ghastly white blonde guy hasn’t much hope to blend in with Ecuadorians. Yet lessons learned there about what it means to live as a sojourner will stay with me all the days of my life. Surely these lessons will be the themes of future blogposts. I hope this blog will serve to inform my loved-ones of the going-ons of my life as well as generate thought and dialogue concerning issues related to our pilgrimmage on this terrestrial ball. For now I’ll leave you with this incomplete yet provocative quote from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed,

“It doesn’t really matter if you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your arms lie in your lap; the drill drills on.”

I’ve purposefully left this quote out of its context to see how people respond to it, for in its context Lewis is making a very profound assertion about suffering and grief. May this be a blessing to your heart as well as mine.

A Sojourner