Pointing to the problems of making truth claims to a culture cynical of adjectives like objective or absolute the church will only find its good intentions rejected. "…arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They're wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture," said McLaren.The seminar certainly succeeded in avoiding touchy theological points but instead focused on the larger issue of Kingdom imperatives. No argument there. The Church needs to hear a lot more about being a community contributing to God’s Kingdom within our social reality - without resorting to triumphalism or tokenism. In recent years men like Mark Noll, David Wells, and Ronald Sider have also lamented the scandal of our evangelical digression. On this score Brian is on the same page. Where they differ however is the coherence of a theological mandate founded upon a ‘fixed centre’ (Pascal), which seems the least important in Brian’s dialectic.
The alternative as every emergent reader would know is not to ditch our allegiance to Christ or Scripture, but build authentic communities that draw people the way Jesus himself drew the masses, especially the marginalised, to himself. I think we can all agree with that. There is no question about the need to live authentically as a vibrant community expressing kingdom values in all its demands. But the niggling question is, is that all, and if not, in what way do we have to think about being 'relevant'?
Some of Dr Alex Tang’s 9-point observation squares with quite a few evangelicals who fear Brian’s deconstruction of truth (after Grenz) and his emphasis on a less precise notion which is described simply as “being in sync with God” (NKOC) – which arguably sits better with a postmodern sense of spirituality. A whole bunch of people are understandably disturbed, some of whom have articulated their concerns in a hard hitting compendium titled, Reclaiming the Center. It's not a boxing ring for the timid, this book. While Brian claims not to have denied the basic tenets of faith (i.e., Nicene Creed) they may unfortunately be diminished due to the emergent worldview (is there one?) he professes, and because of what appears to be waffling on his part. However Scott Mcknight in an excellent piece attributes the misunderstanding to prophetic rhetoric (or ‘exaggeration’ as Brian admits). It would be assuring if Brian's considerable literate skills clarify the specifics, as theologian John Frame reminds us, God and the devil are in the details.
I was amused when at the forum Dr Voon Choon Khing to everyone’s delight said she couldn’t understand the flak Brian was getting: “Give the man some respect; he’s not stupid.” I too believe Brian to be a sensitive and intelligent man whose soul-searching over real issues has ignited our imagination. As a creative thinker, Brian’s vision can be infectious. Where he gets it right about the church in community, I sense compassion and a genuine desire to loose the church into a world that badly needs salt and light. The ongoing argument is tiresome, but I also happen to believe that serious real estate is at stake in the long term. So what price relevance? Theological reflection demands a rigorous and robust engagement, therefore this part of the conversation is just as needful. Well. As Pas Fong Yang said, the church is reformed and reforming.
Nevertheless I belong to the ‘old’ school. As much as I subscribe to aspects of Brian’s perspectives on the new kind of Christian and his articulation of Jesus’ secret message, it is my conviction that knowledge is not the main or only cause of the Church’s present complacency: it is loving Jesus by obeying Him, which is the crux of true discipleship. It is loving God by loving our neighbour, which is the heart of servanthood. Sadly, obedience, that act of dying to self which is so antithetical to every generation (perhaps more so in this present one) has been bartered for personal fulfilment and heaven on earth. Similarly, old-fashioned holiness is no longer a virtue to pursue while God Himself has been domesticated and no longer feared. That’s a hard message for a world more inclined towards soft options and multiple choices. Perhaps that’s what’s missing. Brian’s ‘nemesis’ D.A. Carson notes:
"People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."We need to dream the dream of God, as much as we need to have the mind of Christ. We need to reform the way we do church as much as we need to reaffirm the authority of God’s unchanging Word. We need men like Brian as much as we need scholars like Carson. As long as we’re talking, I’m hopeful.