Should We Be Emerging? Post-evangelical: Post-systematic theology

McKnight says,

 The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. 

He says the emerging movement is “post-systematic theology” and “in versus out.” We begin with post-systematic theology (which is just so Alexander Campbell) —


The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don’t read systematics, but because the diversity of theologies alarms us, no genuine consensus has been achieved, God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology. It just doesn’t have an airtight system or statement of faith. We believe the Great Tradition offers various ways for telling the truth about God’s redemption in Christ, but we don’t believe any one theology gets it absolutely right.

For a classic work in this kind of thinking, read Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal / conservative, mystical / poetic, biblical, charismatic / contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist / Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed — yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. (Surely that’s a record for a book title!) It’s a good read, and largely (not entirely) persuasive.

Consider the war over Calvinism and Arminianism that’s beeen going on for 500 years! Do we wait another 500 years hoping someone will win, or do we put the fight behind us and work together, figuring we’ll all learn the answer together in heaven?

As I’ve argued in the Searching for a Third Way series, many of these arguments are both wrong — although there’s truth in both positions. And does anyone really care about consubstantiation — other than the sinful pride in thinking you’re smarter than Martin Luther? (You’re not.)

Hence, a trademark feature of the emerging movement is that we believe all theology will remain a conversation about the Truth who is God in Christ through the Spirit, and about God’s story of redemption at work in the church. No systematic theology can be final. In this sense, the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, “This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk.”

Now Campbell was brilliant, well-educated, and had strong opinions. He knew what he believed. But he cared little for many of the very same disputes McLaren dismisses —

Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact [that Jesus is the Christ], upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution [of baptism]; and whether he believes the five points condemned, or the five points approved by the synod of Dort, is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such persons, in order to admission into the Christian community, called the church. The only doubt that can reasonably arise upon these points, is, whether this one fact, in its nature and necessary results, can suffice to the salvation of the soul, and whether the open avowal of it, in the overt act of baptism, can be a sufficient recommendation of the person, so professing, to the confidence and love of the brotherhood.

“Foundation of Christian Union,” The Christian System (2d edition 1839), p. 129. Again, Campbell personally rejected the “five points approved by the synod of Dort” (made famous by the TULIP acronym), but he denied that such “opinions,” as he called them, had anything to do with salvation. He and McLaren would have enjoyed one another’s company immensely.

Now, if you read McKnight’s blog, called Jesus Creed, you’d find it’s very theological. He has opinions, and he knows more on most theological subjects that most of our preachers. He loves God’s word and loves trying to understand it. He’s just not dogmatic. 

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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