Friday, April 28, 2006

Which Hell?

I had found myself prepared to dismiss much of the emerging church discussion. Some of the voices and thier distance from orthodoxy led me to turn my back. Then I had lunch with one.

On Tuesday, at the National Conference on Preaching with Pete and Scott, We went to eat with Doug Pagitt, a leading voice in the movement and the pastor of Solomon's Porch, kindof. As it happens, he and Pete played basketball together in undergrad and I am so very thankful to have been included. Three hours later, we finally re-entered the conference.

Doug is fascinating, both in his sincerity of pursuit and in his courage of conviction. While we differ in our views on the early expressions of Christianity and the roles of scripture and authority, it was a wonderfully stimulating discussion and at times convicting. I have held a silent belief that those on the edges would take us back to discussions of myth and would fade from the scene, but Doug changed my view. We cannot merely form our positions and step away. We must engage.

He forced me beyond my categories and it stirred things up both in my home and in my early morning Greek class. Some of the emerging leaders are challenging the ideas of orthodoxy and the expression of a single form of Christianity. Doug would be more comfortable to speak of various Christian expressions appearing in differing regions during the first few centuries. I would have been more comfortable to speak of heresy error. He would attribute the efforts of the early fathers to silence early dissenters to both fear of loss and an overt influence of Greco-Roman philosophy. In Greek on Thursday, a Latin reference led to a linguistic question I honestly thought would last only a few seconds. It lit a spark in Dr. J and I was surprised to find yet another passionate voice in facing the issues of postmodernism and the nature of truth and authority (Dr. E later that morning; I already knew about Dr. K).

It seems we have all been wanting to ignore the gospel of Judas--some have even ridiculed it. But our emerging friends are paying close attention and even embracing the questions. To those on the outside, confused by the Da Vinci code, they look like heroes. This is a discussion we must enter. An arena that cannot be ignored. As Dieter Zander echoed on Tuesday, I don't think postmodernism is the destination; it is the change to a new culture we can not yet see. If we're not careful, we will lose the ability to help frame the discussion as we move into this new place. I asked Doug about ideas of separation and judgment. He quickly went to my real question--"Do you believe in Hell?" He replied, "Which Hell--the place of the dead in the Old Testament, the chasm of Abraham's bosom or the lake of fire in Revelation?"

I fear in Doug an absence of any source of authority outside his community. He fears in me a reliance on boundaries set for a different age and a blind trust in the authorities of the past. This is a conversation that must be had. And it must be had with brothers and sisters who are sincere in their pursuit of Christ, even if we wouldn't always agree on exactly what that means. I've know for a long time that we came to seminary to prepare for the postmoderns. It seems I'm too late. Doug, if you see this, then thank you. I would love to follow up with another lunch someday--on me.


sekondstory said...

Whoa! Your gonna have to hold my hand through this one. I'm way interested but way lost.

murph411 said...

Luxury - Urgency

Nathan Merrick said...

um...i wish i knew what you were talking about...

andy said...

I just got back from the festival of faith and writing at Calvin college, and this sounds very much like some conversations I both heard and took part in...

deersnake said...

Interesting comments - can't wait to unpack your thoughts.

Matthew Pascal said...

Wow, Steve. I'm quite encouraged to know that you are jumping into these deep waters head first... I'm glad to know I'm not the only one gasping for air in trying to figure all of this out. Talk to you soon friend.

sekondstory said...

Steve, riddle me this? What is the Emergent Church? Do they have a specific theology? Doctrine? Throw me some crums.

AmberShea said...

Steve i would love to hear more about this tomorrow! see you at the airport at 3:08!: )

Matthew Pascal said...


I'm not all that well versed in the "emergent church," but I can give you a basic idea of what it is. Basically it is a movement within (mostly western) Christianity that has arisen as a reaction to the influence of modernism in Western Christianity. (Some call this movement the post-modern church, and its adherents post-modern Christians.) Modernism said that we can figure everything out through science and reasoning, and to some extent post-moderns are rejecting this, and even asking; What is reason? What is truth? Is there absolute truth? Is there really a right or wrong?

It is in this culture/thought process that the Emergent Church has been birthed.

One tricky thing however is that it is difficult to really say what the Emergent Church is, and what it's theology is, because it does vary greatly, with really no centralized leadership structure saying what it's doctrine is. There are however a few things that most "Emergent Christians" would say are central to the Emergent Church's core values. They are:

1. A Narrative theology. This seeks to present faith and the Bible in a more narrative/story-telling type of approach rather than using a systematic theology.

2. Missional living. They emphasize going out into the world and being a part of the world rather then isolating oneself from the world by staying inside of a christian community.

3. Christ-likeness. They place a very high value on the worship and emulation of Jesus. (While this is wonderful, I would say that this has the danger of being taken to far in some of these "emergent" circles at the expense of the importance and value that can be found in much of the rest of the New Testament teachings. For example, many of the Pauline letters are being neglected as tools for Godly living and sound theology by some of these proponants. However the other side of the argument is that this is a reaction to some people/churches/theologies placing a higher value on Pauls teachings then on the Gospels and Christs techings.)

4. Authenticity. Emergent Churches are seeking to be relevant to the post-modern culture in which we are now living by finding culturally relevent ways of living out and preaching the Gospel.

That is obviously an extremely overly simplistic definition of what the "Emergent Church" is, but hopefully it will help you to get a better idea. Some of the more "popular" thinkers and pioneers in this movement who have writeen some books that you might be interested in checking out are:

1. Brian McClaren (author of "A New Kind of Christian," "The Story We Find Ourselves In," and "A Generous Orthodoxy")

2. Dan Kimball (author of "The Emergin Church")

3. Donald Miller ("Blue Like Jazz" and "Searching for God Knows What")

Hope that helps!

texnartist said...

Brian McClaren is one of the loudest voices of the Emergent Church. On his website he has an interview where he denies the existance of Hell. He is asked is Christ the only way to Heaven, his response is basically - the idea of Hell as presented in the Bible is not correctly understood implying that because there is no Hell it doesn't matter if Jesus is the only way. Listen for yourself 4:45 into the second link:

What modernism did to Europe The Emergent Church has the potential of doing to The American Church.

deersnake said...

I don't know much about this movement either, but I admit there are some intriguing points made by a few of these post-modern authors - Donald Miller & Rob Bell.

One thing I always question about "movements" is how is this so different? While the questioning of absolute truth and narrative theology (whatever that is) sounds and seems distinctly different, how, at it's core, is Christ-likeness any different? Don't we, as Christians, want to be the face of Christ in the world? And authenticity? Can't you argue that it is a function of Christian maturity?

I don't have a lot of answers, but I like giving my faith room to ask questions (supposedly a post-modern tenet). I also like wrestling with this, because I am trying to know Him more along the way. I'm so glad I have the Bible to guide me.

Lastly, one thing with the Emergent Church that I do fear is legalism and pride. Some of this comes across sounding like attempts at becoming "better Christians" than those "plain-old Christians."