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Emerging Theologies

January 22, 2009 5 comments

Reading Alister McGrath’s “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” bring to mind some of the tensions in the theologies of our present era. McGrath writes about the range of Reformation theologies (which I’veĀ  also head referred to as Reformation vs Restoration movements). While Luther was conservative in his appeals for reform, focusing on the what he deemed as essential while protecting the historical rhythm of the church others rejected church tradition entirely and anything connected with it: rejecting everything from infant baptism to the Trinity.

Luther recognized the dangers of these extremes (and rightly so I think). Where do you stop and how do you end up with anything unifying truth that connects the people of God? In the beginning of the transformation, everything was up for grabs and all sorts of ideas and extreme expressions emerged. These may have had value in driving the question and helping the move as a whole seek for common unifying themes against the extreme dangers.

There are many threads worth teasing out in this short summary like the seeds of post-modern thought are already present before the “modern’ period (ala deconstruction). But what I also see is that the movement (just like movements in art, culture, philosophy and so on) had to push to extremes during the change. But gradually a moderated version emerged as dominant. Small strains never completely died out, but a large enough middle movement remained that eventually provided a place for unity among fellow “Protestants.”

Today we are in a similar time of radical change. We are going back to the source, and in our move, everything is on the table. The drive back to the source is seen in a widespread acceptance and emergence of Biblical Theology versus Systematic Theology. Yet within the groups of those seeking chnage there are a wide range of theologies. The crumbling of modern foundations early in the 20th century, made room for a range of extreme theologies that were politicized (Feminist, cultural and other theologies), philosophized (Existentialist and such), , economized (Marxist vs. Market driven theologies) and so on.

Today we see a range of emerging theologies that once again are willing to put everything on the table and question everything, including texts, doctrines, praxis and so on). In spite of the dangerous edge that some seem to skate along, all these theologies play an important role in helping define the conversation and the crisis. But I expect that over time a middling set of thelogies will emerge once again to bring a unifying forces to many Protectant (and possibly even Catholic) churches.

Sources of Vision

January 10, 2009 Leave a comment

The last post talked about the challenges of translating vision, and I want to think through and write more about that. But for now, here are some notes I made during a recent discussion in our monthly idea night on sources of vision.

Triumphalist Visions – Immediately someone asked, “What about Babel?” How does Babel relate to vision. Wow. Good question. Not all visions are positive. Many visions, even good ones, are triumphalist. In other words, the vision is more important than the people involved. Based on the pattern of God’s dealing with man and nations throughout the Old Testament, I would assume that Babel, in addition to some form of man-oriented worship, was oppressive.

Scripture reveals a pattern that when other gods move into the position of the Creator-Covenant God, people are enslaved. I would suggest that many modern visions, including ones that came from Christians, were triumphalist in nature. The drive to enflesh these visions meant crushing, oppressing and wounding people. Many great visions have broken many relationships. And this is a problem.

So what can we learn from triumphalist visions? We can learn the dangers of vision. We can gain wisdom. We can realize that our vision is subservient to the Creator-Covenant God and that neither we nor our vision can displace the Sovereign rule of King Jesus. So there is value in studying visions gone awry. Sadly, the Reformation spawned many tragic triumphalist visions, and some with disastorous results.

Consider the Munster Rebellion. The leaders took over a city and created their own version of “heaven on earth.” The end result was tragic and makes me think of how many cults begin with a good vision that goes awry. The leader of leaders displaces King Jesus’s Lordship and become little Pharoahs. Eric Hoffer tells the tale of the prophet in the dungeon who rails against the king. Gradually he climbs out of the dungeon. And eventually reaches the king who hides in the tower. The prophet promptly kills the king, declares himself king and immediately locks up all the other prophets. This parable is played out again and again in churches, ministries, governments and families.

As we seek to cultivate vision, may we learn from the failure of others and hold our own visions lightly, trusting that King Jesus is not reliant upon us, we are reliant upon Him.

Failed Visions – Alongside triumphalist visions, we might consider visions that were good but somehow didn’t have the resources to translate the vision. Someone mentioned the community of Rugby. Some English gentry founded this community in Tennessee with wonderful visions of a society that could be. One problem. They didn’t have the ability or resources to sustain this community over time. Today it stands because some folks saw the historic purpose but in reality, it is a community that time left behind.

American history is scattered with a wide-range of communities that started and flourished for a season only to fade or fail over time. From the Shakers to the communes of the Jesus movement. In each of these visions, we can learn many things. We can listen and learn from the visions as well as the problems people encountered in translation. One thing I see is that sometimes one group has part of a vision and part of the resources, but they need relation with others who can bring completion and resources. This is difficult because visionaries sometimes struggle with relationships. But we cannot fulfill the vision of the kingdom alone. It requires people working together, and entering conflict, and learning how to forgive and somehow learning how to continue serving and helping one another over time.

I’ve got more notes, but I want to watch a movie, so I’m stopping for now.

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