Monday, March 30, 2009

Michael Wittmer Visit - Reflections

Michael Wittmer spoke this past Friday night on his book Don't Stop Believing. He said the book was intended to reach out to those in the Emergent church and to say "We hear you" and we can learn from you but we can't use orthopraxy as an excuse to throw away orthodoxy. The question he has asked Emergent leaders is "whether there were any beliefs that were necessary to follow Jesus. If so, what are they? And if not, why not?" He's never been given a straight answer. This seems to be par for Emergent people. When Pete Rollins was asked if he believed in the resurrection of Jesus he answered "Every time I feed the poor." Wittmer says this isn't an answer. It's being cute. The issue is too important and the answers continue to be evasive. Wittmer has found that too many simply want ammunition in order to show why this or that one is wrong. That's not his intent. His solution is not a middle way but rather "both and." Why must it be belief or practice? Why not both? Wittmer said he worked hard in the book to avoid taking cheap shots at his opponents. That does not help the dialogue. As a matter of fact each chapter begins with a problem he recognizes in his own tradition. It's not as if we were not doing some of the things the Emergent people are talking about, it's that we could do it better. Wittmer says the movement seems to be getting more liberal with regard to doctrine. As an example Wittmer points to the fact that original sin has now been abandoned by Tony Jones. The next domino to fall, says Wittmer, is the deity of Christ. I came away from this event with a lot to think about. But one thing sticks out. Wittmer commented on some of the various interpretations some in the Emergent community have come up with on passages in the Bible. He asked Brian McLaren for reasons why he interpreted Matthew 7:14 (For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few) as referring to the Roman Empire instead of the traditional sense of salvation. McLaren said, while he could be wrong, it might just be right. Wittmer observed that this is no argument. No rationale is given other than he "might be right." Wittmer then referred us to a parable told by Kierkegaard on the "kings decree." I found the reference in the book he cited, Is There a Meaning in This Text?, by Kevin Vanhoozer. A king gives a decree and instead of complying with it the "king's subjects begin to interpret. Each new day sees new interpretations of the ordinance; soon the populace can hardly keep track of the various offerings: 'Everything is interpretation--but no one reads the royal ordinance in such a way that he acts accordingly.'" (16) Wittmer said he sees this same thing happening by those who don't want to face the reality of what a text is saying so they propose another interpretation with little or nothing to support it. I couldn't agree more with this assessment. The evening went very well with many excellent questions raised by those who came. Wittmer is a great example of someone who can dialogue with graciousness and still hold firm to certain fundamentals of the faith. Those who would like to know more can visit Wittmer's blog. You won't be disappointed. For comments from another person who was at the event go here.


Andrew said...

Thanks for hosting Mike Wittmer. I enjoyed his talk and was especially blessed by the conversation afterward. The Q & A portion of the evening made it obvious to me that issues of emerging Christianity and post-modernity are still a strong concern for most churches, and will likely continue to be for some time to come. I was glad for the questions that were asked and hope the evening was a fruitful one for everyone there - regardless of where you might land on an issue.
Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

This is all well and good, but postmodernism does not exist! So why are we trying to label it as part of the emergent movement, which probably also does not exist. If there is a philosophical paradigm being followed today, it is not any better or worse than the previous one, or the next one. Each has good and bad aspects. It seems to me that the best thing churches can do is actually read some philosophy rather than just repeating cliche catchwords they hear around the internet. God at creation created us to be "like him." This means we have a divine mandate to not be boring and trite. I enjoy Wittmer, I enjoyed him in class, and I enjoy reading his books, but lets get beyond misquoting Kierkegaard! :-)

mikewittmer said...

You don't provide a shred of evidence to support any of your claims: that postmodernity does not exist, that Vanhoozer misquotes Kierkegaard, that we don't read philosophy, or that we are boring and trite. Your post is an anonymous mugging, and as such represents the cowardly worst that the Internet can be.

Andrew said...

Agreed, some evidence/support would be nice.

For what it's worth, ever since postmodernism became a topic talked about by the average Christian (say, over the last 5 years) I've heard more philosophy being taught from the pulpit, read by small groups, and discussed in the pews than ever before.

And as for the "divine mandate not to be boring" - that made me laugh out loud! You're doing a good job of keeping us from being bored with vehement anonymous replies!