Saturday, September 22, 2007,10:23 PM
Up/Rooted Panel Discussion - Emergent Freedom to Question
At the up/rooted panel discussion the other night Scot McKnight spoke on the questions that are important to people in the emerging church. These are questions that were (still are) taboo in the evangelical church but which shape the faith journey of emergents. The point isn't so much the answers they land on, but that they feel like they can wrestle with (as opposed to suppress) these questions. Scot listed six main issues of discussion (and yes, this is a horrible paraphrase)-
  1. Scripture & Inerrancy. e.g. Can Genesis contain mythic elements?

  2. Science & Evolution. Instead of giving up the faith when finally exposed to science, can we actually be believers in light of science?

  3. Hypocrisy. Can Christians be genuinely consistent?

  4. Hell. Where did our views of hell even come from?

  5. God. Do we really believe everything the Bible says about God?

  6. Social location. Are most of us Christians because of the happenstance of where we were born?

When issues such as these are seen as beyond the realm of discussion, it forces believers to generally either deny their intellect or walk away from the faith. The emerging church gives people the freedom to ask the honest and hard questions about these things. Instead of being told that "good Christians" don't question the evangelical assumptions about hell or inerrancy, it has become almost the mark of a growing Christian in the EC that you explore those issues for yourself. Of course, I've learned from experience that taking advantage of that freedom to question is not looked upon favorably in many circles. For many just asking a question and thinking for oneself get one labeled as a heretic and results in a quick dismissal from one's job.

But, I think Scot's list is accurate in the issues he sees as central to the emerging conversation. The list could in many ways be the summation of my faith journey this past decade. Those were the question I wrestled with and am still exploring. I'm sure I've gone in different directions than some in the EC, but I've found resonance and a theological home with others. The only big thing I would add to the list is the whole gender question (women in ministry, gender roles...). That is really the issue that sent me down this road to begin with and has remained a central part of my experience of the emerging world. From what I have heard it is also the entry point for others (mostly women) into this conversation as well. I guess I could fit it under one of Scot's categories (scripture, God) and I know that it isn't as taboo of a topic in evangelical churches as others on the list, but I still see it as a vital and in many ways separate category.

What do others think? Are these categories accurate? What would you add?

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posted by Julie at 10:23 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/23/2007 06:37:00 AM, Blogger Helen

    Julie, I think Scot's list is excellent but based on your comments I think perhaps 1) could be reframed in the context of the emerging conversation.

    My sense about emerging Christians is that the Bible is divinely important to them - but they want freedom to explore just how God wants them to interact with it.

    "I believe in inerrancy" generally means more than that; it means "I believe God intends me to interact with the Bible in a particular way". It includes "Paul's rules for women given about 2,000 years ago are to be obeyed forever". It's a continual source of confusion to people outside the Inerrantist world why Inerrantists are certain about this yet also certain they can toss the Mosaic Law aside as superceded. But I digress...

    Conservative Christian Inerrantists and atheists/ex-Christians seem to have trouble understanding the nuanced position of emerging Christians "this book is divinely important and we are in an ongoing exploration of just what that means". Both sides often ridicule emerging Christians for being cafeteria Christians, picking and choosing what they like and discarding the rest (even though this is exactly what Inerrantists do with their rigid systematic theologies which make some verses more important than others and declare which parts of the Bible 'apply to Christians today). Both sides seem unable to grasp the concept of 'divinely important' in a not-completely defined way, a way which calls believers to interact with it and find out what it does to them. I find this very ironicc because I think this is much closer to the Jewish view of the Bible than the conservative Christian approach is.

    Jews didn't seem to get all hung up over 'inerrancy' and 'is it true?' They saw the Bible as divinely important yet had creative freedom to make up stories as they read between the lines - no-one made an issue of whether these were true - the point was that they were learning stories, which raised questions about the human experience. If you buy a Jewish Torah for Torah study, it has the text followed by some of the stories which have been remembered and written down.

    Jews had laws and then they had the stories which they creatively interacted with, because of their 'divine importance'. The conservative Christian approach of basically turning the whole Bible (except the 'superceded' parts) into laws has tragically abandoned the creative richness of the way Jewish people interacted with their 'divinely important' text. If people are made in the image of the creator God that means they are creative also. How can it be right for conservative Christians to strip the creativity out of their experience with the Bible?

    Anyway so what I am saying is, Julie, I think you touched upon something very important in the emerging conversation which Scot didn't directly address in his points, good as they were. I would either edit 1) into a bigger picture question about how people are to interact with the Bible or add another point about that to his list.

  • At 9/23/2007 05:20:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    hey Helen - fantastic points. To be fair, I think Scot was including the different paths emergents take with their views on scripture in point 1. He listed as "inerrancy" mostly because as emergents react to evangelicalism, that is one of the first issues they are forced to take a closer look at.

    I agree that the "inerrant" approach to the Bible limits it and prevents deeper understanding through things like stories. The Bible is in many ways more complex than what many people present it as. It is easier to understand the inerrant position (for conservatives or atheists), more nuanced views are messy, harder to dismiss out of hand, and take true interaction to understand. As always people are more comfortable with the cut and dry, but being "people of the book" is a whole more than that.

  • At 9/23/2007 05:51:00 PM, Blogger Helen

    Thanks Julie.

  • At 9/23/2007 07:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    having grown up in a UMC church with a female pastor, i am always shocked to hear about how much of an issue that remains to be around the country. i mean, i know new jersey isn't Kansas or Texas, but it isn't exactly Massachusetts, either.

    i am curious if you are aware, because i'm very new to all this, if there is any meaningful discussion going on around other kinds of gender issues and/or orientation issues?

  • At 9/23/2007 08:25:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Hey jhimm - To give a short answer to your question - yes, but not nearly enough imho.

    The whole women in ministry issue is something that mainly emergents with evangelical roots deal with. But it is an issue for a lot of mainliners as well when they see that many who label themselves emerging are still opposed to women in ministry (which is sadly, very much the case). The topic pops up from time to time around the emerging blogworld, but is usually stuck on the whole issues of whether or not women are made in God's image or if we can do ministry. I've encountered little in the EC that gets much beyond that. Scot McKnight had a lengthy series that dealt with a number of issue surrounding that debate this past year. Over at Emerging women we try to help women work through these issues and develop the conversation. And I recently posted on the issues women in the emerging church face.

    The whole orientation issue is discussed even more rarely. It is a taboo subject for many and when it is brought up tensions generally flare up. So meaningful conversation that helps one gain better understand hardly ever takes place in public emerging church forums. (this thread is a perfect example of how such a topics derails civil conversation rather quickly).

    I personally would love to see more discussion of gender (including orientation) occurring, but I fear that many emergents still have too many evangelical hang-ups for that to happen soon.

  • At 9/24/2007 07:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


    Thanks for your thoughts. I was stuck in the five minute mode so there was no place for nuance, but these are some of the results I found also as to why some leave Christian orthodoxy.


    The emerging path is a serious path on these issues. We all need to take these things more seriously.

    Scot McKnight

  • At 9/24/2007 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    well if we get more opportunities to interface IRL, i'd love to chat about gender (both women's issues and gender identity issues) as well as orientation issues. maybe we can make up/rooted an exception to an unfortunate rule?

  • At 9/24/2007 02:50:00 PM, Blogger Livingsword

    One of the challenges when discarding inerrancy is grappling with....well everything.

    Once you open the door anything can walk in. You have to be prepared for what the larger culture is engaged in as it will become the predominant view. It is very tempting to transform the Scriptures and therefore God into the likeness of ourselves.

    On the other side of the coin is the predominant “church culture” which also is tempted to transform the Scriptures and therefore God to their likeness.

    I didn’t grow up around Jesus followers, I was an atheist, yet God transformed me at a later age, and one of the ways He did it was by the Scriptures, He performed and is indeed still performing “spiritual surgery” on me. My Bible had no study notes and I had never heard a Church sermon.

    Needless to say I am not a fan of “church culture”, as it often militates against God, and yes often does impose its own culture upon the Bible, but I do not believe that discarding inerrancy is the solution either. I do not believe the Bible itself leaves that “option” open to us, therefore neither does God.

    I believe that the emerging church is showing ALL of the same signs of imposing its culture and societal culture upon the Scriptures as other churches. The cycle continues.

    Before I became a follower of Jesus I had many gay friends (I still do). The Scriptures are extremely clear that homosexual action is a sin (just like straight sex outside of marriage etc). I had a choice, do I conform Scripture to me or me to Scripture, I chose to follow Scripture. I dislike “picking on” this one sin but it has already been mentioned needless to say you can insert another sin if you are sick of hearing about that one.

    Interesting blog, well written and insightful, I will be back, you may want to check out my blogs to get a better idea of where I am coming from as one comment can be a bit misleading.

    My peace I leave you my peace I give you…

  • At 9/24/2007 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Scot - it would have been nice to have more time to discuss the issues everyone raised more in depth. The night felt rush and went long as it was, but that ien the nature of such things.

    jhimm - that would be fun

    livingsword - thanks for visiting and for your comments. I hope you understand that no one is throwing out anything, just critically engaging with scripture. there is no reading of scripture ever that is not influenced by culture, and the concept of inerrancy is much more of a cultural philosophical concept than it ever was a biblical concept. It might benefit you to study the wide spectrum of approaches to Christianity and the Bible. It may help you see that even your approach is influenced by cultures.

  • At 9/24/2007 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Livingsword


    Thanks for your response; just so you know I am not there to be a critic, I see that you engage with people in a fair manner, and I am interested in the topics you dialogue about.

    I have read over 10 books on the emerging church, been to emerging churches, visit similar blogs etc. so I am informed on the topic. I am from Canada which gives it a slightly different “take”. I have found some emergent blogs to be rather inhospitable (read insulting) to a person that believes in inerrancy, but I do not see that here.

    I just don’t happen to comfortably fit into either emergent or traditional churches. They both have their flaws and of course I have my own many flaws!

    I agree with you that I also must be aware of my own cultural entanglements, and how they influence my interactions with Scriptures.

  • At 9/24/2007 08:08:00 PM, Blogger Helen

    I just listened to a talk Mark Driscoll gave last week (Bob Hyatt linked to it on his blog).

    What Mark says is a great example of using the Bible as a Book of Law rather than a resource to help us creatively explore what is truly meaningful.

    I don't understand how the Book of Law approach can seriously claim to be grace-based, because no grace is shown to those who have legitimate concerns about this approach.

  • At 9/24/2007 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Livingsword

    I find the Bible to be all about relationship.

    Our relationship with God and our relationships with one another, it is a relationship book. Keep in mind I’m a guy, a rather manly guy at that but the relationship aspect of the Scriptures are so rarely spoken of. It is spoken of in terms of salvation but not much in terms of sanctification.

    The purpose of law and grace don’t become clear until we see them in view of relationship.

  • At 9/25/2007 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Helen

    livingsword, Scot talks about relationship - that's why he just wrote a book called A Community called Atonement. Communities are all about relationship.

    What Scot said here about time constraints makes sense. Whenever I've heard or seen his comments, and he's had time, he has carefully nuanced what he said.

  • At 9/26/2007 09:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


    i think you may find many emergent bloggers inhospitable to those proponents of inerrancy because so many of us have had used against us as a weapon.

    inerrancy tends to become shorthand for "there is only one interpretation of Scripture" rather than "Scripture represents a complete, holistic, and consistent picture of truth for us to embrace".

    also, in a day and age in which there is more than ample evidence to demonstrate that on a purely textual level the Bible is not "perfect", we may be guilty of seeing those who continue to cling to inerrancy as being either willfully ignorant or unfortunately dogmatic.

    i think like many other things, we need to find a new way to define and embrace spirit of inerrancy while being honest about the reality of the history of the text.

  • At 10/16/2007 09:36:00 AM, Anonymous Magnus

    This last sunday in my church in Sweden we continued to explore this falls Bible theme. In Sweden, as well as other places (?) questions on how to interpret and "incarnate" the Bible are constantly under debate.

    We started out with a little drama about Noah and the arch, later followed by discussions on Genesis 6 and the following chapters. The questions we explored were among others: Did this really happen?

    The story about Noah, and Gods doing away with all evil mankind is intriguing, and in one sense contradictive to other passages. What about Numeris 23:19 where Bileam prophesises that God can not regret?

    It strikes me that Genesis is a book that does not focus on cronology. The texts are clearly written by people who were not eye wittnesses, as opposed to the gospels.

    Gods bidding to Noah resembles the one He gave Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. Is this another version of how the current state came to be?

    Why are these texts here? In the ancient myth / writings of Gilgamesh there are accords of a flood, and this is not the only myth that contains a flood.

    Was there a need to understand why we are here at all, and why chaos does not prevail? In Genesis 1 God orders, ass opposed to letting chaos prevail.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that God has created heavens and earth. (Indeed everything.) But how? And how can we understand and relate to this?

    Also, I have a very strong belief in the accuracy of the documents of the New Testament. Christ is indeed rissen!

    Furthermore there is a possibility that the flood took place, but in my wiew this might not be the point of the story. And really: Giants?