last friday CT’s main page featured an interview with mark driscoll. when asked to differentiate between reformed and emergent theology, driscoll responded thus:
“The two hot theologies today are Reformed and emerging. Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent. Emerging theology offers obscurity, with a neutered God who would not say an unkind word to us, did not crush Jesus for our sins, and would not send anyone to hell.”
before i say anything, i would like to offer the following qualifications:
a) driscoll was obviously trying to provide a quip or quotable quote that would stick with the reader. he is an extremely bright man who is not afraid of theological complexity, so i am not going to prop up this isolated comment as a straw man.
b) emergent is not a monolithic group that has a written statement of faith and/or embraces a particular theological tradition. thus, the mere term “emergent theology” is a rather egregious misnomer.
c) i have been thinking about this interview for several days now and last night turned it over time and again in my head as i drank beer, chased it with wine and alternately stared at sunday night baseball and the moon (hence, the bad poetry that precedes this post). yet i have yet to reduce my ruminating to any substantial conclusions.
now that we’ve got that out of the way, i’d like to confess that although i was repulsed by the patriarchal*, theologically reductionistic and philosophically certain synopsis of the gospel, i sometimes wish i could reduce my theology or mission to a sound bite.
in fact, i’ve been so attracted to driscoll’s simplicity that i’ve given the sound bite theology thing a try. in my mind, i’ve envisioned a well-intentioned seeker asking me “what is the gospel?”** and i’ve responded by saying:
a) “it’s just about following Jesus.” i think there is a whole lot of truth in this simple assertion, but it tends to ignore the rather large part that the Christian tradition and our cultural setting plays in shaping our understanding of who Jesus was and what following Jesus really means. this sound bite also sounds a bit too “JEPUSAy” for my taste. i don’t mean to be prideful, but i don’t want my life script to read like a grade school adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar.
b) “the gospel is an invitation to believe that Jesus is the way to God and an opportunity to live in the way of Jesus.” okay, right up front i’ll admit that is one catchy statement. however, the former part of the assertion simply begs questions about the exclusive nature of Christ’s salvation (something i definitely believe in, but am less and less sure how his salvific act operates) and the back end of the assertion would be much stronger if i fleshed it out in a more concrete way (like the L’Arche community does when they say they are a community that focuses on forgiveness and celebration and serves as a sign of hope in the world)***
c) ugh, i don’t really know what else to say so insert your own pithy response here:
i know that i am not alone in my antipathy towards christian jingoism and twelve-step Christian spirituality. in fact, a little birdy told me that even the high, holy gods that sit on the throne of emergent village – which i’ve heard is located somewhere between minneapolis and st. paul – find it incredibly difficult to reduce the mission of the emergent village or the unique contribution we are making to the Kingdom of God into words of wisdom, quotable quotes or even reader’s digest sayings for those loosing hope. however, whether we want to admit it or not, i think that being able to simplify our understanding of the gospel is essential for inviting others to the way of Jesus. moreover, i believe that clear statements of mission will be absolutely essential if we are ever going to participate with God in the replication of churches.
so if you’ve got answers, please share them and so throw a line to an old friend who is afraid of drowning in abstractions.
* i know, i know, this perspective on gender is often called complementarianism and a more generous sort would use that less inflammatory handle to describe driscoll’s thought. i suppose i’m simply a fan of calling things what they are. sue me.
** i am well aware that the chance of someone asking me such a question is about as likely as an unknown atheist bumping into me on the subway and saying “brother, what must i do to be saved? this is a hypothetical scenario, keep your realism to your damn self.
*** in case you are wondering, yes, it always does come back to L’Arche for me. if you are single and you want to learn to love people and practice an earthy spirituality, go serve with daybreak!