What Did He Mean by That? Part 2

This blog post by Scott Diekmann is Part 2 of a follow-up to his article, “Certainty in a World of Uncertainty,” which was published in the first issue of Around the Word.

I provided a list of words and phrases in the original article that are commonly seen in the writings of postmodern authors.  Each body of thought has its own lingo, and when you see a bunch of these terms grouped together, you’re likely dealing with the lingo of a postmodern liberal thinker:

…incarnating the kingdom, social or environmental activism, uncertainty as a positive thing, redefining Christianity, the Bible as story or narrative, communal truth, God’s female attributes, spiritual disciplines, partnering with God, or multiple buzzwords like ancient, authentic, community, conversation, deconstruction, earth-keeping, imagination, incarnational, inclusivity, metanarrative, missional, reimagining, reinventing, or sustainability….

While some of these words are found in orthodox writings, when you find them flocking together, you can bet they’ve been baked into a social gospel casserole, with a focus on fixing the societal ills of the world, while ignoring our real problem, sin.  For people who are familiar with postmodern theological literature, all of these phrases will immediately ring a bell.  If a bunch of these same themes are recurring in what you’re reading, you’ll know to be careful to observe the context, and ask the question “What did he mean by that?” If you’re confused or get stuck somewhere, your pastor should be a helpful resource.

As always, Jesus remains the way, the truth, and the life.  Our primary focus is on His salvific work on the cross.  Certainly this doesn’t mean we ignore sanctification, good works, and spreading the Gospel, but rather that they occur in response to our having heard the Gospel preached, as we engage the world through our various vocations.  Justification remains our material principle

Questions or comments?  Email me at zanson@msn.com.

Notes:

Here’s a list of some of the other terms used, along with their meanings:

  • Incarnating the kingdom; the postmodern view – God’s kingdom is available here and now if we work to spread God’s message of inclusivity and social gospel.  We are co-creators in the world.  “….The good news was not that Jesus was to die on the cross to forgive sins but that God had returned and all were invited to participate with him in this new way of life, in this redemption of the world.”  Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 54.
  • Uncertainty; the postmodern view – There is no absolute truth, thus we can never be certain of anything.  We’re all fellow travelers feeling our way towards truth. Consider instead Saint Luke’s words to his buddy Theophilus: “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4 ESV).
  • God’s female attributes – Salvation depends on knowing who God is.  When you begin to distort who God is, bad things happen.  This can be as seemingly simple as the gender-neutral NIV Bible or as heretical as goddess worship.
  • Spiritual disciplines – These can be a good thing, such as fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  They can also be a bad thing, when people seek God in ways that he has not promised to be found, such as centering prayer.
  • Authentic – Not necessarily a bad word.  It generally refers to avoiding a fakey act to try and convert someone to Christianity – certainly something to avoid.  It can also be used though as a straw man argument to denigrate orthodox doctrine.
  • Deconstruction – “…The Bible is subjected to radical re-interpretation, often with little or no regard for the plain meaning of the text or the clear intention of the human author.  Texts which are not pleasing to the postmodern mind are rejected as oppressive, patriarchal, heterosexist, homophobic, or deformed by some other political or ideological bias.  The authority of the text is denied in the name of liberation, and the most fanciful and ridiculous interpretations are celebrated as ‘affirming’ and thus ‘authentic.’” Quoted from Dr. Albert Mohlerread this one!
  • Imagination; the postmodern view – A quote from the book Reimagining Christianity by Alan Jones, p. 24: “When we begin to accept our inner plurality, we get less frightened of others who manifest a different tribal mix.  Some of us feel that there is an emerging tribe–the global soul–that is able to see religion as a great work of the human imagination.  Seeing it as a work of the imagination doesn’t make it any less true.  Religion becomes a collective enterprise of cooperation between us and the unknown.  Some of us identify the unknown with Spirit.  Others leave it as the unknown.  But we all participate in the same work of imagination.”

Other references:

Read about labyrinths here or here.

Read about lectio divina, a topic that sometimes causes debate in Lutheran circles, here.

Read about liturgical dance here.

What Did He Mean by That? Part 1

This blog post by Scott Diekmann is a follow-up to his article, “Certainty in a World of Uncertainty,” which was published in the first issue of Around the Word.

If my wife asks me to fix the stove soon, and our definitions of “soon” don’t match, it could be trouble. It works the same way with theology. Your definition of salvation might be completely different from that of the two people standing at your door, and without defining your terms, you might be talking past one another, or praying to different Gods, one of whom doesn’t exist.

In my article “Certainty in a World of Uncertainty” in the maiden issue of Around the Word, I mentioned how one of the more recognizable figures in the emerging church redefines theological terms. While he uses common Christian phrases, some of them take on a heterodox meaning. If you don’t pay attention, what sounds orthodox on the surface might lead you down the wrong trail. I thought I’d elaborate on a couple of these terms that can cause problems, in order to further tune your theological antennae.

One word that’s frequently encountered is missional. You’ve probably heard this term in your own congregation, hopefully in the context of a perfectly sound usage, so it’s not likely to set off any alarms when you hear it elsewhere. Something a little more obvious like “we don’t believe the Gospel is about ‘how you get saved’” would be more likely to get your attention. You’d probably want to know more about what they meant by that statement. But “missional” seems pretty innocuous — until it bites you. An example of a heterodox usage can be found on the Solomon’s Porch website, an emerging church in Minneapolis that’s been heavily influenced by postmodernism. On their old “About Us” page, under the subtitle of “Missional,” they say

Our belief is that God intends Christianity be a way of life which sends us into the world to serve God and our neighbors, so that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. The church is never to be the withdrawn or isolated end user of the gospel of Jesus; rather, we receive it so that we may be equipped and sent into the world to love our neighbors and serve “the least of these.” In this sense, Solomon’s Porch doesn’t have a mission; it is mission.

That sounds like it could be orthodox, until you consider that the leader of their church is either incapable of, or refuses to articulate, an orthodox definition of the Gospel. Without a dead Christ hanging on a cross bearing the burden of your sin, mission means nothing. The details of the definition are important! Or, I suppose I could say, “The Devil is in the details!” (Listen to Chris Rosebrough’s interview of this pastor, beginning around 36:00 to hear how this plays out.)

Another good example is the word community. As the Body of Christ, we are a community united around Word and Sacrament. That’s a good use of the word. But try this use of the word on for size:

No matter the story, no matter the ending, truth is in the narrative. All story is valid, all story, both individual and group, can add to the collective of the community. When we see life as simply a collection of story, we start to understand both our humanity and God’s divinity. The narrative allows for creative, adaptable, nonlinear thinking with group input and an interactivity based on transparency and a living worldview.  [Emphasis added.]

What’s that supposed to mean? Paraphrase: “The truth of Holy Scripture is determined not by the self-evident meaning of the text, but rather truth is found as the Holy Spirit acts on a given community, and determined by the communal conversation as played out in the culture.” This sort of thinking fits in with postmodernism — truth is relative. You have your truth and I have mine. They don’t have to be the same, and truth can change over time. You then end up here: “…A teacher of great worth in postmodern society isn’t the one with the right answers, but the one who can ask the right questions, and then walk the road of discovery with others.” With this sort of thinking propositional truth is permanently thrown out the window, along with the certainty of the Scriptures. This is death for the truth of the Gospel, as Luther pointed out:

For it is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion — in order that we may not be misled by words — I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and invincible persevering . . . .

I am speaking, moreover, about the assertion of those things which have been divinely transmitted to us in the sacred writings. …Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.  [Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, Library of Christian Classics, vol. XVII, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969) 105-106.]

I could go on, but I’m sure you’re beginning to get the idea. Words mean something. They aren’t just abstractions that float in space, and those meanings are determined by their context and the original author’s obvious intent, not randomly assigned based on the mood you’re in, or a politically correct deconstruction of the text (see the notes for the meaning of deconstruction).

To be continued…

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