Aug 17, 2009

Emerging Exegesis

When I told my dad I'm doing a Catholic "theology" degree, he said that I should make sure not to sleight Protestant theology. My favorite theologian (so far?) is C.S. Lewis; though not Protestant, he wasn't Catholic, and shares a lot of theology with Protestantism. Dad would probably like that, but I don't think he'd like the other Protestant theologians in whom I'm interested. One is Reinhold Niebuhr, who has been called "Obama's Theologian." I'm not really a fan of Obama, but Niebuhr has some really interesting thoughts on how we mix Christianity, social justice (including war), and government.

The other Protestant "theologians" I'm following are maybe not quite "theologians" but are basically the whole community of the Emerging church. I've been drawn towards the Emerging movement by the influence of post-modern philosophy and the whole "multiple-lens" perspective.

So, I heard about this book on "Community-based Biblical exploration" while listening to an Emergent Podcast. The idea intrigues me, because I've been reading about Biblical Criticism in my book for my Old Testament class, and I've always liked the notion of the Wisdom of Crowds (e.g., wikipedia).

But something in the podcast leaped out at me while I was listening, aside from the fact that the author loves the word 'dynamic' way too much, and I think it summarizes one of the only things I have against the emerging movement.

What we're trying to do is create an additional space for the Bible as a living and embodied word, rather than a static text. ... We really craft what we think are issues that challenge a conservative reading of the Bible where the Bible, in many ways, replaces the Christ. ... Or, in terms of the whole mainline movement where social sensitivity or sentimentality became the basis of faith - so what the Scripture said, if you didn't like, you could dismiss. And we're trying to move beyond that dynamic, and offer space for a living text. And then we circle back to humanity and say we are all deeply flawed people - we've got all kinds of biases and all kinds of problems; but ironically it's when we come together in community that those flaws can become a dynamic of redemption. Because there's no authority out there. If you think about the 11 o'clock hour on Sunday mornings in America and you have millions of authoritative sermons being preached by men and women who like and respect each other but disagree with each other decisively. So if you walked in the wrong door you would hear something entirely different. It's only when community comes together then that our differences become something that's redemptive.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Protestant theology will always have this crisis of authority, though it's especially apparent in post-modern Emerging schools of thought. The first Catholic apologetic book I read - By What Authority - dealt with this issue head on. A return to Catholic theology was the only thing that resolved the crisis for me. In the confines of Sola Scriptura, Protestants are helpless against doubts about the Bible - criticisms, translations, interpretations, rhetoric, application - all must be deferred to faith in the Holy Spirit as preserving the meaning and intent of God's Word in the world. That's a good faith to have - faith in the authority of the Holy Spirit.

Catholics have the same faith and more - we have faith in the authority of Christ who established His Apostolic Church. The Church itself is exactly that community which comes together, in whose differences we develop a deeper understanding of Christ's "good news" of redemption as it lives out in the world. Our Tradition - Scriptural interpretations, liturgy, dogma, disciplines, etc. - have developed over the centuries, also under the guidance and authority of the Holy Spirit, because our individual lives have revealed more fully the collective precepts of the faith. It's the same way this Emerging community is seeking a corporeal development of Biblical understanding, but the Catholic Church has been at it for two thousand years already! (Not to mention this same Tradition gave Protestants the Bible in the first place!)

This authority of Tradition gives rise to some very practical benefits too! Contrasted to the observation on Protestant services above, the Catholic Church maintains a universally consistent 3-year cycle of Scriptural liturgy. So, I can go to Mass in any parish in any diocese on any given Sunday and I will hear the same 3 readings of Scripture because there is authority in the Church liturgy. I will receive the same basic theological instruction from the homilies because there is authority in the Church dogmas and doctrines. It's the authority of the Holy Spirit - breathed on the Apostles by Christ - to establish one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that has lived redemption in community for a couple of millennium already!

So when I read or hear stuff like this, it seems to me like the Emerging movement is trying to recreate Sacred Tradition - the Church coming together as community to live and embody the faith. I think the longing for it is good, but why try to recreate what's already with us? So I decided to join into that community and I find its Tradition to be exactly what I need! It's just one of the areas in which I see the Emerging movement as a stepping stone for Evangelicals back across the Tiber. Come on over! We even have wine! :)


Living A Liturgy said...

Well, iMonk does think Evangelicals will become Catholic in 10 years (or so?). :)

You've probably read Shane Claiborn, then, haven't you? I loved his Irresistible Revolution, probably mostly because he got to work with Mother Theresa.

The lack of authority is really something that has been an issue for me too. As you read in my testimony on iMonk, my dad claiming to have absolute, unquestionable authority in my life really plunged me closer to understanding the authority of the Pope. I actually wrote my dad once saying "If what you say about the authority of the father is true then I would have no problem believing in the authority of the Pope." Authority is something we all need (and probably secretly crave) and it is sadly lacking especially in America. People don't LIKE authority and that's why they are so comfortable because they can choose to ignore or avoid it. But the more I learn about the Church the more I WANT authority, the more I want to be God, to my husband, and to the Church.

So RCIA is on Thursday and this time we should be making it! Tomorrow we are meeting with the teacher to just talk about our journeys, etc, before actually starting RCIA. I am excited to finally talk with someone!


luke said...

I'm excited for you! That will be cool to go thru it with your husband! My wife is still developing her faith in our Emerging church community. We grew up together and I've never seen her live her faith as much or as well as she does with our Emerging friends, so I don't want to push or pull her towards the Catholic Church at all if it's going to throw her current faith into question.

I've read a bunch of Claiborn's stuff online, but none of his books. :( They're on my list, though.

You're so right about the authority of the Pope. I think Shea said something in his book like:

What I never considered was that, while I denied that the authority of the Holy Spirit could flow thru the Pope, I had assumed that same authority of the Holy Spirit flowed thru myself when I decided my own beliefs. In a sense, Protestantism denies the Pope the very same authority that it asserts for every non-Catholic!

Living A Liturgy said...

"Protestantism denies the Pope the very same authority that it asserts for every non-Catholic!"

Ouch...what a good way to look at it! And on top of it, I just plain don't trust myself to interpret scripture. Certainly God can work in me through scripture, but I can't determine much on my own. :)

You sound like a very kind and patient man and your wife will (if not already) very blessed, especially with what (for some) seems to be such a huge thing (converting to the RCC).


luke said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm the more blessed to have a wife who took such a big change right in stride. Even in some of the more spiky Catholic issues like naming a Catholic Godparent for our soon-to-be-firstborn. :)

Liz said...

I was quite excited when I saw your post. It came up on some search I had and I'm so glad I found it.

I was in a Pentecostal church, and go very attracted to the emerging movement. Without going into my whole history, I have now joined the Catholic Church.

I won't go into all my reasons for being attracted to both the emerging church movement and the Catholic church. But I do think that part of the reason why I was attracted to the emerging church is because I wanted to examine my faith. And once I started examing my faith, then the Catholic church seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

One of the main factors that led me to looking into the Catholic church was the fact that there are a lot of Protestant churches out there with many different opinions. And none of them, as far as I could see, had any good reason to say why their opinion was better than all the others. And no authority to say who was right and who was wrong. Whereas the Catholic Church does have that authority.

And the more I read about the Catholic church, the more I find that the teachings of the Catholic Church actally lines up with what I believe. And it's those same beliefs that originally attracted me to the Emerging Church.

luke said...


That's great to hear! The fact that you stumbled into this blog and have the same attitude I think really validates what I've thought for so long - the Emerging movement is a fertile plot for bringing Evangelically-raised Christians back to Rome.

It doesn't always have to be that way, of course. I have many Protestant and Evangelical friends and family who live their faith and their relationship with God in Christ with such amazing sincerity, they make it obvious that God seeks life with us no matter what path we're on.

But I have found trusting the authority of the well-worn path thru Rome has got me to seek God more than I ever had in my other tradition(s).

Saint said...

I dig the Niebuhr as well. Of course, everyone knows that prayer of his without knowing who he is, which is what I've always found interesting.