Listening to the Emergent Church

I am just about to finish the book Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, Robert Webber, ed. It’s an interesting read, and a helpful introduction to the theological issues involved. (I expect several upcoming blogs entries on material found in this book.) One of the essays included raises some issues with me: “The Emerging Church and Embodied Theology,” by Doug Pagitt.

Pagitt states on p. 137:

I hold that a reading of history ought to instruct us to create ways of thought that are useful but temporary. Complex understandings meant for all people, in all places, for all times, are simply not possible. Language, situation, specific issues, and people’s own preferences and insecurity all are
involved in any belief system. There is no way to make a statement of substantive belief without these kinds of issues at play. So one must make adjustments, even if they are slight, in order to remain faithful.

Let’s focus on “Complex understandings meant for all people, in all places, for all times, are simply not possible.” The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary defines complex as “involved; complicated; perplexing.” So it seems to me we have a complex statement here. I think he just wrote a complex sentence which says that complex understandings of complex sentences are not possible. It seems that, even if the statement were true, we would not be able to understand it. It’s another instance of someone using words and sentences to explain to me that words and sentences can not be explained. That kind of thing gives this small-town boy a headache (especially so since it is intellectually self-defeating). We move on from there to some other comments which prompt me to reach for an Excedrin bottle.

On page 140, “Einstein’s theory of relativity may show that theology suggesting God as “wholly other” than creation may be based on an antiquated metaphysical notion.” Someone really needs to explain to me how the fact that approaching the speed of light changes the rules of operation of the know universe has any bearing on theology (I honestly would like to know that). Besides, traditional Christian theology has held that God is immanent as well as transcendent. He is involved in this world. He holds it together. “In [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

On page 141, “Observers of the smallest levels of creation began suggesting that an atom’s location and momentum cannot both be determined at the same time, so we cannot know “everything” about it, and therefore future behavior cannot be know.” Also on page 141, “…Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has replaced Newton’s determined clockwork universe.” Modern quantum physics has been encouraging to me recently. I appreciate much of what is said about the demise of modern science’s closed, mechanical, and hence predictable universe.

It seems to me that God’s existence would be necessary in order to have an orderly, predictable universe given what we now know. It also seems that miracles (God intervening in history) are also possible given these facts.

On page 142:
.. at the atomic level, the observation of something affects the specimen. In this sense there is no way to be an “objective observer.” So if we connect truth to objectivity, we are in a bad place in light of our understanding of the world.

This one really bothered me. I was beginning to be convinced that my objective understanding of the world was inherently flawed. Then I began to closely observe the letters in the sentence on the page. As I observed the last sentence, it changed and said, “… we are in a great place in light of our understanding of the world.” You see, my observation of the words changed their makeup and fundamental meaning.

Obviously I am lying in the last few sentences above. I just wanted to point out that Pagitt has assumed that things do not change in communicating to me that things must change as I observe them. He has assumed objective truth to communicate his views. It seems that whatever happens at the atomic level cannot rationally be assumed to happen at the level of propositional truth.

Would you all please stop using meaningful words and sentences to explain to me why words and sentences can have no meaning? Otherwise I am never going to get rid of this headache.

It is refreshing to me that words and sentences cannot be related as non-meaningful. It is refreshing and encouraging because God used words and sentences to communicate His revelation to us (first in verbal communication, then in written communication). Because we have a God who knows all things at the same time, all things are logical and coherent. There is objective truth in this universe that can be communicated, or He would not have tried.

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