Finally

You should, of course, never trust a preacher who says, “Finally. . . ,” especially when he’s talking about a subject on which he has no standing from which to claim authority. So, from here on, you’re on your own.

But I really did mean “finally.” When I wrote to Kyle at the end of his course, I adduced four characteristics that look like pertinent signs of “emergence” from this limestone-tower perspective: breadth/depth of participation, decentralization of power, worship that the congregation embraces and understands, and a commitment to a vision of truth that respects both the vitality of staking something on one’s truth-claims with the humility of observing how frequently our most cherished theological forebears have disagreed with one another, or over- or understated the importance of one premise or another. I frequently cite with relief the Church of England’s nineteenth Article of Religion: “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” The Church errs, and when it finds itself in error needs to reassess its ways, repent of errors, and reform its living and manner of Ceremonies, and also its matters of Faith. The modern church came increasingly to identify right doctrine as a basis for exclusion of err-ers, on the premise that a decreasing number of disciples of Jesus actually understood rightly what the Church should be about; an emergent church should, I think, be more ready to endure uncertainty within the church about which controverted topics needed to be determined right here, right now, and the newly-established Bad Guys expelled (or otherwise punished).

The “emerging” spirit about which I’m talking will find a home where people care enough about theological truth to sustain disagreements about it within the community. That doesn’t make truth “up for grabs” or irrelevant (despite what a common knee-jerk response wants to make it). It means that truth comes clear over time, and that however confident we are that our position bears the impress of God’s very own truth, we have not finished learning. Our certain knowledge of the truth about God stands in the shadow of our sister’s equally certain knowledge, and until some extrinsic criterion resolves the disagreement for us, no one of us can afford to stop our ears at what our ardent sibling in Christ would urge us to consider. That attitude may be more “propositional” than “grammatical”; it’s not Lindbeckian-ness that makes “emergent,” but understanding that truth itself has an emergent dimension that can’t be pinned down and put away.

I’ve started calling this a hypomonic relation to truth, alluding to the high value that the New Testament authors put on the virtue of hypomonê, “endurance,” “long-suffering.” Such an outlook trusts that where brothers and sisters disagree, and their faith on matters other than the disputed topic harmonizes with the faith received from the saints, God will in the long run make resolve conflicts that seem in the short run to be intractable. No one gives up their strong truth-claims; they do, however, decline to use truth as a lever for excluding those with whom one disagrees.

That requires me to make explicit my assumption that ont every congregation should be “emergent” (as I sketch emergence here). If your faith is such that your conscience requires you to banish those who permit women to teach in the church, for instance, by all means go ahead — but such a firm conscience will leave little room for the unexpected, and (to belabor a point) “unexpectedness” constitutes one of the touchstone features by which we recognize emergent phenomena.

8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Rick: Excellent comments. But, and I am sure you have thought of this,

    “That requires me to make explicit my assumption that ont every congregation should be ‚Äúemergent‚Äù (as I sketch emergence here). If your faith is such that your conscience requires you to banish those who permit women to teach in the church, for instance, by all means go ahead ‚Äî but such a firm conscience will leave little room for the unexpected, and (to belabor a point) ‚Äúunexpectedness‚Äù constitutes one of the touchstone features by which we recognize emergent phenomena.”

    Could we change to, “if your faith is such that your conscience requires you to shut down those who are not comfortable with female priests… non-celibate homosexual bishops… priests who are part time Druids…” and such…? Would your cautionary remarks still apply?

    Because I fully agree with your notion of hypomonic truth. But still think that “here and now” some things are going just a tad too far. If I change my mind a year from now – well and fine. But right now – there are still some things I believe in with existential (not epistemological!) certitude. I must make decisions and take stands based on what I think now – not on what I might think later.

    And could those who are happy with the direction of, say, the ECUSA, change *their* minds? Or does hypomonic truth move only in one theological/philosophical/ideological/social/cultural direction?

  2. My question may be cleared up by this sentence:

    That attitude may be more “propositional” than “grammatical”; it’s not Lindbeckian-ness that makes “emergent,” but understanding that truth itself has an emergent dimension that can’t be pinned down and put away.

    (I don’t really know what that means) But how does one know the difference between a brother or sister with whom we have a disagreement with and an immoral brother or sister who is to be cast out (for their own good)?

  3. RickW: Well, I am not as expert in postmodernist approaches as some, and therefore may not be able to parse the question completely. But I do think I understand enough to reply,

    1) How do *you* tell the difference?

    2) I suggest that the two alternatives you propose are too extreme and dichotomistic. So we have “disagreement” (over tea and crumpets, I suppose) or “excommunication”. Are those the only choices we have? But in presidential elections, we still have to vote. We still say, “No, I’m sorry, you cannot refuse to hire this person because of the color of their skin” and back that up with whatever power we have. “Disagreement” becomes “convictions” and “policies” – without necessarily becoming full scale “casting out”. We do not merely “disagree” with racism in the church, do we? We *enforce* anti-racism. And we recite this Creed during the Eucharist rather than *that* Creed. We still have to make choices here and now – choices that sometimes get turned into policies and procedures and guidelines. This brings us back to (1). I would agree that truth is emergent and cannot be “pinned down” – but surely we have to make decisions and take “snapshots” of this truth-that-is-emerging. I have to decide for whom I will vote *today* knowing full well that the “truth” about which political party is better may appear differently tomorrow. I voted for Jindal in the primary, but against Jindal in the runoff. But I still had to decide whether to vote for Jindal in the first place. Do those who rather like the current direction of the ECUSA – “815” and all that – regard “their truth” as emergent? Or is this “your truth is ’emergent’ and cannot be pinned down – but mine is not and can be”?

  4. Tim: No, it’s “aunts,” and plenty of aunts go to church. Plenty are workers, and some perhaps queens. . . .

    Rick (working backward from your last points): I absolutely trust that people who think ECUSA is headed in the correct direction at the moment must be ready to change their tack. This involves the kind of pondering about how one would know one was wrong that I broached last month — a frustrating and vexing challenge, but I take it to be a necessary challenge. I might ought to blog out some of what would change my mind one of these days, though I’m not confident that my self-knowledge is true enough.

    Then you raise the here-and-now question, where it gets very sticky. I’m on record as agreeing that the Pennsylvania Druids went too far, and I said it with a here-and-now tenor to my writing. How can I justify that impatience relative to Druidic Christianity with my patience relative to issues that currently confront us over questions of who may be ordained, and what sorts of relationship the Church blesses?

    Let me say up front that the response I give may not be satisfactory to you; it’s not obviously conclusive to me, but it’s the rationale for the distinction I’m making in my practice. The PA Druids, as far as I know the facts of the case, claimed that their actions as Druids were not incompatible with their ordination vows and with their continued ministry as priests. Bp. Benison disagreed with that claim, and the PA Druids did not feel their case so justified as to uphold their dual-citizenship argument (the City of God and the City of Mistletoe?) at the cost of their good standing as Episcopal priests. It would be trivially easy to cite instances from church history, from even minially orthodox theology, and from Scripture, to the effect that full-blooded Druidism (not the merely ceremonial sort into which the Archbishop of Canterbury was inducted, though I wish he hadn’t anyway) constitutes exactly the sort of alternative to faith in the God of Israel, the Triune God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, that we are explicitly and repeatedly commanded to eschew. Half-baked romanitcized versions of “Celtic Christianity” to the contrary notwithstanding, I see no evidence of a groundswelling of Druid-o-Christianity that testifies to the possibility that the Spirit may lead us into that terrain as truth.

    For reasons I’ve rehearsed elsewhere online and in print, I do see those signs relative to the the full participation of gay and lesbian Christians in the church — although I also fully recognize that those who are not convinced have quite strong arguments, and are not necessarily just rationalizing homophobia. (Some people do seem to be justifying homophobia with superficial arguments, just as some proponents of gay and lesbian ministries seem to be justifying an anything-goes anti-theology with superficial arguments; both failures grieve my heart, and I try not to pay too much attention to them, although many of these people shout louder than their more deliberate and patient neighbors.) I would hope that even my sternest critics would allow that I make a stronger case for this principle than do the Druids for their syncretism — I know a number of wise, more conservative clergy colleagues who make this concession. That’s my best case for drawing the distinction that I do.

    Since people have been working on the sexuality angle with more concentration, more widely, for longer, I have to allow that we may ojnly be seeing the first signs of a Druidic Christian revival, which will spread and deepen over the next couple of decades. I’m dubious; as I observed when the news first broke, dotty vicars have been up to this sort of thing all along, and it hasn’t started a widespread movement yet.

    I have been so convinced about the ordination of women that I confess that I take it for granted — still, I oppose efforts to coerce Episcopalians to recognize women’s ministries; I’m hypomonic on that. (Of course, I can afford to be, as a heterosexual male.) The arguments relative to not ordaining women seem significantly weaker than the arguments over heterosexuality and homosexuality, but (again) I acknowledge the erudition and wisdom of some who uphold the necessity of an all-male priesthood, and in deference to them I refrain from opprobrious characterizations of the position.

    This kind of argument would benefit from leisure and the mutual availability of coffee (or beer, or other facilitating modes of refreshment), but I offer these observations as a sketch.

    Dwight: There’s no certified, guaranteed way of making that discernment. That puts us in the uncomfortable position of perhaps being among those who lossen the commandments to which we’re called to adhere (hence being least in the Kingdom), or of being among those who make some of God’s little ones stumble (hence being better off wearing millstone collars in Lake Michigan). I know that some of my sisters’ and brothers’ consciences oblige them to reject the theology I propound. That saddens me, and I wish I knew a way to sustain a strong enough bond of unity that we all would continue together in hypomonê until our disagreement were clarified — but I don’t have any way to effect such willingness except to continue in patience and respect, to listen and to respond as thoughtfully and articulately as I can.

    [As I was writing this, Rick, you posted a second comment; my response would follow roughly the lines of my words above, and I’ll hold off responding directly for now.]

  5. an emergent church should, I think, be more ready to endure uncertainty within the church

    Naturally this isn’t my area of expertise, but I find this line particularly compelling. Enduring uncertainty, especially on theological matters, is astonishingly difficult (in this area, above all others, we want certainty!) but I think its value is proportionally related to its difficulty. Many of us want to feel certain about God because God is so important to us — but that’s precisely why I think we need to be able to grow into, if not comfort with uncertainty, at least the ability to sustain uncertainty. In this way we may come closer to actually understanding Mystery; and we will almost certainly come closer to coexisting with those who understand God differently than we do.

  6. “I‚Äôve started calling this a hypomonic relation to truth, alluding to the high value that the New Testament authors put on the virtue of hypomon?™, ‚Äúendurance,‚Äù ‚Äúlong-suffering.‚Äù Such an outlook trusts that where brothers and sisters disagree, and their faith on matters other than the disputed topic harmonizes with the faith received from the saints, God will in the long run make resolve conflicts that seem in the short run to be intractable. No one gives up their strong truth-claims; they do, however, decline to use truth as a lever for excluding those with whom one disagrees.”

    I appreciate the idea of a “hypomonic relation to truth” – such a relationship with truth requires a great deal of mutual commitment from everyone involved both to truth (ultimately found in the person of Christ) and a commitment to one another. Actually living that commitment out in the face of (what feels like) radical disagreement about truth is something I long for, but rarely have been priviledged to see.

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