Saturday, August 30, 2008

Clean Rivers and Sound Doctrine - Are they compatible?

Weeks ago I read about Mike Jameson & other legislator's, state and local swim in the Cumberland River. I gotta tell you, I thought as I read it, what will those politicians think of next? The cynicism in my bones rattled . Then, I was convicted. Something about their hope for a better city, for a cleaner river rejuvenated me, at least from a civic standpoint. I've got to confess, my reluctance to live as a better green citizen, is based in my comfort, my pride and my clinging to the notion of independence and freedom from being told how to live. And I suspect, being told how to live is the rub for all of us. We simply resent, at one time or another, being told what to do and how to do it. My resistance has often been so intense, I've resorted to telling folks where to put it, so I know, it is true about me, I wonder if it's the same for you all...?

The worldview to which I am subject, Christian Theism, might seem counter to ecological responsibility. After all, we who would like to be called Orthodox Christians are in a new conflict of sorts with those we call the Emergent Church movement; the new rebels. Those needling Emergents have pointed out to us Ostrich Orthodoxers that we are mistreating the planet, that we have failed our fellow man, and that our failure to change our wasteful, neglectful lifestyle sends a conflicting message to the 'world' as it were. Admittedly, the retorts I've heard some Orthodoxers come up with in response to the Emergents are based in ignorance, fear, and stubbornness.

"We don't have to recycle, God is going to destroy the earth at the end of the age anyway- it's scriptural" or "Jesus said we will always have the poor", (and that he most unequivocally did)
but the Word to which we so dearly cling also says....the earth is the Lord's and everything in it....the implication therefore follows we ought be good stewards thereof
Jesus also said: "when you did it not to the least of these, you did it not unto me, which clearly says when you look the other way to those in need, you ignore Jesus. Conservatives and liberals get so attached their ideaologies that they abandon the truth of the gospel, refusing to be changed. I include my self, Wallace, in this admonition.

Tim Keller has said in the introduction to his book, "The Reason for God", that both the liberals and the conservatives are right. That is a paltry paraphrase, but I think his point is worth investigating. I suspect part of his point is we have something to learn as head in the sand conservative privileged North Americans from the pleading Emergents, who, more often than not tend to be liberally minded.

What, pray tell, have they to learn from us old codgers?

Keeping in mind that it has been said those Emergent Church folk are not likely to take hard and fast stands on the truth, I wonder if maybe, just maybe they might sit a spell and listen. Here's what I imagine they might hear:

Oh hell no, they won't listen, they are stubborn, young, brash whippersnappers that think they know everything....

Well, I'll tell you right now, if I was an Emergent Church goer and I overheard someone in the Orthodox camp say the foregoing, I would be inclined to dig in my heels too. Also, it is good to keep in mind the 12- step wisdom of: You spot it, you got it.

How about a response like: the truth of the Gospel levels us all. all. all. Are you getting the point that all includes us, too? If we claim to teach sound doctrine, to live lives shaped and influenced by the Gospel, we will be undergoing change by the grace of the Holy Spirit until Jesus returns or until he calls us home. The process of sanctification is no picnic, friends.

That being said, and with due gentleness and respect, I cannot sit idly by and watch, mouth agape, as the Emergent movement subjects the truth of the Gospel to its tired old standard of works righteousness. The Gospel will prevail, but I shudder for those unwary who could be caught up in a movement, and lose sight. The four pillars of orthodoxy, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ; the authority of Scripture; the supremacy or exclusivity of Christ; and the doctrine of original sin are all things about which I cannot negotiate. I cannot budge on them; I am persuaded they are true. These ideas are not true because they work- they work because they are true. From my reading and listening to their theology, it is my understanding these are the very things Emergent Christians tend to discount, to diminish, and to, in some cases throw out altogether all in the name of conversation, intrigue, seeking. Their problem seems to be that the substitionary atonement of Jesus Christ does nothing for the starving disenfranchised in Darfur or in Nashville. The inerrancy of scripture is viewed as a club with which Reformed theologians brow-beat the world. It's funny that the Emergent claims there is no truth to which we must submit. According to their proposition, THAT IS the very truth to which they submit, that there is none.

It is plain the claim of truth of the Gospel rankles the Emergent Christian. That first and foremost, God is perfectly righteous. Second, we, mankind are helpless and fallen in our sinful state. Conversely, God loves us with an everlasting love by providing a way through Christ. It seems they would have me think I can scrub myself clean and worthy by my deeds. That by feeding and clothing the hungry, we are saving not only ourselves, but saving God's name as well. This error in thinking is leading to folks believing the lie that God is who we make him out to be. Here's my response: The truth of the gospel should, yes, should rankle. Does it somehow imply that I'm better or superior to claim I have truth, or that I've found or discovered truth in the Gospel? May it never be. In fact, it is quite the other way around. The Truth of the Gospel as revealed in Christ Jesus has found me/us. Neither Orthodox Christians or Emergents make the truth, the truth is making them. God's truth was, is, and is to come.
The Truth has provided me with the awful glimpse of my sinful nature and in what dire state of need I remain. Poor, wretched, yet beloved and treasured. Sort of like that Cumberland River. It was polluted, undesirable, and desperately in need of cleansing. But she, the river could do nothing to help herself. So, when we analyze these concepts, clean rivers and sound doctrine from the standpoint of Truth, then, yes, I'd say, they are compatible. May the Church do God's bidding in worship in the sanctuary and in worshipping the Lord of Lords in our daily lives.

Soli Deo gloria.

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