One of the difficulties of a gang-blog is that we all have a lot to say, and it's hard not to overwhelm the blog or constantly post on top of one another. But we do it anyway, because there's so much stuff that needs to be said. I keep trying to make shorter posts, but the subjects lately have been big and important. Like this:
After Carla Rolfe kindly made room for the looooong transcript of my seminar on the "emerging church movement" at Emergent No, an even more verbose and far-ranging discussion broke out in scattered places around the Internet. I can't possibly keep up with most of it. But I have commented on a couple of entries in the comments thread at Emergent No.
One of my comments prompted a question from a poster who seems somewhat sympathetic with "the New Perspective on Paul."
Rod: "How far beyond fundamentalism does 'orthodoxy' extend for you?"
If you mean "the fundamentalist movement," then I would say that the boundaries of orthodoxy surely extend a long, long way past the fuzzy and fragmented borders of "fundamentalism." I myself am actually an outsider as far as most in the actual "fundamentalist movement" are concerned. (You'll find several megabytes worth of discussion about why I'm not "in" the movement at SharperIron.org.)
But, see: No one, including all who would identify themselves as card-carrying members of the most well-defined neighborhoods of the "fundamentalist movement"no one who has any shred of credibilityactually believes you have to be "in the fundamentalist movement" in order to be deemed a real Christian.
The notion that fundies think everyone outside their movement is on a greased slide into hell is one of those famous canards that hard-core anti-fundamentalists (including many emergent types) love to repeat.
It's sort of like the popular myth that we non-emergent, classic evangelicals love propositions only because we want to reduce the knowledge of God to a simple formula. (What kills me is the way such caricatures are invariably set forth in the very same contexts where someone is complaining about how critics of the ECM can't do anything but make false generalizations and attack straw men.)
Anyway, here's the point I'm making: Some truths (many of which are capable of being expressed as propositionse.g., "Jesus is Lord"; and "Jesus is God") are absolutely essential to Christianity itself. According to Scripture, if you deny those essential truths, you're not orthodox in any sense. See Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 7-11.
Knowing Christ involves more than recognizing the truth of a few propositions, of course, but it doesn't involve any less. If the christ you worship is not the eternal One who is Lord of all, you don't really "know" the true Christ, and whatever religion you practice is not any kind of authentic Christianity, even if you insist that you are a Christian.
That's not to say you have to pass a doctrinal test on Trinitarian orthodoxy before you can respond rightly to the gospel. (That's another silly canard.) But it does mean that if someone knows full well what Scripture says about an essential truth regarding Christ or the gospel, and with full understanding, that person nevertheless rejects that very same truth, we are not to embrace or encourage that person as if he were a true believer (Titus 3:10-11).
If words mean anything at all, when we acknowledge that certain truths are essential to the Christian faith, what we are saying is that we cannot and must not accept as authentically "Christian" any point of view that deliberately rejects or ignores or otherwise eliminates any of those "essential" truths.
Now, strictly speaking, to affirm that specific truth-claims are absolutely essential to the gospel is a kind of "fundamentalism." Those essential, non-negotiable truths are the "fundamentals." That's where the word fundamentalism comes from.
J. I. Packer defined fundamentalism as "just a twentieth-century name for historic Evangelicalism" (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, p. 19). He added that he thought the term itself neither very good nor very useful, and it's surely an even less helpful expression these days, because of the way it has been abused by its friends and foes alike.
But the main gist of what the expression originally meant is true and right: certain key biblical doctrines cannot be compromised without abandoning Christianity itself. (And a real fundamentalist would add that those fundamental doctrines need to be fought for.)
Which doctrines are essential and which are secondary is a much harder, slightly different, and very important, question. But at the moment, that's not really the main point of contention between "the emerging church movement" and most of its critics.
Here's the problem:
Of much greater and more immediate concern to the most serious critics of the emergent idea is this: Will the ECM ever be capable of reaching any consensus on the question of whether there are any essential, biblical, non-negotiable core-doctrines that we can preach with conviction as true and authoritative?
One sometimes gets the strong impression that the central idea of the "emerging church movement" is that no such certainties exist. As if no mere doctrine could legitimately be deemed essential to Christianity and proclaimed dogmatically and with settled conviction.
Seriously: As far as I can tell, no actual, inviolable truth-claim is involved in the prevailing Emergent notion of "generous orthodoxy."
Again, that's the error the best critics of the movement are most keen to confront. It has nothing to do with demanding that the body of Christ be defined and delimited by the borders of some visible movement.
But it just seems so judgmental to treat a proposition as a test of someone's orthodoxy!
Scripture is clear: the church has always been beset with false apostles, deceitful workers, and ministers of Satan who try to appear as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). And they traffic in lies (John 8:44). It takes a really pernicious, obtuse unbelief to insist (especially at this particular point in church history) that ideas and propositions don't really matter much in the big scheme of things.
Aha! You are a fundy!
The problem with the label fundamentalism is that it has become a shorthand cheap-shot way of pinning the Islamofascist reproach and all the other evil implications of that word onto Christians who simply take the Bible seriously and want to remain faithful to the essential truth of Christ.
And that's really not nice.
Speaking of which...
On a somewhat related matter, our esteemed and genteel English friend, Dr. Adrian Warnock, has lately expressed repeated concerns about "tone" in the Christian blogosphereespecially when we air out our doctrinal disagreements, or when disputes arise about such basic issues as what distinguishes authentic Christianity from the many false varieties.
Since he keeps using me as an example of what he thinks is wrong, I'm hesitant to respond at all. There is, after all, an important kernel of truth in what he says. Christians do sometimes get overly zealous in their eagerness to set one another straight. Andmore importantI'm not going to try to plead innocent to the charge that I have on too many occasions been guilty of this.
However, it's a real mistake to talk about "tone" in isolation from content. Some sins do warrant sharp rebukes (Titus 1:13). Some dangers are so serious that it's perfectly appropriate to sound a shrill alarm.
Paul responded passively and even graciously to people who were preaching Christ but otherwise made themselves his adversaries and even tried to add to his afflictions (Philippians 1:15-18). But his response to those who professed faith in Christ while undermining the foundations of the gospel took a whole different tone (Galatians 1:8-9). See Machen's excellent observations on why the harsh tone of Galatians 1 was valid, even though Paul's actual differences with the Judaizers could be boiled down to a single proposition regarding the ordo salutis.
Moreover, (and this is nothing personal against Adrian, but) it's a serious mistake to imagine that everyone listed in "The Blogdom of God" is a true angel of light rather than a poseur.
The example we are given in Scripture for dealing with serious challenges to core Christian truthsparticularly the apostle Paul's polemic style, which is not isolated but permeates most of his major epistlesis admittedly not well-suited to accommodate Victorian (or worse, postmodern) sensitivities.
Friendly dialogue over Earl Gray tea in a formal setting is about as far as I can imagine from the way the Apostle Paul dealt with the Judaizers, hyper-preterists, and divisive people of his time. The same goes for Peter (2 Peter 2) and even John, "the apostle of love" (3 John 9-10). It's not the way Paul encouraged Timothy and Titus to deal with gainsayers, either.
And for what it's worth in light of Adrian's most recent post on this issue, he might be interested to know that when the T4TG guys get together and certain controversial subjects come upsuch as postmodernism, the emerging church, the erosion of clarity on the gospel, and the various popular redefinitions of core Protestant doctrinesthe "tone" of our heroes' dialogue has lots more brimstone than treacle in it.
Friendly dialogue and mutual acceptance are not always the right strategyespecially when someone challenges our central biblical convictions. See Nehemiah 6:1-3 for one very practical example of this principle. In fact, accepting an invitation to "dialogue" about patently unbiblical ideas is probably the worst possible answer in an era when the promise of genial "conversation" is the very tool certain phony "ministers of righteousness" have employed to undermine resistance to an amalgamation of worldly ideas and out-and-out heresies that actually attack the authority of Scripture and the assurance of faith.
So while I am concerned about proper, Christlike and Pauline "tone," and I do (believe it or not) try not to be needlessly sarcastic or over-the-top harsh, I am much more concerned to speak truthfully and with clarity.
A final word about the supposed "blogwars":
Ironically, the recent post whose tone Adrian Warnock said he found so "deeply disturbing" was hailed by many others for its supposedly more kindly tone than my previous exchanges with the iMonk.
Both perspectives honestly surprised and baffled me. My tone and my substance in that post were exactly the same as every other substantive post I have ever written critiquing the iMonk and his drinking buddies: candid, but in no way uncharitable. Aside from a couple of comic-book parodies that honestly were not in any sense deliberately mean-spirited, no one has ever tried to cite an actual instance of ungodly or uncharitable speech in any of my criticisms of iMonk or the patrons of his tavern. Search and see.
So unless someone wants to quote my actual words and show me where and how I have sinned, I would appreciate it if all the popular mythology about the extreme nastiness of the Pyro-BHT "blogwars" could be laid to rest.
Oh, and by the way...
See also this post from the old PyroManiac blog.