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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

We are currently on a "break," for no particular reason, and many little reasons - mostly pertaining to life circumstances. If anyone is interested in calling a meeting, feel free to post on the blog, join the google group (see link below) and send an email, or contact either Nancy (nancykj10@yahoo.com) or Jesse (schroeder.jesse@gmail.com) for more information.

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6.29.2008

6/29 Discussion Wrap-Up

Our discussion today was so wonderful! For those of you who had to miss out on it, here is an extremely distilled version of it. Please feel free to continue the conversation on the blog. Oh, and if I missed anything that was said that someone else feels was important, feel free to add. I admit that eventually so many amazing comments were being made in a row that I stopped taking notes.

We discussed the question, "What are the areas of agreement and areas of difference between typical emergent thinkers and evangelical thinkers on the nature and role of truth?" This question comes to us from the Xenos Summer Institute, where Jesse and Noel will be taking part in a forum in July.

There seemed to be a strong consensus that:
1. We learn truth directly from God, and that our relationship with Jesus is the key to this communication working effectively. Several gospel verses were brought up to support this idea, including Jesus attack on the Pharisees in John 5 (that they search the scriptures for truth, but that the truth is found in him), reply to the trap set by the Pharisees in Mark 12:24, and Jesus' famous declaration that he is "the way, the truth, and the life."

2. Along with the above, that knowledge of truth can be found outside of the Bible, and that there are truths that many Christians acknowledge today that could not have been gleaned from the Bible alone. A good example is what we currently think about slavery. The Bible does not present the whole picture on slavery, but instead addresses the institution as it existed at the time the texts concerning it were written. Perhaps Christians are often behind in the area of social justice because when we believe that all truth is found in the Bible and issues come up in the world that the Bible has little or nothing to say about, our answer is inaction (or even to assume that no answer from the Bible means the issue is not important).

3. That truth and love are intricately bound. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, which we might think of as a question about which truths are the most absolute and best guide a human's life, he responded that it was all about love of God and others. He stressed that we are to be concerned with the action of love, and not with being right. We should live in a way that causes us to love others. Being too concerned with what is true could very well adversely affect these others, as we cannot stop the angry voice in our head, screaming that every other person we meet doesn't understand The Truth as well as we do, for long enough to love.

4. That what we believe to be true about our reality is dependent on the situation that we find ourselves in, and on the life experiences that have preceeded it. What we thought was true at 16 we might consider untrue now. This doesn't mean that we were formerly categorically incorrect, but that the information we knew of at the two different points was different. We are to observe carefully the world around us and extract "truths" about how to life most effectively (lovingly) in that place. It is as though every person's life is a box of a unique shape, and that our job is to fill it completely with the love of God.

5. That to truly seek after God's truth will result in a constant feeling of tension in our lives. For some reason humans love lists of rules that they can follow, perhaps because this allows us to escape relationship with God. We want a neat and clear way to live our lives. But if we instead rely heavily on the Holy Spirit to show us exactly what he wants us to do in a given situation, this really takes the power out of our hands. There will be a lot of waiting, uncertainty, and probably failure as our impatience gets the best of us. We must continually seek intimate moments of communication with God, where he reveals to us what he wants us to do in a time of crisis.

6. That there is no consensus among Emergents about an answer to the question posed to us. While we don't want to circumvent the question, based on our experiences with each other we all have very different ideas about any and everything. Think about any Christian doctrine, and then ask yourself how much agreement there is among a diverse group of Christians about it. Even among just Evangelicals, there is hardly agreement as to things like the Trinity, speaking in tongues, and how Christ accomplished his work on the cross. I suppose one of the truths Emergents tend to believe is that truth is very complicated, multi-faceted, unstable, and highly dependent on experience and cultural conditioning.

7. That the best way to communicate truth to children and teenagers is through modelling rather than teaching. Young people need to see how the older people they know live life, not a list of things to do and to not do.

Finally, I wanted to further challenge and stretch our personal understandings of truth with an article that I heard about recently on a small Amazon tribe called the Piraha. A link to it can be found here. Learning about the Piraha blew my mind, because their worldview is so different from my own that it raised questions about how God reveals truth to humans in general. I found the descriptions of the efforts of the missionaries that have worked with the tribe to be heartbreaking, because the organization they are with believes that all missionaries need to do is translate the Bible into a culture's native language, and then God will do the rest of the work. This approach has made little impression on this particular culture. Might there be another way that the missionaries could share what they believe is true about God?

7 comments:

Adam Newby said...

Jane, thank you so much for the summary. Great job ... very well done. I really like your summation of Steve's comments on point number 5.

Fascinating article about the Piraha. (I'm only 3/4 through; long article). I think it's sad that Everett became an atheist. I don't believe that just because the Bible can not be translated to their culture/language, that they have no way of knowing God or Jesus. The point about their cultural disinterest in the past or future causing them to miss the importance of Jesus is bad theology in my personal view. Is Jesus a past figure that we can only know because of two thousand year old stories that we find in the Bible? No. I believe he is presently relevant. He presently lives. And that, in some way or another .. maybe in some way our culture doesn't understand ... that this people can (maybe currently do) know God.

Again, we can go back to how do we convey truth? How do we convey Jesus to others? Ultimately, I don't think it's by stories, or by scripture. It's by love and action. The life I live speaks more than the words I speak. In this sense, I believe Jesus is universal.

Jesse said...

Hi Jane -

Thanks so much for the recap! I was so sad to miss the discussion, and ideas about truth have been rolling through my head all week. I wanted to run an analogy by everyone, and get your thoughts, so please tell me if you think this is way off, cause I would maybe share it at the Xenos conference.

We have all heard the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. Several blind men run into an elephant, and begin to feel around. One finds the trunk and says, "it's a snake!" The next finds a leg and says, "It's a tree!" The next finds the stomach and says, "It's a wall!" Etc. The final line of the original poem says something to the effect like, "Just as these blind men tried to describe something they know nothing about, so humans try to describe God."

Some use this example as an argument for pluralism, saying that all religions are only getting a "piece" or a "part" of God. I have used it in class before as an argument for absolute truth because all the blind men were wrong, it was an elephant. Their perception didn't change the reality. Others point out the fact that there is an addition, not blind, wo/man in the story - the storyteller, who sees it all, and thus is offering a metanarrative. Each of these explanations have insufficiencies, and so the analogy isn't successful in describing truth.

But what I thought this morning, was that perhaps it is more like 3 (or more), seeing people encountering the elephant and having different reactions. One had an elephant as a pet, and so immediately falls in love and wants to touch the elephant. Another witnessed their parents trampled by an elephant to their death, and so they are afraid of the elephant and want to run. Another has never seen an elephant before and so is confused, etc.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that our experiences shape our understanding of truth, and this is a seriously important component of postmodernism and the emergent church. No one approaches God, the Bible or faith in the same way, and this will shape what any truth statements or experiences mean to that person. It is foolish to think that making a statement like, "Jesus Christ is Lord" will mean the same to everyone. No two people know truth or encounter it in the same way.

Thoughts?

Nick Johnson said...

I echo thank you's to Jane for taking notes and posting them, especially because I was late to the discussion. Also, it warmed my heart to walk into the room and see some familiar faces and some new ones this past Sunday.

Jesse - I like the analogy, but I'm not sure how powerful it is. The problem is, at least as some might say, is that some of your people obviously have the wrong impression about the elephant, and it is up to someone to correct them. Now, while that is certainly true with the conceptions people have about Jesus, it is a slippery road and if a group goes around doing a bunch of correcting (like we emergent types can be prone to do) things can get ugly very fast. What are your thoughts on this?

I still need to wrap my head around the article Jane posted. That a society could have no concept of number just baffles me. So much of our "truth" is based on math and reason, and there methods seem to be totally different. Could any of our absolute truths ever be more than nonsense to them, just as our language would be? Anyway, I need to spend a little more time with the article, but I think it is very valuable because if we are ever going to say something can be true for all people, we better know who we are talking about.

Oh- I added a couple posts to the Xenos sidebar because I really don't want these posts to get buried. If anyone has any better ideas let me know.

Adam Newby said...

Nick, I echo that it is difficult to understand the Piraha mind. What's going on in those heads of theirs? I wish there some way to know more about their relationships with each other. The article gives small glimpses of family life. For instance, the mother singing to her child that Karen describes. I guess what I'd really want to see is how/if they show love. I say "if", but I really believe they must in some way. My assumption is that love is the universal language and only absolute truth. It may be expressed in different ways in different cultures. But I think if a human knows love, then they can know God. They can know Jesus. In this case, they may not ever put the name "Jesus" to what they feel due to their denial of abstractions.
This article makes me think about what Paul writes about in the beginning of Romans. I've often wondered about the hundreds of thousands of people who roamed this earth outside of the Bible stories. During the time of Abraham, there were peoples all over Asia and Europe. Definitely by the time of Christ, there were peoples all through the Americas. These peoples had know way of knowing "the God of Abraham". They had no idea who Abraham was. They had no way of knowing of knowing about Christ. But does that mean they had no way of knowing God? Paul speaks of "God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—" [being] clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." That the truth of God can clearly be seen "since the creation." People say that the wrath of God was on all people who were not God's chosen people. But Paul says it was only on those who "suppressed the truth". What if peoples living in eastern Asia or Western Europe ... thousands of miles away from Israel ... knew God because they didn't suppress the evidence of a God. I believe they could know God. They may not have a name for God (and how can you name God ... maybe the Israelites just HAD to have a name, so Moses gave them a name ... much like he gave the law of divorce because they needed it). Only those who suppressed the obvious truth of God could ever receive God's wrath. These people may not have ever heard of Adam or Abraham or David, but they knew there was a God. And they give him due diligience. Who's to say that the Piraha don't know God? True, they would not name God because they do not use abstractions. But in some way, maybe they do. I admit freely that I just don't know. Maybe they don't know God and they will burn as most evangelicals would tell you. I'm just open to the possibilities.

Jane Johnson said...

Jesse - I do like how your metaphor includes the idea of cultural and experiential conditioning. To me that shapes our understanding of "truth" to a wild degree. But here is a question for you about your metaphor, one that a sly debater might ask you. What if there are people that work at the zoo where the elephant lives who truly know about elephants, because they have devoted their lives to getting to know them? They have been given truth about the elephant, while your 3 exemplary people are just operating on ignorant assumptions about the animals. So what if the three people are just wrong about the elephant and need someone to share the truth with them? What would you say in response?

Adam - I think you are right about the Piraha and the universality of love. I would love to know more about how they operate socially, and not just linguistically. Actually, I bet we can get ahold of an anthropological dissertation on them that might tell us about this. I also wonder if it might be possible to get in touch with Keren Everett and find out more about her experiences as a missionary among the Piraha.

I really liked what you said about how perhaps the Israelites really desired a name for their God, and so they had one. But when you really think about it, what's in a name? Does someone need to know, "the name of my god is this," to know that god? Because it's not as though Jesus' name is actually "Jesus." God the Father doesn't speak English. To me, this is just another one of those assumptions that I've never questioned before, but that ends up being rather arbitrary after some reflection.

I heard a story about a woman in Cambodia who Western missionaries (from Xenos, actually) met a few years ago. She had several Cambodian gods as options, but she was instead worshipping a god that she herself had named as "the god of the heavens and the earth." When these people told her about Jesus, she said that this was the god! If those people had come and never told her about Jesus, it seems that she already knew him and had given him a name that she found fitting.

Greg said...

Adam, if the life you live speaks more than the words you speak, does that make the words irrelevant? A few years ago a survey was given to the student body at Wheaton College, which included the following question, "What is more important: the verbal message of the Gospel; deeds and actions; or both?" Perhaps surprisingly for an Evangelical institution, only 2% chose the verbal message. Approximately two-thirds chose both and one-third chose deeds and actions. Later, I listened to a chapel sermon online in which the president of the college conveyed his amazement with those figures. One of his arguments was that some things simply can not be communicated non-verbally. (i.e. "Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great.") And so he believes the power of salvation is in the message--even when our presentation of it as individuals or the Church as a whole fails.

Nick, what has given you the impression that emergent types are a group prone to going around "doing a bunch of correcting?" I could not disagree more. Instead, they strike me as a group bent on an attempt to understand the Elephant in all his/her mystery. Instead of resolutely holding on to their particular tail/trunk/stomach and thereby ignoring the Others, Emergent thinkers tend to humbly reach out and touch another part because they are becoming comfortable with uncertainty. Also, they are conversing with fellow graspers, asking questions and listening to stories (and drinking Vodka & Tonics?).

Jane, to your hypothetical "sly debater" I would say that un/fortunately no two Zoo Keepers seem to agree on all the details of the elephant (even after yeeeaaaarrrsss of study), hence a multitude of denominations. Sure, the "knowledge" of the Zoo Keepers makes them qualified to share their experiences. But, by what approach? (And from what angle? And using who's money? And supporting what cause/politician?--I wouldn't say this part, I'm just sharing my personal cynicism at no extra charge.) Are they acting out of love for the person who has seen his/her parents trampled to death? Let's hope so.

Jesse, to me your analogy works insofar as its attempt is to illustrate how all truth claims are shaped according to one's experiential and cultural lenses. I guess more than anything this whole conversation is making clear to me how missiology gets tied into the whole thing, especially when presented with such a unique case as that of the Piraha people group.

Adam Newby said...

Jane - that is a perfect story that demonstrates how someone who has never been told about the Bible stories can already know God, because they haven't "suppressed the evidence" of God that exists all around us.

Greg - My opinion is this: The words one speaks are only irrelevant if they contradict action. For example, if a child is brought up in a household where the parents curse constantly, that the child will copy that action and will curse a lot. Even if the parents say over and over "Don't curse. It's wrong.", the child will still learn to curse. Few would disagree that children learn more from what they see their parents do than what they what they are told to do by their parents.

However, words can be very powerful if they back up your actions. When Shane Claiborne speaks about helping the poor, it's powerful because he has actions and sacrifices to back up his words. If Donald Trump spoke the exact same words, they would have no meaning to me whatsoever. SAME words, but NO meaning. The actions must go before the words.

I think the power of the gospel is lost when the actions of the people proclaiming it don't back up the words of the gospel.

John 13:35 Jesus said -"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

I think some people think that it reads like this - "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you scream out that you are a Christian long enough and hard enough, and dehumanize and hate anyone who disagrees with you."