Sometime last year a couple of us started with this experiment of camping without a program. I told some of the story of last years camp here. Maybe the camp was best summarized by one of the people there when she talked about the two circles of rocks that created this camp.

vuur sirkelOn arriving a number of the guys collected some wood and a few rocks to create a fireplace. The fireplace was nothing more than 8 rocks in a circle, and chairs that got carried to this circle of rocks. At night this was a place of warmth, since we had a fire going. But at day it remained a place of comfort, a place of connection, even though there was no fire. The circle of rocks created a safe space for conversations.

labyrinth kleinThe second was the labyrinth at the camp site. While at a similar camp last year a number of us built this labyrinth. The story of how a dumping site was made a holy place is told here. Although labyrinths has no meaning for some of us, for others this is a place of finding God and self. And the experiences shared made for lasting memories.

So, we camped without a program, but with two circles of rocks and a few other open spaces. It’s amazing what a circle of rocks can create…


Seems like we are at it again. What’s the relation between emerging and emergent? Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones talks about it, and David Dunbar wrote the article which started it again. A while ago Dan Kimball pointed to the article by Micheal Patton in which he also tried to address this question using some cute diagrams. He in the end wrote something like six posts on this, and it had hundreds of comments on different blogs, also a lot on McKnights blog. Might do us good to remember that conversation.

Let me start out by putting this into it’s most simple form. Now, I could be wrong, but I think what’s happening is something in this line: emerging is accepted as being closer to evangelicalism than emergent. Emergents madden evangelicals more than the emerging people. Somewhere along the line the liberals are taken into the equation, because the emergents, and some emerging ones as well, describe their own attempt as finding the middle ground between the conservatives and the liberals (different labels are used for the two sides of the supposed debate, see an earlier post here). OK, and to do it justice, there is also strong voices fighting against the division, saying that the whole conversation should be held under one banner.

OK, I know this is an absolute oversimplification of the argument. But some things need be said, and I hope this summary illustrate this. The conversation is still argued mainly from the relation to evangelicalism; the relation to a certain conservative ideal of the past, or to fundamentalism. Which is closer and which is further away. The debate between emerging and emergent thus seem to me to be quite similar to the debates that have been raging all over the centuries of the church between different theological positions. Furthermore, we need to notice that the conversation is still ongoing, and many voices influence both “sides” of the conversation.

In South Africa something of this can be seen on the Emerging Africa site, which was first called Emergent Africa, but the name has changes somewhere along the line. Our own church has gotten different people to speak, from Jones to Hirsch. Everything running under any of these labels seem to be called emerging (Afrikaans: ontluikend), and accepted basically uncritically as similar. The deep running differances between them is never discussed. Could this be partly why the emerging conversation seems to be such a unifying factor? Linking people from Moreletta Park, by many considered to be the headqaurters of the evangelical tradition in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the UP theological faculty, by others considered the headquarters of the “liberal thought” in the Dutch Reformed Church, and even supporters of the NHN.

The work of someone like Nelus Niemandt seem to also point in this direction. Although you won’t easily find him using the work of people like Borg or Crossan, and being critical about people like Spangenberg, he would use the work of someone like Mclaren (who use both Borg and Crossan) in an almost uncritical fashion. Is this simply because Mclaren is considered part of the emerging conversation, which Niemandt like?

All this said, I think the emerging conversation could provide protestant Christianity with an amazing gift if it’s able to keep the conversation going without ignoring the differences. If a model for being together without necessarily agreeing can be provided within protestant circles, this might be the ultimate proof of churches who can navigate the postmodern world.

Ever since I started blogging, and even before that, I’ve tried steering as clear as possible from the term “postmodern” (or post-modern). It’s a minefield when you go out there. When I use the word I try keeping to a very general definition. I found Fritjof Capra’s A Web of Life to be one of the best definitions, although he doesn’t ever give a definition, but simply describe changes in science over the past couple of decades.

But sometimes, in ground-level conversations, we tend to be more prescriptive about postmodernism than descriptive. What I mean is that we spend more time telling people how they should think when postmodern than listening to how they think now that they are part of a postmodern generation. This typically comes out when people state, explicitly or implicitly, that postmodern is necessarily “good” and modern “bad”, and that on top of that, postmodern is what “I am”, and modern what those I differ with are.

We then hear things like all truth is relative (something which I think I agree with, wrote about it here), or that we should make room for different opinions (another thing I’m very fond of), and then try to force this into our own lives in unnatural ways. Two examples:

  • I joined a discussion a few days ago, and took some friends along. In the car on the way back, I started asking about their experiences (another thing I like to do at times), and onssaid that the problems with the discussions is that there isn’t really discussion going on. Everyone would just say what they think, and even differ, and then leave it to that.
  • I am currently attending a “seminar” by Roger Greenaway, an expert on reviewing. I’ve been using his model and some of his tools for reviewing for nearly three years now, and can tell amazing stories about how this has helped me. But currently I’m not that impressed with the experience I’m having. I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or the group’s, but somehow the conversation tend to get into the “let’s just get every opinion on the table and let it be”, or the “let’s get something nice to say about everyone, whether they deserve it or not” category the whole time.

This seem to be very nice, and very “postmodern”, but I think we are missing the point here. We could, for example, gain a lot from Roger’s work when using a word like “holistic” to describe postmodernism; Roger could then help us to not only listen to the logical argument going on, but also to the experiences people are having, which would help us get a more holistic view of what happened, or what is happening. Or what if we rather used a word like “relational”: I’ve written some time ago:

Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers.

When in conversation, differing is OK! Even arguing is OK. What’s not OK is saying that my way and my way alone may be correct. What’s not OK is saying that the logical argument I’m using must be correct because it’s logical. The physical sciences have shown over and over again that what seemed logical at one stage change when new information, or perspectives, get put on the table. So if differing, or even arguing, can help you to see things through the others eyes, through the eyes of another gender, generation, race, culture, or whatever else there might be, then maybe we need the differing, maybe we need to point out to people if there is a difference in how we see things. Not necessarily to be able to win the case, but rather to continue our search for truth and meaning relationally, rather then individually, or by only listening to certain “power” figures (whether intellectual, political, religious, or whatever might be found).

Do sharpen my thoughts on this if I’m missing the point myself…

As the call to papers for the synchroblog about “Emerging heresy” came out, I was having a conversation with Deborah on my Beowulf post. Early on in the conversation Deborah said:

Be wary of the Emerging Christian doctrine that you mentioned in your post. It’s as false as the liberal propaganda that comes out of Hollywood. I would advise always, always to measure what you read or view in this world against the pure doctrine of God’s holy word.

I still haven’t found exactly what she has refered to, but maybe it was another post, since I didn’t refer to anything “emerging” in the post. The conversation went on for pages and pages, and I guess I knew from the start that the chances was very unlikely that we would find some common ground, but as I explained previously, I still consider fundamentalism as an ecumenical challenge, so I continued the conversation. May I just mention that Deborah do not consider herself to be a fundamentalist, her reaction to my mention of the word was:

Now, let’s get to the bias you think me to have. Am I evangelical? No. Am I a fundamentalist? No. Now, again, that could depend upon your definitions, but according to my definitions, the answer is “No.” As far as being a fundamentalist, I think of Islamic terrorists as fundamentalists. So, no, I’m not a fundamentalist. Evangelical? In what sense? Do I go out and evangelize? No. Do I believe in preaching the Gospel? Yes, for that was Christ’s Great Commission (Mar 15:16). But that makes me doctrinal, not evangelical.

I don’t think the conversation was a success, maybe I should even be ashamed of the things I’ve said. But I do have some thoughts on how conversations may continue. I’ve had some friends who are very comfortable with the evangelicals, and we had loads of very constructive conversations, and others that we couldn’t even get through a cup of coffee. So, if you have some emerging friends you think might be heretics (whatever that may mean, give your interpretation to this word), but still want to be “conversing with the heretics”, here are my thoughts:

  • If your heretic friend consider him/herself to be a Christians, try to consider them as Christians
  • Remember that both of you have biases, and that you can maybe help each other notice them
  • Try focusing on social justice, you might find you both want to help the poor and suffering, although you differ on some theological stuff
  • Remember that you may be wrong, both of you, remember that just maybe you are wrong! I guess this is the most difficult part. I’ve written some more on this here.

Just one of these can sometimes provide an entry point for some good conversations, without the need to give up dearly held beliefs. Oh, and by the way, don’t ever mention that you have a direct link with God which mean that you are definitely right, no matter what anyone says. This tends to kill a conversation, because you can’t really fight with God.

Well, maybe I’m too demanding. But I am serious to keep the conversation going. If you think I should back down on some points, tell me, if you think I should add some, also leave a comment. And maybe you have some things which you think your heretic friends should also keep in mind when the attempt at conversation is made, please make a mention of those as well.

Well, you can read the conversation between myself and Deborah here, and you’re welcome to give some pointers where you think the conversation could have been done better (especially if I should have done thing differently). But I must say, it’s gonna be a loooong read if you do read this.

Well, that’s my thoughts for the day, also read these other fine sychrobloggers!

Aratus – The Gender of the Creator and Face forward
Cobusvw – Conversing with the heretics
Liquid Light – Coming out a heretic emerges
Nic Paton – The Lif Cycle of Heresy and The Blessings of Heresy
Roger Saner Towards a heretical orthodoxy
Ryan Peters – title not cited yet
Steve Hayes no title cited yet
Tim Victor – Confessions of a heretic

I’m currently reading Jim and Casper goes to church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. Quite an enjoyable book, I’ll blog about it when I’ve finished (at this rate within the next couple of days). So far it’s not the deepest piece of theology I’ve ever read, but still quite insightful stuff, and simply fun to read, it’s really funny at places. (Where you aware that Saddleback church is on the corner of Saddleback drive and Purpose drive? According to Matt and Casper yes, really!).

Actually, this is just some thoughts on one thing they (or Henderson, I think he wrote most of it), wrote. The book is all about conversations between Christians and non-Christians, and in the introduction he makes the comment that when people like each other, the rules change. And how true is this. In conversations, the rules of the conversation completely change when the participants like each other. The same differences get handled in totally different ways.

When reading this, I suddenly understood many of my own conversations over the past few years. I don’t always have the same ideas about things as my friends, even (especially?) regarding theology, there is mayor differences. And while we watch churches tear each other apart over things, we just go on, keep the conversation up. Why, from the outside, working with the standard church rules, some of us shouldn’t even want to talk to each other. We should be sitting on the opposite ends of synod meetings. But since we actually like each other, we just go on, the rules have changed.

Now, I am aware that this is a total neglect of the complications of human relations. One could bring in a lot of other stuff, saying that it’s our postmodern worldview that cause us to keep on talking, or it’s the fact that we have found some central point which bind us together. Especially this last one I’ve considered a lot in the past, the fact that we are bound by a passion for a world in need, and believe we should help change it really helps. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that I like some people with whom I differ, and because I like them, we can talk. I also like some non-Christians, and because we like each other, we can talk. The rules change when you like someone. So how about it, try it out, start out by actually liking those you differ with, and then continue the conversation with new rules.

For some more thoughts on conversations, also some thoughts from David Bosch: On God-talk

These are some of the definitions given by for inclusive and exclusive.

2. including a great deal, or including everything concerned; comprehensive: an inclusive art form; an inclusive fee.
3. that includes; enclosing; embracing.

1. not admitting of something else; incompatible: mutually exclusive plans of action.
4. shutting out all others from a part or share: an exclusive right to film the novel.
8. single or sole: the exclusive means of communication between two places.

I wouldn’t consider myself the world’s best church historian, but the way I see Protestant church history, and the forming of dominations, is basically that initially different dominations were formed in different regions. Even within the different reformation processes there was some difference of opnion, but generally consensus was reached at specific geographical regions. However, very quickly different points of view could be seen between these regions. Not long after that, differences of opinion are found within one region, and the unity of the initial reformation was at an end. Since then the story of the reformation has been one of starting new denominations. Sometimes because of petty theological issues, sometimes over political issues (South African history is an excelent example of this). In a way it seems unavoidable. After the power of one person to have a final say over the church was rejected at the reformation, and the importance of the correct dogma was stressed shortly after, what else could have happened.

Today we seem to be willing to think differently. In a letter in the latest Die Kerkbode, Dr Hennie Mouton, whom I actually know personally, wrote in a letter how tragic it would be if another split would become neccesary in the Dutch Reformed Church. However, he also made no secret of the fact that he thinks that this should be the way to go if certain people were to continue saying the things that are making him very unhappy. It seem to have become popular to say that church devision is tragic.

In spite of this, I often get the feeling that people think church devision is tragic, but that the solution is for all other people to stay within the limits they themselves have set out. These limits are sometimes set out by how they read the Bible, or the creeds, or whatever. To bring it back to our current situation… well, I don’t really understand our current situation.

Inclusive of Exclusive. I believe that the church should be an inclusive community. I’m not going to try and defend it in this post, but this is what I believe. I’m sure if you read all the other posts in the SynchroBlog you’ll find some good thoughts on this. I guess I will have to attempt to give some thoughts on the current situation. For those not part of this circus (may I call it a circus?), it’s the classic situation different formulations of faith, and some wanting to throw others out of the church, and being willing to use any means possible. It has the added very negative dimension that it is becoming a popular debate, and people are judged not by those in relationship with them, that know them, has talked to them, struggled with them, but by the public. And therefore it’s a popularity thing as well. Sick system really. I guess what we are experiencing isn’t new, and that many have seen similar things happen in their churches. But this is the issue I currently trying to figure out (as you might have realized if you followed the posts here and here the past few days. So this is my thoughts:

  • God is to big for us to decipher, so let’s just make a little more room for more opinions
  • We create a false idea of so-called heresy by trying to convict people who are not friends, whom we do not know (see some other thoughts on this here). So spend some time to get to know those who differ from you
  • We find community in something deeper than shared dogma, we would probably all say it, let’s start living it
  • Let’s always remember that the other might have something that we could learn from them about God. It’s gonna be difficult for me to remember this with some of you, but I’ll try:-)

OK. I think I’ll stop now. I haven’t made any revolutionary progress, but this is some of my current thoughts.

Other SynchroBloggers on this topic:

Mike Bursell asks the question Inclusive or exclusive: you mean there’s a choice?”

Steve Hayes is blogging his thoughts “Christianity inclusive or exclusive?

It’s a family affair comes Jenelle Dellasandro

John Smulo will be adding his thoughts

Erin Word share some thoughts on The Politics of love

Adam Gonnerman couldn’t resist adding his thoughts

Sam Norton is also “in” As is Julie Clawson

And Sally shares her thoughts here

On God-talk

August 6, 2007

I’ve just finished watching a DVD called “Nuwe Strominge”, in which some people try to show how a number of leading international and local theologians are misleading people, and are leaving the common faith, or something like that. This DVD was supposedly sent to every Dutch Reformed Minister. I believe in the coming weeks a lot will be said about this, and about the way in which it was put together etc. etc. So I’m gonna give that a skip, maybe on another day, if someone actually ask me to comment on that I’ll do that, for now I’ll just say: I’ve done my fair share of video editing, and really, the video editor has a lot of power to create perceptions!

Rather, I’ll like to share some thoughts on God-talk. That’s simply my way of trying to find a word for what we do when we try to make sense of this world, our experiences, others experiences, our traditions, the Bible, or for that matter any religious text, or God. We are busy with God-talk. It’s talk about God. Some might call it theology, and certainly I think that’s not a bad word, but maybe God-talk would be better.

As I sit here typing, I really long for God-talk to be beautiful! And really, I’ve experienced this to be possible! I’ve experienced this in conversations I had with some of you, also some of you I’ve met through blogging. I’ve seen this happen between friends. But I’ve seen God-talk to be extremely ugly as well. To hurt. To make wounds that for ever drive people away from God-talk. And yes, I must admit, I think sometimes I’ve also been the cause for this.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying things, most probably I am, but I think one thing remain the distinguishing factor which determine whether God-talk is beautiful or ugly: Do we see God-talk as something which happen between fellow seekers, or between one party who in and another who is out. God-talk is beautiful when those I’m talking to is fellow seekers, whether it’s the pope, Benny Hinn, or the local charismatic youth worker, it’s beautiful when both consider the other as fellow seeker. God-talk become really ugly when I consider myself as the superior with the answers, that need to show you how wrong you are. When I become the one that need to convince you that you know nothing about God, and that I’ve been appointed to introduce you to the “true God”. Maybe just to put things into context: I’m not talking about inter-religious dialog here, I’m at this stage simply thinking about the way Christians talk to each other, although I do think this same principles can be applied to inter-religious dialog as well.

This is not relativism. I have a great respect for the works of David Bosch, as I believe many of you reading this might have. Thus, I just took Transforming Mission from the shelf, and paged to something which I recalled reading a while ago, so go have a look at page 484, and I cannot put it better:

… true dialogue presupposes commitment. It does not imply sacrificing one’s own position – it would then be superfluous. An “unprejudices” approach is not merely impossible but would actually subvert dialogue.

He then go on to quote this amazing words from the World Council of Churches Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies:

Dialogue means witnessing to our deepest convictions, whilst listening to those of our neighbors.

Without my commitment to the gospel, dialogue becomes a mere chatter; without the authentic presence of the neighbor it becomes arrogant and worthless. It is a false construct to suggest that a commitment to dialogue is incompatible with a confessional position

Some might be willing to claim that they have the final word on God. And really, I don’t know how to answer you. As for me, I think I’ll be a searcher for the rest of my life. But at the same time, that which I have found, I love to share. But if I read Bosch correctly, and please do share your thoughts on what he is writing in these pages, the possibility that I might be wrong should always remain a possibility, even though I believe certain things with everything in me. This tension must remain! I believe certain things more than I can express, but still I must remain humble enough to listen – I understand listening not as something we do out of politeness, but as something I do because of being interested.

That’s some thoughts on God-talk…