Emergent on Horton's "White Horse Inn"

This week, Michael Horton’s radio broadcast, “The White Horse Inn” discussed the emergent movement, with soundclips from the San Diego convention and “on-the-street interviews” with attendees of the convention (next week promises an interview with Brian McLaren). Thanks to Bill Arnold for the heads-up on this. After listening to this broadcast, I was initially struck by these thoughts:

1. Personally, I am Reformed in theology. I was drawn to Reformed Theology in seminary when it appealed to me more than the fundamentalism/dispensationalism in which I had recently come to faith. As I studied under the likes of Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson, I realized that I had found a system that better articulated what I was already finding in the Bible (though, like Grudem and Carson, I did not need to walk in lock-step with all the Calvinist ideas in order to be “Reformed”). And, during my church planting experience, I even subscribed to Modern Reformation magazine (which Horton edits as the magazine extension of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals [ACE]). Anyway, I say this because I truly believe that it is my Calvinism that attracts me to the Emergent conversation. I think the two can co-exist, for they share more in common than not (you can hear this many times in the affirmations from the panel on this broadcast). I get frustrated as I read some Emergent folks and listen to their rhetoric at the conventions because they are intentionally trying to make this a "whole new thing," rather than confirming that people like Francis Schaefer, Carl FH Henry, and members of the Jesus Movement were saying similar things years ago. They are creating some of the tension themselves by drawing too dark of a line between now and then. Perhaps a little "generosity" toward the Calvinists is needed within Emergent.

2. Orthodoxy is defined by the Bible, yes. But... Brian McLaren was asked at the convention by the White Horse Inn’s producer how we can define orthodoxy. McLaren replied that postmodernism has awakened us to the fact that this is usually framed by those in power (this, by the way, is best articulated by Michel Foucault, who correctly observed that every influential interpretation is put forward by those in power, and that power often corrupts the interpretation for the benefit of those in power). The solution to the power problem is Virtue and Christ-likeness. We need Virtue first, which leads us into Community, and Orthodoxy flows out of Community. The commentators on the radio show took issue with this: they insisted that knowledge of God’s Word comes first (i.e., Doctrine). And the Word (Doctrine) creates Community. They warned that the view endorsed by McLaren edges toward either Roman Catholicism or the teachings of Schleiermacher. But in fact, it is more one of the ideas of postmodern philosophy (as best articulated by Richard Rorty)—the fact that what we believe is very much a product of the community in which we find ourselves. Therefore, since community shapes ideas, we must seek to be a truly Christian community (which comes from reconnecting with God’s Word and Spirit and results in Virtue and Christ-likeness), but we must also realize that the community in which we find ourselves will shape what we believe (thus the importance of understanding this dynamic and embracing it and also listening to voices outside of our community). It’s almost like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” When one reads the books of Stanley Grenz or the latest book from Leonard Sweet, you see that they are stressing the importance of seeking orthodoxy for the sake of developing a Christ-like community. But they are also very cognizant of the fact that our community often shapes the way we seek orthodoxy. It’s a symbiotic dynamic that the commentators too easily dismissed.

3. Should we not always be reforming? As I listen to Michael Horton and others of conservative Calvinsim, I feel that we who are both “Reformed” and “Emergent” must make very clear is that a hallmark of Reformation Theology is “semper reformata” (“always reforming”). This slogan needs to be trumpeted more and more, especially as Emergent is criticized more and more by Reformation Theologians. It seems that, for the ACE-type Christians, semper reformata stops at the point where it begins to step too much on cherished ideas within their Calvinist camp. I can't help but think that if Calvin had lived for the last 400 years, his theology would have continued to reform and, yes, change (simply looking at how it changed in his lifetime is evidence of that). Again, the call to always be reforming is why I (as a Calvinist) am drawn into the Emergent conversation.


Sivin Kit said...

Bob, I must say it's fascinating how as one who's "reformed" in theology, your way of viewing "emergent"-related discussions is much friendlier :-) refreshing, irenic and I appreciate it.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for the encouraging words!

The Hedonese said...

Horton has an interesting conversation with McLaren in "The Church in emerging culture - 5 perspectives"... :)

I think in most instances where Horton took issue with McLaren, it's not a specifically "Calvinist"
that an Methodist like Andy Crouch can't relate to. Perceptive insights, nonetheless...

Bob Robinson said...

The "Five Perspectives" book is one of the many that are on my "Books on my shelf, impatiently waiting to be read" list!

You make a good point. Horton and Crouch (though they have different theological views) have this in common: they (like me, very often!) think in purely modernistic (rationalistic, foundationalistic, enlightenment-philosophy) terms.

And there is the rub. McLaren is pushing the envelope to help us think beyond the modern perceptions of the Gospel. The Reformation (sociologically speaking) was an offspring of the Enlightment. Can we (and should we) think beyond that cultural/societal context now that we are entering into a postmodern era?

DAO said...

hey man, stoppin by to say hi and look forward to spending more time reading your stuff.

The Hedonese said...

lemme try to recall what Horton and Crouch said... if not mistaken, both would recognise the limitations of modernism... they are doubt-free Cartesian foundationalists, for sure... I think they are critical of man being the measure of all things type of rationalism...

But they probably think we need to be rational in thinking, which perhaps is quite premodern!

I'm a bit confused here...

The Enlightenment is 18th century and Reformation is in 16th century, er... how can the offspring be older than the parent?

Oh! Check out the latest Modern Reformation edition in July