Monday, May 12, 2008

Piper v. Pagitt, or, Modern v. Post-modern?

John Piper

Fantastic summary over at Suburban Christian of a dialogue between John Piper, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.  I think Piper gets in right in summarizing the fundamental difference between the two perspectives - the differences are not, as many would have you believe about the existence of truth, but, instead, the difference is about what truth is.  Post-moderns/emergents absolutely believe in absolute truth, but their epistemology is relational.  Whereas Moderns also believe in absolute truth, but they determine what truth is based on propositional logic, not relational content.

Other than that important nugget, Piper demonstrates why the conversations between moderns/post-moderns (see the dialogue over at Speaking of Faith between Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne as an excellent additional example) is so often over before it begins.  They just talk past each other most of the time - using the same phrases and characterizations, but clearly disagreeing and never really quite understanding why!

I especially like the way both parties end their dialogue with fundamental questions about the other's standing in the kingdom.

Excerpts follow, but read the whole post. And, seriously, check out that SOF podcast with Colson/Boyd/Claiborne.

JOHN PIPER: It was a very profitable time for me. I like these guys, by the way. I like them because I think they're both hotheads, and I think I am too. That was a personal impression. However, my root sense is that ultimately, for Tony and Doug, committed relationships trump truth. They probably would not like the word "trump" but would rather say that committed relationships are an authentic expression of the gospel, and that to ask, "What is the gospel underneath, supporting the relationships?" is a category mistake. And so I just kind of kept going back on my heels, saying I just don't understand the way these guys think.

TONY JONES:  The pastor is a gentle-looking man, but his theology is anything but gentle. He believes that God's anger burns with holy fire against human sin. Words like wrath, hate, and blood.

[Regarding their respective churches working together in ministry] It became clear that the pastor felt that the beginning of any partnership was necessarily agreement on a particular doctrine, the atonement, a doctrine that he equates with an understanding of the gospel. To put it conversely, if you don't understand the atonement as he does, you do not understand the gospel. To put it even more bluntly, he said that if you reject his understanding of the gospel, you are rejecting the gospel in toto.

I mentioned that it might be arrogant and a bit deceptive to preach that one of them is the sole and exclusive means of understanding the single greatest event in the history of the cosmos: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. "What do you tell your congregation about how Christians understood the atonement for the thousand years prior to Anselm?"

The pastor paused, looked at me, and said, "You should never preach." He went on to state that in this confusing, relativized, and postmodern world, people need "fixed points of doctrine" around which they can orient their lives. In other words, a correct understanding of a particular doctrine is the beginning of all Christian ministry. If you don't have that, he was saying, you don't have anything.

Then I tried another tack in explaining emergent Christians. "For you," I said, "it's the fixed point of doctrine that is the litmus test of all ministry. But for us, it's the Apostle Paul's call to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world. Everything we do in the emergent church is surrounded by an envelope of friendship, friendship that is based on lives of reconciliation. And it's within that envelope that we have all sort of discussions and debates about the atonement and sex trafficking and baptism and AIDS in Africa.

"In fact," I continued, "I'm not sure it's even possible to be an orthodox Christian if you're not living a life of reconciliation."

1 comment:

Scott K said...

Jeff, have you read "The Sky is Falling". It is a pretty quick read that regarding 'Liminals' (his term) and Emergents. It is an interesting read.