Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Quiet Reflection on QROH




The conference, Friends in Conversation: A Quiet Revolution of Hope was held in Petaling Jaya on 3-4 March, 2007. The main speaker is Brian McLaren. Aside from the conference, Brian also gave a lecture at STM on 5 March 2007.

Jamie Sim reported the event in Christian Today online magazine here

Alwyn Lau’s reflections are here,here,and here. I am sure Alwyn has much more to say. David Tan comments on his blog. Another comment is found in Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. It is encouraging to note the conversation is still going on and people are engaging with the experience.


I have prepared myself for this conference by reading all 10 of Brian’s books (which he has autographed), and also whatever I can find on the internet. I engage in conversations with people involved with the emerging church movement. My objective is to learn as much about the emerging church movement as possible. I thank my brothers in the JB Pastor Fellowship for their concern; especially those warned me and sent me emails and reading materials about the dangers of the emerging church. Fortunately, this conference allowed me to have a lot of time of interactions and quiet conversations with Brian McLaren.


Here are a few of my observations:

1. Brian is a gentle soft spoken man. I believe that he is a committed Christian seeking to follow and serve Jesus as we all are doing. I do not believe that he is a charlatan with his own selfish agenda.

2. I do not think Brian is “a threat to the gospel” as reported in a report. However, his interpretation of the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of the gospel is slightly wider than what most evangelicals would allow. However, we need to understand where he is coming from in his definition of gospel. Brian is an excellent communicator and as he tells his stories and illustrations, that we can be so caught up with enjoying the way he tells them that we missed what he is telling us, and more importantly, what he is not saying. It is good that he tells of the two versions of the gospel. One is the gospel of self which can be roughly translated as “I am saved so to hell with the rest of the world.” The other version is the kingdom of God. Brian has not mentioned that there are other versions of the gospel. He also needs to clarify whether he means that the kingdom of God is the gospel. He is not too clear in his talks on that. And he also needs to clarify what he means when he uses the word, “kingdom of God.”

3. Brian's emphasis is on contextualization of the gospel rather than attempting to create a systematic theological definition. As a friend of mine points out, this is akin to Lamin Sanneh’s concept of “translatability.” The gospel is both universal (truth) and particular (culture). Other scholar who may have shaped Brian’s thinking is Lesslie Newbigin (who is a guy in spite of his name) and David Bosch. Brian is in fact being a missionary to the North American church. However, it is relevant to us in Malaysia and Singapore or other part of Asia to examine this “translatability” of the gospel especially in a pluralistic, materialistic, and multicultural context. It is important that we examine the universal and the particular.

4. Brian was a pastor and his approach is mainly pastoral in nature. One needs to understand his approach from this direction. While giving us three illustrations about the emerging church, Brian did not give us much information about the emerging church or on what exactly is an emergent church. He then talks about deep ecclesiology in such a vague way that we are free to interpret the term to mean whatever we want to. It would have been helpful for Brian explain his diagram in respect to “liquid”, “ghost”, and why the vertical arrow is bidirectional. What makes this ecclesiology “deep”? There is a danger that we are so engrossed by high sounding words that we fail to understand what it means.


5. I have problem with his theological construct on which he builds his emerging churches. The emerging churches are strong in practice but weak in theology. This is a weakness that Brian has to address if his theology of model making is to be accepted by the church. Another friend of mine comments that Brian “artificially contrasts between the ‘bad’ timeless propositional model which is a caricature and then puts it beside his model which is vaguely described. The assumption is that his theology has all the qualities which the earlier models lack.” While it is obvious that Brian is influenced by W.T. Wright, we need to, in comparison look at the ecclesiological theology of Barth, Erickson, Luther, and Calvin. His theology is very much influenced by sociology, psychology, politics, pragmatism, secular individualism than by biblical propositions. However I do not think that he is “New Age”, of which he is accused to be associated with by another friend of mine. Still at this moment his theology construct is still weak.

6. Though he claims to be post-modern, he is very ‘modern’ in the way he thinks. I do not see how one can think of God, the Trinity and the gospel without being propositional. In his last talk in the conference about the world, he gives his analysis of the problems of the world. His reasoning reminds me of the theories of Karl Marx and Nietszche. His answer, as in all his other three presentations is simplistic without much offering in the sense of how do we translate his concepts to action.

7. His definition of theology as “an ongoing creative enterprise of making models of the universe based on beliefs about God” was presented at the STM lecture. I was disappointed that the many STM theologians present did not engage in this definition. It sounds too universalistic and scary for many evangelicals. I would like to know what limitations does he place on his model making and what hermeneutic role does the Bible plays in his theology.

8. He is concerned about the weaknesses of the institutional church, and I share his concern that we are losing a large number of our younger people from the church. Would the model of emerging church be an answer?

9. Brian is articulate, intelligent, and well meaning. I have enjoyed his company. I believe we should listen to what he has to say. The least we can do is to offer him Christian hospitality which means that we listen to one another. However, we must critically reflect on what he says. We need to examine his propositions in the light of the Word of God. Finally, we need to come to our own conclusions, not depending on the conclusions of others.

This is not a criticism of Brian and should not be taken as such. These are some of my reflections and of a few other pastors and theologians I have spoken to. There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are needed. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren.


Blessings

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25 Comments:

Blogger Bob K said...

Dr Tang,

I really appreciate your reflections abt McLaren. It is very refreshing to hear/see a more critical assessment of the message McLaren brings to us, the Church, as a whole, without the atypical flippancy that most criticisms of the emergent conversation seem to take upon.

I can understand that the challenges which McLaren throws to the Church and Evangelicalism specifically can be very difficult to digest and occasionally challenges what seems to many already set in stone. That is why I am happy that while you still affirm the foundations of Evangelicalism, you have found yourself able to embrace McLaren as a person and able to open yourself to some of the more critical posits presented.

Perhaps this is where your praxis of the theology of modelling is put into action and that makes you part of the process of defining what is still somewhat vague in what is emerging in the Church this century.

Blessings,

Bob K

7:57 PM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

I think unlike many who came .. you came most "prepared" and I'm glad you had the chance to have more interaction with Brian.

I think due to the nature of the event .. where I saw Brian as more of a conversation initiator (and thus the attention was meant to point away from him), we had less chance to directly engage his thoughts.

Overall, I appreciate your quiet reflections :-) I think they are helpful and hopeful to get us thinking for ourselves.

I'm glad my camera taking skills are of acceptable standards. I think the final picture looks good. And the final paragraph captures the special blessing for you and many of us ...

"There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are need. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren."

I'll interact with your points over at my blog in a different way. :-)I'll leave you with this link to wet your appetite.

What (again) is an emerging theology?

I think we're more used to engage with the British way of presentation? :-) Enjoy

10:29 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

Alex, were you reading my mind? (grin)

I think your 9 reflections are very helpful in setting some kind of 'agenda' for thinking more about what Brian said.

(And, sigh, this was just going to be a short comment but), moving straight to point 5 regarding his lack of a theological model, I *suspect* that:

- he isn't very keen developing anything even resembling a 'systematic theology', not because he think it's bad but because he feels that isn't a priority; he MAY even ask, "What was Jesus' "theological model"?

- he's more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to 'fleshing them out' Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.

- he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task

- he'll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it's a good thing, 'good' being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a 'new kind of humanity'

All the above is speculation about how Brian might respond, but hey didn't u manage to ask him about this when you were with him? ;>)

(I only popped him one direct question: Have you read Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation? He said yes and it's a good book. Not the best book, but a good one)

10:34 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your comments. It is important that after all the excitement and after the "mountain top" experience of any religious event, we need to reflect on what has been said.

I like Brian. I hope he likes me.

However we need to engage in what he has taught us; firstly to understand him, secondly, to critically reflect on what he said, thirdly, to accept or reject what he said, and finally, to act on our critical reflection. As Sivin said, the end of the conference is just the beginning.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

Thanks, Dr Tang, for the post-Conversation reflection... it's much appreciated, as it helps me recap much of what had been spoken throughout the three days.

Wow, you read ALL of Brian's 10 books?! I guess I must confess now... I've not read a single one of Brian's books. *mournful look*

I think Brian's purpose wasn't so much to establish an apologetic for the emerging church movement; this perhaps explains his silence on this issue. In fact, it probably isn't very consistent with the ethos of the emerging church to establish a self-protectionist apologetic for itself.

I think there is probably a lot in Brian's reservoire of understanding which he wasn't able to share with us in the light of the limited time given. Also, he probably wasn't very interested in taking on a prescriptive approach.

If I read Brian's words and heard his talks correctly, I think he was more interested in affirming what we're already doing in Malaysia, particularly those of us who're primarily interested in contextualising our faith. I think Brian would agree with me when I say he's NOT asking us to do something that we're not already doing.

One classic example of this contextual concern is your Asian approach to spiritual formation... S.H.A.L.O.M!

1:08 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Sivin,

Thank you for the opportunity to interact with Brian. You have been a gracious host.

No, as I said in my post, this is not a criticism of Brian or of your organisation of the conference. In fact, you and your team did an excellent and fantastic job. Well done!!

I understand very well that the objective of the conference is that Brian initiate the conversation which will be carried on by the local conversation partners.

Thank your for your links to the open theology blog. It is an interesting concept that people can build up a theology by contribution from anyone, as sort of wikipedia or wikitheology. However, there will come a time when any theology must be subjected to the vigorous examination of the academia.

Here is a caution.In our headlong rush into post modern/ emerging church ideas, be careful that we do not end up anti-intellectuallism. This is a real danger that we must be aware of.

I look forward to your interactions with my points in your blog.

Not really, I have my fair share of both American and British presentations in both medical and religious context so I can differentiate between the two.

BTW, I have email a copy of my post to Brian for his comments. I want to be fair in my observations.

Blessings

1:39 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Alwyn,

No, I was not reading your mind. Is that one of the new spiritual gift? :)

I have enjoyed your postings very much.

Straight to point 5.

he isn't very keen developing anything even resembling a 'systematic theology', not because he think it's bad but because he feels that isn't a priority; he MAY even ask, "What was Jesus' "theological model"?

Even postmodernism has some rules and guidelines or it is just total chaos. Modernism has foundamentalism while post modernism has web of knowledge. It is epistiomology that is important. Brian has to develop the epistemiology of the emerging church. After 10 years, he cannot say it is still not a priority. BTW, Jesus does have a "theological model". His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.

he's more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to 'fleshing them out' Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.

I agree with you in this.His time is limited and he has so much to say. To be fair to him, he threw out his main outline and his main points.

he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task

That may be true but again after more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?

he'll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it's a good thing, 'good' being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a 'new kind of humanity'

That is exactly what he is saying. He is saying that all of the theologies of 19th and 20th Century theologian are modern, contaminated by culture and the new knowledge (psychology, etc). It does not seem to work because our cognitive knowledge does not translate to our actions, which is to be obedient and loving. That is why he is suggesting a new kind of Christianity.

Blessings

2:01 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi SK,

You are right in that Brian is not trying to present an apologetics for the emerging church movement. In fact, I have a distinctive feeling that he was trying to avoid the use of the words "emerging" and "postmodern". However, some of the other pastors of the emerging churches are not so restrained. This is helped by the publisher Zondervan and the Leadership Network which are publishing books about the emerging movement as fast as they are written. Anyone ever wondered why such a small group of people can produce so many books and generate so much publicity?

I agree with your reading of Brian's words and talk. He is interested in affirming what we are doing. But he is also interested to know whether what he is doing and teaching in North America can be applied in Asia.

Blessings

2:16 AM  
Blogger y2k said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for your post and reflections. Really appreciate your interaction, and the discussions taking place on this page itself! In danger of too much self-consciousness, may I say that you really help us to model a way of conversation that would be so helpful for Christians to move ahead, not get stuck in false dichotomies/dualisms/polarities.

You know, I also wish Brian could unpack his ideas a bit more for the rest of us - or even point us to source literature that forms the basis of a lot of his stuff. So hopefully he'll drop by KL again some point soon.

You mentioned that there's not much academic work published specifically on the emerging church movement(ECM) even after over 10 years. My conjecture is that the ideas that fuel this "movement" (that's a bad word in these circles, by the way :)) aren't all that new - ECM is a form of contextualisation, as has been observed by various postings around QRoH. So, while I haven't read them myself, I suspect understanding the foundation for the ECM would entail going back to some of these source "ideas" (some that I've heard being quoted includes Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche etc - I've read Willard & NT Wright). But you'll be pleased to know that there has been one or two recent books exploring/proposing a theology for the emerging church (Sivin can help here?).

Interestingly, there were some participants I know for a fact who found even the stuff he presented to be way too deep. So going into more elementary explorations would've completely lost these poor brothers/sisters. I guess it's hard to pitch it with such a varied audience. All the more reasons for the conversations to continue beyond last weekend!

Hope to see you in KL again sometime, or when I head down south..

God bless
Yew Khuen

7:24 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

Alex, I must state clearly that I appreciate this post. I think this is the kind of conversation and tone which is contextual to our social location as well as seeking to be faithful to the Gospel. I REALLY enjoyed interacting with you too ...

I see it in 2 ways (surely there's more):
1. It will be interesting to observe and even interact with how those participating in this conversation work on the contextualization (which I was surprised to know is not a welcome word in some quarters)in the USA and North America (especially since they have a strong publishing ability and influence) Examples of this is found here Emersion Books. It seems to be people like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt would be leading the way in their context. So, Brian is one of the participants and an important voice but probably not the "systematic" one.

2. I think in a broader scale (and perhaps more academic)the place and people to engage with would be the Gospel and Our Culture Network USA and perhaps those in UK as well ... Another 2 blogs I've keeping an eye on would be Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank and the church and postmodern culture: conversation. I think there's a place for critical engagement with the ideas found there. But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.

3. I thought it was two but then now I realize there is three ...I think there are different levels of engagement (e.g. ranging from pastoral to Academic). I recall a model by Grenz and Olson that was very helpful in their book Who Needs theology? which seems to be behind my mind right now. Each engagement with a different focus and accent. This is my observation and intuitive guesses after thinking about this day and night for the last 7 years consciously and unconsciously (and of course especially in the last few days pre and post Friends 2007). :-) So, in my mind I have this "fuzzy" model of how I do it, now I'm catalyzed by your post to put it our clearer.

Let me send my son to school first and I'll talk more. :-)

p.s. your post is not seen in anyway as a negative criticism. On the contrary, it's very helpful to move the conversations forward. Thanks for your contribution.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

Oh yes .. I think my friend Jason Clark would be a conversation partner who would be helpful from a UK context. We're trying to work out a possibility for him to come to Malaysia. I think that would enrich our constructive thinking here.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

Hi Alex,

Jesus does have a "theological model". His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.

I take it that you want to see (explicitly) the methods with which Brian derives his conclusions, right? Point taken - so there's no hint of it in any of his 10 books?

But wouldn't you consider what Brian presented in his Gospel session as the 'framing' part? So it could go something like:

1. Kingdom of God as world transformation, world-loving, THEREFORE
2. Church and Mission primarily involves loving, knowing, healing, serving, etc.
3. Culture is both the domain of God's activity and source of bridge-building and/or 'knowledge integration'
4. Christian as agent of love, reconciliation, etc.

It's kinda like Grenz & Franke's model, which leads me to suggest another reason : Maybe Brian's work is an elaboration and 'building up' models which already exist(?). Stil, I confess it's speculation again on my apart...I guess I'm still trying to understand what you mean by a 'theological model'...


After more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?

I think we need to tease apart the phrase 'standing with him'. Do you mean the theologians who've adopted 'postmodernism' and/or those whose work, if put in layman's language, might sound like what McLaren talks about? In that case, I think people like NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Middleton, Brueggemann, McClendon, Raschke, Webber, even Pinnock (with his missiological focus) may be included.

I do not think there will be many people who will selfconsciously write works with titles like "Emerging Theology" because, as you rightly imply, it's really not like, say, presuppositionalism or Dispensationalism which has a 'fixed' canon/focal point of principles (such that one can easily tell, "Oh THAT'S Wesleyianism, or that's NOT Open Theism, etc.").

What did you think of Andersen's book, btw? I haven't read it...hope to one day...

1:41 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

I don't know if it's really possible to frame a theology of the emerging church. It's like asking me to present a theology to justify contextual theology. Essentially, contextual theology is about approaching things using a different methodology from that which is conventional, as it were, changing the rules of the game (for good reason, of course). So how do we use the old rules to justify changing (at least some of) the rules of the game? That would mean pandering to the old rules of the game all over again. Some people feel safer sticking by the established set of rules, some others see its deficiency and decide to move on to explore hopefully better alternatives.

As I see it, it's simply about seriously engaging our cultural contexts in our theological understanding and articulation of things. In our world (at least the world I come from), we say "Theology is contextual, so let's all do theology contextually!"... I think this is what the emerging church is saying too. Whilst we will try to describe how we've redefined the rules of the game in our contexts, we will not prescribe the same set of rules for others in different contexts; otherwise we'll simply be repeating that same old cycle of theological imperialism again. Now, if there is no one indefinitely fixed framework, how do we then know if our localised theological methods are largely faithful to the faith of the larger Body? The key lies in CONVERSATIONS.

It's not that we must always agree with what the emerging church is doing - in fact, there probably isn't ONE WAY of doing things in the emerging church for us to agree or disagree on. What makes them emerging churches is that they're "moving on" to engage seriously with their contexts and effecting the necessary changes to implement what it means to BE CHURCH in these contexts. Many of us are already engaged seriously with our contexts and are doing what the emerging church is doing even if we don't call ourselves "emerging people". I think Karl Rahner would call us the "anonymous emerging Christians"!

Just as in the realm of contextual theology, we get theologians seriously engaging their contexts through liberal positions, liberation positions, feminist positions, and a myriad of other positions, it's probably true with the emerging church too. But just because there are a couple of liberals or feminists or liberation people within the emerging church we may or may not disagree with doesn't naturally mean we should absolutely discount the cause for which the emerging church movement stands.

So let's keep the conversations going! :)

3:39 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Yew Khuen,

Thank you for the kind comment. I agree with you that I wish Brian has had more time to unpack his ideas.

Basically, you have hit the nail on the head. The emerging church is a protest, as C.A. Carson says, to the ineffectiveness of the institutional church. What I have not heard anyone in the United States say is that the emerging church movement is an attempt to re-evangelise the United States. It is trying to do contextualize the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture. It is never meant to be a challenge to the status quo but an attempt at reformation. In doing so, they are trying to legitimize their position by building up a theology. You mentioned Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard & NT Wright.

The emerging church drew most of their ‘postmodern’ theology from Grenz but Grenz is not really postmodern. Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard and Wright are actually very “modern” in their thinking.

Yes, it is difficult to talk to a varied crowd and I am sure there are people who do not understand why this conversation is even necessary.

Yow Khuen, I look forward to our next meeting.

Blessings

10:14 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Sivin,

There is a lot of work done about contextualization, especially in the missiology sector. And there are many people who begin to see the issue of the emerging church is the issue of contextualization. That is why David Hesselgrave criticized Brian’s model of contextualization. David is a renowned professor emeritus of missiology. I do not know whether Tony Jones has finished his D.Min. from Fuller’s.

“But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.” I am happy to hear you say that. But it is not enough to encourage. You will need to do some critical creative work and construction. We need to approach this at two levels. One is from the academia level where one has to do research and publish papers and books. The other is from the grassroots level where one has to becoming the community of the followers of Christ.

Actually there are more than three levels of engagement. It is natural to think of the pastoral level and the academic level. Do not forget that we have a large group of people who are on the same level as the pastoral people but who are not pastors or full time workers. Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination. As you wrote, “Each engagement with a different focus and accent.” I am very excited about this. For the first time we are regaining what the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Brethrens have been telling us. Forget the artificial division of clergy and laypeople.

We do not have to wait for Jason Clark to come over. We can invite him to join our conversation here :)

Blessings

10:37 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Alwyn,

Interesting way you used Brian’s presentation in his Gospel talk and link it to the framing in the World talk. Actually framing comes from the work of Donald Schon and Martin Rein. This was developed further and connected with the meta-narratives. Framing is often misused as the rich and powerful rewrite history. Paulo Freire ( I am sure you are familiar with him, others ‘google’) gave the power back to the people.

By a “theological construct” I mean, for example Karl Barth’s Christology or Wright’s Atonement. It is a propositional, definable system of belief. It is easy to build theological straw man.

“Standing with him” means at least agreeing with him or try to support Brian’s ideas. No, I do not mean theologians who has become postmodern. NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Brueggemann, and Webber, are mentioned by Brian to support his ideas, not the other way round. Again, these guys are not postmodern.

Andersen’s book is interesting but he needs stronger support for his propositions.

Blessings

11:10 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi SK,

Thank you for your insightful contribution. I agree with you that there will not be a theology of the emerging church. It is far too diverse for one.

I like the "Theology is contextual, so let's all do theology contextually!" (now, is that a truism?) I believe that is what Brian is trying to share with his theology of model making. Again we come back to the universal (truth) and particular (culture) of the Gospel. The danger is making the particular the main emphasis. Then we have idolatry. This is what the systematic theologians are afraid of. It is as you mentioned, the “chaninging of the rules” that worry them.

I don’t know whether we qualify to be the “anonymous Christians” that Karl Rahner refers to, but hey, we’re talking :)

Blessings

11:22 PM  
Anonymous alwyn said...

Hi Alex, hey I think you've gone way ahead of me there: I've never heard of Schon, Rein and Freire - guess I got a lot of catching up to do.

I'm surprised, though, you said that Grenz, Walsh and Franke aren't postmodern. But hey this would be another conversation. ;>)

12:14 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

Alex,
some quick comments before I sleep (and look how linear I will present them!).

1. I'll try and see whether I can get Jason Clark to give some comments.

2. As far as encouragement and construction, I think we're all participating in this. Encouragement is more immediate (and often lacking). Construction needs more time (and patience)

3.Here is where it's important for conversation. I use the word "pastoral" not exclusively for clergy. Thus, I affirm your comment: "Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination."
And I believe in their "pastoral" and "priestly" role in their respective locations. But this shift in appreciating the priesthood of all believers is more to help us relook at current practices and values. I think we have seen how merely changing the forms does not necessarily get to the core of the matter. In churches where there are no clergy/laity distinction, my friends share with me other "ugly stories" of how we fail to handle the issue of power. That's another topic.

4. The other buzz word is "postmodern". During the event, and even in our conversation here, I find it to be a red-herring at times. For example, the question for me is not whether Grenz or Wright, or whoever is "postmodern" (whatever that means). My question is what are the question they are asking and what context are they engaging. And if that's the question asked, then Grenz did make a shift to seriously engage his postmodern context and interact with "postmodern" philosophers. This can also be said of NT Wright in some of the lectures I've heard lately where he is no friend of modernity and refuses to sleep with postmodernity and uses the image of "walking through" postmodernity to the other side.

5. On the issue of reading into. I did ask Brian did he get his ideas from Marx for his last session (a friend of mine asked me becoz he felt what he seemed to have heard it before). Brian said "no". I confess, I'm not that well read and thus am not able to guess where maybe Brian's sources. Most of the time he mentions them, other times perhaps it's more hidden.

6. I think in many ways, we seem to be asking questions that Brian did not intend to answer by his quest. For me, I see him as a model of a reflective practitioner (a phrase he uses on himself) and not a academic scholar. This does not mean we can't critically engage his thought academically but I wonder whether those energies could be channeled to perhaps engaging the authors of "The Missional Church" where they clearly set out their theological vision. I read both books the missional church and church on the other side almost the same time. The missional church book fired my theological imagination, Brian's first book showed me how one works it oout pastorally and in less technical language. Together they have been very formative to get my own thinking going.

7. I think when we talk about the theology of the emerging church it's useful to contrast an earlier movement in the last century in the English speaking world -e.g. what is the theology of the evangelical church? Does everyone follow John Stott's theological vision? Is it Pat Robertson? Or Alister McGrath? How about the Latin Americans like Rene Padilla? Or Asians like Stephen Tong? In short, the diversity is more of a reality of the various streams within the wider world of Christianity.

8. As for Idolatry, I think Calvin said it well, "the human mind is an idol factory". so, for me whether it's universal or particular the danger lies in both ends. The moment we fall in love with our concepts of the one whom we worship more than the one who created us and relates to us ... we are all in danger. This doesn't mean we do not formulate any means of understanding God but we begin to learn to use language with more humility and with an open posture and hearts more open for the inbreaking of God's kingdom in our understanding. This is an ongoing process in conversation and in community with the saints/sinners of the past and the saints/sinners present. Of course, I'd have to mention Christ, Canon, Creed and more ... but this will make this comment a little too long if I continue unpacking those words. More another time. :-)

12:29 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alywn,

It's like Sivin said, postmodernism is such a nebulous term that it is so hard to define.

Second, is that the people you have mentioned are not consistent in what they say. Maybe it is the context in which they say it. Or maybe their thinking is evolving. So it sounds great to walk past postmodernism into ?what. Quantum modernism?

Blessings

1:04 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Sivin.

1. That will be great if Jason can join us and give us his input.
2. I like the encouragement and construction. As long as we do not be too reductionist in our thinking.
3. Yes, I know what you mean. One of the thoughts that Brian stirred in my mind during the conference and I have filed to explore another day is the spirituality of power.
4. Agreed. It is a buzz word. Any suggestion on what other words we can use?
5. On the issue of reading into, it is interesting that I am not the only one who thinks of Marx.
6. Okay, missional church.
7. I think we all agree about the diversity. It was some time before the word “evangelical” come into being.
8. goodnite :)

1:19 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

Hi Dr Tang,

Wow, it's been some time since I've engaged in a lengthy discussion in somebody's blog comments section. But this is getting too interesting to ignore. :p

I just have a note in relation to what you mentioned about the universal (truth) and the particular (culture). Yes, an over-focus on the particular isn't the way it's supposed to be. Further to that, though, an engagement in the particular often (if not always) necessitates the theological thinker to re-examine what he once thought was universal. I think this reality is what makes many theologians shudder.

This is especially when we come from traditions that "fossilise" what we think to be universal. Whilst what we think is universal may be so, there's an inclination to forget that our ARTICULATIONS of that which is universal themselves aren't universal. These articulations are encouched within a cultural reality and are also never exhaustive of the universal in its entirety.

To do theology contextually is indeed an endeavour fraught with danger. But because all theological articulations are inevitably contextual, the entire theological arena is itself fraught with danger. And all the more, we cannot retreat from the necessity of walking this path. We play the game, and in the process of playing the game, find that we have to re-examine (and modify or change) some of the rules of the game because we find that some of the existing rules either 1)misrepresent the nature of the game itself, 2)reflect a way of playing relevant to the way the game used to be played before but is now acknowledged to be archaic because of the growth of wisdom in that field, or 3)ignore the reality that there are other players of the same game in other parts of the world and in different points of history playing the very same game using a different set of rules we never knew about.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi SK,

That's why I am so excited about it. Yes, it is good that you recognise we are playing a game, a very dangerous game.

Lamin Sanneh influenced my thinking very much on this. There is a real danger of us fossilising the universal. And I believe this is where many theologians and denominations at at this stage.

Like you say, we are playing a games with changing rules in relation to culture, historical, socio-economic development, ideologies, powers and principalities, and what is worst, in a neo-colonisation of a superpower mono-hegemony. Sounds familiar? Like the New Testament church all over again.

Blessings

4:34 PM  
Blogger Kansas Bob said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for the posts about the conference and Brian McLaren. I found them to be helpful and informative. I will try to get back here to watch a few of the videos Do you recommend that I watch them in sequence or are there ones that are better than others?

Blessings, Bob

11:16 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Kansas Bob,

I will recommend watching them in order. They are only a few minutes but highlight keypoints.

12:10 AM  

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