Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever June 24, 2020
Today I want to continue to discuss some items from Tony Jones’ book, published in 2008, titled, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. In previous weeks I have shared with you and briefly discussed the first six so-called “dispatches” from Jones’ book. Today, we will look at dispatches 7-9.
As I noted last week, a “dispatch” is an official report on state or military affairs. The front cover depicts a man that is on a reconnaissance mission. In his book, Jones offers 20 so-called “dispatches” from the “Emergent frontier” of Christianity. Think of this as the cutting edge of Christianity. Jones is finding the cutting edge and reporting back to the rest of us what he has discovered.
His use of military words like “dispatches” and images like the man with binoculars on a reconnaissance mission in the context of faith might bother some people, but it is what it is. In Christianity there are certainly things that are “war-like,” metaphorically speaking, things like competition, conflict, and contrasts.
In fact, as I was looking at dispatches 7-9, I saw a pattern of things set in contrast to one another, things held in tension with one another. So, I thought for my talk this morning I would use the metaphor of the turf war.
Have you ever been in a turf war? According to the folks who make up terms and publish them in dictionaries, a “turf war” is a struggle between criminals or gangs over who get to control a particular area.
This could apply to rival mafias, drug gangs, prostitution rings, or even those loveable folks we used to call “hobos.” Fighting an actual war could also fall into this category because wars are generally fought over land, sometimes for access to natural resources, sometimes in order to wipe out the people who live on that land, and sometimes just to plant a flag in a piece of land or turf to show everyone “who’s the boss.”
People often fight turf wars, literally and metaphorically, in the name of religion: between religions, or between sects within religions. Metaphorically speaking, religious turf wars occur between denominations, different theological camps, and over silly things like the “proper mode of baptism.” In those cases, we are not just after literal turf; we are after “faith turf.”
Speaking of faith turf, all three of the dispatches I want to share today from Tony Jones’ book are about things that seem to be in conflict with one another in the context of religion and faith, especially as we get to the cutting edge of religion, or what Jones and his camp call “emergent” Christianity. With all that said, (and me confusing everyone I’m sure) let’s look at dispatches 7-9 from Jones’ book.
Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma
Here’s my interpretation of this: In Christianity (and other religions), there are two ideals that often butt heads. There is the softer edge of faith, what Jones’ characterizes as “friendship and reconciliation” and the harder edge of faith, which is “doctrine and dogma,” things that we debate with one another.
To funnel this down to a simple question: “How can Christians experience friendship reconciliation if they disagree about doctrine and dogma?” For Jones, the answer is not to pit one against the other. The answer is to place doctrine and dogma within the circle of the other.
Rather than draw two separate circles with “friendship and reconciliation” in one circle and “doctrine and dogma” in the other, we should draw a big circle of friendship and reconciliation and a smaller circle of doctrine and dogma inside the big circle.
In other words, if our debates about doctrine and dogma are not accomplished within the context of friendship and reconciliation; if, in fact, our debates about such things normally produce enemies and irreconcilable differences, then maybe we should stop debating these things. Maybe we should send doctrine and dogma packing. They can come home someday, but only after they have learned to “play nice with others.”
A few years ago, while commenting on this particular dispatch, I wrote this: “I can just see it now: Franklin Graham, Pope Francis, and Bishop John Shelby Spong in one long bear hug, sipping a cold beverage, and playing pinochle. Meta-World Peace is not just the name of a former professional basketball player. It is our future!”
It’s a nice thought anyway.
Emergents find the biblical call to community more compelling than the democratic call to individual rights.
Without belaboring the point, the same principle is at work here, a smaller circle within a larger circle. So, for Emergent, cutting-edge Christians, community is the big circle. Inside of that circle is individual rights. This means that if individual rights do not lead to, but in fact, distract or subtract from community, then we need to rethink our position on individual rights, again, within a Christian context.
Capeesh? (I thought I would try to sound like a mafioso.
Emergents are robustly theological; the conviction is that theology and practice are inextricably related, and each invariably informs the other.
Here we have two circles again, and yet this time the circles are the same. One is not encompassing the other. Theology is not more important than practice, and practice is not more important than theology (in a faith context, of course.) They are both equally important and they inform one another. They both occupy the same turf, so there should not be a “faith turf war” between the two.
In conclusion, are you in a faith turf war about anything at all? Is it a turf war between friendship and reconciliation vs. doctrine and dogma? If so, prioritize friendship and reconciliation. That’s what Jesus did.
Is it a turf war between community and individual rights? If so, prioritize community.
Or is it a turf war between theology and practice? If so, prioritize both of them. As James wrote in his letter, “faith without works is dead,” (i.e. theology without practice is dead) and I’m sure he would agree that works without faith, or practice without theology is sort of dead, too, in the sense that there is nothing inherently Christian about that.