Tuesday, January 01, 2013

6 New Paradigms Essential for Convergence Christianity - Part I, the Bible

For years now, Christian writers and thinkers like Brian McLaren, Eric Elnes, and Phylis Tickle have been talking about a New Convergence (NC) in Christianity--a coalition (some know it as the emergent church and expressed in such movements as The Wild Goose Festival) of liberal mainliners, restless evangelicals, and progressive Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, all converging over a progressive, social-justice-focused theology, closer to the original message and movement of Jesus. My contention is, in order for this modern recapturing of Jesus' love-ethic-over-religious-dogma to stick, there needs to be a clear demarkation between the old world view that all these streams held at one point to a large degree and new spiritual, well-defined paradigms based on solid scriptural and historical evidence. Othewise, the conservative roots and branch of each stream will continue to hold it back and deem it suspect. So, here's my take on 6 essential paradigm shifts the NC needs to embrace and express.

1 - An Historical Approach to the Bible - By historical, I don't mean one must accept everything in the Bible as exactly historically accurate, but that the "biblical" way (true to what the Bible actually teaches and how it was compiled) of viewing the Bible is as an historian reading a human document (parts of which, each individual 'historian reader' deems inspired by God). Without an historical approach, the Bible is abused and used to oppress others, e.g. the anti-gay error (both of these I expound in my book). This historical view is opposed to the traditional, literalist view, which claims the the Bible is wholly God's Word and inerrant, self-sufficient, self-evident, internally consistent, and universally applicable. Christian Smith, Garry Wills, and many others have shown the fallacy of this literalistic view, while maintaining respect for the Bible as containing a message from God. The NC must be able to articulate this historical approach. For example, perhaps, stating the following, not as a litmus-test creed, but as an alternate paradigm:
  • The Bible is not the Word of God but contains the Word of God.
  • The Word of God is the Logos, the rational wisdom of God, as best expressed in Christ.
  • We discern God's Logos and how to apply it by reading the Bible with an understanding of its historical, cultural, and literary context, how it was compiled and translated (biblical/historical scholarship), with the help of the Spirit, and a dose of common sense.
  • We learn to apply the Logos of God in the Bible to our lives by focusing on its grand conclusive themes--trust (faith), grace over law, hope, and love--not specific admonitions that don't claim to be universally applicable.
There are five other new paradigms I'm suggesting, which I'll describe in future posts. They have to do with recapturing the meaning of "church" (hint, it's not an institution), rediscovering the Good News, embracing hope not fear of the future, understanding the inclusive, universal message of Christ, and embarking on a spiritually-fueled social-justice mission. Stay tuned for these other five and let me know your thoughts on New Paradigm #1.


Eric Elnes said...

Michael, you have made a thoughtful response and one that contributes to the evolving understanding of Convergence. I look forward to your future posts!

I don’t know how likely it is that your first principle will be more attractive to conservative Christianity (though I would love to think it would). Yet I agree with you entirely that some recognition of the BIble as being written within an historical context, shaped by social and cultural (and other) influences of the day, is essential in moving forward. We must move beyond both the conservative paradigm of the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God (or Fourth member of the Trinity), AND we must move beyond the modernist liberal paradigm that essentially throws out the Bible, assuming that we’ve moved beyond it.

Regarding how the Bible functions as God’s Word, I think you’re moving in the right direction with your proposal that it is not “God’s Word” but CONTAINS “God’s Word” – though I’m not sure “contains” is really the right word, as if God’s Word could be contained in the Bible. I forget which 20th C theologian (Barth?) said that the Bible is not the Word of God, but is words that point us to the Word of God. Lately, I’ve been talking about how the words of scripture move us into both a confrontation and conversation with the Holy Spirit.

Somehow, we must move beyond the simple (but valid), “I take the Bible seriously but not literally” into a formulation that hangs more meat on the bones.

Michael Camp said...

Eric, Yes, it may not be more attractive to conservatives, but as you said, we need to hang more meat on the bones of the "take the Bible seriously, but not literally" phrase. Some conservatives will be open to some of this as they have been exposed to people like Gordon Fee who promotes a historical/cultural approach to Bible interpretation and even argues (like Erhman) that copyists have inserted verses into the controversial I Corinthians 14(?) passage (women not to speak or teach in the church). There is a way to argue against literalism while defending the historicity and inspirational value of much of the Bible. The trick is to show biblical and historical evidence for both that would convince more open conservatives and liberals to take steps toward each other.

Yes, I remember Barth saying that too, and couldn't remember his exact wording. Eastern Orthodox Christians sometimes say there's a difference between scripture and teh Word of God. Thanks for weighing in. I look forward to hearing your piece on "way, truth, life" passage. Cheers!