Yesterday, I got into a Twitter conversation with Brian Merritt who asked “Does the label Emergent give Conservatives an out from being called conservative while not really coming close to historic liberalism?” Unlike, many online discussions, it didn’t get ugly or argumentative. Mostly because Brian (and his wife Carol Howard-Merritt) is very cool. I first noticed him while he was pastor at Palisades Community Church in Washington D.C. and got involved with Occupy K Street. Iam an Occupy supporter and respect any clergy that embraces the movement. So, yesterday’s conversation started from a good place and didn’t veer off. Now, I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but I answered Brian’s initial question by saying “Possibly. Although, I’ve yet to run into any conservatives that come close to actually being Emergent.” Things went back and forth a bit before Brian said “many I know (emergents) would have little problem with many of the original five fundamentals. They may reinterpret them in post-modern language”. Which made me wonder if he was right. Which, in turn, made me examine where I stood on those five fundamentals.
I suppose before we get into what I believe, we should probably look at those five fundamentals. As I stated in the series “Inerrancy v. Context” (parts I, II, III), fundamentalism started as a reaction to growing liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Conservatives were worried that such thinking could mean the end of the faith and set out five core beliefs that were fundamental to Christianity. They are:
- The inerrancy of the Bible
- The literal nature of biblical accounts, especially the Creation Story and the miracles of Christ.
- The Virgin Birth
- The resurrection and physical return of Jesus.
- The substitutionary nature of the Atonement.
So, there they are, the five fundamentals of faith. According to some people, if you don’t adhere to each and every one of these points, you’re not a Christian. And by that standard, I’m most certainly not a Christian. Why do I say that? Let me break it down for you:
- As stated in the aforementioned series, I do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Not only do I believe it must be interpreted, in various places, I think it’s flat-out wrong. The Bible condones slavery, I do not. The Bible advocates the death penalty for various offenses, I do not. The Bible says that anything but heterosexuality is an abomination, I do not. Hey, I’m finally an overachiever!
- Because I reject a literal interpretation of the Bible, I must reject “the literal nature of biblical accounts”, right? Kinda. I do believe that Christ performed miracles and, more than likely, the Gospel accounts are accurate (at least as accurate as translations of 2000 year old documents can be). The creation story, however, is…, well, another story. I view the Genesis accounts as more allegorical than historical. Do I only lose half a point on this one?
- To be perfectly honest, the virgin birth doesn’t matter one way or the other to me. Some might say that means I reject the divinity of Jesus, but that’s not the case. I think Jesus’ life and actions do more do prove that divinity that some crazy story of cosmic conception that could well be based on the mistranslation of a word or an author using an Old Testament story (allegory?) to show that Jesus was the Messiah.
- I do believe Jesus rose from the grave. You can be a Christian and not believe that, however. On the physical return end of things, that may or may not be true. It’s possible that Jesus will come back (I believe in a Jewish zombie. After that, a physical return isn’t such a big deal). It’s just as possible, however, that Jesus used the idea of His return as a metaphor for the time when all people followed His way and the Kingdom of Heaven reigned on Earth.
- I am not a believer in penal substitutionary atonement. I think it paints God as a colossal asshole that can only be satisfied by blood. That’s not a God I want to follow. I’m not really happy with any of the atonement theories as they all seem to be inextricably tied to original sin and all that crap. I suppose the closest one to what I believe would be the moral influence theory, which says that Jesus died to show humanity the immensity of God’s love in order to affect moral change. Hear that bubbling sound? That’s a fundamentalist’s brain boiling somewhere
Guess that answers the question about this emergent and where he stands on the five fundamentals: I’m a big ol’ heretic. How can I be a heretic and a believer at the same time? Simple, Jesus is my rabbi and I follow His teaching. That’s it. And, that’s really all it takes to be a Christian. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some of the leading voices in Emergence and see where they come down on this issue.