I recently received an email enquiring about two chicklets on my site. Their proximity to each other and inclusion together perplexed (maybe bothered is a better word) the writer. The banners in question are The Ooze and The New Pantegruel (TNP). I enjoy and recommend both sites, yet they come from two very different angles, and this somewhat concerned the writer.
Without diving too deep into theological minutae or oversimplifying their distinctives, The Ooze is Emergent while TNP is Reformed. The belief systems these groups represent are often viewed as in conflict to one another. Emergents employ a narrative theology, while the Reformed espouse a systematic theology. The latter is considered conservative, the former, liberal. Both speak to our culture from opposite ends. Emergents search for new interpretations and applications of Scripture, they seek to deconstruct and reconstruct Christianity in the postmodern world. Reformers cling to, for the most part, a very strong sense of the past, namely theologians who have blazed a trail, and well-defined sets of beliefs. Concessions to culture are often viewed with a skeptical eye by the Reformed mind.
Now, I realize that someone from either side could easily (probably, rightly) take issue with my pigeon-holing of these movements. I definitely do not want to downplay their doctrinal distinctives or convey an indifference to hard fought traditions and essential biblical doctrines. Furthermore, anyone with a high school diploma and a rudimentary grasp of either position could probably take me in a scrum.
But I’ve come to believe that The Ooze and The New Pantegruel can exist in harmony. Just like my two eyes. In fact, I can see better with both of them.
I started inching toward this wishy-washiness when I was in the ministry. I’d received no formal theological education and was left to learn on the fly. Not a good place for a pastor to be. But I was surrounded by lots of sound men from a Charismatic persuasion. I thought I had all my ducks in a row until I ran into two fellas along the way.
Fella One had an airtight eschatology. He believed the Church would go through the Great Tribulation and that current teachings about a Pre-Trib Rapture were flat out satanic. He left me tittering like an invalid with my flimsy theology in shreds. Once I regained enough composure to research the subject, a second spittle pool developed under my jaw. There was only a thousand variations within the eschatological grid. I could choose between amillenial, pre-millenial or post-millenial end-times scenarios. This was not encouraging for someone just learning to pronounce the word mil-len-i-al.
But it was the angry, confused people left in Fella One’s wake that opened one eye.
Fella Two, on the other hand, was less divisive. Nevertheless, he shared One’s dogged defense of a belief system. This guy was a Calvinist. “God is sovereign,” he said. “Man’s will is anything but free.” Predestination, election, Arminianism and supralapsarianism became new words on the docket. This theology stuff was getting complicated. How did the early Church — you know, the farmers, fisherman and slaves — ever make it?
But it was the tension, the lack of grace, the rigidty, — ultimately, the dissension — that opened the other eye.
Was Christianity that complicated? What beliefs did we really need to live and die for? When was doctrinal division right and necessary? And when do we just shake our head and smile at the wonderful diversity? So here I was, a young man, a young husband, a young father, and a young pastor, just trying to do my best to feed the sheep, surrounded by causes and beliefs and urgent pleas for truth and purity.
And Mable, in the second row, couldn’t give a rip about supralapsarianism.
It wasn’t until I met a delightful dead man that both eyes were opened.