by Bob DeWaay
Emergent writers decry any approach that declares some ideas to be true and others false. Propositions force people to decide what to believe. One Emergent writer, Dwight J. Friesen, explains his view: “The theological method of orthoparadoxy surrenders the right to be right for the sake of movement toward being reconciled one with the other, while simultaneously seeking to bring the fullness of convictions and beliefs to the other. Current theological methods that often stress agreement/disagreement, win/loss, good/bad, orthodoxy/heresy, and the like set people up for constant battles to convince and convert the other to their way of believing and being in the world.”1 Propositional truth claims do not fit into the Emergent “conversation” because they divide people. But the price of giving up such claims is to give up the very claims that the Biblical writers made.
Getting back to Paul’s address before Festus and Agrippa, his words indeed got Agrippa’s attention:
King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains. (Acts 26:27-29)
Paul believed that truth claims such as the bodily resurrection of Christ (Acts 26:23) were to be proclaimed even before kings who had the power over Paul’s life. His was not a conversation with those who were just as likely to be right as Paul was, but a bold proclamation of the truth designed to convince others of the truth.
But the very practice of the New Testament apostles is what most Emergent leaders decry: claiming to be right about matters and anathematizing those who are in error. For example, Friesen says, “Here is my working maxim of a theology of orthoparadoxy: the more irreconcilable various theological positions appear to be, the closer we are to experiencing truth.”2 Take careful note that he says “experiencing truth” (the neo-orthodox idea) not “knowing truth.” Compare that to Paul’s assessment of the Judaizers in Galatia: “As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).
Furthermore, Paul urged others to follow his example and charged elders with the duty of correcting false teaching: “[The elder should be] holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Contrast Paul’s instructions to Christian elders with the ideas of emergent writer Samir Selmanovic: “We have created a false tension between keeping our Christian identity intact and approaching the world in humility. Humility is to be our identity. When we open ourselves to be taught by ‘the other,’ we don’t become less the followers of Christ but more so.”3 According to Paul we are to guard the flock against “the other” (i.e., religious beliefs that are not in accord with the faith once for all delivered to the saints) and in the Emergent view “the other” teaches us. Humility is not openness to false religions and false teachings; it is the realization that we are sinners who need a savior.
The real false tension is the one Emergent thinking creates between humility and confidence in the once-for-all revealed truth. Moses was called “humble” (Numbers 12:3) and to him was given the revelation of God’s truth. Humble Moses told the Israelites not to listen to anyone who came in the name of a god they had not known—even if they produced signs (Deuteronomy 13:1-4). The idea that God’s people would listen to false teachings as a sign of their humility is antithetical to what we are told in the Bible. (from Bob DeWaay’s book, The Emergent Church)
1. Dwight J. Friesen, “Orthoparadoxy – Emerging Hope for Embracing Difference,” in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones editors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 208.
2. Ibid. emphasis in the original.
3. Samir Selmanovic, “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness – Finding Our God in the Other,” in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 198.