Christology, the emerging church and engagement

Maggi Dawn has an interesting post that starts off addressing questions about Christology and the emerging church, and how the latter has received some criticism for not having enough of the former. She goes on from there, however, to address how we as Christians engage the non-Christian world we often find ourselves living in. She notes Friedrich Schleiermacher‘s efforts in the early 19th century to reconcile faith and reason:

As Schleiermacher tells it, when people encounter God they do not first of all become aware of God as a doctrinally complete concept, nor of a three-personed Trinity. It takes time and patience to understand the God one initially encounters, and doctrines like Trinity and Christology are ways of learning to understand and articulate that encounter.

Rather than accusing the emerging church of having an immature theology, however, Dawn is pointing out the similarities between the emerging church–indeed, many of the movements that downplay creeds and doctrine–and Schleiermacher’s attempts to, as Dawn writes, “get these people to understand that true Christianity was not the passionless affair they thought it was, but precisely what would meet their deep longing for spiritual truth.”

That points to the greater challenge for postmodern evangelists, a word I use with reservation because of its connotations, in secular society, with extremely conservative approaches to Christianity. It is one thing for those within the faith to debate the this-and-thats of Christian theology, including the nature of the Trinity. However, these debates about doctrines and correctness, as well as the “language of religion” itself, may be the barrier that keeps people who shun religion from becoming, or becoming aware that they are, disciples:

…for those who live as Christians in a culture that despises religion, there may be good reason to have a thorough-going orthodox Christology but not wear it on your sleeve in everyday conversation. Why would that be? Because if you frequently find yourself as the only Christian in a group of people you work or socialise with, you cannot help but be alive to the fact that the language of religion fails to connect people to any lively interest in Jesus or Christianity. For those of us who live in that kind fo culture (and I’m speaking here of 21st century England), however important an orthodox Christology is to me, it’s not the first thing that arises when debating religious issues with those who are strangers to the faith. In my experience, people are more interested initially in whether and why observing religion at all is a viable possibility in 21st century Britain. In such conversations, I find myself describing what religion is not, and making connections between other people’s spiritual experience, not to say they are all the same, but to say that in my experience true Christianity is not the outmoded museum piece people imagine, but precisely the kind of spiritual reality that we long for.

The essay, and some lively responses in the comments to it, are here.

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