28 November 2007

I am not a moral relativist; but I see the world differently

I was listening to a podcast where philosopher and moral relativist Simon Blackburn was being interviewed and to be honest, I’m a bit frustrated. I’m not frustrated at poor Simon who could probably care less. I’m frustrated because people outside the emerging church time and time again insist that those inside the emerging church are moral relativists.

Let me repeat what so many others have tried to say; we are not – let me say it once again – NOT moral relativists.

But as I have spent close to 15 years in the Evangelical Church (Emerging’s largest population of critics –– I’m not saying every evangelical is a critic of emerging… but a few are and they seem to be the most vocal), and maybe I can shed some light on the subject, although I’m sure many will simply disagree (and others agree) simply because I labeled myself emerging. But what the hell….

When I labeled myself as an Evangelical these are my observations of what was important to my culture:
That I didn’t listen to non-Christian music with the occasional exception of classical and jazz.
That church consisted of 4 pop songs and a 40 minute message.
That dissecting the Bible the absolute smallest denominator was essential to understanding – i.e., the first half of the root word in the original Greek…
That expanding the Kingdom meant praying in a living room and passing out tracts.
That to some varying degree we couldn’t cuss, watch rated “R” movies, get tattoos (other than Christian symbols) and piercings (other than the ears).
That we must defend the truth with debate, policy making, and voting Republican.
Someone who wants to follow Jesus says the sinner’s prayer.
That modifying behavior (so that it conforms) makes you more spiritual.
That you have to know all the answers.

Just to be clear; there are times in my life when I only listen to worship, when I pull out my Greek and Hebrew books to study, when I pray for hours (although I don’t pass out tracts), when I watch my mouth, and I am sensitive to any movie I may watch no matter the rating. I’ll never get a satanic chant tattooed on me, and I believe that there are times for debate, policy making, and I might even vote Republican. So these are not blanket criticisms (except for maybe the tract thing, but I’ll even concede that at times God can use it – which of course makes me a bit of a relativist, but not a moral one; which could beg the question, am I an amoral relativist? But I regress…).

Here’s what I have observed over the past couple years in within the culture of Emerging:

That justice is not a word but a way of daily life.
That living in dark places is better than hiding in the light.
That loving like Jesus is better than passing out a tract.
That reading the story of God as a whole story can so often bring more revelation than dissecting root words.
That church is not 4 pop songs and a lecture, but a gathering of people who are committed to love God, each other, and the world in sacrificial ways.
That God doesn’t want our best or our worst – He wants it all.
That action is more important that words.
That love is more important than policy.
That compassion is better than being right.
That trusting the Holy Spirit draws people more than a sales pitch.
That the sinner’s prayer is not in the Bible, but following Jesus is.
That Jesus didn’t die to modify behavior but save us from a list of rules.
That it’s okay to fall, stumble, not understand, be confused, and live in awe.

It’s not that we believe differently; it’s that we live it differently. There’s been much said from emerging talking heads (I mean that in love!) about the historical Christian orthodoxy of our beliefs, so there’s no point in going into that again; but I can say with full confidence that WHAT we believe is consistent with the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds - the foundations of our faith. This above list is obviously a generality of my own personal observations (I don’t need people commenting saying, “Well I’m an evangelical and I watch rated “R” movies!”). I would encourage people to look at the list as a whole and not as individual points – or my list could have been a hundred pages long. In any case this is my feeble attempt to explain the disconnect for what it’s worth. And I have Mr. Blackburn to thank for that.


Kevin said...

You right on David! The intentional part of living in the new age 24/7 is really where I am at with all this. As a former mainliner, I would add that the civic church loses the concept of the Gospel by being seperated from those it cares about. On judgment day, is God going to ask how your bank account supported the poor as opposed to helping, caring, and giving to the poor? Thanks so much for tackling all this.

Mike said...

David, I find myself in the place you describe even though I am considered a bit too old to "get it."

Pete Aldin said...

We're drawn to what we're looking at, David. Thank God you aren't looking at buildings and behavioural checklists, but looking at the living Christ at work in the heart of people in everyday life.