The Quest for Mere Christianity
- Thursday, August 04, 2011
Of course, Scot is on target. The level of distrust runs pretty deep. I could not help but think that this is where Greer's two-tiered system is helpful. It identifies the common ground—classic/orthodox Christianity —which is the starting point for unity and discussion. This new consensus not only can begin to rebuild the trust but will also prophetically call those on the extremes to acknowledge this consensus.
For example, many in the traditional church fear that the emerging voices are theologically liberal, that is, they deny the core doctrines of the faith. Well, this may be true of some. McKnight fears that a few in the emerging church are moving in this direction. But how do we know whether they remain orthodox? The two tiers are helpful. Does a particular thinker affirm the classical, orthodox consensus, the top tier? These certainly can be talked about and examined. But they must not be fundamentally tampered with. Any who affirm this are orthodox—even if they hold different views on the bottom tier. However, if they are unwilling to affirm that these core doctrines are based on Scripture and have been and are accepted "everywhere, always, and by all," then they are not part of the new ecumenism.
Just as the traditional church fears the emerging church, the emerging church is put off by the dark side of traditionalism and fundamentalism. At the heart of this dark side is a triumphal belief that it is correct on all matters of doctrine and practice. There are few signs of what Rich Mouw calls "cognitive modesty," the belief that beyond the classical consensus there are widespread differences within orthodoxy that need to be respected. Instead, the legacy of the traditional church is, "If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Relationships are then pushed to the side.
From the emerging perspective, the traditional view posits a particular theological conclusion that is absolute, reflecting God's perspective on theology; all competing claims are not only false but possibly heretical. Greer calls this "triumphalism" and says it leads fundamentalists to see themselves as "God's self-appointed police force, guardians of truth who perceive themselves as wearing a ‘badge of divinity' upon their own theological systems." And of course this overconfidence so often leads to disagreement and schism within their own theological and ecclesiastical bodies. This is what Stott means when he says evangelical Christians have a "pathological tendency to fragment." The two-tier system would call the traditional church to have great confidence (the proper confidence) in the new ecumenism and deep humility in the bottom tier, what Calvin called "things indifferent."
Is there a way beyond the present polarization? I believe there is: this new (or should I say old?) ecumenical, classical consensus. In the preface to his Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, the patron saint of evangelicals, says, "I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." In words that remind us of Oden's new ecumenism, Lewis continues:
I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communions as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.
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