Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Emergence Christianity and the Word of God

A conference to honor Phyllis Tickle and her recently released book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, was recently held in Memphis Tennessee. Given that I had just written a review of her new book I followed the event on Twitter. Since the conference many emergent writers have written about the event, and I have also read those. One such posting was “Emergence Christianity ’13: Questions,” by Terry Ramone Smith. He is co-pastor of Church of the Misfits, a Disciples of Christ church. Smith, in his article, is basically troubled by the idea of Scripture as the sole authority for Christians (sola Scriptura). His arguments are spurious but nevertheless important enough to examine.   

Smith gives a history of women beginning to work in factories during WW II and explains that many became single after their husbands came home with post-dramatic stress disorder. He states, “The “Biblical place” for a woman started to change.  Biblical inerrancy was challenged.”

Not only does this leave out huge stretches of women’s history in the United States, relying simply on a small few decades, it also fails to note any place in the Bible where women are confined to the home. 1 Timothy certainly encourages younger women, if they are widows, to remarry, “bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.” This is in contrast to going about the neighborhood gossiping and getting into other people’s business.

But nothing in these verses confines a woman strictly to her house or the vocation of house-keeping. In the New Testament one can read accounts of women sewing for the poor (Acts 9:36-42), doing business for the church (Rom. 1:1-2), teaching others (Acts 18:24-28), prophesying (Acts 21:7-9), being sent to do the Lord’s work (an apostle) (Rom. 1:7), mothering house churches (Acts 16: 14-15; 40)[1] and more. 

In fact in the Gospels, Jesus commends his friend Mary for leaving kitchen duties in order to listen to him teach. A woman working outside of the home does nothing to contradict the Scriptures. In fact, if one searches both the New and Old Testament one finds women busy in many ways inside and outside of the home.

Next Smith suggests that in the push for LGBT rights the authority of Scriptures was challenged. Yes, it has been challenged but Christianity has stood, and will continue to stand against the activist push. There is no place in the Scriptures where homosexuality is praised or blessed; instead the Scriptures offer love, forgiveness and transformation. Jesus upholds, in his words about marriage and divorce, the biblical definition of marriage which is between a man and a woman. He goes back to Genesis and places the definition in God’s account of the beginning of marriage. One cannot answer any question about human sexuality and morality without the Genesis text.

Next Smith suggests that the church see the Scripture as true but not factual. Using the book of Jonah as an example Smith wants to see all of the text as metaphor or as an analogy. And he suggests reconsidering the canon. He even goes so far as to state that the Coptic New Testament contains 87 books in contrast to the western New Testament  which contains 27.

F.F. Bruce in his book, The Books and the Parchments: How we got our English Bible in the chapter “Other Early Versions,” under “Coptic” does not state that the Coptic version contains that many more books than the western versions. The same is true of Bruce M. Metzger’s two books on the formation of the N.T. text. In his, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission and Limitations, there is a whole chapter on Coptic early versions of the N.T.; there is nothing about 60 extra books.

Finally, Smith suggests adding manuscripts to the canon of Scripture. He writes:

I think next, we need to realize and live into the fact that we are living in a world that is extra-Biblical.  Until and if our canon is revisited, it is incomplete.  I urge you, pastors of faith communities, to consider what books are worthy of the canon for your community.  What makes sense to be in your Holy Book?  Does some works by Brian McLaren deserve to be in there?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer   Phyllis Tickle?  Charles Darwin? Henri Nouwen?

While Tickle and Darwin might think that was appropriate, I doubt that Bonhoeffer or Nouwen would. I am uncertain of McLaren. Smith’s posting is a mockery of all that belongs to the follower of Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his small book, Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible writes:

The Holy Scriptures is the Word of God to us. But prayers are the words of men. How do prayers then get into the Bible? Let us make no mistake about it; the Bible is the Word of God even in the Psalms. Then are these prayers to God also God’s own word? That seems difficult to understand. We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us men, to God the Father who lives in eternity.

Bonhoeffer goes on to explain how praying through Christ allows the prayers of God to become the prayer of men and then again the prayers of men become the prayers of God. But the important thing I wish to be seen here is that Bonhoeffer is very clear that the Bible is the Word of God. Bonhoeffer would declare, alongside the Church universal, that any attempt to add extra material to the word of God is heresy—it is sticking a knife into and wounding the faithful. And, most of all it is an insult to God who has given his word as a gift to his people.

The church’s prayer should be that God would pick up the poor, misguided, wandering sheep of the Emergent movement and carry them on his shoulders until they are established again in his green and healthful pastures.

[1] In this case one reads of a woman who was not only a merchant but also provided a place for the church at Philippi. 

1 comment:

Mr. Mcgranor said...