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Is Turnabout Fair Play

Scot McKnight is perturbed.

Today, Scot began a series of three posts on Brian McLaren’s soul sort narrative, which is a specific contention Brian makes in his new book. Scot spends quite a bit of time arguing that Brian is presenting something nobody experienced. He says:

One reason I’m doing this series is that I’ve had a few say to me that they actually grew up with Brian’s soul-sort narrative. My contention is that they didn’t; nor can they find one gospel tract or one youth pastor who will ever admit to having believed in or preached Brian’s soul-sort narrative as he describes it. I’ll explain in another post why I think Brian sketches the narrative as he does.

There’s already over 23 comments, many of which are passionately for or against Scot’s argument. Scot main contention seems to be that Brian excludes Jesus from the six line narrative.

Instead, he’s got the fifth element in the Story as “salvation” and he brings in other terms like justification and atonement. What is amazingly absent here — and it’s a tragic omission — is Jesus Christ. Which conventional narrative has no place for the living, dying and ascended Jesus Christ? When Brian is actually describing this conventional narrative, and I don’t mean when he is setting up his narrative of creation and liberation and new creation (which, by the way, is a set of terms that was fashioned by theologians who believe in the six elements) that lead to Christ, there is no place for Jesus Christ in his narrative.

Scot finishes with:

Fine, but don’t call it “conventional.” There’s no “conventional” narrative that doesn’t make Jesus, as God’s redeeming Son and our Savior and our Lord, as the very center of the narrative. None. Ever.

Although I agree with Scot that the Brian’s portrayal is somewhat a caricature, I think Scot misses that this is how people perceive the issue.  It may not be presented exactly that way but that exactly how people see it presented. Brian’s six line narrative is seen from the individuals perspective.  Jesus gets us to “salvation”.  Salvation is the transaction that is supposed to occur.  It happens through Jesus but that’s secondary, even though its part of the story.   I grew up with the six line narrative and the point was largely framed around the “salvation” aspect, even though we did have Jesus as part of it.

But something struck me when reading Scot’s post. “Turnabout’s fair play.” Evangelicals have spent so much time presenting a caricature of Emergence, and now that Brian has done the same thing, it has put people on the defense. If Brian did anything, he presented a caricature of the traditional evangelical view.  And some would obviously not resonate with that caricature.  And now they have to defend their view.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read a post about Emergence and thought something similar to what Scot said.

And to be fair to Scot, he has been very fair of Emergence. But he does present himself as decidedly evangelical so I would expect him to defend the evangelical side.

I’m also not saying turnabout is fair play.  I’m suggesting there’s something to learn from it.  I’m learning in my life that I can’t convince someone else about what I think. If someone says, “You believe this,” and I don’t, there is not much I can do to convince the person otherwise. And it becomes very easy to spend all of my time trying to defend my belief, rather than live my belief. I’m also learning that when someone says, “You believe this,” it means that something I said probably contributed to that idea.  They believe it.  So it means listening to how I say things.

Update: After I posted this, I happened to read Tony Jone’s post from yesterday that provides exactly the opposite account from an Emergent position.

About the Author

Jonathan BrinkI am an business development and communications consultant. I am also the senior editor and publisher for Civitas Press. I recently published, Discovering The God Imagination: Reconstructing A Whole, New Christianity. (Civitas, 2011)View all posts by Jonathan Brink →

  • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

    As long as people keep talking to each other (rather than about each other) and making an honest attempt to listen and trying to understand what the other person is REALLY saying, wrong perceptions can be corrected. That's why it was crucial that Brian actually joined the discussion at Scot's blog and responded to misrepresentations of his views.

    When it comes to the “conventional narrative” Brian wants to see replaced, he seems to be having a tough time balancing humility (admitting he's far from infallible and in need of correction) and a radical prophetic call away from what he believes is both monstrous and extremely dangerous (and therefore cannot concede a mere compromise or minor reform).

    But you're right, while he was caricaturing the evangelical emphasis in its approach to evangelism, what many if not most people have been hearing, are exactly the things he was criticizing as perversions of the gospel: God himself and His wrath being our main problem, and salvation through accepting the sacrifice of Jesus as the solution which saves us from hell and gets our butts into heaven after we die.

    I don't know why so many people are approaching Brian or Emergence in general as an all-or-nothing package deal. Why can't we test everything and keep what's good, like Paul says?

    The same could be said about evangelicalism by the way, it's not all bad and it's not all leading away from Jesus and His message. Some of the things Brian describes as minor tweaks that don't go far enough (I'm thinking of C.S. Lewis' reframing of what hell is all about, for example) have actually had a big impact on evangelical theology and answer at least some of Brian's concerns. I also think that Tom Wright's influence will be felt for many years to come and it's encouraging to see him being invited and interviewed on conservative Christian TV broadcasts more often.

    I think both Emergence and evangelicalism can be maturing in the future only to the degree that protectiveness and defensiveness on each side will be deliberately dropped.

  • http://openmindedconversations.blogspot.com/ jshmueller

    As long as people keep talking to each other (rather than about each other) and making an honest attempt to listen and trying to understand what the other person is REALLY saying, wrong perceptions can be corrected. That's why it was crucial that Brian actually joined the discussion at Scot's blog and responded to misrepresentations of his views.

    When it comes to the “conventional narrative” Brian wants to see replaced, he seems to be having a tough time balancing humility (admitting he's far from infallible and in need of correction) and a radical prophetic call away from what he believes is both monstrous and extremely dangerous (and therefore cannot concede a mere compromise or minor reform).

    But you're right, while he was caricaturing the evangelical emphasis in its approach to evangelism, what many if not most people have been hearing, are exactly the things he was criticizing as perversions of the gospel: God himself and His wrath being our main problem, and salvation through accepting the sacrifice of Jesus as the solution which saves us from hell and gets our butts into heaven after we die.

    I don't know why so many people are approaching Brian or Emergence in general as an all-or-nothing package deal. Why can't we test everything and keep what's good, like Paul says?

    The same could be said about evangelicalism by the way, it's not all bad and it's not all leading away from Jesus and His message. Some of the things Brian describes as minor tweaks that don't go far enough (I'm thinking of C.S. Lewis' reframing of what hell is all about, for example) have actually had a big impact on evangelical theology and answer at least some of Brian's concerns. I also think that Tom Wright's influence will be felt for many years to come and it's encouraging to see him being invited and interviewed on conservative Christian TV broadcasts more often.

    I think both Emergence and evangelicalism can be maturing in the future only to the degree that protectiveness and defensiveness on each side will be deliberately dropped.

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