Letters to Paul (I): language in the Emergent Church...

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(Tim: Building on his series on Jonathan Edwards and the Atonement, here's another series--numbers one, two, three, four, and five--by our American African correspondent, David Wegener. But first, a note from David on the purpose of this series.)

Paul is a Zambian Christian leader, a graduate of the school where I teach. I’ve taken him as representative of one of my students so I can have a face to look at in my mind as I write these letters.

Often my students puzzle over what they hear coming from the church in the west. Much of their background has led them to accept without question what comes from western Christians. "After all, they brought us the gospel and keep coming back and helping us." My exhortation to Paul is the one given by his namesake: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21).

Letters to Paul: Language in the Emergent Church

Dear Paul: I want to write a few letters to you about the atonement of Christ, criticizing several teachings that are coming from the west. But first I need to write one about language and communication styles.

A number of American Christian writers today have adopted a style that feels very inviting. They ask a lot of questions. They word their statements in a way that seems humble. They admit that they don’t have all the answers. They show an admirable hesitancy in making truth statements. They don’t rebuke people but want to leave us all feeling affirmed, one of the group, encouraged, like a fellow pilgrim on a journey...

They want to establish a dialogue, not a monologue, so that together we can arrive at a consensus. To find the truth is not the goal. The truth might not even exist. But let’s try and head toward personal growth and transformation. That sounds good doesn’t it?

This communication style is very popular in what we call the Emergent church. This style is carefully calculated to cause us to like those who use it as they raise questions about key Christian doctrines. The way they dress and the way they carry themselves are very hip and very modern. We would like to be like them.

They contrast themselves to those proud, older Christian leaders, who are “self-satisfied” and sure they have all the answers. They don’t question themselves. Their dress is out-dated. Their eyeglasses are big and old-fashioned, not thin and cool, like Banda’s.

They don’t nuance their statements. They use imperatives (commands). They don’t smile. They get angry. They’re kinda scary. They don’t use slippery words like “seem,” “appears,” “might be.” They would speak like Paul when he opposed Peter in Antioch: “I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned” (Gal 2:11). Emergent church leaders would have said, “I entered into dialogue with Peter so that he might consider rethinking some things and broadening his perspective.”

I’m not going to write or talk like they do. I want to write in a straightforward way, but I’ll also try to draw pictures and give examples so that we can better understand things.

Yours with thankfulness for a violent atonement, Rev Wegener