Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (7) - Turtling

Warning: for non-Canadians this illustration may not make sense. In the code of honour in hockey, it is the duty of Player B to stand up and fight when challenged by Player A. Player B may not be a fighter, and may even be injured in a way that makes fighting nearly impossible, but the one thing Player B must never do is turtle.[1] Turtling is when Player B crumples into a little ball on the ice and lets Player A punch him in the back... and get all the penalties.

Turtling happens in theological debate, too. An author writes a book and the critiques and criticisms begin to appear. Rather than answer those criticisms, learn from them, defend his views or bring forward more proof, the author issues statements like this: “You haven’t taken the time to understand me.” Or, “You must not have read my book.” Or, “How could I even dialogue with you when you don’t understand anything to begin with.” Not exactly the spirit of “the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”[2] Consider these examples:

I often hear people saying we deny the existence of truth (which is, frankly, ridiculous) or that we reject the Bible (again, ridiculous). Some say that we show no respect for Church tradition and others that we pay too much respect to tradition. Some reduce everything we're talking about to a rather esoteric and un-nuanced debate about epistemology. Some are concerned about me because they know that I am unhappy about the Religious Right's narrowing of the gospel's social impact to two or three issues, and I think the rhetorical strategy of the Religious Right has made evangelism harder here in America and around the world. If they think the Religious Right is the leading edge of God's work on the planet, they see me as someone who isn't with the program.[3]

Or this example in a reply he makes to Chuck Colson:

Many of the people who think they understand postmodernism and write or speak about it lack the time, energy, or historical and philosophical understanding to begin to understand what they don’t understand about it, so it’s fruitless to even try to dialogue with them. It’s better just to let things slide.[4]

How convenient! This is not answering the arguments. It is true McLaren is writing to Colson based on Colson’s original document, but he makes no reply (that I can find) to Colson’s follow-up letter to this open letter. To paint your opponent as “just too ignorant to discuss matters with” is a cop out. If EC is serious about “having a conversation” then this continual “You don’t understand me!” caveat needs to be dropped. Many have tried to engage the issues presented by EC only to find no response, vague mumblings about what this or that person said, or an ad hominem attack.[5]

[1] Turtling is especially offensive to the code when Player B has been provoking Player A through unfair stick work, trash talk, or cheap shots. If Player B makes a habit of, for instance, skating by Player A and whacking the back of his knee with his stick, then he ought to be ready to drop the gloves!

[2] 2 Timothy 2:24-26. The only time we seem to be free to run from a dispute is when they are “foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (verse 23). But, if McLaren and others feel critiques are foolish and ignorant controversies, then they ought to at least say as much.

[3] Criswell Theological Review CT n.s. 3/2 (Spring 2006) 8. Accessed online at http://criswell.wordpress.com/files/2006/03/3,2%20InterviewwithBrianMcLaren%28Streett%29.PDF on March 31, 2006. See also his Open Letter to Chuck Colson in the first few lines.

[4] From his “Open Letter to Chuck Colson” http://www.anewkindofchristian.com/archives/000018.html accessed March 31, 2006.

[5] I am sure negative things have been hurled both directions, but it really is shocking to read comment strings on blogs like EmergentNo. Name-calling, straw-men and false testimony seem to abound. Is this indicative of the youthfulness of most participants in the movement?


Darryl said...

Ah! My favorite critique of the paper, because it taught me a new word and it just might be true some of the time. Great concept.

ScottB said...

"I am sure negative things have been hurled both directions, but it really is shocking to read comment strings on blogs like EmergentNo. Name-calling, straw-men and false testimony seem to abound. Is this indicative of the youthfulness of most participants in the movement?"

See, I thought you were referring to those opposed to the ec there. ;) In seriousness, those comment threads have enough of those attributes on all sides of the discussion. I've read from critics comments that refer to the ec as demonic, apostate, and children of Satan. The turtle syndrome you're discussing isn't an emerging church thing. It happens all the time by all kinds of folks from all sorts of perspectives, and there's more than enough of it from critics as well.

Rob said...

I'm not sure how much we're interested in have a discussion with Chuck Colson. It takes a lot of energy and bears little fruit. I think that was Brian's point.

I have recently left a conservative evangelical church because (although the pastors there were doing some really exciting things) I was tired of the discussion with Christians. The time and energy it took starting from the beginning all the time just wasn't worth the effort for me.

The amount of energy it would take to change Colson's mind would be incredible. Then, even if you accomplished it, what would it get you? Chuck is doing a good job in the ministry he has chosen. Although I'm going to disagree with him politcally, theologically, socially etc, I acknowledge that he is building the Kingdom.

Many Modern churches are building the Kingdom for the modern people they exist for. That's not a bad thing, I think it's a really good thing. (Many aren't building the Kingdom and they should be ashamed of themselves, but some in the EC church aren't building it either).

I guess what I'm saying is that having these discussions with very modern Christians just isn't worth the effort, especially if they're doing great things the way they are.


Anonymous said...

I remember I once posted a critical comment to an article on one of McClaren's blogs several years back. He didn't respond to my criticism, rather he said, "This is what happens when someone comes late to the conversation,. . . blah, blah, blah". His comments made feels stupid an invalidated. It was then that I figured out that the post-modern, emergent conversation was just a bunch of intellectual, white guys patting each other on the back over how sophisticated, open minded and controversial they are.