Monday, June 2, 2008

Response to Raffi Shainian

I do not know Raffi, but he was kind enough to leave me a comment to my post on the Evangelical Manifesto. I haven't read his blog enough to be completely familiar with his understanding of Christianity and "Post-Evangelicalism", but I've read enough to know that he also finds the manifesto problematic, but for different reasons. I thought since he was thoughtful enough to leave me a post, I would take the time to briefly respond. Here was his comment:

Raffi Shahinian said...
I had to do it.
Andrew’s call at TSK compelled me.A POST-EVANGELICAL MANIFESTO is now up and awaiting comment, criticism, or, more probably, to be blown out of the water.Grace and Peace,Raffi ShahinianParables of a Prodigal World

I read his Post-Evangelical Manifesto and had the following thoughts.

First: While there may be more truth than is contained in an orthodox doctrinal statement, there is not less.

In other words, I agree with his contention that doctrinal statements are "packed shorthand expressions" but I think I mean something different by that statement than he does. The Post-Evangelical, according to Raffi, views doctrinal statements like a suitcase. The shortened statements convey truth and then should be unpacked: "Post-Evangelicals have come to recognize that these doctrinal statements, once packed, tended to remain packed. And the longer they remained packed, the more the rich, complex and varied truths remaining inside were forgotten."

The problem is that many within movements such as the Emergent church refuse to affirm the basic tenants of the Christian faith, or as they "unpack" them, define them in such a way that is in flat contradiction with the plain meaning of the statement.

I also would take issue with the rest of his contention regarding doctrinal statements. He says that they are packed shorthand expressions for "richly complex historical narratives." This is partly true, but they are also gleaned from propositional theological arguments like many of the epistles or O.T. prophetic literature.

All that to say, the danger in saying that there is more truth than is contained in a doctrinal statement is that you often end up affirming something that is less true than a doctrinal statement.

Second: It is important to note that doctrinal statements are not the product of modernism or the modern Evangelical movement.

In my opinion, the Post-Evangelical Manifesto seems to imply that Evangelicals were the first to sum up great truths of Scripture. But Jesus engages in systematic theology when He sums up the entire law in two commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Paul uses systematic theology to sum up his entire gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15. He summarizes Christology in Colossians 1. He summarizes Orthodoxy in 1 Timothy 3:16, citing a contemporary creed or confession. If systematic theology and doctrinal statements were used by Paul and Jesus to convey truth, I'm comfortable implementing them as well.

Third: It is important to affirm that there are those who fall "outside" the faith.

The danger of the Emergent church is a reluctance to call any branch of Christianity heresy. This is in complete contradiction to Paul's warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 and the warning of Jude and 2 Peter that there are those who will be in the church who will not affirm sound teaching. If there are those who would not affirm simple doctrinal statements, it's important to warn our flock that these men are dangerous to their faith and would seek to shipwreck it.

Fourth: I would disagree with the Post-Evangelical Manifesto's understanding of Christian history.

As a history major, I found this statement highly confusing: "There was a time for the martyrs. There was a time for the Contantinian settlement. There was a time for the Great Trinitarian Debates. There was a time for Christendom. There was a time for the Reformation. There was a time for Liberalism. There was a time for Neo-Orthodoxy. And there was a time for Evangelicalism, as popularly construed."

What has happened here is a strange equating of biblical movements and heretical movements and historical events and individual believers and doctrinal disputes. I'm not even sure how to begin critiquing this. I would simply say that the aspects of these movements that were biblical are still legitimate. For instance, the time of martyrdom has not yet ceased. According to Voice of the Martyrs, there are more people in the last several decades who have given their life for naming the name of Jesus Christ than at any other point in Christianity. Furthermore, there was never a "time" for "Liberalism" or "Neo-Orthodoxy." Christianity's expression is certainly shaped by its culture but its message should never be defined by it.

Again, I wanted to thank Raffi for his comment. I appreciate the desire for authenticity in Christianity and agree that Evangelicalism has fallen a long way from what it has been in the past. I think where we would differ is in how we see recovery from that fall taking place.


Raffi Shahinian said...


Good stuff. BIG stuff. In your words, I probably wouldn't know where to start. We could talk for years, and I guess I wouldn't mind that at all. Maybe we could nudge one another away from some stifling, dangerous entrenchments. I'll keep an eye on your blog and comment from time to time; and I'll look forward to hearing from you. Mustard-seed style. Fair enough?

Grace and Peace, brother.

Cheryl said...

this is why you had all those books in your office........