Thanks to Mason for contributing this book review on Michael Wittmer's Don't Stop Believing. Mason's got some great ideas and a fantastic blog at http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com. If you're interested in contribuing a book review of your own during the month of March, please contact me.
Believing & Doing, Doing & Believing
Ever feel like you don't fit in with either 'side' in todays Christian controversies?
Do your conservitive freinds think you might be teetering on the edge of liberalism, while your liberal friends think you are way too sympathetic to the concerns of conservatives?
Ever feel that you are just as disgusted by postmodernism at certain times as you are by modernism at other times, albeit for different reasons?
Well if those sentiments resonate for you, as they do for me, Michael Wittmer can relate, and is trying to work out a deep, Biblically grounded, culturally aware third way forward which embraces the good of each side while critiquing their shortcomings.
To articulate this way forward Wittmer (professor of historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and author of Heaven is a Place on Earth a brilliant examination of the new creation) has recently written a second book, Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough.
In his newest work Wittmer eruditely works through some of the most controversial issues in Christian thought today, such as whether or not we need to believe specific things to be saved, if people are basically good, the ethical issues of homosexuality, the controversies of whether penal substitution is divine child abuse, and whether it is even possible to know God or his word in any real sense.
In examining each of these issues (and more) Wittmer steers a path between the extremes of both sides, as he puts it "conservatives fear that postmoderns don't care enough about doctrine, and postmoderns think that conservatives don't care enough about people. Conservatives say we must believe in Jesus, while postmoderns say it matters most that we live like him. This book attempts to bring both sides together, eliminating the extreme views of both parties and uniting them around a biblical center." (pg. 13)
Though the title focus more on some of the more radical elements of the Emergent church who he fears (and demonstrates) are drifting far from biblical orthodoxy, Wittmer to his credit takes conservative Christians to task just as much and just as seriously. One example I found very powerful came at the end of a discussion about how homosexuality violates the holiness of God and his image in us, and then discussing a loving Christian approach to sexual ethics, Wittmer states in conclusion,
"Homosexuals are guilty of illicit sex. We [Christians] often are guilty of not caring about them or their plight. Our sin is greater, and it isn't even close" (pg. 82) Wow.
Sadly both sides have pushed each other to extremes. The church gets too focused on doctrine and then the pendulum swings dramatically away to good works, the church ignores doctrine for social action and so the pendulum swings dramatically back toward an inward looking intellectualized faith. What we need is both faith and action, both beliefs and love, both deep theological articulations and passionate commitment to social justice. Wittmers book provides a vision for exactly that.
In the graciousness of the book (something often lacking when people engage Emergent, no names but ...), in its passionate for the Scriptures, in its understanding that true faith shows itself in love, in its acceptance of the many things postmodernism has going for it without capitulating to todays culture, and especially in the willingness to both take on and unite both sides, Wittmer has written something here to be commended for, and something that all believers no matter what side they lean toward would do well to read.
Here is hoping (and praying) we can move past the divisions of today toward a richer faith tomorrow...
My name is Mason. I'm looking to eventually teach theology, but in between my personal studies, an obsessive reading habit, and spending far too much money on coffee, I started a blog called New Ways Forward as an outlet for some of my random thoughts and a way to interact with others who share a passion for theology, Biblical studies, and social justice.
I hail from a pretty conservative protestant background, but now find my theology to be an amalgamation of Evangelicalism, Anglicanism, the Ana-Baptist tradition, and what Vanhoozer calls Post-Conservatism... How does that go, "you might be emergent if it takes you more than one breath to name your theological tradition?"
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