historical philosophy and its markings on the Christian Church

The philosophical history of the emerging church is almost as allusive as the meaning of the movement itself.  Many Christians argue against a postmodern worldview saying that it leads to moral relativism. As a matter of fact, many well-intending Christians have decided that postmodernism and its proponents exist as perverse and evil[1], basing all attempts to understand truth in a different language or culture as obscene[2]. Most cannot isolate their faith from the philosophical or epistemological claims that it came packaged inside. Nor can they leave their cultural traditional understanding of it or the language they once used to express it.  Most of American Christianity revolves around the enlightenment and our search for reason and absolutes. Some of Christianity is splattered with colonialism, and a need to calm the heathen people down, in their new subdued state they can be conquered.  What if our faith could be stripped free of all philosophies or can it ever be?

Seminarians understand contextualizing in missiology, but seem to blush at the thought of doing so to a new global generation. Dan Kimball, rightly points out that missionaries never go into a new place in the world and start screaming that everyone around are idiots destined for a burning hell. Rather missionaries enter new cultures, they listen, learn, and best try to understand the language being used by the natives to understand spiritual things.[3]

As postmodern thought ricochets into the reality  the church must  be made aware of its existence in order to share the love of God within its paradigm. Postmodernism translates reality differently than modernists in that all views of truth are socially conditioned and cannot originate themselves outside of that teaching.[4] Although modernism views this paradigmatic shift as an anathema, which  leads us down the slippery slope of pluralism and relativism, the Emerging Church sees this deep shift as a God ordained reformation.

The truth of the modern evangelical condition is that we have created little viewing glasses made of mirror and that have no long distance vision. We only see our own culture and ignore the vastness of the worlds’ story. Perhaps, we must take off our spectacles and  visit the world we once hailed as demonic, other, or evil in order to fully experience the human understanding of  God. McLaren’s assertion that modernism vision of truth is clouded with myopia.

 Since truth cannot ever possibly be fully understood, let alone mastered, our vision of the world has been short sighted. This seems to be more in-line with some of Pauline teaching of Mystery and the fogged mirror or when God asks Job about his understanding of God.[5]

However many in evangelical circles hold Descartes and his foundationalism[6] closer than their bibles. These principles prepared the monolithic modernism  that promised to deliver an unadulterated, pure, pristine, absolute, incorruptible, objective, and  accessible certainty of truth[7]. The rift between modernism and postmodernism lay in the  belief or disbelief that truth can be fully grasped[8]. The clashes and lightening of this mostly online discussion is being felt today between traditional orthodox evangelicalism and the Emerging Church. A direct result of this war and revival are  the accusations  of heresy toward those involved in the Emerging Church movement. The sentence comes by a jury who believes that  the denial of truth as understood by  many evangelicals and a leaning towards relativism and pluralism has seeped into the carpet of the church staining forever its grasp on “truth.”

  Evangelicals then take this philosophical notion of foundationalism and place it directly on top of Scripture and Call it Holy. It allows then for an intellectual and logical form to be systematically studied- hence, systematic theology. For those few, God can only bring truth through the Scripture and it must be in that language and not sound like any other culture.

Revelation according to many in emergent circles can be found outside of what we once considered holy. So no longer is Sola Scriptura valid, but it seems the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. All truth is God’s truth regardless if it comes from a Batman movie or a Beatles song. The Emerging Church looks beyond the foundationalism of Descartes and the creedal systems of  evangelical American Christianity. The Emerging church believes that pieces of truth can also be found in Buddhism and Bon Jovi, in Botany and brew, in books of romance and a box of chocolate.


Peter Rollins takes these ideas  and sets fire our old ways of thinking. He rightly compares our understandings and inclinations of God thinking to idolatry:


Theology, in its modern form, has been concerned with upholding and defending

the notion of orthodoxy as that which articulates a correct understanding of God

[in a complete way]. Yet the idea that we may understand the source of faith in

this way has been roundly attacked both by those outside the Church and by those

within it. The argument is made that naming God is never really naming God but

only naming our understanding of God. To take our ideas of the divine and hold

them as if they correspond to the reality of God is thus to construct a

conceptual idol built from the materials of our mind.[9]


Many heresy hunters of the Emerging Church will point to this postmodern view on truth as proof of its relativistic operations and pluralism or nihilistic end results. Yet, this assertion

is nothing more than moving beyond our categorization and disallowing the limitation of

God. To challenge these allegations of  anathema tossed towards the movement of the emerging church, Rollins responds:


Here I picture the emerging community as a significant part of a wider religious

movement which rejects both absolutism and relativism as idolatrous positions

which hide their human origins in the modern myth of pure reason… the

emerging community is helping us to rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical

notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way—that is,

believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christ like (sic) manner. The reversal from

‘               right belief’ to ‘believing in the right way’ is in no way a move to some binary

opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief);

rather, it is a way transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no

longer (miss)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a

term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing

things about the world.[10]



Rollins spells out the postmodern critique and approach well than any other emerging church theologian or philosopher can. He breaks down the hardest jargon flipping over the tables in the temples of our hearts.



So has philosophy affected my worldview? I think so. How about you?


[1] Bauckman,  87


[2] Brian Mclaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt An Emergent Manifesto of Hope 98.


[3] Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations.(Brazos Press, 2007).36

[4] JP Moreland. Philosophical understandings for a Christian Worldview pg. 78.

[5] Peter Rollins, How not to speak of God 49.


[6] Brian Mclaren, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt, An Emerging Manifesto of Hope 98


[7] Ibid., 98


[8] Ibid., 99

[9] Peter Rollins, How not to speak of God,  28.

[10] Peter Rollins, How Not to Speak of God, 30.


One thought on “historical philosophy and its markings on the Christian Church

  1. well considered and thoughtful, you are one the few people i have ever encountered (aleit electronically!) that has made a deliberate effort to square their faith with their philosophical insights. keep it up

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