Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dispatch 2 from the Emergent Frontier

Dispatch no. 2 from The New Christians by Tony Jones

"Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality."

This dispatch is more concerned with the US situation, where I believe both the theological and political spectrum are much more polarised than they are in the UK. We don't have 'the culture wars' in anything like the same mode.

In theological terms it is true that both fundamentalism and liberalism were responses to modernity, and both rely on a foundationalist epistemology. The fundamentalist or conservative evangelical builds on a foundation of the inerrant word of God, the bible, or a particular interpretation thereof. For the liberal, the foundation is the "feeling of utter dependence" that Schleiermacher spoke of. If any of the postmodern critique of the enlightenment project is valid then both of these traditions are in trouble and begin to look naive.

It terms of politics I take this dispatch to be an expression of the frustration which is exemplified in Jim Wallis' book God's Politics, subtitle - 'Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It'. (The fact that Gordon Brown endorsed this book so strongly shows we in the UK are in a different situation), or in bumpers stickers that say 'God is not a Republican (or a Democrat)'. The ethics of the kingdom simply do not line up straightforwardly with the left or right in this polarity.
One may be pro-life and against the war in Iraq for example. Or one may take a conservative line on sexuality, but not believe that it should be the single issue which decides an election, and that matters of social justice and concerns about poverty may be more important. I sympathise with the annoyance of Christians in the US who are sick of the so called 'religious right', but who are also nervous about the emergence of a new Christian left. I do not think the answer is an anabaptist disengagement from politics, leaving a secular vacuum into which may be sucked all kinds of forces opposed to the Lordship of Christ. So yes, a more nuanced approach for a more complex reality is needed in terms of Christian political engagement.

I understand the sentiment of this dispatch, but like I say, I don't think it applies in anything like the same way in the UK context.

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