31 July 2009

Don Miller on Story and Christianity

I realize that the title is very descriptive. The point in all of Don Miller's books is the role of Story. In fact, his latest book, coming out in August, was originally going to be called Let Story Guide You, though he rewrote it and changed the title to A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Anyway, he gave a brief overview of the book on his blog, and laid out what he thinks is the true narrative structure of Christianity.

For more on Million Miles, see Miller's interview -- really, it's more of a video-taped conversation -- with his publisher, also on his blog.

For more on Miller himself, check out his website, his blog, or any of the many posts I've written on Miller.

Rock on.


Ian D said...


hey, what do you make of this video? it's christians examining the postmodern/emergent church.

agree? disagree?

rocksalive777 said...

I think the three commentators have a profound misunderstanding of postmodernism and the Emergent movement.

First and foremost, postmodernism is not just deconstructionism. Postmodernism also include constructionism and holding two things in tension, such as empiricism and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The point of McLaren's book isn't that you can be both Calvinist and Arminian, but that both traditions embrace Christ and have ideas to be braced by all Christians.

Mr. McLaren calls for orthodoxy (that is, right belief) but also orthopraxy (right action), recalling that "Faith without deeds is dead." This seeming contradiction is at the core of postmodern Christian thought. Emergent Christians want conversation and dialog along with their Creeds. But they still hold on to the Creeds and believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the Living God, the Christ, and the Savior of the World. No one in this video wants to admit that.

For Mr. Zacharias, tension is not good. As the "leading" apologist, Zacharias wants Christianity to make perfect sense and be logical, but it does not and is not.

Ian D said...

first of all rocksalive777, i want to thank you for your response and greatly appreciate your feedback.

i have a second question now. you said that emergent christians also hold to the creeds and believe that Jesus is the son of God and that may be true. but jehovah's witnesses and mormons(two denominations which are widely viewed as cults by most christians)also profess to believe in the father, son, and holy spirit and that jesus came to die for our sins. they also claim to believe in these things, though if you take a deeper look at them you'll see that they differ in many ways.

now, in no way do i wish for this to imply that emergent christianity is some sort of cult. at worse in my opinion, emergent christianity is a rather new agey form of christianity which takes a few liberties with doctrine here and there. but OVERALL, i would still say that emergent christians have their heart in the right place and the emergent church itself is still firmly rooted in the basic christian doctrines.

"Mr. McLaren calls for orthodoxy (that is, right belief) but also orthopraxy (right action), recalling that "Faith without deeds is dead." This seeming contradiction is at the core of postmodern Christian thought."

also, you said that postmodern christians call out for right actions along with belief and that is at the core of postmodern belief but i wonder if it really is true. this is where i believe emergent beliefs are misleading, by casting themselves as perhaps one of the few(or only) christians out there who want to call out for right belief. in fact, if you look at many churches across america, you'll find pastors and priests in the deepest evangelical churches in the south to the biggest high-spire gothic catholic cathedrals in california calling out for their followers to practice right action along with right beliefs. so in this respect, i do not believe emergent christians are unique in this claim nor do i think they are innovative pioneers in the preaching of right action(franciscans, dominicans, lutherans, and countless other denoms have also done this in the past).

which brings me to my final point. where do you see the emergent church moving in the future? will it establish itself as a branch for all seasons and stand the test of time? or will it go the way of arianism and monophysicism and fade from the hearts and minds of people? while the emergent church has great appeal to you and, i'm sure, many others, it is still seen in the eyes of other christians as a heretical sect which will go the way of other sub-christian heresies of the past. how do you reconcile your beliefs with these critics?

rocksalive777 said...

1) The difference between Jehovah's Witnesses, the LDS Church, and postmodern Emergent types is the Trinity. The first two reject the doctrine that Jesus is "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father." (Nicene Creed) While they may believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,* they do not teach that these three entities exist as God in Three Persons. The LDS Church teaches a more or less polytheistic conception of Christianity. Emergent Christians accept the Trinity. As far as I'm concerned, rejection of the Trinity is grounds for saying that a religion can no longer be considered truly Christian.

*Mormons differentiate between the Holy Ghost (the god) and the Holy Spirit (the presence of God).

2) You're right in saying Emergent Christians aren't the first to call for right action. It is important to remember that what has been called the Emergent Church is not a denomination or a monastic order. It has no distinctive doctrine.* Instead, it is Christians from all denominational backgrounds coming together to discuss issues that they see as relevant to the Church in the 21st century. One can be a Baptist, a Methodist, a Lutheran, etc. and still consider him/herself to be Emergent.

*Though perhaps there are some unique cultural criticisms not found in your average local congregation.

3) I see the future of the Emergent movement as a bit of a non-entity. Many people who would consider themselves postmodern Christians do not necessarily claim "Emergent" as a title. Instead, I think the ideas will stick around and change the face of evangelicalism (little "e") forever, but the movement as a named entity will fade away. I see Don Miller as the leading figure of Christianity in the 21st century US. He doesn't claim to be Emergent, and yet he is the author reaching from the high school, college, and young adult groups at many churches to the dorms of many college students. If you want to see what the average Christian will look like ten years from now, I'd highly recommend Blue Like Jazz.
Postmodernism will always have its critics. It's true in Academia, it's true in the Church. I think, though, this is only because of the connection in popular perception between postmodern and deconstructionism. I firmly believe that Emergent Christianity, while still postmodern, is re-constructive.* Critics will say what they will, but as the dialog advances, I believe most charges of heresy will be dropped, so to speak.

*One of my professors terms it post-postmodern.

Ian D said...

"It is important to remember that what has been called the Emergent Church is not a denomination or a monastic order. It has no distinctive doctrine.* Instead, it is Christians from all denominational backgrounds coming together to discuss issues that they see as relevant to the Church in the 21st century. One can be a Baptist, a Methodist, a Lutheran, etc. and still consider him/herself to be Emergent."

in theory this does sound like something the Emergent movement would be like. In practice, however, i've noted that those involved in the emergent/postmodern movement are more "liberal" in a manner of speaking while the most vocal critics of this movement tend to be the more "conservative christians." i do realize that i am making a broad claim and that not every Christian falls neatly into the patterns of "liberal" and "conservative" which i described but there still is that divide between the emergent christian movement and its other christian critics which cannot be denied.

another issue i wish to bring up is what you said earlier and in your latest response about how any christian can be an emergent and how calvinism and arminianism still have enough in common to be embraced by all christians. but in this case we're presented with a slippery slope. it's good to say that a lot of denominations and religions have things in common which we should respect but where do we draw the line? can lutheranism and catholicism be reconciled within the emergent movement? also, i'm sure that buddhism and christianity share some similar positive traits with each other but does that mean they can be reconciled? somewhere, somehow, there needs to be some standard within the emergent movement otherwise it could end up looking like a new agey unitarian universalist movement which moves progressively away from real doctrine and more towards its own secularized, humanistic interpretation of things.

"Many people who would consider themselves postmodern Christians do not necessarily claim "Emergent" as a title. Instead, I think the ideas will stick around and change the face of evangelicalism (little "e") forever, but the movement as a named entity will fade away."

this is an interesting way of looking at it. in what ways do you believe the emergent movement will change the fact of evangelicalism? will it change the way people preach in foreign countries? will the emergent movement only change the fact of christianity in america or will it move beyond its borders and affect the rest of the world where christianity is growing? as for dealing with the issues of the 21st century, will it mean that christians will be forced to compromise their morals on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. or will it mean that we, as christians, will find newer, innovative ways of dealing with these complex issues?

rocksalive777 said...

1) You're right about it sounding good in theory. Just like "non-denominational" has come to be associated with very specific churches. Even though there is little central leadership within the independent Christian churches, they still seem to be more of a denomination than not, and the same thing can certainly happen to the Emergent movement.

2) The Emergent movement isn't trying to reconcile denominations and trends in the sense that Catholicism and Lutheranism could ever become one denomination again, but in the sense that a Lutheran and Catholic can come together to discuss matters of faith, be aware of the differences between them, but still embrace the community offered by the Church through Christ.
The same stands for Buddhism, but to a lesser extent. You're right in saying that Buddhism and Christianity hold things in common. There can be and is an ongoing conversation between the two, but this does not mean that anyone is declaring them the same religion. Again, the differences are recognized. Interfaith dialog and reconciliation does not mean a declaration of theological unity. It's about understanding.

3) One of the key tenants of the Emergent movement is relationality: evangelism based on relationships, not one-way communication; honesty, not bait-and-switch ministry.
I do think this will remain confined mostly to the US, but will change the way American Christians do mission work, and through that, it may spread to other parts of the world.
As for the issues of the 21st century, I think it's a folly to assume that all Christians hold the same views on homosexuality and abortion. Single denominations can't even agree on the issue, let alone the entire Body of Christ. As such, part of the change will be an understanding of the diversity within Christianity. It will also mean a kinder way of discussing controversial issues. Again, a lot of it is about more discussion, less one-way communication.

rocksalive777 said...

I just found a quote from Thomas Merton that I find particularly relevant:

"I do not have clear answers to current questions. I have questions, and, as a matter of fact, I think a man is better known by his questions than his answers. To make known one's questions is, no doubt, to come out in the open oneself. I am not in the market for the ready-made and wholesale answers so easily volunteered by the public and I question nothing so much as the viability of public and popular answers, including some of those which claim to be most progressive."

Ian D said...

i definitely agree there needs to be understanding between diff christian denominations and that christians should also understand the doctrines of other religions in order to understand the people better. but like i said, there will always be that slippery slope one has to watch out for. the emergent movement may not slide down that slope during our lifetime or the lifetimes of rob bell and don miller. but at some point, there's always the possibility that future generations could distort the teachings of the emergent movement and transform it into something resembling mormonism. keep in mind that when martin luther started the reformation, he never meant for it to widely diverge into what it is today(and i daresay he'd be a little disappointed with the christianity today which the reformation has created). all the great christian scientists of the past whose works helped to set the foundation for modern science today such as galileo and mendel would have never expected their works to contribute to modern science being completely secularized and devoid of any mention of God. human error will always be in the world and in order for emergent christians to prevent this slippery slope, the very first step which needs to be taken is to admit that this slippery slope does indeed exist, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

regarding the moral issues you mentioned, i do agree with you that not all christian groups will come to a definite agreement on all of them, but at the core, there are still many similarities they share. there are many christians who have different solutions to the issue of homosexuality. some may support rehabilitation, some support harsher laws preventing gay marriage and adoption, and some will say that though they may not agree with gay marriage, they still believe it's not the govt's place to be in marriage. at the very core, many of them still, however, agree that homosexuality and these other acts are sinful. there is indeed a visible and vocal minority who do believe there's nothing wrong with gay marriage but so far, they are still a demographic minority within christianity. the same could be said of abortion. some christians believe it should be punished by imprisoning the mother for murder, others say the mother should be given counseling to prevent her from making a decision, others say abortion should only be allowedin exceptional cases such as saving the mother's life, some say it should be banned altogether, and some even say that they may not agree with abortion but still don't believe it's government's place to get involved. despite the differences, at the very core, these christians still agree that the concept of abortion is wrong. again, there is a minority of christians who think abortion is okay but i must stress that they are still a demographic minority.

Ian D said...

also, you mentioned that a key facet to the emergent movement is discussion, dialogue, understanding, and open communication. and so far, i do think that many postmodern christians are committed to these values(at least on paper). but at what point will the open, welcoming arms end and the dogma begin? emergent christians, after all, are still human and like i mentioned earlier, the potential for them to become corrupted is just as likely as with any other denomination. open dialogue is important for establishing relations between people, that can't be denied. there are most likely a great deal of christians out there who favor a one-way discussion and don't care about relating to others or engaging them openly and kindly. i've seen conservative christians within my own family who behave this way at times and whenever they hear opinions or facts which counter their worldview, they get upset and cover their ears, saying "la la la, I can't hear you!"(figuratively speaking, they don't literally do this)

i do think that despite the emergent movement's commitment to openness, discussion, and understanding on paper, reality may show a different side of the emergent movement once it is scrutinized carefully and put on the spotlight(i'm not trying to single emergents out for this... because no denomination is perfect). at some point or another, emergent christians will hear opinions, facts, or worldviews which counter(either mildly or strongly) their own and react in almost the exact same fashion as some of the members of my family. when that time comes(if it hasn't happened already with some of the top members of the movement), then the emergent church's commitment to open dialogue, understanding, and relationships will be nothing more than simple lip service. again, the key to preventing this is to first acknowledge that this is a real possibility. if i may be bold enough to offer a suggestion, the second step should be to "test the waters" so to say. put your conviction to these ideals to the test. have dialogue with others who may not share your beliefs, particularly those who strongly oppose your deepest held values and see what comes of it. if emergent christians can do this without judging and condemning others or being upset with them to the point of writing them off and pretending that they don't exist, then the movement as a whole will have lived up to its ideals. if, however, emergent christians give in to the temptation of condemning others, writing them off, and then retreating into their own world to flee other worldviews and facts which do not fit theirs(just like how some conservative christians do this), then the postmodern christian movement's purposes will have been for nought.