Opening Church Windows

John XXIIIHere is an excerpt from a letter by a minister of the Roman Catholic faith, Dennis Teall-Fleming. It was sent to Tony Jones, the National Coordinator for Emergent Village and he included it in today’s newsletter. It’s a pretty obvious analogy and helps someone like me, having been raised Roman Catholic, to put the Emerging Church idea into a better perspective.

The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.

That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!

Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.

I particularly like that line of Pope John’s about fresh air. With all the attention, both positive and negative, that has been given some of the leaders in the Emerging Church as well as some of the hysterical fears of the “movement” itself (I am now officially declaring ‘conversation’ as being too vague of a description – take note) I think that it is prudent to remember the impact that Pope John’s Vatican council had on the Church. To this day there are elements within the Roman church that think of John XXIII as a pawn of Satan, yet most Catholics and Protestants would fervently disagree. Perhaps the Emerging movement is just picking up where Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli left off ; opening up windows and doors for a church that suffers from the symptoms of long term theological OCD.


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  1. #1 by Jason on October 1, 2007 - 12:25 am

    This is just silly. Do you really believe that teaching falsely perfectly fine, God will just sort it out? How do we disciple if we do so falsely? Don’t you rightly go on and on about praxis? Isn’t teaching falsely the same as unchristian praxis? What are all those passages about? How do you arbitrarily get rid of those parts of the bible, like you laugh off Revelation and then cite some church fathers, as if God gives a crap what you thought of Augustine’s opinion on his word?

    Maybe it has been a while since you’ve read it but those who don’t believe aren’t impressed whether you teach falsely or not. That’s kind of the point, Christian. Some people (gasp) won’t care about Jesus no matter how much you sand down the pointy corners. In fact, it seems to me that eliminating parts of God’s word because you don’t think that they are reflective of God shows no faith at all. It shows an utter lack of faithfulness on your part to so casually discard your own responsibility contained within huge sections of Scripture in matters of teaching faithfully. Ah, who cares if I tell the truth about God? He’ll take care of it! And he’s very tolerant of my flagrancy in this matter, I’m pretty sure, although I’ll have a hard time backing it up biblically.

    It is even more disturbing that you don’t understand the reference to the first three commandments. After your glazing over false teaching, it is no wonder that you do not think the first three commandments mean anything. Christian, do not bandy about the Lord’s name in vain. No idols! What does 1 John 5:21 mean, or do you just throw the baby out with that bathwater as well? What is so hard to understand about that? If you teach the kind of I’mokyerok, get-out-of-“making Jesus your Lord”-free-card garbage that Rahner taught, and you endorsed, then you are liking God on your terms only and giving the finger to the mean old God who wrote the first three commandments. That is absolutely what you are doing!

    Don’t you feel ANY sense of responsibility to be truthful about who God is? Don’t you think that God would not have bothered to tell us if it wasn’t important? And, again, perhaps you just going to brush this off the table because it doesn’t suit your picture of a Jewish Gandhi, or it made you feel bad, or you think people won’t understand, or whatever, but that is not the way Jesus treated the word, and if you really meant that stuff about the Gospels being your hermeneutical lens, then you would see how Christ treated the rest of the word and you would stop saying that the Gospels are the only thing that is important, and then backtracking, and then saying it again,

    It seriously is just stupid to say “I seriously doubt that any atheists would breath a sigh of relief after reading the articles of Vatican II.” You didn’t really mean that, did you? Are you now basing your theology on what atheists do or don’t do? What are you thinking? What is wrong with that? Can you even tell me? Do you even care? You absolutely cannot discard the literally hundreds of passages about false teaching without just throwing that whole thing out.

    Christian, there is more in the Gospels than the Unicef/Stuart Smalley amalgam you make it out to be. For the thousandth time, Jesus “tolerance” was, and is, that he meets people who don’t deserve it, and that is everyone. His “acceptance” was that he saves people who don’t deserve it from judgment and the second death. But Christian, there are people who went, are going, and will go to hell. By what semantic shell game do you discard that from the Gospels? What could be less “accepting” or “tolerant” than that? He is not tolerant of sinners any more than he is of me or you or Herod. Jesus had very ugly things to say about sin and sinners and he was talking about all of us. And he said it based on the Old Testament!! Hello! Road to Emmaus?! The fact that he came and got the crap kicked out him and murdered clearly evinces his absolute lack of tolerance, because if pink fluffy God could just let bygones be bygones then why did the Cross happen at all? Please tell me the weird, sadistic point of the cross if “tolerance” was the angle.

    Christian, read through how Christ interpreted the Old Testament. Would you say he took it very seriously? In rebuking Satan himself, he used passages of Scripture which you would gladly discard, because they are too harsh, or outdated, or whatever your reason is. Or maybe you will just arbitrarily utter “metaphor” and thereby no longer have to feel badly about it. If you really were that interested in the Gospels you would be paying attention to all of them, but you have chosen to not even pull that off. Jesus Christ defined his own ministry based on those deuterocononicals you call the Old Testament. If the Jesus thought that they were that important, what’s your excuse? And if you don’t think that Paul is much higher than a commentator, then you must think he is telling tales about his encounter with the risen Lord, because if he did encounter Jesus the way he says, then in order to maintain a modicum of consistency you would have to say that Paul’s writings were the very words of God himself (just like Christ thought of the Old Testament, yes, he did, look at how he refers to them, or is that a metaphor.) But if you do think he encountered Christ, but he still is not to be listened to with commensurate attentiveness, or somehow what he wrote is riddled with contradictions and errors in comparison with the Gospels, then you must believe that Paul is quite wrong on many things. But if you think that then how do you determine that the Gospels are at all correct? If you think Paul is off, then why not Matthew, Mark, etc? How many errors did God make and where is your Rosetta Stone filling us in as to what is clear for take off and what has to be grounded? Actually, that metaphor is grounded.

    Is it possible that the theological Rorschach test contained in your own writings is just you looking down a well of history and seeing yourself? (apologies to A. Schweitzer)

    I had to come back here to see just how nuts your response was. I’m sure people will go on and on about how little grace I have, and perhaps they are right, but to play grace footsie with someone while their heart gets harder and harder doesn’t seems loving either.

    That’s enough.

  2. #2 by Christian on October 1, 2007 - 8:37 am

    Jason , you make some good points. I thnk those points can be turned around and directed at you as well. I would hesitate to do this as there are some elements of what you say that are highly exaggerated and inflamatory. In fact, if I didn’t know better I would suggest that you haven’t really read what I have written.

    I respect holy scripture and believe that what Paul says is true – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” At the time Paul wrote there were no ‘written’ new testament scriptures to speak of. Scriptures are useful only in how they lead us to the Gospels. Without the Gospels we have missed the point. Though scripture supports the Gospels, they will stand alone, to the point that non-Christians have learned from them.

    I never laughed off Revelations – I just interpret it differently than you do. I never mean to trivialize any of the Bible by holding the Gospels in the absolute highest regard. I believe in what someone once said: the Bible is like a mountain with the Gospels as it’s peak and the Old Testament and other writings as it’s slopes and foothills. Another metaphor. 🙂

    I am not picking and choosing what is relevant and what is not relevant by holding to the idea that someone who is ‘born again of the spirit’ need not spend an inordinate amount of time fixated on adherence to the Levitical law. I am not a pre-messianic Jew. At one time I was pre-messianic and the law convicted me. Now I am convicted when I fall short of the laws that Jesus said were most important.

    You are right – I do not believe in a place called hell but I also do not believe that all are saved. I just do not think that the character of God, as revealed through Jesus, supports the tenuous doctrine of hell as it is gleaned from some colorful discriptions of bad consequences. In fact, I think this doctrine is heretical.

    I only bring up people like Augustine to illustrate that these ideas of Biblical literalism you hold to are not that old, in fact they have only been widely accepted for about 150 years or so and therefore are thoroughly modern in nature.

    I will say this – I think a rabidly emotional defense of the Bible with a concurrent condemnation of those who disagree with the defendent’s point of view (their interpretataion) to the point of ignoring the teachings and examples of Jesus is tragic. Jesus may not have tolerated sin, he certainly did tolerate sinners, including you and me, Jason. I say all this not in hope of a ‘nutty’ response from you but with the hope and expectation that we can keep the conversation going on an even keel.

  3. #3 by Christian on October 3, 2007 - 9:25 am

    This is just silly….. If you teach the kind of I’mokyerok, get-out-of-“making Jesus your Lord”-free-card garbage….. that Rahner taught, and you endorsed, then you are liking God on your terms only and giving the finger to the mean old God who wrote the first three commandments. That is absolutely what you are doing! ….. It seriously is just stupid …..

    But Christian, there are people who went, are going, and will go to hell…….. I had to come back here to see just how nuts your response was….

    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ ( or speaks with contempt), is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

    Matthew 5:21-22

    We all pick and choose, don’t we?

  4. #4 by lovewillbringustogether on October 3, 2007 - 11:32 pm

    A comment on the Bible we know today and read in English (or Hindi or Spanish or Urdu or Mandarin or Arabic, etc, etc)

    EVERY word every author (and there were many human authors) wrote in it was ‘perfectly’ true to Them!
    (as perfect as ever any man can be even with Divine inspiration)

    I am certain both Christian and Jason are in agreement upon this.

    Translation from the original tongue makes a strictly perfect literal translation slightly less ‘perfect’ but let’s be charitable and believe that the translators were as perfectly divinely inspired as the original Authors and they got it about as ‘right’ as any human can.

    Where we get it WRONG is in our less than perfect understanding and ability to read what the authors wanted us to understand by what they wrote and i don’t just mean the words although this is sometimes done but the SPIRIT of what is being read.

    Having a ‘committee’ such as Church Authority, like the Vatican e.g., to decide for each one of us what was actually meant by any given passage contained in the Bible may eliminate the ‘error’ a casual reader might make – or it may just add a different kind of error because the Church holds itself as more important than any individual – why else would many churches ‘hide’ the sins of their ministers, bishops etc? or did i miss the verse in the bible that authorised child sexual abuse?

    Neither Jason nor Christian will, i trust, claim their understanding of Scripture is perfect although each may hold their own belief about which one is ‘more right’ : ). Both make VALID points; both are to some degree or other ‘in error’ and finger pointing is not going to bring anyone closer to Jesus or God.

    Understand that the Bible speaks to those who READ it for themselves. Interpreting it for those who don’t is likely to be frought with dangers. Make yourself a sufficiently bright and welcoming beacon for your Lord that the Godless wish to learn more of the Truth for themselves.

    Take care your ego does not fill you with such pride of your knowledge that you fall into error and become one of those to whom Jesus quoted:

    ’20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
    21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’
    Matt 7

  5. #5 by Jason on October 24, 2007 - 1:45 am


    couple interpretive things.

    Oh gosh, if you are gonna drag scripture into it…when did that become authoritative? But you have once again vindicated my perception of your teaching and interpretation.

    1. Do you really fancy yourself a legalist in matters of speech? Again, isn’t that heaping on the rules which you supposedly “left behind”..hahahahahaa

    2. Didn’t Jesus just get done talking about what is in the heart? Christian, I think you are an extremely poor exegete, prone to religious prejudice based on your own sad experiences, and leading people astray with your form of godliness which has no power, but I don’t hate you. Why are you being so judgemental?

    Regarding 2 Tim 3 and NT scripture: Actually at the point where Paul wrote most of what he did (certainly at the time Paul wrote his last letter, by the liberal theologian’s assessment) the gospels had not been written. I don’t know whose dating you accept and why but your own reasoning doesn’t fit your citation.

    As well, you just managed to say that those things other than the gospels are virtually irrelevant because, on your timeline at least, they hadn’t been written. Was it new truth, some abrogation of it, or or are you a closet dispensationalist? C’mon, you can tell us…

    The Gospels stand alone. hmmm. I have made the challenge before, perhaps you should think about it, look at what Christ said about Scripture. Look at the terms he used. Stand alone? It seems that everything Jesus did he defined in light of the Old Testament.

    Your use of Augustine is disturbingly selective. Augustine was a fabulous literalist in the vast majority of scripture, and I think you would happily reject out of hand much of his exegesis because you just didn’t “believe” it. But once again you select that which suits your cause. As well, I challenge you to back up the idea that my idea of proper scriptural interpretation is a modern development. Is it possible that, once again, your sad experiences have led you to imagine me to be some amalgam, some stereotype in your head? As far as I can tell, my questions regarding application of metaphors, obvious, clear statements made within metaphors (like the picture drawn in Christ’s “worm never dies” comment…how do you discard that?”..I mean, Jesus said it and all…) and the unknown composition of the metaphor/literal litmus paper which you use to cite some scripture literally and some not. those which fit within your paradigm…now THAT is a modern phenomenon (the slippery sweety Schleiermacher). Please back it up. This will be fun.

    And lastly, all raca and moros aside, it really is stupid to construct your theology based on what atheists think/don’t think like/don’t like.

    hi lwbut,

    All I got out of your post was that no one’s right and no one’s wrong. so why say it? as well, how is it that we cannot apply the interpretive slide rule to “fruits”? One man’s roadside bomb is another man’s fruit…

    It sounds as though your ideas are more absolute than others. I’m not sure why, in your paradigm, we should be interested in your ideas, since it’s all out there somewhere for the reader to make into his own reality.

    “Having a ‘committee’ such as Church Authority, like the Vatican e.g., to decide for each one of us what was actually meant by any given passage contained in the Bible may eliminate the ‘error’ a casual reader might make – or it may just add a different kind of error because the Church holds itself as more important than any individual – why else would many churches ‘hide’ the sins of their ministers, bishops etc? or did i miss the verse in the bible that authorised child sexual abuse?”

    Perhaps you can reference their scriptural defense of the unholy Roman coverup. I don’t recall them using scripture at all, in fact. This is a strange thought of yours.

    Lastly, certainly I err, but show me. Saying that I do, and then not saying what they are is not so helpful. I really want to know. Debrief please. Let’s get it out there so I can fix it. Call me on those presuppositions.

  6. #6 by lovewillbringustogether on October 24, 2007 - 3:05 am

    Hiya J
    Not sure if you are deliberatly choosing to misinterpret what i was saying, cannot truly see what i was saying or do get it and just want to see if i do and are kicking up dust to obscure things for the fun you so clearly derive from it??

    Maybe a little from column An B and C?

    1. no-one is right and no-one is wrong – oh gee how far you are off my ‘mark’. To ERR is human is what i was getting at – therefore take care when you point out the faults you see in others.

    2. Why should you be interested in my ideas? For exactly the same reason I should be interested in yours – to see things from an alternate perspective to see how WRONG you can be! 🙂 So as to better understand yourself and those you share this planet with.

    3. I DID NOT say that the Church used scriptural defenses although i am pretty sure they would have had a bundle to throw at any ‘detractors’ – those they did not burn or otherwise silence. It is quite clear to me that even recently, the Church Heirarchy puts the welfare of the Church above that of a few (or even all of) their own parishioners, as evidenced by the testimonies of those the Chruch ‘leaders’ have so badly let down.

    Frankly i don’t see how my thought is any stranger than the ones which let child abusers continue in roles of trust in a church community once the sin has been exposed!

    And lastly: I said undoubtedly you (and Christian and myself) do (you are human and to err IS human) without needing any specific example. From your own mouth:

    ” I have never, and will never get it all right. Ever. I expect to, when I fall flat before the Lord, to be quite surprised at the number of things I got wrong.”


  7. #7 by Jason on October 24, 2007 - 3:28 am

    dustkicker central,

    Hiya lwbut,

    1. OK.

    2. I agree, and I welcome the scrutiny, planet sharer..

    3. The context of the paragraph most certainly was with regards to scriptural interpretation. And being pretty sure is not very helpful. Perhaps knowing would be more so. And your thought is only strange in that, again, I don’t remember them using scritpture to defend this horror, and since that is what your were talking about I figured that is what you were talking about.

    And the Roman big hats have done great damage.

    From your citation of my true words I presume attempting to get it right, in that getting it wrong is lying about God, should be all but sidelined for fear of getting it wrong. Your exhortations to caution do not assess the substance, or lack, of any of it.

    Call me on it. Assess it.

  8. #8 by Christian on October 24, 2007 - 6:59 am

    Welcomr back Jason. Of course, taking three weeks to respond and conveniently forgetting why my last response seemed so ‘heated’ is more the definition of a ‘hive kicker’. 8)

    In 2Timothy, Paul exhorts him to beware of these pitfalls that were to take (or were already taking) place, in Timothy’s lifetime. Some of what he alludes to is Gnosticism and biblical mythologies. Perhaps Vatican II et al are actually addressing those same types of treacheries?

    There is a lot of Augustine that I do not like. As well as Luther and Calvin. There is some that I do like in all of their writings. Am I to read them in a fundamentalist fashion as well? Either all of it or none of it? Of course with the Bible I don’t throw anything out, just the exegesis that contradict. I instead read it in a different light than instructed to do so by much of the current church wisdom, but not all of it. That is why I used Augustine as an example – a theologian that is generally held in high regard who thought we should resist reading Revelation ‘carnally’.

    The big hats have done some terrible damage over the years. As well as many of the frock shirts and black cassocks of the Protestant camp. It is refreshing that some are now attempting to correct the mistakes their predecessors made.

  9. #9 by Jason on October 24, 2007 - 1:05 pm

    Gnosticism, as far as any extrabiblical documentation goes, is a second century devleopment. There may have been prototypes, but you are only speculatiing, and your speculation is, once again, your hermeneutical lens.

    Again with the fundamentalist word. Can you make a critique of historical, Christian belief without it? Can you explain what you mean by it? This is the prejudice of which I speak.

    Tell me of the contradictions. Be transparent. I think you are only worried about that which contradicts your worldview.

    Truly, all have their share of the blame. Most prominently, in the last 250 years, those whom metaphorize that which does not suits their sensibilities.


  10. #10 by Christian on October 24, 2007 - 3:14 pm

    Actually the idea that Paul may have been concerned about Gnostic streams of Biblical interpretation is not of my own imagination but found in the notes for 2Tim 3 of my NIV study bible.

    The definition that Merriam Webster provides works for me:


    Main Entry: fun·da·men·tal·ism
    Pronunciation: \-tə-ˌli-zəm\
    Function: noun
    Date: 1922
    1 a. often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b: the beliefs of this movement c: adherence to such beliefs
    2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

    If you feel that this definition is in error than tell me what fundamentalism really is. I would not want to be seen as being prejudicial.

    That being said, I don’t have a problem with fundamentalists so much as it appears that fundamentalists have a problem with people like me, or more precisely, anyone who seems to disagree with them. ( Am I being prejudicial again? If so please tell me how fundamentalism is open to other ideas about God, scripture and religion.)

    Here is what I believe is one major contradiction within the fundamentalsit mindset:

    When it is accepted as fact that God is Love yet also claim that he has a vengeful and violent side to his nature as portrayed in a certain interpretation of the Revelation of John of Patmos. It is not Revelation itself that I have a problem with but a specific ‘literal’ interpretation that eschews the metaphors that apparently do not suit the sensibilities of those who are attracted to the picture of an actual warrior Jesus. I am not alone in this regard. I see other contradictions as they pertain to salvation, damnation and legalism, as well but I think you get the picture. I hope so, anyway. It’s not the first time I’ve said this. 🙂

    What do you think my world view is? I get the impression that you feel that I have some ulterior motive here, other than what I have expressed.

    It’s interesting that you mention the time since the Enlightenment as being the period in which there has been an excess of ‘metaphorizing’ the Bible. Could you share your thoughts on how this has been the case?

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