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A Wild Pitch By Frank Pastore

15a_1.JPG Apparently, talk show host Frank Pastore has made an argument (and I use the term "argument" loosely) as to why Al Qaeda supports the Emergent Church. Like Ted Olsen of Christianity Today, I am no fan of EC. But that does not excuse horrid reasoning on the part of critics like Pastore, a former major league pitcher, who, it seems, has lost his logical control since his days as an MA student in philosophy at Biola University. Given his pedigree and outstanding teachers (such as J. P. Moreland), Frank can do much better than this.

Update: You can find Pastore's essay, "Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church," here.

Comments (14)

Is the whole Pastore column available on-line? Both of the links went to the Ted Olsen column with the one paragraph quotation.

I have to be honest with ya'. I thought the paragraph was hilarious and enjoyable. A little on the rockin' side, with a "blog-like" sound, but actually...he's got a point. It is the sucking-out of doctrine and of the guts to defend it that has left the church open to all this multiculti/dhimmi nonsense that we see in Europe. Emergentism is just extending that attack on doctrine into places--such as fundamentalist churches and colleges--that were formerly bastions against theological modernism.

The whole column is here.

I have no idea what Emergent Church is. The one I belong to emerged about 2,000 years ago, so if there's another one doing the same thing, it might prove interesting. But one of their Board members, a Brian McClaren, is also on the Board of Sojourners, which is enough to stop me from further reading.

Okay, I read the whole column. He's maybe a little too hawkish-interventionist-sounding at the beginning for my taste, but that's my biggest criticism. (That is, I'm not sure America is going to save the world from Islam, and I don't think we're doing enough just to save _America_ from Islam.)

But the stuff about emergentism--yeah, I still think he has a point, the point I attributed to him from the one paragraph.

(I wish he'd get somebody to edit his grammar a bit more, though.)

I have to concur in Lydia's judgment on this one. Emergentism is what happens to Evangelicalism when the latter opts to shack up with postmodernism in a trendy urban loft, and decides to stick around even when cuckolded mercilessly, believing this treatment to be a liberation. Anyone who can argue the following:

I argued that we're in conversation with the Fathers today, just as they were in conversation with one another in their day. I also posited that the victory of one theological position over another was as much a matter of politics and context as a matter of divine providence. Finally, the lack of marginalized voices in all of the ancient (and medieval and modern) theological debates should give us all pause.

Does that mean that the Councils and creeds and Fathers lack authority today? I hope not. But I hope that they will have a more credible authority if we understand all of the vicissitudes of their times. As in our day, they had pressures on them from all sides, and, while I in no way think this precludes God's Spirit from guiding the process, it was not a unanimous and clean decision on, say, the dual-nature of Christ.

Is committing grievous theological malpractice, and it is scarcely possible to conceive of a rhetorical flaying that would be too severe. We're not "in conversation" with the Fathers; we either affirm the faith once delivered to the saints, as articulated through the works of the Fathers, or we're making it up as we go along. And the development of doctrine - if one elects to utilize such terminology - or, perhaps, the creedal articulation of the deposit of faith, as a bulwark against heresy, was either a political process, in which dissidents and marginal figures were suppressed irrespective of the claims of truth, or - at least to confessing Christians - all of the wrangling was merely the accidental flotsam upon the substantive movement, which was that of the Spirit: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." If the former, than inclusion of all of those marginalized figures - Which ones? Should we try to resurrect Arianism and Nestorianism as viable theological paradigms? The more outlandish, neoplatonic, transmigration-of-pre-existent-souls flavors of Origen? What, exactly? Gospel of Thomas? - might be warranted; if the latter, on the contrary, then inclusion is simply apostasy.

Moreover, the authority of the creeds, councils, and Fathers is not contingent upon a consciousness of all of the ostensible contingencies - which cannot really be contingencies if one believes in a hierarchical, sacramental Church, but leave that to the side - but is derivative of the Person and mysteries to which all bore witness. Finally, either the Spirit guided the entirety of the process, or that process was political, contingent, and indeterminate, such that - consistent with postmodern doctrine - any creedal expression is merely an attempt to reduce to stasis and stability the irreducible flux of Christian signifiers. If the Spirit guided the process, our response ought to be one of submissive faith, not dialogue or conversation or any other sort of postmodern twaddle; and if the Spirit guided the process, on through the centuries, then those whose doctrines were marginalized and repressed, well, received their just measure, and there is still no "dialogue". Arius stands condemned, etc.

Anyway, I tire of these pseuds who insist upon whoring about with postmodernism, profaning themselves and the faith with a philosophy and, ultimately, a metaphysic irreconcilable with Christian faith. Put the (rhetorical) whips to them, already.

I find Catholic orthodoxy to be quite compatible with much of postmodern philosophy. Perhaps I am due a good lashing?

I thought about drawing a distinction, between certain methodological elements and the sort of pseudo-Heideggarian, Flux-is-all-there-is stuff that the Emergentists are always bandying about, with all of that talk about the indeterminacy of the Tradition, but just got distracted. I've two toddlers, after all. Perhaps you could direct me to a post in which this compatibility is limned?

Mainly, though, I wished to flay Tony Jones, Brian McClaren, et al, for using a Cliff's Notes version of postmodernism to mottle Christianity. They're practically giving us a revisionist history of doctrine, which ought to be left to the gnostics and Jesus Seminar quacks. What's next, a revisionist account of Lucifer?

I once heard somebody say he doesn't "chamber a round" when somebody mentions postmodernism. I do. But at the moment I don't feel like trying to convince somebody otherwise who thinks it profound or compatible with Christianity at all. My motto in these matters is the old saw: "Two inches of muddy water can look as deep as the ocean."

I have plunged into those muddy waters and found an ocean. I think it best to define what I mean by postmodern, which I do not take as relativism or nihilism, at least not in all cases. I’d concede that they are dangers and temptations for the postmodernist.

The term postmodern can refer to any philosophy done post-modernity, which means we’re all postmodern thinkers. That’s a bit too broad, though. Postmodern can also refer to any number of particular philosophical projects that either develops or critiques (or both) principles or elements of modernity or the enlightenment: phenomenology, hermeneutics, and deconstruction are a few of these. My own thinking has been informed by these particular projects, among others old and new.

I see postmodernism as an affirmation that truth is infinite and a mystery, and is therefore inexhaustible by our finite minds and finite languages. Reality cannot be reduced to any philosophical system or any system of language. Because we understand through language, we don’t understand things as they are in themselves, pure and unmediated. We understand them in so far as they are revealed and concealed by language, which is situated in time and culture, in the flux, even when we use it to speak of eternal realities. The flux is not all there is, but there is no arresting it this side of eternity. That, I think, is one reason why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “We do not believe in formulas, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch.” Human language is a temporal thing. There is an eternal word: the Word of God, the Idea that actually is that to which it refers.

I understand about the distractions of toddlers. I have a 16-month-old myself, who is now, fortunately, asleep. I should head that way myself, as tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation and Mass is quite early.


Kyle writes:

I have plunged into those muddy waters and found an ocean.
I've stuck in a few fingers and hit bottom almost immediately. And then I had to wash my hands. (Hat tip: my eldest daughter, to whom I owe the line.)

The real issue I have with postmodernism (I believe the "I don't automatically chamber a round" line was mine) is that it seems to me to be as language-obsessed as the modernity it purports to transcend. So I agree with Kyle to a point and appreciate where he is coming from, but I disagree with the statement "Because we understand through language, ..."

I don't understand through language. I communicate through language, but the understanding in my head is not the same kind of thing. For one thing, I'm a very visual and abstract thinker. Which is good, because I'm barely literate in the sense that I have to pay lots of attention to avoid mistakes in grammar, word choice, etc -- if the inside of my head looked as sloppy as my writing I'd probably be unable to function. Fortunately my writing is merely something I construct to communicate - it isn't the interior logos, the speaking person.

I don't understand through language. I communicate through language, but the understanding in my head is not the same kind of thing.

I would be surprised if the abstract visuals Zippy comprehends the world through do not tell a story or lend themselves to other pictures, they require some sort of translation of meaning. That is the language Kyle seems to be referring to.

Well, if by "language" we don't mean language then that is different.

Zippy, I think your concern about postmodernism being obsessed with language is warranted. Pope John Paul II made a similar point in Fides et Ratio about contemporary philosophy’s over-emphasis on the limits of our knowledge at the expense of searching for what we can know. Postmodern thinkers can and have gotten so tied up in the chain of signifiers that they forget about the signified. That said, I do think particular philosophers may have a vocation to devote most of their attention to language, how we know, and the limits of our understanding.

I would defend the proposition that we understand reality through language or that we arrive at an understanding of reality through language. Of course, we use language to communicate our understanding of reality to others and to ourselves, and I don’t deny that our experience and understanding of reality feature more than words; however, language doesn’t enter the picture only after our experience of reality. In a way, it makes a meaningful experience of reality possible. When we experience anything, we experience it as something, as it fits into some concept. If I am walking through a cave and see repetitive markings on the wall, I may perceive such markings as writing, but only if I have in my mind some concept, however vague, of writing. Otherwise I’ll perceive the markings as markings, assuming I have in mind some concept of markings.

Language and all its limits and features are at work (and perhaps at play) even prior to our perception: Language gives us access to reality. As our understanding is built upon the reality we perceive and experience, I’d say we do arrive at an understanding of reality through language. Language has a role to play. How big a role is another question.

Then again, perhaps Tim is right, and in diving into the muddy waters of postmodernism, I hit my head on rocky ground, swallowed copious amounts of water, and in my panic and disillusionment mistook the majestic blue sky for an ocean. If that’s the case, I probably need a bath.

I'm a classical strong foundationalist, a Cartesian dualist, and an evidentialist. So I'm not going to buy any of this, including "language is prior to experience," "we cannot know things in themselves," etc.

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