Nice bit of banter going on between Tony Jones and Pete Rollins, where Tony challenged Pete to ‘give up atheism for Lent’. Outlining what this might look like, he requests:
I’d like Pete to post some beautiful, flowery prayers on his blog.
I’d like Pete to make some conclusive claims about the characteristics of God.
I’d like Pete to answer some questions. I mean actually answer them, without telling a parable.
Beneath the humour I think there’s something interesting here. We’ve been talking about an ’emerging church’ for some years now – but when, if ever, might we see something that is emerged?
I think Tony’s second point is actually very incisive, and begs a key question: can we make conclusive claims about the characteristics of God? I’ve been challenged in the comments on a previous post to ‘leave the whole Christian narrative behind’:
I can understand if you want to see the Christian narrative as a helpful aid towards looking at the world through certain themes, but do you really think there is anything more to it than that? Do you really think the Christian God exists and Jesus was his only begotten son sent to save us?
These are ‘core’ questions. And yet I find myself unable to give simple answers to them and tempted to move into parable a la Pete. It seems that there has been a period of unbinding, of critique and deconstruction. But at some point that has to stop, and something has to be, rather than be in opposition to something else.
Somewhere on my shelves I have a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and I wondered this morning – will we hit solid ground and be able to publish a systematic emerged theology any time soon? If so, what would it contain?
In ‘Other‘ I set out how a parallel situation in quantum physics, with its uncertainty principles, precipitated a huge crisis in what was ‘knowable’ about our universe:
In 1926 Werner Heisenberg outlined his ‘uncertainty principle’, which requires that ‘when the position of an atom is measured, the measurement process will leave the momentum of the atom changed by an uncertain amount inversely proportional to the accuracy of the measurement.’ Simply put: you can’t at the same time completely accurately measure both the position and velocity of a particle. Why? Because in order to observe anything, our eyes, or some other recording instrument, need to respond to the photons of light bouncing off the thing we are observing. The problem that Heisenberg established was that at the sub-atomic level, a photon bouncing off a particle would actually cause that particle to change direction. In fact, this phenomenon is occurring all the time: every time we shine a light on something we are moving it ever so slightly, it’s just that in the visible world of everyday objects the effects are totally negligible. But at the quantum level, these ‘observer effects’ are significant – and, without delving into the complex mechanical reasoning, lead to an basic level of uncertainty about a particle’s state.
Physicists did not like what Heisenberg had to say, because of the suggestion when this theory is extrapolated that there is actually no objective reality at all – things only ‘exist’ when we actually look at them. It was this that Einstein objected to; this that led to major arguments with Bohr over many years.
Regardless of this division, one key implication of Heisenberg’s work remains: as we attempt to look closer and closer into the structure of matter, matter itself becomes more and more elusive. In other words, though it may actually objectively exist, at some zoom level the world is no longer fully observable. […]
For those of us who claim faith, there is a zoom level beyond which talk of God becomes impossible. This is the realm of faith. Our languages, our metaphors, simply break down in the face of some deeper, invisible reality. Though that reality may exist, we cannot observe it, and nor can it fully be put to the test.
The uncomfortable realisation that the physical world was, at its core, ‘strange’ seems paralleled in the church by what we might call the ‘crisis in divine immanence’ over the past twenty years. As the crisis in physics gave birth to an iconoclastic movement of quantum theorists, reacting against what they perceived as the failings of classical theory, so the crisis of immanence in the western church has perhaps precipitated the movement known as the emerging church – who in turn I see as reacting against the failings of what we might call ‘classical theology.’
Perhaps a systematic ’emerged theology’ is never going to happen precisely because the key tenet of such a theology is that systematic analysis cannot apply. If so, where would that leave us? Is a completely relativistic world all we have left?