Friends 2007: Conversations with Alex Tang (Updated)

A number of us found Dr. Alex Tang’s quiet reflection post helpful providing an invitation for further interaction. I still have not sat down and written down my own reflections 🙂 in a more systematic way. Have fun eavesdropping on this current one first.

” Bob K said…

Dr Tang,

I really appreciate your reflections abt McLaren. It is very refreshing to hear/see a more critical assessment of the message McLaren brings to us, the Church, as a whole, without the atypical flippancy that most criticisms of the emergent conversation seem to take upon.

I can understand that the challenges which McLaren throws to the Church and Evangelicalism specifically can be very difficult to digest and occasionally challenges what seems to many already set in stone. That is why I am happy that while you still affirm the foundations of Evangelicalism, you have found yourself able to embrace McLaren as a person and able to open yourself to some of the more critical posits presented.

Perhaps this is where your praxis of the theology of modelling is put into action and that makes you part of the process of defining what is still somewhat vague in what is emerging in the Church this century.

Blessings,

Bob K

7:57 PM
Sivin Kit said…

I think unlike many who came .. you came most “prepared” and I’m glad you had the chance to have more interaction with Brian.

I think due to the nature of the event .. where I saw Brian as more of a conversation initiator (and thus the attention was meant to point away from him), we had less chance to directly engage his thoughts.

Overall, I appreciate your quiet reflections 🙂 I think they are helpful and hopeful to get us thinking for ourselves.

I’m glad my camera taking skills are of acceptable standards. I think the final picture looks good. And the final paragraph captures the special blessing for you and many of us …

“There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are need. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren.”

I’ll interact with your points over at my blog in a different way. :-)I’ll leave you with this link to wet your appetite.

What (again) is an emerging theology?

I think we’re more used to engage with the British way of presentation? 🙂 Enjoy

10:29 PM

alwyn said…

Alex, were you reading my mind? (grin)

I think your 9 reflections are very helpful in setting some kind of ‘agenda’ for thinking more about what Brian said.

(And, sigh, this was just going to be a short comment but), moving straight to point 5 regarding his lack of a theological model, I *suspect* that:

– he isn’t very keen developing anything even resembling a ‘systematic theology’, not because he think it’s bad but because he feels that isn’t a priority; he MAY even ask, “What was Jesus’ “theological model”?

– he’s more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to ‘fleshing them out’ Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.

– he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task

– he’ll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it’s a good thing, ‘good’ being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a ‘new kind of humanity’

All the above is speculation about how Brian might respond, but hey didn’t u manage to ask him about this when you were with him? ;>)

(I only popped him one direct question: Have you read Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation? He said yes and it’s a good book. Not the best book, but a good one)

10:34 PM
Alex Tang said…

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your comments. It is important that after all the excitement and after the “mountain top” experience of any religious event, we need to reflect on what has been said.

I like Brian. I hope he likes me.

However we need to engage in what he has taught us; firstly to understand him, secondly, to critically reflect on what he said, thirdly, to accept or reject what he said, and finally, to act on our critical reflection. As Sivin said, the end of the conference is just the beginning.

12:21 AM
sk said…

Thanks, Dr Tang, for the post-Conversation reflection… it’s much appreciated, as it helps me recap much of what had been spoken throughout the three days.

Wow, you read ALL of Brian’s 10 books?! I guess I must confess now… I’ve not read a single one of Brian’s books. *mournful look*

I think Brian’s purpose wasn’t so much to establish an apologetic for the emerging church movement; this perhaps explains his silence on this issue. In fact, it probably isn’t very consistent with the ethos of the emerging church to establish a self-protectionist apologetic for itself.

I think there is probably a lot in Brian’s reservoire of understanding which he wasn’t able to share with us in the light of the limited time given. Also, he probably wasn’t very interested in taking on a prescriptive approach.

If I read Brian’s words and heard his talks correctly, I think he was more interested in affirming what we’re already doing in Malaysia, particularly those of us who’re primarily interested in contextualising our faith. I think Brian would agree with me when I say he’s NOT asking us to do something that we’re not already doing.

One classic example of this contextual concern is your Asian approach to spiritual formation… S.H.A.L.O.M!

1:08 AM
Alex Tang said…

hi Sivin,

Thank you for the opportunity to interact with Brian. You have been a gracious host.

No, as I said in my post, this is not a criticism of Brian or of your organisation of the conference. In fact, you and your team did an excellent and fantastic job. Well done!!

I understand very well that the objective of the conference is that Brian initiate the conversation which will be carried on by the local conversation partners.

Thank your for your links to the open theology blog. It is an interesting concept that people can build up a theology by contribution from anyone, as sort of wikipedia or wikitheology. However, there will come a time when any theology must be subjected to the vigorous examination of the academia.

Here is a caution.In our headlong rush into post modern/ emerging church ideas, be careful that we do not end up anti-intellectuallism. This is a real danger that we must be aware of.

I look forward to your interactions with my points in your blog.

Not really, I have my fair share of both American and British presentations in both medical and religious context so I can differentiate between the two.

BTW, I have email a copy of my post to Brian for his comments. I want to be fair in my observations.

Blessings

1:39 AM
Alex Tang said…

hi Alwyn,

No, I was not reading your mind. Is that one of the new spiritual gift? 🙂

I have enjoyed your postings very much.

Straight to point 5.

he isn’t very keen developing anything even resembling a ‘systematic theology’, not because he think it’s bad but because he feels that isn’t a priority; he MAY even ask, “What was Jesus’ “theological model”?

Even postmodernism has some rules and guidelines or it is just total chaos. Modernism has foundamentalism while post modernism has web of knowledge. It is epistiomology that is important. Brian has to develop the epistemiology of the emerging church. After 10 years, he cannot say it is still not a priority. BTW, Jesus does have a “theological model”. His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.

he’s more concerned about throwing out new ideas and trajectories, as opposed to ‘fleshing them out’ Biblically, hermeneutically, etc.

I agree with you in this.His time is limited and he has so much to say. To be fair to him, he threw out his main outline and his main points.

he prefers that others more qualified than him (with a theo degree, unlike him) would take up this task

That may be true but again after more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?

he’ll likely say that all Christians/theologians are influenced by psychology, sociology, politics, etc. and might even insist it’s a good thing, ‘good’ being measured by how closer it brings us to obedience and the kind of aggressive yet quite kindness characteristic of a ‘new kind of humanity’

That is exactly what he is saying. He is saying that all of the theologies of 19th and 20th Century theologian are modern, contaminated by culture and the new knowledge (psychology, etc). It does not seem to work because our cognitive knowledge does not translate to our actions, which is to be obedient and loving. That is why he is suggesting a new kind of Christianity.

Blessings

2:01 AM
Alex Tang said…

Hi SK,

You are right in that Brian is not trying to present an apologetics for the emerging church movement. In fact, I have a distinctive feeling that he was trying to avoid the use of the words “emerging” and “postmodern”. However, some of the other pastors of the emerging churches are not so restrained. This is helped by the publisher Zondervan and the Leadership Network which are publishing books about the emerging movement as fast as they are written. Anyone ever wondered why such a small group of people can produce so many books and generate so much publicity?

I agree with your reading of Brian’s words and talk. He is interested in affirming what we are doing. But he is also interested to know whether what he is doing and teaching in North America can be applied in Asia.

Blessings

2:16 AM
y2k said…

Hi Alex,

Thanks for your post and reflections. Really appreciate your interaction, and the discussions taking place on this page itself! In danger of too much self-consciousness, may I say that you really help us to model a way of conversation that would be so helpful for Christians to move ahead, not get stuck in false dichotomies/dualisms/polarities.

You know, I also wish Brian could unpack his ideas a bit more for the rest of us – or even point us to source literature that forms the basis of a lot of his stuff. So hopefully he’ll drop by KL again some point soon.

You mentioned that there’s not much academic work published specifically on the emerging church movement(ECM) even after over 10 years. My conjecture is that the ideas that fuel this “movement” (that’s a bad word in these circles, by the way :)) aren’t all that new – ECM is a form of contextualisation, as has been observed by various postings around QRoH. So, while I haven’t read them myself, I suspect understanding the foundation for the ECM would entail going back to some of these source “ideas” (some that I’ve heard being quoted includes Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche etc – I’ve read Willard & NT Wright). But you’ll be pleased to know that there has been one or two recent books exploring/proposing a theology for the emerging church (Sivin can help here?).

Interestingly, there were some participants I know for a fact who found even the stuff he presented to be way too deep. So going into more elementary explorations would’ve completely lost these poor brothers/sisters. I guess it’s hard to pitch it with such a varied audience. All the more reasons for the conversations to continue beyond last weekend!

Hope to see you in KL again sometime, or when I head down south..

God bless
Yew Khuen

7:24 AM
Sivin Kit said…

Alex, I must state clearly that I appreciate this post. I think this is the kind of conversation and tone which is contextual to our social location as well as seeking to be faithful to the Gospel. I REALLY enjoyed interacting with you too …

I see it in 2 ways (surely there’s more):
1. It will be interesting to observe and even interact with how those participating in this conversation work on the contextualization (which I was surprised to know is not a welcome word in some quarters)in the USA and North America (especially since they have a strong publishing ability and influence) Examples of this is found here Emersion Books. It seems to be people like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt would be leading the way in their context. So, Brian is one of the participants and an important voice but probably not the “systematic” one.

2. I think in a broader scale (and perhaps more academic)the place and people to engage with would be the Gospel and Our Culture Network USA and perhaps those in UK as well … Another 2 blogs I’ve keeping an eye on would be Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank and the church and postmodern culture: conversation. I think there’s a place for critical engagement with the ideas found there. But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.

3. I thought it was two but then now I realize there is three …I think there are different levels of engagement (e.g. ranging from pastoral to Academic). I recall a model by Grenz and Olson that was very helpful in their book Who Needs theology? which seems to be behind my mind right now. Each engagement with a different focus and accent. This is my observation and intuitive guesses after thinking about this day and night for the last 7 years consciously and unconsciously (and of course especially in the last few days pre and post Friends 2007). 🙂 So, in my mind I have this “fuzzy” model of how I do it, now I’m catalyzed by your post to put it our clearer.

Let me send my son to school first and I’ll talk more. 🙂

p.s. your post is not seen in anyway as a negative criticism. On the contrary, it’s very helpful to move the conversations forward. Thanks for your contribution.

8:08 AM

Sivin Kit said…

Oh yes .. I think my friend Jason Clark would be a conversation partner who would be helpful from a UK context. We’re trying to work out a possibility for him to come to Malaysia. I think that would enrich our constructive thinking here.

9:12 AM

*Update 1*
alwyn said…

Hi Alex,

Jesus does have a “theological model”. His mission is to train the disciples, bring in the kingdom of God and die on the cross. His theological framing is the Law and the prophets.

I take it that you want to see (explicitly) the methods with which Brian derives his conclusions, right? Point taken – so there’s no hint of it in any of his 10 books?

But wouldn’t you consider what Brian presented in his Gospel session as the ‘framing’ part? So it could go something like:

1. Kingdom of God as world transformation, world-loving, THEREFORE
2. Church and Mission primarily involves loving, knowing, healing, serving, etc.
3. Culture is both the domain of God’s activity and source of bridge-building and/or ‘knowledge integration’
4. Christian as agent of love, reconciliation, etc.

It’s kinda like Grenz & Franke’s model, which leads me to suggest another reason : Maybe Brian’s work is an elaboration and ‘building up’ models which already exist(?). Stil, I confess it’s speculation again on my apart…I guess I’m still trying to understand what you mean by a ‘theological model’…

After more than 10 years, where are the theologians? Is there anyone prominent standing with him other than Andersen. I have searched the database for PhD and DMin dessertations on the emerging churches and there are only a handful only. Why? Is it because it is hard to study something that has no one focal point but many?

I think we need to tease apart the phrase ‘standing with him’. Do you mean the theologians who’ve adopted ‘postmodernism’ and/or those whose work, if put in layman’s language, might sound like what McLaren talks about? In that case, I think people like NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Middleton, Brueggemann, McClendon, Raschke, Webber, even Pinnock (with his missiological focus) may be included.

I do not think there will be many people who will selfconsciously write works with titles like “Emerging Theology” because, as you rightly imply, it’s really not like, say, presuppositionalism or Dispensationalism which has a ‘fixed’ canon/focal point of principles (such that one can easily tell, “Oh THAT’S Wesleyianism, or that’s NOT Open Theism, etc.”).

What did you think of Andersen’s book, btw? I haven’t read it…hope to one day…

1:41 PM
sk said…

I don’t know if it’s really possible to frame a theology of the emerging church. It’s like asking me to present a theology to justify contextual theology. Essentially, contextual theology is about approaching things using a different methodology from that which is conventional, as it were, changing the rules of the game (for good reason, of course). So how do we use the old rules to justify changing (at least some of) the rules of the game? That would mean pandering to the old rules of the game all over again. Some people feel safer sticking by the established set of rules, some others see its deficiency and decide to move on to explore hopefully better alternatives.

As I see it, it’s simply about seriously engaging our cultural contexts in our theological understanding and articulation of things. In our world (at least the world I come from), we say “Theology is contextual, so let’s all do theology contextually!”… I think this is what the emerging church is saying too. Whilst we will try to describe how we’ve redefined the rules of the game in our contexts, we will not prescribe the same set of rules for others in different contexts; otherwise we’ll simply be repeating that same old cycle of theological imperialism again. Now, if there is no one indefinitely fixed framework, how do we then know if our localised theological methods are largely faithful to the faith of the larger Body? The key lies in CONVERSATIONS.

It’s not that we must always agree with what the emerging church is doing – in fact, there probably isn’t ONE WAY of doing things in the emerging church for us to agree or disagree on. What makes them emerging churches is that they’re “moving on” to engage seriously with their contexts and effecting the necessary changes to implement what it means to BE CHURCH in these contexts. Many of us are already engaged seriously with our contexts and are doing what the emerging church is doing even if we don’t call ourselves “emerging people”. I think Karl Rahner would call us the “anonymous emerging Christians”!

Just as in the realm of contextual theology, we get theologians seriously engaging their contexts through liberal positions, liberation positions, feminist positions, and a myriad of other positions, it’s probably true with the emerging church too. But just because there are a couple of liberals or feminists or liberation people within the emerging church we may or may not disagree with doesn’t naturally mean we should absolutely discount the cause for which the emerging church movement stands.

So let’s keep the conversations going! 🙂

3:39 PM “

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