Friends 2007: Conversations with Alex Tang [continues]

Looks like the conversations over at Dr. Alex Tang’s blog post A Quiet Reflection on QROH continues with much life and vigor 🙂 It will be interesting if Jason Clark joins us. For now, eavesdrop and enjoy … Please remember to read the original post for context.

Alex Tang said…

Hi Yew Khuen,

Thank you for the kind comment. I agree with you that I wish Brian has had more time to unpack his ideas.

Basically, you have hit the nail on the head. The emerging church is a protest, as C.A. Carson says, to the ineffectiveness of the institutional church. What I have not heard anyone in the United States say is that the emerging church movement is an attempt to re-evangelise the United States. It is trying to do contextualize the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture. It is never meant to be a challenge to the status quo but an attempt at reformation. In doing so, they are trying to legitimize their position by building up a theology. You mentioned Grenz, Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard & NT Wright.

The emerging church drew most of their ‘postmodern’ theology from Grenz but Grenz is not really postmodern. Wink, Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Willard and Wright are actually very “modern” in their thinking.

Yes, it is difficult to talk to a varied crowd and I am sure there are people who do not understand why this conversation is even necessary.

Yow Khuen, I look forward to our next meeting.

10:14 PM
Alex Tang said…

Hi Sivin,

There is a lot of work done about contextualization, especially in the missiology sector. And there are many people who begin to see the issue of the emerging church is the issue of contextualization. That is why David Hesselgrave criticized Brian’s model of contextualization. David is a renowned professor emeritus of missiology. I do not know whether Tony Jones has finished his D.Min. from Fuller’s.

“But I see myself at this stage encouraging critical creative work and construction in our context.” I am happy to hear you say that. But it is not enough to encourage. You will need to do some critical creative work and construction. We need to approach this at two levels. One is from the academia level where one has to do research and publish papers and books. The other is from the grassroots level where one has to becoming the community of the followers of Christ.

Actually there are more than three levels of engagement. It is natural to think of the pastoral level and the academic level. Do not forget that we have a large group of people who are on the same level as the pastoral people but who are not pastors or full time workers. Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination. As you wrote, “Each engagement with a different focus and accent.” I am very excited about this. For the first time we are regaining what the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Brethrens have been telling us. Forget the artificial division of clergy and laypeople.

We do not have to wait for Jason Clark to come over. We can invite him to join our conversation here 🙂

10:37 PM
Alex Tang said…

Hi Alwyn,

Interesting way you used Brian’s presentation in his Gospel talk and link it to the framing in the World talk. Actually framing comes from the work of Donald Schon and Martin Rein. This was developed further and connected with the meta-narratives. Framing is often misused as the rich and powerful rewrite history. Paulo Freire ( I am sure you are familiar with him, others ‘google’) gave the power back to the people.

By a “theological construct” I mean, for example Karl Barth’s Christology or Wright’s Atonement. It is a propositional, definable system of belief. It is easy to build theological straw man.

“Standing with him” means at least agreeing with him or try to support Brian’s ideas. No, I do not mean theologians who has become postmodern. NT Wright, Grenz, Franke, Bryan Walsh, Brueggemann, and Webber, are mentioned by Brian to support his ideas, not the other way round. Again, these guys are not postmodern.

Andersen’s book is interesting but he needs stronger support for his propositions.

11:10 PM
Alex Tang said…

Hi SK,

Thank you for your insightful contribution. I agree with you that there will not be a theology of the emerging church. It is far too diverse for one.

I like the “Theology is contextual, so let’s all do theology contextually!” (now, is that a truism?) I believe that is what Brian is trying to share with his theology of model making. Again we come back to the universal (truth) and particular (culture) of the Gospel. The danger is making the particular the main emphasis. Then we have idolatry. This is what the systematic theologians are afraid of. It is as you mentioned, the “chaninging of the rules” that worry them.

I don’t know whether we qualify to be the “anonymous Christians” that Karl Rahner refers to, but hey, we’re talking 🙂

11:22 PM
alwyn said…

Hi Alex, hey I think you’ve gone way ahead of me there: I’ve never heard of Schon, Rein and Freire – guess I got a lot of catching up to do.

I’m surprised, though, you said that Grenz, Walsh and Franke aren’t postmodern. But hey this would be another conversation. ;>)
12:14 AM
Sivin Kit said…

some quick comments before I sleep (and look how linear I will present them!).

1. I’ll try and see whether I can get Jason Clark to give some comments.

2. As far as encouragement and construction, I think we’re all participating in this. Encouragement is more immediate (and often lacking). Construction needs more time (and patience)

3.Here is where it’s important for conversation. I use the word “pastoral” not exclusively for clergy. Thus, I affirm your comment: “Many of our “laypeople” are well educated, well read, and some even have theological training. These people will create the different levels as they engage with their workplace, their community, their families and relatives, and their denomination.”
And I believe in their “pastoral” and “priestly” role in their respective locations. But this shift in appreciating the priesthood of all believers is more to help us relook at current practices and values. I think we have seen how merely changing the forms does not necessarily get to the core of the matter. In churches where there are no clergy/laity distinction, my friends share with me other “ugly stories” of how we fail to handle the issue of power. That’s another topic.

4. The other buzz word is “postmodern”. During the event, and even in our conversation here, I find it to be a red-herring at times. For example, the question for me is not whether Grenz or Wright, or whoever is “postmodern” (whatever that means). My question is what are the question they are asking and what context are they engaging. And if that’s the question asked, then Grenz did make a shift to seriously engage his postmodern context and interact with “postmodern” philosophers. This can also be said of NT Wright in some of the lectures I’ve heard lately where he is no friend of modernity and refuses to sleep with postmodernity and uses the image of “walking through” postmodernity to the other side.

5. On the issue of reading into. I did ask Brian did he get his ideas from Marx for his last session (a friend of mine asked me becoz he felt what he seemed to have heard it before). Brian said “no”. I confess, I’m not that well read and thus am not able to guess where maybe Brian’s sources. Most of the time he mentions them, other times perhaps it’s more hidden.

6. I think in many ways, we seem to be asking questions that Brian did not intend to answer by his quest. For me, I see him as a model of a reflective practitioner (a phrase he uses on himself) and not a academic scholar. This does not mean we can’t critically engage his thought academically but I wonder whether those energies could be channeled to perhaps engaging the authors of “The Missional Church” where they clearly set out their theological vision. I read both books the missional church and church on the other side almost the same time. The missional church book fired my theological imagination, Brian’s first book showed me how one works it oout pastorally and in less technical language. Together they have been very formative to get my own thinking going.

7. I think when we talk about the theology of the emerging church it’s useful to contrast an earlier movement in the last century in the English speaking world -e.g. what is the theology of the evangelical church? Does everyone follow John Stott’s theological vision? Is it Pat Robertson? Or Alister McGrath? How about the Latin Americans like Rene Padilla? Or Asians like Stephen Tong? In short, the diversity is more of a reality of the various streams within the wider world of Christianity.

8. As for Idolatry, I think Calvin said it well, “the human mind is an idol factory”. so, for me whether it’s universal or particular the danger lies in both ends. The moment we fall in love with our concepts of the one whom we worship more than the one who created us and relates to us … we are all in danger. This doesn’t mean we do not formulate any means of understanding God but we begin to learn to use language with more humility and with an open posture and hearts more open for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in our understanding. This is an ongoing process in conversation and in community with the saints/sinners of the past and the saints/sinners present. Of course, I’d have to mention Christ, Canon, Creed and more … but this will make this comment a little too long if I continue unpacking those words. More another time. 🙂
12:29 AM
Alex Tang said…

hi alywn,

It’s like Sivin said, postmodernism is such a nebulous term that it is so hard to define.

Second, is that the people you have mentioned are not consistent in what they say. Maybe it is the context in which they say it. Or maybe their thinking is evolving. So it sounds great to walk past postmodernism into ?what. Quantum modernism?

1:04 AM
Alex Tang said…

Hi Sivin.

1. That will be great if Jason can join us and give us his input.
2. I like the encouragement and construction. As long as we do not be too reductionist in our thinking.
3. Yes, I know what you mean. One of the thoughts that Brian stirred in my mind during the conference and I have filed to explore another day is the spirituality of power.
4. Agreed. It is a buzz word. Any suggestion on what other words we can use?
5. On the issue of reading into, it is interesting that I am not the only one who thinks of Marx.
6. Okay, missional church.
7. I think we all agree about the diversity. It was some time before the word “evangelical” come into being.
8. goodnite 🙂
1:19 AM
sk said…

Hi Dr Tang,

Wow, it’s been some time since I’ve engaged in a lengthy discussion in somebody’s blog comments section. But this is getting too interesting to ignore. :p

I just have a note in relation to what you mentioned about the universal (truth) and the particular (culture). Yes, an over-focus on the particular isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Further to that, though, an engagement in the particular often (if not always) necessitates the theological thinker to re-examine what he once thought was universal. I think this reality is what makes many theologians shudder.

This is especially when we come from traditions that “fossilise” what we think to be universal. Whilst what we think is universal may be so, there’s an inclination to forget that our ARTICULATIONS of that which is universal themselves aren’t universal. These articulations are encouched within a cultural reality and are also never exhaustive of the universal in its entirety.

To do theology contextually is indeed an endeavour fraught with danger. But because all theological articulations are inevitably contextual, the entire theological arena is itself fraught with danger. And all the more, we cannot retreat from the necessity of walking this path. We play the game, and in the process of playing the game, find that we have to re-examine (and modify or change) some of the rules of the game because we find that some of the existing rules either 1)misrepresent the nature of the game itself, 2)reflect a way of playing relevant to the way the game used to be played before but is now acknowledged to be archaic because of the growth of wisdom in that field, or 3)ignore the reality that there are other players of the same game in other parts of the world and in different points of history playing the very same game using a different set of rules we never knew about.
4:03 PM
Alex Tang said…

Hi SK,

That’s why I am so excited about it. Yes, it is good that you recognise we are playing a game, a very dangerous game.

Lamin Sanneh influenced my thinking very much on this. There is a real danger of us fossilising the universal. And I believe this is where many theologians and denominations at at this stage.

Like you say, we are playing a games with changing rules in relation to culture, historical, socio-economic development, ideologies, powers and principalities, and what is worst, in a neo-colonisation of a superpower mono-hegemony. Sounds familiar? Like the New Testament church all over again.

4:34 PM”

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