Or is that an oxymoron? At first blush, one would think that a systematic theology is such a modern construct that it would never fly as a postmodern emerging concept. On the other hand, what is a systematic theology but a collection of positions on the full complement of theological subjects? With all the “conversation” flying left and right, all that’s left is to gather it up, cross-reference it, and call it systematic, right? Or is it only about ecclesiology anyway? This post is a resurrected draft from August 2007, and if anything I think there’s a trend that has become more solid in the year since I jotted down my first early thoughts. While the emerging church was initially taken up with ecclesiology and philosophical questions concerning post-modernism, these topics have branched out, rippling through other areas of theology. Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian and its two sequels began to delve into various areas of theology as we followed Dan and Neo through a conversational reconsideration of a variety of accepted conclusions to theological questions… not just ecclesiology. (And it still strikes me as strange that McLaren was maligned the worst when he got to the doctrine of hell, of all things… as though Christians would reconsider anything except the surety of the eternal torment of others. But anyway.)
A growing number of other topics are being specifically considered and reconsidered within the ranges of emerging conversation. When I originally jotted down some notes and links, they had to do with hamartiology and soteriology. Hamartiology is the study of the doctrine of sin. One of my college professors’ first name was Martin, or Marty to his friends… he told us how to remember the word by connecting “Hey, Marty!” with the doctrine of sin, so now I always think of him when I come across this word. A set of “Random Links” from last summer included something by Len Hjalmarson on “sin management” and the related doctrine of soteriology. (That’d be the antidote for hamartiology. When I hear the word “soteriology,” I remember the wedding of some college friends who said they wouldn’t kiss for glass-tinkling, but would kiss if anyone would compose and sing a song with the word “soteriology” in it. The stand-out one concluded with the lines, “She was so teary, aw, oh gee.” Everyone laughed; they kissed.) Anyway, I guess I’ve talked about sin here before… in chronological order: 3. I long for the attainable challenge of Jesus. (Mar 05) Banner of Critique, Part 2 (May 05) Sin, sin, sin, sin, ihateit, ihateit, ihateit, ihateit! (May 05) Sin is… (May 05) Anglicans, Gay Marriage, and the Precious Doctrine of Hell (Jun 07) Come Back When You Have an ‘After’ Story, Okay? (Aug 07). I didn’t realize I had taken a whole year off from talking about sin.
All of that is a longwinded intro to Ed Cyzewski on The Permanent Stain of Sin which to me is kind of a reminder that though we seek to avoid it, to sin is human. In the same vein, Fred Peatross is talking about sin while Swimming with the Fish: “A Christianâ€™s primary task isnâ€™t to avoid sin, which is impossible anyway, but to recognize sin.” He talks about the nature of sin and how to steer clear. (It’s a kind of double-subject post; the other part is also noteworthy, and says “John [Alan Turner] implied that the churches he works with are mostly targeting the ‘overchurched.'”) Fortunately, there’s also an increase in talk of the atonement (see also Len’s post)… Scot McKnight has a new book out, A Community Called Atonement which looks quite promising. It’s been reviewed by Brian McLaren, who notes the beginning of “atonement wars” as the subject comes to the fore. Elsewhere I was having an email conversation earlier in the week that made me think again about the idea that Everyone is Going to Heaven. Still, Repentance is not enough.
Emergent theology does have some shape to it. Andrew Perriman has gone ahead and published a collection of essays on emerging theology, Otherways (Reviewed by Peter Wilkinson). More recently, it’s been the introduction of pneumatology, with Robbymac’s Post-charismatic? being one of the new titles, along with several articles and blog posts beginning to appear. Then of course, there’s Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN, which pretty much rounds the bases in the title alone. The entry into the conversation of theologians and scholars like Scot McKnight and others is helping to cover some of the bases — A Community Called Atonement being the first and most obvious example.
To provide a provisional answer to the question in the post title, I think there may be an emerging theology, but it will of necessity be of a generous nature, with room for other positions and not as deeply committed to dogmatic certainty on all points. I don’t know if it will ever be “gathered” up as a systematic treatment (or if it could be), but it seems to me that many more of the classical areas of systematic theology (see sidebar) are being explored, at least a little. Of course, the emerging church is much more comfortable with narrative or Biblical theology, but even by using different methods, the same topics are eventually covered. So I’m wondering… are there specific areas of systematic theology which the emerging church has not really grappled with, at least not to a wide degree? Who is beginning to explore some of the areas which haven’t been among the larger topics of conversation to date?