Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Making Mountains Out of Mole Hills?

I have been keeping track of the discussion over "The Homosexual Question" I referred to in an earlier post. I have to say its been fascinating and illustrative.

McClaren has been gracious, if less than direct, with his views. At first I thought he was just being pastoral in his dealing with homosexuality. That is a concern I can say I share, and I think my post in response reflects that.

However, I have started to think that in fact McClaren is not being pastoral for its own sake, or because being pastoral is the right thing to be when you're a pastor. Instead, I have begun to think that McClaren is being pastoral because it is consistent with his more postmodern mindset.
Postmodern/Emergent types are generally loathe to say what they actually believe. They can't; positions are incompatible with the dialogue or conversation that emergent prizes.

That much I knew, but reading McClaren I am beginning to think that emergent actually goes out of its way to make it hard to even reach positions or conclusions. The constant invoking of questions would seem to point in that direction. Most interesting though is McClaren's appeal to scholarly debate on the question of homosexuality. I am familiar with those debates, and, while the conclusions one reaches on the finer points would certainly have a significant impact, the fact is the debates themselves are very often tempests in teapots.

Let me explain: scholars, in a bid to mine the mind of God, will ask all kinds of questions, and raise all kinds of issues. They will be significant in that the answer will have an impact on the understanding of a passage under consideration. However sometimes scholars will ask questions which are almost moot. That is, they will raise the possibility of an alternative explanation for something that is possible, but highly unlikely. The result is a scholarly debate that produces a lot of light, but little heat.

Such debates are good for the academy in that they help maintain the integrity of academic rigor. They may even lead at some point to a significant contribution to the life of the Body of Christ at large. Most often however they do not; they raise questions rather than provide answers. For the average person who is looking for guidance for life, debates ad nauseum on points ad absurdum is not helpful may actually be harmful.

For emergents, those people who want to continually converse, such debates are useful in that they provide reasons to not reach conclusions and continue conversations. But to the extent that such conversations can be harmful to the Body at large, it is a method that is actually antithetical to a truly pastoral approach. This is in fact what McClaren does. He appeals to complexity as a basis for not making pronouncements. The fact that the complexity is to an extent fabricated and over issues which are themselves unlikely is not mentioned.

This leads me to the conclusion that McClaren is in fact not being pastoral at all. He is just being postmodern. That he confuses the two, either intentionally or otherwise is worrisome.

By the way, I am not arguing for a return to anti-intellectualism in any way. I support academic thoroughly. I do believe however that when we are using academics in the context of pastoral ministry, and communicating issues which are in debate in the academy, we need to do so while also evaluating the "weight" of a given debate. If a debate is only 1% likely to really end up impacting our understanding, then ought we be raising it before the people in the pews? I don't think so. I was taught to "not preach our doubts." There is a pastoral wisdom there that postmoderns, and McClaren in particular, seem to forget.

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