According to an ancient Taoist saying, “the journey is the reward.”
And Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Virginibus Puerisque (1881), “to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”
Not very new, then, the post-modern preference for journey over destination. But it’s a favourite idea of emerging church people.
Kevin DeYoung discusses the emerging preference for seeing Christian faith as journey rather than destination in chapter 1 of Why we’re not emergent – by two guys who should be. He quotes a musician friend of his who told him, “In the music scene it’s really cool to search for God; it’s not very cool to find him.’
Dave Tomlinson makes a similar point in The Post-Evangelical:-
Evangelism should be seen as an opportunity to “fund” people’s spiritual journeys, drawing on the highly relevant resources of “little pieces” of truth contained in the Christian narrative.
One problem with the emergent view of Christian faith as journey is that it undermines the knowability of God. Emergent people make strong distinctions between belief and experience, between our theology and our confidence in God, between doctrinal knowledge and personal knowledge, between the arrogance of having God ‘all figured out’ and the humility of unknowing.
But these are false dichotomies. It is quite meaningless to claim that we can know God without knowing something about God. Love for a person we know nothing about is a shapeless, formless void.
The emergent agnosticism about what can be known extends to the conception of the Bible as the word of God. And here its pretended humility is actually the height of pride. Tomlinson writes:-
To say Scripture is the word of God is to employ a metaphor. God cannot be thought of as literally speaking words, since they are an entirely human phenomenon that could never prove adequate as a medium for the speech of an infinite God.
But, as DeYoung points out, such a statement ‘[flies] in the face of redemptive history and nearly every page of Scripture.’
When the emerging church is not talking about Christian faith as ‘journey’ then it is celebrating it as ‘mystery’. Again, no sensible Christian ever supposed that Christianity was free fom mystery. The problem comes when we view it all as mystery. To be sure, ‘the secret things belong to the LORD our God’, but ‘the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Paul did not say to the men of Athens, “I see you worship an unknown God. So do I.” No: he declared, “What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23).
Put another way, what emergent people dislike so much is certainty. Brian MacLaren urges:-
Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument – and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search.
Again the false dichotomy surfaces. But do we really have to choose between questions and answers, argument and intrigue? And is it true to say that because we cannot know something (or someone) exhaustively we cannot know it (or him) sufficiently?
And there is false humility, too. For it is not a mark of true humility at all to refuse to of God and his will with conviction. Where God has spoken, let us not defy him by blocking our ears to hear him and closing our minds to understand him.
It is presumably emergent people’s distate of certainty that leads them to laden their writings with disclaimers. Thus, MacLaren writes at the beginning of A Generous Orthodoxy:-
I am an amateur…The book is laced with overstatement, hyperbole, and generalisations. I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandeness.
So, his book is riddled with bias and inaccuracy. But does admitting that make it OK?
MacLaren will cheerfully admit to being evasive and cowardly:-
They’ll say I’m being evasive, cowardly, afraid to take a stand, and write smoke. No one can blame them.
Just because he beats his critics to the punch in pointing these things out does not exonerate him from the charges.
Along with their distrust of certainty, emergent people establish doubt as the essence of faith.
It’s ironic: the more free I am to doubt a specific belief, the more free I become to hold on that person-to-Person faith in God.
Peter Rollins puts it:-
In contrast to the modern view that religious doubt is something to reject, fear or merely tolerate, doubt not only can be seen as an inevitable aspect of our humanity but also can be celebrated as a vital part of faith.
And Tomlinson says the same kind of thing:-
Post-evangelicals want room to express doubt without having someone rush around in a mad panic trying to “deliver” them from unbelief. Far too often doubt is portrayed simply as an enemy rather than a potential friend; as something mature Christians should not suffer from, rather than a vital means by which Christians mature.
And such doubt is (watch for the false dichotomy) the opposite of ‘neat schemes in which we think we have truth wrapped up. Doubt creates a “holy uncertainty”‘.
Tomlinson wants us to break free from our ‘rigid frameworks of certainty’ and ‘climb out of the little boat of our settled certainties and join Jesus in walking on the waters of uncertainty and vulnerability.’ But that analogy does not work. When Peter saw the wind and was afraid, he doubted. Jesus did not applaud his doubt. On the contrary, he said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” (Matthew 14:31).
To be sure, doubt is not the unpardonable sin. And perhaps in some churches, people need more space to question without fear of disapproval. But, on the whole, doubt is something to be delivered from; conviction is something to be nurtured and cherished. It is not better to travel hopefully than to arrive; it is better to travel hopefully and to arrive.
‘Have mercy on those who doubt’. (Jude 22)