23 April 2008


I'm trying to get my face into the Emerging Church these days to try to understand why they're saying the things they're saying and was fascinated to discover the following statements from Leonard Sweet in his 1999 SoulTsunami. (The basic idea in the book is that postmodernism is a tsunami that is washing over us, and we can either deny it and become irrelevant, fight it and drown, or see the tremendous opportunities it presents the church.)

In the postmodern age, what you don't know, or what you know wrong, can hurt you. It can also kill you. (146)

Bad information is toxic. Get the wrong information, and it poisons the entire system. (147)

That is precisely the premise of the name of this blog. We must get the recipe right (doctrine) in order to maximally enjoy the pie (doxology).

This is not, however, what Professor Sweet is saying. In context, his statements are not about the fundamental value of theological knowledge. He is talking about the fundamental value of cultural knowledge. He goes on to talk about how crucial it is to know and understand our postmodern times.

And gets it, in my opinion, precisely wrong. There are many helpful things I'm learning from Dr. Sweet. But the flavor of the book is that knowing our culture is the key to ecclesial health in the twenty-first century. I believe knowing our God--through the Bible, in clearly demarcated propositional statements couched in a larger story of redemption--is the key to ecclesial health in the twenty-first century.


Anonymous said...


do you think this is because he, in keeping with many "postconservatives" and emergent-types, see theology and/or propositional statements as culturally conditioned and historically located, and that it is ingenious to somehow separate the two?

*retreats into the shadows* :)

Dane Ortlund said...

Dear Burger King,

I see in the Bible a historically-rooted story of redemption in which we discover propositional truths that transcend all cultures.

In the incarnation, we see the eternal become culturally and historically specific; yet Christ still transcends all cultures to meet a fundamental human need. Can we not approach theology similarly?

Adam Mellem said...


How do you approach something like Gutierrez's "The God of Life" and Liberation Theology, that is clearly a product of doctrinal understanding based on a cultural context? This "recipe" is quite different from reformed theology and yet it clearly "maximizes" their pie - or ironically - their ability to live without a pie.

Dane Ortlund said...

Sorry Adam, I haven't heard fo the author you mention.

My point above was that while Christian doctrine is rooted in specific times and places in history (1st century Palestine, e.g.), such doctrine speaks not only to like cultures but transcends culture and speaks to fundamental human desires and needs and problems.

So if the doctrinal recipe is foundationally controlled by the culture rather than the Bible, then yes, we will get all sorts of imbalanced, lopsided theologies, like liberation theology, e.g., in which social emancipation trumps all else.