I'm back from San Diego and last week's Emergent Convention. This will be the last convention done in partnership with Youth Specialties. Emergent, though, is already working to develop an national event for 2006. Our hope is to create a gathering that is broad in its interests (possibly consecutive events including theological dialogue, reunion, festival, and more) on a different economic model (read: "cheaper"). I think YS is to be thanked for partnering on this national event for the past several years. We were reticent at the onset for a such an event. In retrospect, the conventions have widened the conversation and served as entry point for so many. I would like to write over the next few days about some reflections from this event.
First — the interview — Larry King Live on Tuesday evening!
Brian McLaren, a friend and leading voice of Emergent, was asked to join Franklin Graham (Samaritans' Purse), Tim and Beverly LaHaye (of "Left Behind" fame), and T.D. Jakes on Larry King's show. All had been selected by Time mag. as among the 25 most influential Evangelicals in the country (cover story last week of January).
Brian deemed the interview "dismal" but I would object. Brian, as usual, was a voice of kindness, reflection, and gentle inclusion. He demonstrated the heart of the Christian way in his tenderness in questions related to homosexuality. He also was a prophetic voice in regards to the war in Iraq and the environment. I speak often here in Chapel Hill/Durham about our need to broaden the gospel beyond simple reductions. Brian exhibited this passion for a large gospel that embraces both a present and future kingdom in his admittedly marginalized contribution to the interview. Brian has taught us so much about missional Christianity.
Brian's role was marginalized because the LaHaye's provided some good and controversial theatre. Larry King continually probed at their answers. Perhaps their most unfortunate comment came as defense to the accusation that Evangelicals are unconcerned with the environment. Tim's response was the belief that the environment was created for "us" (presumably humanity). I would protest that this is gross misunderstanding of the creation narrative. I believe that God created, humanity and all of creation, as entities to exist in worshipful intimacy with a loving Creator. The charge to humanity is to lead, organize, protect, and redeem creation in its relationship with God. God certainly desire to redeem all of creation. Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series has attracted millions and millions of readers. I know of some who have been drawn toward God from these works and few others who have been horrified by them. I certainly don't want to disparage his voice or role in the Christian community. But I would strongly disagree on these comments related to the environment. The the Christian community needs to be a strong voice in environmentalism. Our theology of creation demands it.
Franklin Graham's answer to most questions was a brief synopsis of the Evangelical core message of personal salvation with God received through personal faith. I certainly agree with these comments. The challenge is that his repetition of this point, regardless of the question, threatened to reduce the gospel to simply personal salvation. The gospel includes but is so much larger than simply personal salvation. In fact, the salvation God offers is hardly personal. It is much better. We are invited to be in relationship with a God who is a triune community and through this relationship are brought into reconciled relationship with the community who worships God and all of God's creation that is being redeemed. The reduction of the gospel to merely personal salvation is what produces comments like LaHaye's and the belief that God's work is "all about us!"
This national, primetime interview reminds us of a significant challenge. This challenge is to be careful that the Christian community is not overrepresented or caricatured through just a few voices. The way of hope taught and lived by Jesus extends beyond our most careful and clever words. Christian community needs to be a widening conversation of voices. We need to embody the story of God's redemption in community life that describes this reality far better than our words. This is one of the greatest opportunities of the emerging church — to liberate the gospel from the trenches dug by liberalism and fundamentalism and to free the gospel from the highly individualistic and consumeristic expectations of American culture.
More on San Diego soon. I would like to continue this conversation on God's saving work. I have some recommendations from a few seminars on the saving work of God that is titled "the Atonement" in classical theological language.