(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

What can an emerging theology learn from preterism?

Duncan’s post on the narrative of Revelation has sparked an interesting dispute about the relationship between an emerging theology and preterism. Since the conversation isn’t directly relevant to the post, I wonder if we might explore its implications separately. It’s an opportunity to think a bit about what we mean by an emerging theology and how we might negotiate the boundaries between different dogmatic traditions as well as between modern and postmodern ways of thinking.

In an attempt to impose some gentle editorial discipline on proceedings, I made the following comment:

Gentlemen, could I remind you that the express purpose of this website is to develop an emerging theology for an emerging church? That can be interpreted in many different ways, but it is not such a broad purpose that any and every theological dispute can be accommodated. My view is that eschatology is of considerable importance for an emerging theology, but that needs to be demonstrated, not assumed. Please do not simply import these aggressive preterist discussions into Open Source Theology without asking how they are constructively relevant to the stated purpose.

This elicited what I regard as a thoughtful and helpful response from plymouthrock (I’m not sure why John took exception to this).

My (rather patronizing?) intervention was directed far more against Roderick’s persistent and shrill complaining than against Duncan’s post, but it reflects the fact that I’m not at all sure how to police the troubled and ill-defined frontier between an emerging eschatology and preterism. Of course, ‘police’ may be entirely the wrong word to use in the context of an ‘open source theology’, but it certainly feels that way at times.

More to the point, no system of thought will survive or develop without some sense of internal consistency and awareness of its boundaries. What I don’t want to happen is for this site to become yet another theological forum for people to air willy nilly their peculiar views. ‘Open source’ does not mean unbounded or free-for-all or aimless. I think that the broad notion of an emerging theology - emerging from the collapse of modern and Christendom theologies - is serious enough and coherent enough to warrant a deliberate focus.

I agree with plymouthrock that preterism is likely to have continuing relevance for the ‘reexamination of the metanarrative of Scripture’, but I am very nervous of the baggage that it brings with it - mainly on the evidence of some rather unseemly interactions that have occurred on this site. I am concerned, too, that an emerging theology may get so entangled in disputes over eschatology that we lose sight of its missional, communal and (using the term carefully) ‘evangelical’ aspects. This is why I argue in Re: Mission that although a historically framed eschatology is essential for understanding the story of the New Testament, it works nevertheless within a larger story about the bringing into existence of a ‘new creation’ people.

I’m not sure it makes sense to say, as plymouthrock does, that The Coming of the Son of Man ‘owes much to preterism even if its author knew nothing of it when he wrote it’. The book owes much, in my mind, i) to historical-critical scholarship, and ii) to some sort of postmodern-emerging reorientation of an ‘evangelical’ (same caveats apply) theology towards narratives of authentic human experience. That convergence (approximately Tom Wright meets Brian Mclaren?) seems to me to be characteristic of - if not definitive for - much of the theology that currently carries the ‘emerging’ sticker.

My feeling about Duncan’s original post is that although it can be made to fit the purpose of developing an emerging theology, it is presented in the style and idiom of a defence of a certain preterist position - though to be fair, the appended comment regarding Wright’s views helps offset that impression. I think preterists will need to take a step back from their particular dogmatic commitments - indeed, we all need to do this in our different ways - and find a place from which we can explore the metanarrative constructively together without descending into sectarian polemics and name-calling. A comment by callmeed on the Mark Driscoll, the church and the supremacy of Christ thread highlights the difficulty of doing this, but I think that in some rough sense it can be achieved. I would stress, of course, that taking a step back from our prior commitments does not necessarily mean abandoning them.