Tomorrow our department will be having their monthly colloquium in which we discuss a variety of topics. We will be doing a follow up discussion on the ideas presented by a recent speaker on campus, Tony Jones. Tony is a speaker/writer/leader in the emergent church movement. The emergent church movement has its advocates and detractors. I’m sure we’ll talk about both tomorrow. I just wanted to get some thoughts down and out for potential response.
First, let me say some about what I take to be admirable qualities of the emergent movement. A common element is their denial of certainty as a criteria of knowledge. This is in response to rationalism that required that we be certain of something before we can say we know it. I tend to think we can know something but not be certain of it. There are some senses of certainty that deserve some distinction, but I’ll wait on that. Second, I applaud the common element that speaks against science being the sole arbitor of what we know as well. Science as a discipline, although highly successful in getting at knowledge, is not comprehensive in delivering knowledge to us. As much as these don’t straw men rationalist or scientist, these critiques go through.
My complaints are as follows. First and this strikes more directly at comments Tony made, if emergent thought requires the tenets of postmodern thought that places emphasis on the individual situated in an epistemic environment that cannot determine anything to be objective because they cannot get outside of that situatedness, then I have some issues with implications and self-reference. The latter first…how does this avoid skepticism of others and the world in general? On the face of it, if the individual cannot know anything that is not processed through the lens of them being a subject situated in the world. In conversation with Tony, this was something he pointed out as being a fundamental component of the postmodernism involved in his view of the emergent movement. I don’t want to paint broad strokes with that, but that is what he conveyed to me. If the subject cannot get beyond their subjective situation, how do they know they are situated in a world at all? I’m not advocating the opposite end of the spectrum for a direct realism, but some form of critical realism might suffice to give us both a substantial subject and a substantial world that can both be known.
The implication from that is that there is no objective claims to be made about the world. In conversation I raised the point that if theology is temporary, one, how do we know that we are not really adhering to vodoo and, two, how do we know it’s temporary? Tony said that we cannot know the answer to the first question. The second cannot be answered because there is no way to objectively confirm there is something in the first place that changes, thus marking its temporal change.
These are a few thoughts that need some more elaboration, but at least they are out there.