David Fitch and Tony Jones On Hauerwas and the Emerging Church

I enjoy reading David Fitch’s blog regularly, and today he’s posted a great response to Tony Jones’ thoughts from last week on the Hauerwas Mafia. The post is an unpublished chapter from his recent book, The New Christians. His post is worth the read, it’s entertaining and provocative, especially for those of us who have our assigned seats in the  Yoder/Hauerwas school. There are also some good and thoughtful comments made by gathering in light readers that help to draw out more of the implied points that Jones brings up (see Andy and Dan). Fitch does a good job of summarizing the points and then adding why he thinks it’s such a good idea that the emerging church take seriously this Yoder/Hauerwas school. He makes three points:

1. A wherewithal to resist the Constantinian seduction to opt out for the easier way towards accomplishing justice in the world. I think we too quickly (not always!) opt out to collaborate with State agencies to achieve Christian ends (justice). The Emergent voices could use a sober sense of the mistakes of protestant liberal social strategies of the past ( which is why we’re in this mess in the first place)

2. The means to seriously consider the church as a social-political strategy (mirco-political) for justice in the world, as opposed to a Christian alumni association for the recruitment of individuals to talk about and engage in an ever elusive ethereal justice that never quite hits the ground.

3. An alternative engagement with continental philosophy that takes things beyond the deconstructive discussions of Derrida, Caputo, Kearney and friends.

And one lastly, a “tongue-in-cheek” comment, which I still find to be very insightful:

Lastly, the Emergent leaders, by embracing pacifism, could make their first definitive doctrinal position ever on anything, realizing that pacifism is not actually a doctrinal position but the epistemological (Christological) basis which makes possible an open never ending conversation in the first place.

This is all of particular interest for those of us who find ourselves within peace churches, yet also find (at least some of) the emerging church conversation to be a helpful guide for church practice/mission in our culture. Part of the struggle here is that Fitch is more closely aligned with the emerging peace church impulse I’ve discussed in my models of the emerging church, which doesn’t suite Jones’ (more deconstructionist) position. It’s not to say that these two positions within the emerging church can’t work together, I think this is the main point of Fitch’s post, but that there may be some talking past one another.

The point is that some friendly combination of these two positions don’t come automatically, and often, if they’re to come at all, it’s through difficult discourse.  Jones is the first to admit he doesn’t represent all the voices in this very diverse group of churches and thinkers, and I think this diversity, or shall we say pluralism, is useful on both sides. There is much to be shared and learned through these conversations.

But, as Zizek says, you must pick your sides (of orthodoxy) or just fall into modern liberalism oscillating back and forth never fully committing to anything (or committing to not commit). And ultimately, I come down on the side of Yoder/Hauerwas who disavow Constantianism, but this by no means necessarily leads to in-action, sectarianism or anti-politics, as we can see with people like Jarrod McKenna and Shane Claiborne. With both these latter examples (and of course there are many more), there’s not only that “emerging” thread and more importantly a tradition that exemplifies a “peace” thread. As Fitch put it so carefully, they are making particular claims about politics, ethics, and the role of the church in the world that make possible an open conversation. And this is why I’ve argued that the theology of Yoder, Hauerwas, McClendon and others is still more persuasive for the church. And I think Fitch’s comments worked to pull both threads together in a way that exemplifies this particular tradition.