Can’t or Don’t Want To? On Not Being Emergent or Neo-Reformed


“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” (Rom 13:8).

You don’t choose to pay a debt; you are compelled.  But we will return to this in a moment.

Last week it was suggested that Dave Fitch and I, when we said that “we couldn’t” live by the answers that Emergent was offering (nor the Neo-Reformed for that matter), we should have said that “we didn’t want” to live by those answers.

Saying we “couldn’t” seemed to indicate our inability; saying we “didn’t want to” indicates our lack of desire.  But I don’t think the commenter meant just wanted to focus on issues of desire. Rather, the claim that we “didn’t want to” is most often linked with choice or preference.  To say we were unable to follow an Emergent or Neo-Reformed framework, in the minds of many, is patently false because clearly we are able to choose such a path, and many do live this way.  So the matter, for this commenter, really is a question of choice.  In this line of thought, Dave and I were not compelled to move beyond Emergent or the Neo-Reformed, we just chose to do something else.

Our language about conversion often muddies this by re-enforcing the movements of choice. We often say that we “choose to follow Christ” or we speak of having “decided to follow Christ.”  This way of talking tends to emphasize “choose” and “decide” rather than “follow”.

Without getting into the nuances of predestination, prevenient grace, and all that, it must be observed that to “choose to follow Christ” means exactly to “choose to stop choosing for oneself” and instead to follow the choices of Christ on the way of love (i.e. this is discipleship).  In other words, following Christ is the choice to stop choosing sinful gratification in self-love and the neglect of others, and be compelled the love of God to love others.  So to follow Christ is exactly to cease merely choosing for oneself, and exactly to begin following the way of love.  This is the debt of love that Romans 13:8 speaks of, a debt that we don’t choose, but are compelled, to pay off.  And the proper place of doctrines and practice is to secure this way of love against false ways (and we all know how difficult it is to root out insidious self-love).

If to choose Christ is to stop choosing, then, isn’t reducing matters of doctrine and practice to individual choice rather than faithful compulsion (i.e. lacking a certainly ability) just a repetition of modern individual liberalism? Isn’t discipleship exactly the overcoming of this?

And if so, perhaps Dave and I didn’t misspeak when we said we “couldn’t”.  Perhaps our “choice” to move beyond Emergent and Neo-Reformed doctrine and practice is a compulsion based in the conviction to love, not merely a personal choice.

Maybe we could add a verse to the classic conversion chorus:

I have decided….to stop deciding
I have decided….to stop deciding
I have decided….to stop deciding
No turning back…no turning back.

(Everyone now!)

Now certainly Dave and I could be wrong, and we are open to that, and this is why we need to understand discernment better.

What do you think? Is choosing our doctrines/practices just in line with liberalism? Or is our compulsion just a quick road back to fundamentalism?


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