The DeWaay Debate: Has Emergent Gone Troppo?

Friday’s debate (20th, not 16th as i said earlier) between Bob DeWaay and Doug Pagitt has me wondering whether Emergent has gone troppo.

After reading the harsh critiques against Emergent, one gets the impression that attending an Emergent Conference is like watching an episode of Lost: a group of disoriented misfits going troppo together, constructing unsafe buildings and having no idea where they are . . . despite the deep mumblings of a bald man.

But one of those things might be true. It is quite possible that Emergent has indeed gone Troppo . . .IF . . in fact, we are referring to Tropological theology.

Paul Hiebert speaks of the doxological or tropological theology that “is done in the context of worship, and stresses the mystical, sacramental and iconic nature of truth. The key question it addresses is, “How can we comprehend complex, transcendent truths about God and reality that lie beyond words, logic and human reason?” It uses nondiscursive signs and tropes such as icons, metaphors, types and parables to communicate transcendent truth.” (Paul Hiebert, Spritual Warfare and Worldview, p. 167, Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William Taylor)

It is probably this addition of tropological theology that Bob DeWaay will attack in tomorrow’s debate. [Doug has released a book called Body Prayer] But tropological theology is found all the way through church history. “Augustine suggested a four-fold sense which would later be adopted by medieval theologians: (1) literal; (2) allegorical; (3) tropological or moral; and (4) analogical.” Theology Adrift,

Viggo Mortensen (him Viggo, not him 38M, suggests that some scholars believe Martin Luther gave the tropological (relating to the soul) interpretation priority over the allegorical (relating to the church) in his interpretation of the psalms. (Link)

Paul Hiebert says more about Tropological theology as an addition to systematic, biblical, and missiological theology.

“Tropological theology is doxological. It is not an abstract reflection on the nature of truth for truth’s sake. It sees theological reflection as an essential element of worship. Christopher Hall (1998, p. 67) writes, “For the [early church] fathers, the Bible was to be studied, pondered, and exegeted in the context of prayer, worship, reverence, and holiness”. Tropological theology is also tied to the character of the exegete. . . . one cannot trust a brilliant scholar if he or she is arrogant, unfaithful, impatient or deceitful.” (Spritual Warfare and Worldview, Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William Taylor)

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


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