Caleb and Joshua : Emergent Pioneers

But my servant Caleb – he has a different spirit…” [Num 14:24]nicolas_poisson_Spies with grapes of promised land

I have rediscovered the fascinating narrative from Numbers 13 and 14 concerning Moses and the people of Israel on the brink of entering into the Promised Land.

Despite associating this kind of Old Testament story with theologies of exclusion, spiritual heroics, conquest and conversion, I am now finding in it a particular resonance with current debates around emergence and the move beyond Modernity.

It’s a tale of twists, and here is the storyboard:

  • God tells Moses to send scouts from each tribe into Canaan;
  • They find a land rich and fruitful, but inhabited by fearful nations (“giants”);
  • Caleb calls for an “invasion”;
  • Almost all the others decry his bold stance of faith based on their fear of the giants;
  • Caleb and Joshua restate their faith in God to take it;
  • God appears in glory, and hopping mad;
  • Good old Moses placates Him and intercedes for the people;
  • God relents and forgives them but remains resolute about the consequences – not one of the fearful would enter the land;
  • The people repent and then cockily decide they want to take the land after all;
  • God says “not so fast!” – it’s too late;
  • They do so anyway and are thoroughly beaten.

Oi gewald, what a mess.

What if the Promised Land lay beyond the horizons of what we call Modernity? What if Postmodernity in fact contained the keys to unlock many of the perennial problems which lie at the heart of Christianity? What if the defensive positions of counter-emergents came from the same spirit as the vast majority of Israel – fear?

And if we could take a slightly more metaphorical posture towards the text, what if “taking the land” meant not conquest and conversion, but journey, adventure and conversation? What if it meant evolving truth rather than striving for an abstract and idealised proposition about truth? What if it was entirely missional, an immersion into the world, rather than evacuation away from the world?

What if the giants were the sin and illusion within ourselves, not an exteriorised other? Why is it that only a tiny majority seems to be able to break through from the conformity to fear based systems?

Is it possible that the forgiving God of second chances at times refuses a second chance, and that the emerging conversation and new wisdom consciousness is our last chance to save our Faith, which otherwise would sail into increasing irrelevance, until it simply disappeared?

If we re-imagine the story of Caleb and Joshua, we might find a nugget of ancient wisdom whereby we can in the present respond to a call into the unknown. We might be able to break with the deep, fear-based traditions which seem to choke the real message of the bible and keep smothered its power to transform us and our world. If we abandon the myth of certainly which lies at the heart of Modernism, we might, finally, with emergent pioneers Joshua and Caleb, arrive in the Space of Faith.

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11 Comments »

  1. Josh said

    “Is it possible that the forgiving God of second chances at times refuses a second chance, and that the emerging conversation and new wisdom consciousness is our last chance to save our Faith, which otherwise would sail into increasing irrelevance, until it simply disappeared?”

    It’s possible. But let me ask you: is this a just a personal reflection or an urgent prophetic call? An urgency of that magnitude may evoke (and/or be caused by) its own kind of fear when you’re serious about the assumption that the very last train is about to leave the station.

    So to push back a little – where is the Joshua and Caleb-like hope and faith in YOU when it comes to those fears?

  2. Nic Paton said

    Josh
    This is exactly the kind of incisiveness I hope to evoke, so thank you for your deep response. I like the way you you “push back” here.

    Well I do not make any grand claim in general about my post. It is up to the reader to decide.

    And yes, urgency can and will lead to anxiety. I do not like melodramatic scenarios foisted upon me, especially ones that eminate from the eschatology of damnation; in other words the preacher who rains down threats of hellfire are very very very very manipulative. So are the promises of prosperity from the pulpit for that matter.

    And again, there is a balance to be acheived between the Kairos (opportune moment of God) and the mystical belief that all will one day be reconciled; that all is ultimately IN GOD.

    As for me personally, I perceive myself to not so much be driven by fear but to be attacted by vision. Not that I do not have fear – we all do – but I’m basically excited at the possibilities of the coming Kingdom (or whatever you want to see it as), specifically as exemplified in emergence and emergence christianity in particular.

    Having said that, and maybe this is presumptous, pompous, or pious, but it may just be that if the monolith of christian pseudo-orthodoxy does not get with the “program”/process of the evolving universe and the reconstruction of true orthodoxy, if will simply fade into irrelevance. But I see signs throughout the church in all its sectors – see Phyllis Tickle’s thesis on the ecumenical nature of emergence.

    So I am not saying get with MY program, because that just swaps one state for another. I am saying, get with God’s process – and this is a Quest, rather than a State.

  3. Josh said

    Thanks, Nic!

    Love your ability to come up with phrases that really drive home the point – “monolith of christian pseudo-orthodoxy”.

    Almost as good as your “Oi gewald”! :-)

  4. Don Rogers said

    Wow! Very intuitive!

    “What if the defensive positions of counter-emergents came from the same spirit as the vast majority of Israel – fear?”

    Fear drives a lot of lot of what we do as religionists. I agree.

    “what if “taking the land” meant not conquest and conversion, but journey, adventure and conversation?”

    Oooo, I like your assessment here. Guess that’s because I totally agree with it. I see myself on that journey, adventure, and hopefully, lots of conversation with folks like you.

    “What if it meant evolving truth rather than striving for an abstract and idealised proposition about truth? “

    I do not like the word “Static”. Evolving has such movement to it. Nothing remains the same as it was. This is good.

    “Why is it that only a tiny majority seems to be able to break through from the conformity to fear based systems?”

    After a few years into my journey, this has become “my question” to Christianity of today.

    “Is it possible that the forgiving God of second chances at times refuses a second chance, and that the emerging conversation and new wisdom consciousness is our last chance to save our Faith, which otherwise would sail into increasing irrelevance, until it simply disappeared?”

    John Shelby Spong’s thesis for Christianity of today is: it must change or die. At least, die as we have known it. I believe that as well.

    Great post, as usual, Nic!

    • Nic Paton said

      Thank you Don – so good to know you are keeping up. Allow me to enquire – the question of the minority “breaking through” – what light can you shed on why that might be?

  5. Josh said

    After some more mulling over the comparibility of emergence and the OT call to the Promised Land, I have to voice one more concern: is it possibly too simplistic to look at the choice before us in this manner? It is very black and white and doesn’t allow for a more nuanced view of what must be left behind and what we need to embrace.

    I personally hate labels and resist being identified with a denomination, theological emphasis, or a particular movement. I would say that true orthodoxy MUST be both conservative and progressive. After all, there is a rich tradition of authentic expressions of the Holy Spirit in the history of the church that we don’t just simply want to leave behind. And the way I understand the fears you mentioned (particularly in the evangelical community) – they are partially stemming from the (mis-) understanding that the emergent movement wants to be solely progressive without wanting to conserve what has been good and proper in the past.

    I’m not sure how many of the readers of your blog would have this view of emergence but sometimes clarifications of this nature are necessary to avoid additional hardening of existing divisions and aim for a more ecumenical understanding and cooperation in the goals that emergence represents and wants to be identified with.

    • Nic Paton said

      Josh, that is a good point. This is how I view it:

      The Evangelical sense of “tradition” is over-identified with Modernism. To most Evangelicals, to take a conservative stance means to cleave to a tradition that might be 10, 50, 100 or up to 350 years old. And there are many in their number who hark back to a myth of “Early Church”.

      To many emergents however, “old” means pre-modern: Be it Ficino or St John of the Cross, of the Rennaisance, Eckhart of the Late Medieval period, Francis and Hildegard or even Aquinas of the mid Medieval, or Origin of the 2nd Century, there is a FAR wider swathe of influences from the Christian tradition apparent in much (I don’t say all) emergent thinking.

      More importantly however emergent thought is typified by a reconnection with science, especially the “new” sciences (relativity, quantum, systems, chaos, biological emergence, or superstring): this relationship was severed in the Enlightenment period of Modernity in the wake of the Newtonian cosmology, and has since Darwin and Einstein converged once again.

      So in short I see the emergent path as being the more sound from the POV of Christian tradition, than the Johnny-Come-Lately of Evangelicalism.

      Tickles “Great Emergence” and McLarens “Generous Orthodoxy” are important studies in this problem you raise.

      As you say Josh, “true orthodoxy MUST be both conservative and progressive” – I agree 100%. I (as a self confessed and enthusiastic emergent) feel part of a ancient-future movement which is cosmic in scope and encompasses and supercedes my own Evangelical tradition, which I still strive to maintain compassionate connection to.

      I thank you for your “mindfulness”.

  6. Josh said

    The ironic thing is that what gave rise to evangelicalism historically was a strongly felt disconnect between nominal orthodoxy and actual orthopraxy. And if you consider what huge transformational impact some of these early evangelicals had (see Wilberforce and his role in the abolition of slavery) you have to wonder what has happened to a movement that began with very similar concerns and passions that emergents have today and now sit at the other end of the spectrum, super-concerned about the threat to their concept of orthodoxy.

    If I may offer a quite different OT narrative to describe my hopes regarding a future reconciliation of emergents and evangelicals – I’d pick the story of Joseph and his brothers:

    What if evangelicals with their open disdain for their emergent brother with his big dreams and visions for the future, quite happy to declare him “dead” and see him gone, will one day be rescued by this very brother, by the one they couldn’t even recognize as their brother at first?

    Nic, I see much evil in the divisions that continue to be fueled by competing certainties of values (even within the emergent movement itself) but I also belief in the sovereign ability of God to bring it all to a good end and to a willing and open embrace between former enemies.

  7. Josh said

    P.S.: Sorry about all the typos, it’s getting late here in Western Canada.

  8. Nic Paton said

    Josh – excellent.

    I have a sense within that as the pomo prophet ranges wild and free, so his shadow pastor should remain anchored in Agape amongst the fearful.

    I really like your vision of Joseph. I think we should rewrite The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in a postmodern era, as “Joseph and the Cosmic Holographic Dreamcoat”.

    Good evening, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Here are you slippers, Sir, and your hearth. Thank you for your services.

  9. Don Rogers said

    Nic- I have talked to a number of people who, like myself, have left the institution in recent years. I have found that a majority of them have experienced a traumatic occurance in their lives which led to a questioning on why things are the way they are and a questioning of all they held dear (religious belief, doctrine, etc;). That was the case for me. It was interesting to learn that others had shared similar experiences. But, the size of the sample I was dealing with does not explain why this appears to be one of the main ways people make a change in their view of the sacred or spiritual. Long established patterns of belief, in my opinion, are very slow to change. I feel it is much easier for one who is not tied to the institution to change his or her ideas about the sacred or spirituality. Without the disquieting events of 2001 which my family experienced, I cannot say that I would be on the journey I travel today. I think it was Eckart Tolle who said that one needs to experience an upheaval in his life to truly experience the spiritual. Hope that answers your inquiry.

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