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.