A Prediction

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 11, 2004

It is common in Biblical studies to assert that the present form of the New Testament exists because one "brand" of Christianity allied itself to Constantine and supressed other forms.  Orthodoxy was determined by power, not truth.  There is a similar approach taken to the Old Testament.  The form of the Pentateuch we have was determined by the supremacy of Judaeite dominance over Israel, suppressing the Samaritan Pentateuch.  Other books that made it into the canon were those that supported the position of those in political power.

Those that assert such views are hardly morons.  The evidence in support of these views needs to be engaged.  However, much of the motivation behind these perspectives tends, in my mind, to be a desire to "dethrone" the existing Orthodoxy. 

I was reading a post on theoblogy that makes a link between the emergent church and liberationist thought.  While there are problems in making this link too strong, I think that there is much in common between postmodern thinking, which fuels much of the emergent conversation, and liberationist thinking.  Both are, after all, concerned with rejecting any narrative that dominates and oppresses people. 

It seems logical to me that many within the Emergent conversation will begin to reject the Orthodox canon in favor of alternative canons–ones which favor either a more "earthy" spirituality or a more gnostic one.  Either are possible.  So I predict (though it may already be happening) that in the next decade many within the emergent conversation will "tweak" their conception of the canon as they seek to form a new orthodoxy…perhaps this new orthodoxy will still afirm the Creed, perhaps not.  But I’d be willing to wager that the flavor of their neo-canons will change to match their postmodern hermeneutic.  Many will react against all institutionalizing effects to the point that they find an "underdog" canon.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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Viewing 6 Comments

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    Right now your prediction is running at about .42 on the Iowa Electronic Futures Market.

    Sorry, just an election flashback. So glad to be out of the habit of reading about the "horserace."

    Wow, this comment has nothing to do with your post. Never mind...
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    Even though we just had a discussion about this today, as I see the written exposition of your argument, I have two comments.
    1. "the evidence in support of these views needs to be engaged." I disagree. There is very little if any support for these views, and the evidence is shoddy and biased.
    2. While I expect what you've predicted to come true, I disagree that it will be the emergent church that will propagate it. I think most emergents at least come from an evengelical heritage and questioning the canon isn't within their range of valid action. I realize that could change, but I would expect a lot more other groups to fulfill your prediction before emergents do.
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    I don't think these views can be so easily dismissed.

    I didn't say that the emergent church will be the only ones, or even the first, to embrace an alternative canon. However, I think it is in the trajectory of some within the movement to do so.
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    I agree with you then about your prediction, but I have to maintain that there simply is no compelling evidence that orthodoxy prevailed because it was more powerful than any other strain, and copious evidence that it prevailed because it was the most viable. The only people I know that advance the "orthodoxy was the bully" view are people like Dan Brown. Though I don't think we should be dimissive of anyone's ideas, we ought not to dignify claims that have no backing. As for OT alternative canons like the Samaritan Pentateuch: while they may have been ignored in Judah (understandably), I don't know of any evidence that the Samaritan Pentateuch was significantly suppressed. But I think the people you are predicting will adopt "neo-canons" won't really care about evidence, they'll care about finding something that will pass for an "underdog" canon.
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    I agree with your assessment of the evidence, but we cannot simply ignore what is becoming a particularly tenacious approach to Biblical studies. There are MANY people who hold this view--like the Jesus Seminar. And whether we like them or not, they have a growing following. It is their philosophy of Biblical studies that guides the curriculum at United Theological Seminary here in the Twin Cities, for example. I doubt that evangelicals will ever substancially cave in to these issues, but I think some evangelicals with a vested interest in finding their own way (many within the emergent movement) may be tempted, hence my prediction. This isn't to say the emergent movement is unorthodox or filled with angry morons. I suppose I fall in the emergent camp in many ways. My point is, there is some of the pieces within the larger conversation that could easily materialize into something fishy.
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    I agree completely with you, and I think we were saying similar things but in different ways. I think what you meant by "the evidence needs to be engaged" is that the PEOPLE who present the evidence deserve to be taken seriously, because left unchallenged, they pose a serious threat. I agree, I am simply saying that the evidence itself that they present DOESN'T deserve to be taken seriously because it's mostly poor evidence.


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