the beginning of the end

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from my own blog for the past three days.  I had a most enjoyable time speaking in chapels and classes at my alma mater, Cedarville University.  I wish everyone could have the opportunity to return to their college 20 years after graduation, to reconnect with former profs and meet the new ones who are rising to take their place.  I felt like I was returning to my second home.

Indeed, as I was pulling onto the road that would take me to Cedarville, I began to involuntarily hum Sandi Patti’s “Love in Any Language.”  I hadn’t thought about that song in 20 years, and now that I realize it would make an excellent Emergent anthem, I will try never to do it again.

I caught up with the posts this morning and realize that we’ve probably taken this present discussion as far as it’s going to go.  At risk of extending the conversation more than any of us desire, I want to write one final post each to Daryl and Kevin (thanks for your patience!). 



I called you “a self-proclaimed emergent” [post 19] because the GR Press said that you were emergent in your bio.  I assumed that they got that from you (hence the term, “self-proclaimed”).  Did I assume too much?

I agree with the tenor of your third post, for its call for both belief and practice is all I’m saying.  But it’s difficult for me to square what you said there with what you wrote in the Press.  There you said that I was guilty of viewing Christianity as nothing more than a set of beliefs (which couldn’t be more wrong) and that, to quote your view in your words, “I don’t assume you have to have the same set of beliefs as me to trust that you believe in Jesus.” 

If by “set of beliefs” you mean issues about baptism or Christ’s return, then we agree (and I wonder why you wrote an editorial about me that “really wasn’t about me” in the first place).  But if you mean that there are no beliefs required to believe in Jesus, then I think your view is obviously self-refuting.




Sometimes I think we agree and then at other times I’m not sure.  For instance, in post 4 you say that “followers of Christ, must, of course, put their trust in him.”  That is all I was ever asking, and makes me wonder why you didn’t say that at the symposium. 


But then in post 16 you say that “people can be Christians…even if they never…rise to the level of reflective theorizing,” and it’s clear from post 4 that you place the physical resurrection of Jesus in this “theoretical” category.  I don’t understand how 21st century people can become “followers of Christ” who “put their trust in” Jesus if they don’t know and believe in his resurrection.  Isn’t the resurrection an essential piece of the Jesus story?


I agree with your “Balaam’s Ass theology” that we profit from Pete’s reminders to live out our faith in the resurrection.  I publicly said the same at Cedarville.  But because we love Pete, we must also tell him that he can’t evade the question of Jesus’ resurrection by declaring that it’s an uninteresting, “theoretical” question.  Without diminishing all that we have learned from Pete, we must kindly tell him that his unwillingness to say that he believes in Jesus’ physical resurrection is not an acceptable Christian position.  He doesn’t get a free pass merely because he says other helpful things that challenge us.  True friends hold each other accountable, just as we have been doing in these series of posts.






17 responses to “the beginning of the end”

  1. chad Miler

    this may jog your memory even more –

    Thanks for the laugh

  2. Hint: Next time you find yourself singing …*anything* by Sandy Patti, just punch yourself in the face as hard as you can, then go to the nearest computer and read my blog. Guaranteed antidote.


  3. Yooper

    Daryl, I believe that the GR Press also stated in your bio that you had been a Pastor for 25 years – why the Pastorate?

    Kevin, Is it possible for “philosophy” to be defined as “the love of wisdom”?

  4. Hi Mike,

    Because I think I’ve either been misunderstood or misrepresented, I want to respond here. The way you present my views in paragraphs one and two is as though there is some sort of inconsistency. There’s not. Followers of Jesus must put their trust in him AND people can be Christians even if they never rise to the level of reflective theorizing.

    You go on to say, “it’s clear from post 4 that you place the physical resurrection of Jesus in this “theoretical” category. I don’t understand how 21st century people can become “followers of Christ” who “put their trust in” Jesus if they don’t know and believe in his resurrection. Isn’t the resurrection an essential piece of the Jesus story?”

    I place the physical resurrection of Jesus in the category of historical events that either happened or not. I myself believe that the world is in fact such that God raised Jesus from the dead as part of his program of reconciliation and redemption. That belief of mine is what is at the level of reflective theorizing, not the event itself (which either happened or not; if the world is such as I represent it as being—that Jesus was raised from the dead thereby defeating sin and death—then the proposition or content of my belief is true and otherwise not).

    Let me try one last time to get you to see why I think that someone could become a follower of Jesus BEFORE they come to believe in the resurrection. But let me preface this last attempt by saying that I agree that the resurrection of Jesus is indeed an essential piece of the Jesus story.

    Suppose you’re a fledgling writer. And suppose you meet someone at a writer’s workshop in Ann Arbor, another author with whom you share coffee and conversation during the breaks. Suppose this author speaks with you throughout the three day conference about the ins and outs of constructing plot and characters and does so in a way that you’ve never experienced before. You find yourself drawn to this author and to his words, even more so than the author leading the workshop. Suppose he has the effect of revolutionizing your own writing and that after all that time you spent together at the workshop you never bothered to get his last name. You knew him simply as John, the name on his name tag.

    Now suppose you go home utterly changed as a writer. You’re writing from that workshop on is of a different caliber and gravitas than what preceded it. And then suppose that a week, a month, a year later you read an article in a writer’s magazine about the weekend John Updike attended a workshop in Ann Arbor and about the many conversations he had with this fledgling writer from Grand Rapids. You’re stunned! You’re shocked! You spent three days conversing with John Updike, whose work you love, and you didn’t even know it was John Updike. Now you do.

    The point of this little story is obvious. It’s certainly possible for you to have an experience of someone, to have your life changed by this someone, without at that very moment knowing who or what that someone is or is about. I imagine the resurrected Jesus could draw people to himself without those people knowing at the time of meeting who he is or what he’s done. Knowledge of that sort, if things go well, will come.

    I want to stress again that the resurrection of Jesus gets its meaning and weight from the story it’s embedded in. Apart from that story it’s no more than a historical curiosity. I’m not interested in getting people simply to believe that a guy named Jesus was resurrected from the grave, and I doubt you are either. The good news is that our sins have been forgiven, that God has reconciled us, that there’s a new way to be human and that everything has changed because of the incarnation, life, death AND resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are themselves embedded in a six thousand year old, unfolding story of a bent and broken world and a God working for its restoration and renewal. In other words, the resurrection as an isolated factoid is not what is of paramount importance. It’s the resurrection as part of God’s program of love and reconciliation that is the issue of supreme importance.

    You may disagree with me about this. And that’s fine. But we need at least to understand each other. I hope this helps.

  5. Yooper


    Thank you for this recent post. I’ve shared a bit of my story in previous threads.

    As I reflect on my experience, it excites me to remember how God drew me to Himself. A young man, with literally no knowledge of God, void of a conscience, and no concern for others or their property.

    I am thankful that God led me to His Church, where I received His Word – faithfully taught and preached. God did not leave me walking through the cemetery and pounding the sand. I cannot understand (and have a big problem with) those who call themselves “Christian” and especially “Pastor” and chose to allow God to remain a mystery.

    Take care,


  6. Dave,

    That’s awesome! Keep on keepin’ on. And as for mystery; well, God is indeed a mystery as testified to throughout the scriptures and in the life experience of his children throughout history, including Christian history. In a sense, we’re all mysteries, even to ourselves. But, it’s not compete darkness, thankfully; we do see even if we see through a glass darkly.


  7. Mike: As I have said many times before if you need to meet with me you can feel free to e-mail or call me.

    Dave: I think you are right…you ‘cannot understand’ at this juncture in your life.

    Peace to both of you.

  8. Yooper


    I think you get what I’m saying.

    Our finite minds cannot fully grasp our infinite God. However, with that said, we do have His revelation which is found in His Word. God is not unknowable, He is not a complete mystery.


    I think a few years in the U.P. would do you some good. 🙂
    After living 30 years in the U.P., yes, living in the Grand Rapids area is a bit of a culture shock. It seems that this area has become too familiar with Jesus Christ and His Word. Why is it so hard to say that we need beliefs and need to live them out?

  9. I think it’s worth nothing that the word for ‘mystery’ in the New Testament is not identical in meaning with the word as it’s often used in postmodern/emergent conversation today, i.e., that which is ineffable, unknowable and incomprehensible.

    Rather, the predominant NT meaning relates to a reality/truth that would have been unknowable apart from divine revelation, but is now knowable and comprehensible precisely because ‘God has spoken’ (and acted).

    For example, Romans 16:25ff. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Cp. Col. 2:2-4).

    This doesn’t mean that there is not much that is ‘mysterious’ about God in the prevailing modern sense of the word, but it does remind us that God has revealed himself in way that is clear and full enough to elicit from us “the obedience of faith.”

    Doug Phillips

  10. Yooper

    Kevin & Daryl,

    I challenge you to take your message to the Muslim community. Provide the disconnect (that you attempt with Christianity) between beliefs, the Koran, and practice, and see what the outcome will be.

  11. Drew

    I think I need some clarification in this whole discussion I have been following here. Is this a discussion about a soteriological issue, a sanctification issue, what Christianity actually is, or what is needed for someone to actually be considered a “follower of Christ”?

  12. Yooper


    Did you know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in eternal security? I didn’t, until a close friend told me after debating the issue with one at the door. They have nothing to lose, so eternal security is not the issue with me.

    Let’s keep it simple – soteriological. If you don’t have the first, to discuss the others is moot.

  13. mikewittmer


    Thanks for your response. I’m sure you know that all analogies break down somewhere, and I think your provocative and interesting one breaks down in the comparison between John Updike and Jesus. I can be inspired as a writer without knowing the identity of my teacher, but Scripture teaches that the change that accompanies salvation is inextricably linked with knowing the identity of Jesus.

    Paul says in Romans 10:9 that we are saved when we confess that “Jesus is Lord” and believe that God raised him from the dead (cf. Acts 16:31, where Paul says the same thing again). Since the resurrection is an essential piece of Jesus’ Lordship, and confessing his Lordship is essential to salvation, then I conclude that believing in Jesus’ resurrection is essential for our salvation.

    But even if you were right, that someone could follow Jesus before learning about his lordship/resurrection, I don’t see how that applies to Pete’s case. Since he is not an uninitiated, just-coming-to-Jesus person, don’t his friends have an obligation to lovingly confront him on his unwillingness to say whether Jesus rose from the dead?

  14. mikewittmer


    Good question. I am asking what if anything people need to believe in order to be saved, or accepted by God.

  15. Yooper

    “…I am asking what if anything people need to believe in order to be saved, or accepted by God.”

    The Word of God will always be the source of attack by satan, and will be as foolishness, a stumblingblock…to those who do not believe (I Corinthians 1:23). We can have the greatest arguments, however, we are mere mortals, and it is truly the Father who draws men to Himself (John 6:44). Salvation is certainly not found in the opinion or invention of man (Ephesians 2:8,9). The source of faith is the Word of God (Romans 10:17), and the battle goes on.

  16. Yooper

    The topic of this thread is not just a college or seminary class, or a matter of debate, but that of life eternal – of which I am very passionate. And I have prayed for Daryl and Kevin. I see Kevin opened his blog after 4 months to write about this topic.

    I know where my life was heading, and I know the change in my life that took place. The Word of God is unlike any other book to me. And Jesus Christ is responsible.

    How can it be possible that one who has experienced the saving and life changing touch of Jesus attack His Word? How can one who has experienced the saving and life changing touch of Jesus not give Him the credit and honor due?

    Or is another spirit in control?

  17. You said: “There you said that I was guilty of viewing Christianity as nothing more than a set of beliefs (which couldn’t be more wrong) and that, to quote your view in your words, “I don’t assume you have to have the same set of beliefs as me to trust that you believe in Jesus.”

    I didn’t say that…what I did say was…

    ‘At this juncture in time Christianity is seen as a set of beliefs. Believe the right stuff and you are Christian. Step in this box with its bounded sides and you are ‘in’. Step out of line and you may be outside of the realm of what we consider ‘orthodox’ or right belief. We live and work out of a bounded set constraint.’

    As you can see I was referring to ‘Christianity’ (general terms) not you. Again, this isn’t personal, it is about what I feel is an emphasis on ‘believe this and you will be saved’. I put a period after saved because that is the message we have proclaimed as the gospel.

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