Posted by: Billy Marsh | June 19, 2008

Destination Nowhere?

Destination Unkown

A friend and I are reading through the book Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) this summer and discussing the chapters two at a time. So far I have been very impressed with their assessment of the Emergent Church and with the fact that the authors have not taken this work as an excuse to jab their opponents in the kidneys every other sentence. It has been a fair and gentle critique of the Emergent Church and its philosophy/theology.

However, I must say that I was a little nervous about reading the first chapter due to its title, “Journey: Are The Pilgrims Still Making Progress?“. I thought to myself as I began to turn the pages, “Am I Emergent and don’t know it?” As you can tell, it’s no secret that I am in favor of the “pilgrim” or “journey” motifs for viewing Christian spirituality. In fact, for about the past 6 or 7 years, I have built most of my approach to the Christian walk and worldview around concepts such as these. Needless to say, I took a deep breath and started to make my way through this chapter for fear that I was possibly about to have most of what I held dear rebuked.

The chapter begins with two quotes that set the tone for what follows. The first is one from Leonard Sweet which immediately serves to reveal just exactly how the Emergents view the concept of “journey” as a Christian worldview. Sweet intimates that, “The Way is not a method or a map. The Way is an experience (30).” Here is where I began to let out a sigh of relief when I realized that my emphasis on “journey” as a preferred lens through which to view the Christian life is quite different from how others are interpreting it. Kevin DeYoung, one of the authors of this book and the author of this particular chapter, shared a personal encounter he had with a seasoned musician in church one day where the man proceeded to unload many of his unique stories and experiences on DeYoung. During this conversation, DeYoung noted that the man said something to him that has never left him. Commenting on the philosophy behind a large deal of the folk music scene, the man stated that, “In the music scene it’s really cool to search for God. It’s not very cool to find Him (32).” I’ve noticed that this aspect is very evident in secular music, and now I feel that it has been slowly making headway into the more defined Christian music scene in some respects, perhaps even credited to the influence of the Emergent church on Christian art circles. (On a side note, as I have celebrated the downfall of the fluffy and superficial CCM movement, I have begun to mourn the fact that now Christian artists have felt loosed from the chains of certainty and explicitness in their lyrics, making it much harder for listeners to find God, and more so, the gospel in their music. I’m all for creativity and originality; however, I’m not sure where we have gotten the idea that art always has to be in the abstract. I would like to see more of my favorite singer/songwriters spend more time in the Psalms and come to an awareness that there is nothing unspiritual or unoriginal about singing explicitly to God and his salvation.)

DeYoung goes on to add that spirituality in the West, as mirrored in the simple observation from the man above concerning the music scene, says that “The destination matters little. The journey is the thing (32).” Once I reached this part of the chapter, I was greatly relieved inasmuch as I was assured that I have in no way advocated this type of approach to the Christian life. I hope that this is clear to all of my readers by just glancing at my web address to this page: abettercountry.wordpress.com. For me, there is no journey apart from the destination. Yet, according to DeYoung, Emergents try to have their cake and eat it too. He writes, “The journey is more wandering than directional, more action than belief, more ambiguous than defined. To explain and define the journey of faith would be to cheapen it (33).” Cheapen it? How can you cheapen the journey by explaining and defining the one thing that gives it value?

I don’t know about you, but if the above definition is in fact true of the Christian life, then it seems like we are more akin to the Grateful Dead than Abraham. This is what I’ve tried to show in my study on the Sojourner. Looking back on Abraham as the prime example of how what the Word teaches in contrast to the emphasis being placed on the journey itself, we can clearly note that God’s original calling on Abraham’s life in Genesis 12 was explicity destination driven. And even though God was taking Abraham to a physical place on this earth, we see that Hebrews testifies that Abraham never viewed his arrival at the Promised Land as the final stop in his journey. In Hebrews 11:10, the author comments, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” In other words, though the actual Promised Land on earth was a real destination, Abraham was more concerned about arriving at a heavenly Promised Land, the home of the One True God. Although the journey should be one of “joy” (note reference to my blog’s title), it never should be an end in itself. When the Christian life seeks to find meaning and purpose within its own adventure rather than looking urgently for the Father over the horizon, then there is a much deeper problem than mere misdirection that must be addressed. And I will attempt to discuss that issue in a subsequent post.

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Responses

  1. Wow! Outstanding column today. I was having a flashback to the 1970’s with that line, “The destination matters little, the journey’s the thing.” JI Packer’s book was very influential on me, “Knowing God” (notice it was not called Seeking God or Wandering All Over the Place to Find God…) I will concede that “the journey” is exciting, fun, tragic and costly, but we do not journey alone. We are called to follow Christ and he will never leave us nor forsake us. As we go, we are getting to know the Father and the Son through the Spirit who abides and applies the Word to our hearts and minds.

    I have met many “Seekers” through the years, and there has always been a little lack of substance with those who continuously only seek and never find. Makes me wonder what they are really seeking? Lost people will sometimes seek, but cannot ever seek the True God who Is until He calls them to himself.

  2. I’ll be interested to see what you think of the book. I greatly enjoyed it.

  3. Really good one son! I agree that this idea is found in music today but I personally have found this to be a theme in movies that has always frustrated me. One that just popped into my head is from City Slickers. The guy left the city and went on this cattle drive to basically try to figure out what life was about. The old cowboy held up one finger to him as a definition to what life was about. About all he did was rekindle the value of his family and friends in his life but with no ultimate destination to long for and to seek. The world is constantly seeking but without knowing what for. Consequently, their only recourse is to get all there is to get out of the journey. Is it not our job to hold up the candle and show them there is a definite destination more important than a journey of pointless wandering? Else they will be like my dad use to say when we were lost on a trip somewhere, ” I don’t know where we’re going but we’re making good time!”
    Also, I believe the idea of the jouney being more important than the destination may be based in eastern philosophy.


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