"When in doubt, obfuscate" was a humorous phrase my father taught me. When pushed by some bristly church member about a fine point in theology that I might be weak on, use some German words, peppered with academic jargon with a serious frown on your face. If need be, appeal to Aramaic origins and use terms like "philology" and "hueristic." This is the same method that the giant squids use when being attacked; they let loose a bunch of dark ink into the water to obscure their presence and vulnerability and shoot off into safety.
When I read LeRon Shults' letter in the most recent www.emergent.com newsletter by Tony Jones, I couldn't help but smile; looks like ink to me, dark, light-obscuring and quite profound. I could only imagine LeRon's impish smile as he wrote these words defending the lack (read; avoidance?) of anny sort of a doctrinal statement coming from the emerging conversation. It was a linguistic cul de sac that was quite fun to read, but disappointing to see.
I guess this could be part and parcel with current cultural trends. My wife is a printmaker and formerly taught art history at a Christian college. There she was beseiged with this type of obscuring language: who dares to qualify and judge art? where does the artist end and the audience begin? why should one culture's notion of beauty have primacy over another's? who dares to call something skilled and well-done? there is no difference between an installation of found trash and a carefully drawn portrait.
I am neither Luddite nor alarmist. But come on. Jesus was not quite so reticent of definition: "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." Now there is a legitimate place for the adiaphora, the ambiguous and the less-than-clearly stated. But the emergent conversation will do itself harm if its leaders and thinkers avoid what Jesus embraces and instead opt for a posture of linguistic gymnastics. It is fun to play with words. But when someone is on their deathbed with cancer or the son of a friend commits suicide and turns to a pastor/beleiver for help, don't turn the water dark with ink, tell them about who Jesus is now and offer the words of promise he gives.
LeRon's argument against definition is that it cuts off conversation by becoming absolutist. I disagree with that. Because I have a belief does not make me necessarily a belligerent bully. My sense of theological clarity is not a barrier but a bridge; an inviting bridge to further conversations with the hungry and seeking world.