May 2, 2008

emergent questions - pt 2

So with a bit of my personal journey established, on to answering my buddy's questions.

The primary question being asked here is if there are certainties when it comes to theology. The secondary question seems to be how certain individuals in the Emergent Village might handle this question. And then there is the issue if some of the current conversation being had on this matters is constructive or destructive.

Obviously, I am under qualified to answer every one of these questions with accuracy. I can, though, offer my thoughts and feelings in the context I was asked - "With your contact with some from the movement..." As mentioned in the last post, I do have a bit of history here.

I remember when I received my first email to join in on a Google group for the Emergent coordinating group. While that was intriguing in itself, what was even more interesting is the fact that my email address was buried in a list of "who's who" in the "to:" line. Sure, there were some other guys and gals I'd never heard of before, but it felt kind of cool to be asked to sit at the cool table.

So I pulled up a chair.

I understand that the source of many questions about the Emerging Church and Emergent Village has to do with the voices that have been published. Keeping with the metaphor I've established, these people are like the upperclassmen at the cafeteria table who have been around the halls a bit longer than you. This doesn't mean you don't walk the same halls and can't come up with observations of your own, but there seems to be a bit of confidence in the things they say that cause you to think, "Hmm... maybe I should consider that."

In that analogy, though, I'm sure we all knew a few upperclassmen in high school who were just "off" a bit. Maybe they drank too much or were too consumed with one niche of high school at the expense of the rest... I'd argue that in any group of people you'll find extremes like this. For instance, there are some ultra conservative theologians who find that their "spokesmen" often speak for them, and other times they embarrassingly don't.

It's funny how quickly a "poster boy" can become a "wanted poster."

What I found through the Google Group is that there was clearly a line between the "Emerging Church" and (what would later become) "Emergent Village." To abuse another high school metaphor, the former group were interested in a "pick-up game" whereas the latter group formed a "team." There is still a friendship between both sides, but one has become more defined.

The reason I'm establishing this framework to answer the questions is because there is a difference between the Emerging Church and the Emergent Village... EC is the present-future of the church, whereas EV is an example/element of the present-future of the church. This has a few immediate implications:

  • An "emerging" Christian implies one on a journey with God. This is a person who is looking for something, but it doesn't mean they haven't something... rather, they believe there is the potential for growth into more.

    Example: Consider the mandate of Philippians 2:12 to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." This implies the continual emergence into something new about something old.

  • An "emergent" Christian implies one who has been on a journey with God and arrived at a set of conclusions. This person has "come into view" of something... and it took them some labor to get there.

    Example: E-V's beliefs can be found here.

  • A "fundamental" Christian implies one who didn't see the need to get on the journey with God because the fundamentals were enough. This person has fixed his view on something... perhaps four spiritual laws (no need for five, apparently) or a a certain mantra "The Bible says it, that settles it."

    Example: I remember talking with someone once who said, "At my age I guess I'm just set in my ways when it comes to church." I responded, "Does that sound like you're willing to grow anymore?" He gruffed at me.

From my vantage point, there are things we can be absolutely certain of when it comes to theology. There is only one Savior and His name is Jesus Christ... apart from His redemptive offer of grace alone through His cross and resurrection, we are stuck in our sin and eternally separated from a fully-alive relationship with the Trinity. I think you'd find that most EV people would agree with this... but not all of them do.

And that's the rub. Especially when one or more of them get published, seemingly speaking for the whole group. But they don't, much like a person in a church might believe a certain way about a certain thing that the rest of the church sort of smiles at but doesn't really endorse. Maybe it's an old lady who believes you need to pray in tongues during worship songs or a young guy who thinks that tipping is a greater principle than tithing since God says to give "cheerfully." Imagine if that person published a book and said they were a member of your church... others would assume the whole church thought that way.

What I'm getting at is that there seem to be several different people in the Emergent Village:

  • Those interested in renewing: This is the dominant thread of E-V people I connect with... men and women who are asking, "What's really in the Bible?" and "What are our roots?" These are valuable and productive questions, for many church traditions started out nice but along the way became canonized where they shouldn't.

    Someone decided not too long ago that being a Christian meant you vote Republican, picket abortion clinics, talk about "the media" with rolled eyes, clap at Christian concerts whenever someone says "Jesus Christ" (yet hiss in restaurants whenever someone says the same), pass out tracts to people that "explain" Christianity, and boycott anything Disney. And be sure to have a 5am quiet time.

    What if there is more? The large majority of people who believe these traditions are often robotic about them, though, be it through denominational loyalty or fear of change.

    (I think this is why they categorize E-V with the next label.)

  • Those interested in reimagining: There are only a few folks I've met that clearly have an agenda to reimagine Christianity. Obviously this is destructive and I won't cite the individuals, but the situations have included everything from personal agendas about gender equality to matters of how science could redefine how we understand the Bible. I wonder, though, if this is just exclusive to E-V. Perhaps in any local church, denomination, association, and so forth there are people trying to reimagine the system into their own image.

    Again, this is destructive. One of the reasons I have felt led to remain in E-V is to ask questions when I think someone is pushing something they shouldn't.

  • Those interested in rebelling: Even fewer in numbers than the rest, there are a couple of people I've connected with who just want to be "against" the system. Again, this is to be expected in any group. For instance, a church plant can start out this way being "against" the other traditional churches in town. Maybe this is why many of those churches don't last... you can't be against something and last. You have to be for something.

If you asked me to summarize that all, I believe we're talking about 75% in the first category, 15% in the next, and 10% in the last. That is completely opinion, though, so don't cite that.

Speaking of which, Tony Jones is a Christian. This means he's not into universalism, but rather he's trying to foster a framework for all this conversation to take place. The idea of such a deep ecclesiology might frighten some, but what is interesting is that Tony is the most cautious about it of all... fully aware that every slice of structure he helps coordinate has massive ripples to it. I don't envy that role, yet I pray for him in it.

So were the great theologians of the past wrong? To the people of their era they were... and yet here we are, basking in "recent" shifts in thinking like pre-millenial eschatology and the salvation by grace alone. Sure, those were always around... but it took some emerging theologians in the more recent centuries to help us understand what that all meant.

Which is odd how they're right to us, even though they were severely questioned in their day.

For all we know the next revelation in theology is on a blog named "Frank Likes Cheese," and since theology is just that - revelation (not reinvention) -we'd best be praying for Frank.


Steve K. said...

Hey Tony,

Some good thoughts here. I have two questions though:

1) Who in Emergent Village has said/written anything denying that Jesus is Savior? I know there are some folks talking open theism or trinitarian universalism, but I have not heard/read anyone who denies Christ as Lord and Savior.

Not that I want you to "call anyone out," but I'm just wondering what you're basing that statement on. I honestly think it's a huge misperception that people have of Emergent, and I'd love to squash it! As Tony Jones said in a recent interview, most (if not all) people in Emergent are trinitarian, Nicean Creed-affirming Christians. So who does that leave? I don't know who these supposed Emergent people are who deny the lordship of Jesus.

2) "Those interested in rebelling" = 10% ... I realize your ballpark figures here are just that, ballpark. But still, I feel the need to quibble a bit because the vast majority (which you peg at 90%) is really really the VAST majority.

I don't run into too many people who are just pissed off, and that's why they are "emerging" or "emergent." People are asking questions, deconstructing, wrestling with things, but I would not call that "rebelling." Again, I think it just paints things in a very negative light, and if I were asked to put a number on it, such a category IMHO would be .5% -- a fraction of a percent.

Just two thoughts/reactions I had. I'll be curious to see what others think.

David Malouf -- said...


At the risk of overstating, I think there is a perspective (yours) that assesses what would E-V think is "emergent" that is different from what I think I see Tony stating which is "Who is claiming to be E-V." There are a number of . . . "pissy" people I know who claim to be "Emergent" that I'm pretty sure Tony J. and others would say, "No thank you!", for example. I would concur with Tony M.'s numbers based on the second approach and your numbers based on the first.

I think this gets convoluted further when Tony Jones writes/says unqualified statements like the one you quote. Personally, I think he should know better - based on his studies and based on those emerging values he has come to hold to. "Trinitarian" and "Nicaean Creed-affirming" allow for almost-infinite amounts of delineation / specific understanding. I really think he should know better than to say that. Further, neither of those two 'topics' are at the top of E-V people's points-of-focus. Even further, some E-V writing is more universalism-sounding which, by extension, removes the "Jesus is Savior" stance, morphing it into something more like "Jesus is a Savior, but the best of the options" stance. This doesn't deny Jesus as Savior, but (recent) historic Christianity has given the phrase "Jesus is Savior" the meaning "ONLY Savior and all else is wrong and/or evil."

Is this a comment I'm leaving or a post? Yikes.

Seattle, WA

Tony Myles said...

Thanks, Steve. Just was I was hoping for! Thanks for sharpening.

This is actually easy to answer... since I don't remember their names. :)

When I was in attendance at a an E-V sponsored event, I found that several side conversations I had with people present were what led me to that conclusion about the "certainties" of the faith I mentioned. Keep in mind we're talking about attendees who by their presence were supporting the gathering - not to imply that anyone whose name is officially on the EV site is one of them.

Having said that, I'm noting that you zeroed in on asking me about the "Jesus is Savior" part - what you're overlooking is that in my very condensed statement of faith/certainties I also mention "grace alone." Perhaps some of the more liturgical brothers and sisters in EV would add something to that, which is why at the end of the paragraph I mentioned "not all of them do."

Let me know if you disagree with where I'm coming from on this.

Per the rebelling comment, again... I'm basing it on that gathering as well as conversations I've had at other conventions - NYWC seminars devoted to this topic, and so on. On several occasions I've heard one version or another of, "I'm just sick of the way things are, so sign me up in whatever that Emergent thing is."

Again - just a ballpark. It sounds like your experience is more complex than mine, so I'll happily concede to your percentages. ;)

Then again - my summaries are not just about those on the web site, but for those attending cohorts around the globe... for those buying the books as fans do... for those whose names will never be publlished... for "Frank Likes Cheese."

Tony Myles said...

David - wow! Great color commentary, and it seems like you've made a good synoposis of the two perspectives Steve and I write from. I find that perspective is often what causes our conclusions...

and I don't remember who said it, but the famous quote goes, "A conclusion is the place when you got tired of thinking."

Maybe I read it on Frank's blog.

irreverend fox said...

my friend,

I'm not so sure that you have fairly represented what a "fundamental" Christian is or believes...I wouldn't even describe the most dogmatic of "fundamentalist" KJV Only groups/people that way. Your description is very strongly worded and a tad offensive.

also...stating that Tony Jones frightens some with "deep ecclesiology" is 1. not fair to we his critics and 2. is loaded with presumptions of his ecclesiology...I'd suggest it's quite shallow actually. I don’t think we find it either scary or deep at all.

(and...I notice that you speak of Salvation by grace alone, something RC's, EO's, Reformed Evangelicals, JW's and LDS's all initially agree upon...but I notice that "sola fida"...through faith alone in Christ not mentioned, is that a simple oversight or does that overstate your and/or the EV understanding?)

I'm really trying to track with you here and understand where you've come and where you are on your journey...and would ask you to maybe be a bit more generous with the way you caricaturize your fundamental Christian friends like me!

Tony Myles said...

Well worded, Gary. My apologies, and if you'll allow me a long response I'd like to answer your questions. Please don't misinterpret this length for anything but that.

You're right - I am stating by "grace alone" in the way the sentence can be sliced, but I said that in the breath after stating that there is only "one Savior and His name is Jesus Christ." I'd hoped the semantics of the sentence didn't negate that, so we are stating the same thing.

Which perhaps is a point in itself... I have found that in certain circles that there seems to be an "unnecessarily right" way to say things. In most cases, this has to do with local or denominational tradition than anything biblical, and is one example of extreme fundamentalism gone wild. For instance, I once spoke at a church and spoke about "turning away" from our sins to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior... but because I didn't say the word "repent" or use it on a response card I'd printed up, I was met with some opposition on the way out the door. Sometimes it seems in such moments that there is this group of people who physically look like they are paying attention, but invisibly have their arms folded against you until you say the right buzz word so they can relax.

I wonder sometimes how much theological suspician is more about personal preference than biblical issue, even though we claim the latter.

Which on that note, I'm curious about how much of Tony Jones' stuff you've read in book form. I am asking that not defensively/offensively but because I don't know. My question also comes from the books of his I own that I find to be richly laced with a desire to lead people closer to Jesus Christ. He invokes in one the prayer form of Lectio Divina as a nod to the church fathers and their approach to prayer, and in another teaches students how to memorize Scripture [no Gospel of Thomas quoted, for the record ;) ] so that they might become more confident in their faith - no mention of universalism in either. In yet another book he teaches youth workers how to engage the postmodern mindset from a biblical perspective, with several great nods given to past ways of doing ministry.

Perhaps a clearer example is in his new book, where he draws a good comparison between building buildings and organizations as a goal versus living out what it means to be the church. He states:

"[The modern church] was an endeavor by faithful men and women in their time and place, attempting to live into the biblical Gospel. But the church was never the end, only the means. The desire of the emergents is to live Christianly, to build something wonderful for the future on the legacy of the past."

I'd argue that even E-V could fall into this trap if its desire is to become a well oiled machine of rebellion. Thankfully, I don't read that in my connections to these folks... but to those who might feel criticized by the front end of Jones' statement it might seem so.

Now we can spend a lot of time talking about Tony Jones here, but he's not the issue I hoped to address in these posts.

To address perhaps the more personal end of this for you, I haven't been on your blog in awhile, but at one time I remember you called yourself an "emerging reformer." Maybe I'm misquoting that, but would you describe yourself as more fundamental or more emerging? I know we'd like to say both, but which is it more for you?

To clarify my stance, I am an emerging Christian hoping to renew the Church back to the Bible and its heritage. Some might call that an "emerging refomer," too.

(insert smiley face here)

irreverend fox said...

Hey Tony!

Semantics are a WONDERFUL thing and are particularly important when discussing theology. The fact that you mentioned clearly (something I appreciate) that Jesus is the only way/source of Salvation in fact does not clear the issue up at all for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox certainly agree that Jesus is the only way and it is by His grace that anyone ‘attains’ Salvation (using their lingo). There is far more to the issue than that however…the issue is not the source of Salvation…the issue is: the means by which Salvation is granted/attained…this is THE radical question and then to what degree this influences the content of the Gospel we are commanded to proclaim (and severely warned and threatened with anathema if proclaimed incorrectly or incompletely).

Before I go further and make too many assumptions, in fairness…can I ask you a question? Why are you not a faithful Roman Catholic? Or why are you not a faithful Eastern Orthodox? Is it that you don’t care for the bells, smoke or hats?

How you answer that question will be very helpful to me as I try and track with you here on your journey. From that point I think I’ll have a better grasp of where you are coming from.

As for me being “fundamental” that really depends on what we are talking about. I believe the ancient creeds and first four ecumenical councils of the Church laid out what the Bible teaches at its core…they laid out the “fundamentals”. I believe Calvin and the rest of the Reformers further clarified the implications of “the forgiveness of sins” and those clarifications and articulations are also fundamental to Biblical Christianity. However…the pillars of the faith…the fundamentals…are few in number. I picked “emerging reformer” as part of the domain name because that is what I’d hope to be. I’m not the least bit uncomfortable with the concept of “emerging”…it’s the future of the same ancient faith…it’s taking that only true faith “once and for all delivered…” and translating it culture by culture…context to context…and reformer of course refers to the drastic need western Christianity is in to “remember from whence ye have fallen” and “go back” and “do the things ye did at first”…we need reformation (to go back to the sources as was the cry during the magisterial and radical reformation hundreds of years ago).

Tony Myles said...

Semantics are fun only when they don't get in the way of understanding the heart and spirit of someone. Mistaking forest and trees... etc.

I think you missed my question about how much you've read firsthand from Tony Jones. Help me out with that.

Why am I not Catholic? (I feel I must be careful in how I word my answer to this with you... as if you're looking for the correct set of buzz words here... maybe we should pay attention to that.).

Honestly? Why am I not a Catholic? When we did attend service there growing up God used the hypocrisy in people I saw who said one thing in service and then denied it in their lifestyle. Thankfully, that doesn't exist in the Protestant church.


Later I had the chance to read the Bible and had a rather Luther-esque moment about grace... even though I didn't know who Luther was at the time.

But honestly? God used that hypocrisy as a slice of my journey. Funny - God can draw straight using crooked lines.

Which gives us hope for everything, including E-V and you and me.

Let's wrap this up - you can have the last word (but please respond to my question).

brian said...

read this

Tony Myles said...

Timely. Thanks!

irreverend fox said...

hey Tony!

I've never read a single book written by Tony Jones, his online teaching has sufficed I’d suppose. But I do understand that not one person speaks for EV any more than any one person defines what postmodernism is.

I'm not looking for buzz words...just understanding. The Roman Catholic Church does teach and speak a great deal about grace. In fact they believe that a sinner is saved by the grace of Christ alone (that is a key thing to remember…they don’t believe that a sinner must earn his Salvation apart from the grace of Christ).

I'm REALLY not trying to's just that I'm trying to rightly hear you (please bare with me, my intentions are true). It is just the way my brain work I guess.

What was it/is it about what the Roman Catholic church teaches about "grace" that you found out doesn't match Scripture? What did you discover in the Bible about grace that was not in harmony with the Roman Catholic church teaching on that doctrine? And why was that such a massive problem that you were compelled to forsake it formally and have yet to return?

(I make the distinction of "Roman" for a reason...because true Christianity is very much Catholic...I'm a Catholic).

I’m not trying to win anything or prove anything…just simply trying to understand your perspective…it will help me interpret you when I read your material. If I can understand your underlying foundations, perspectives and starting point I think I’ll be able to better appreciate what you are teaching.

Tony Myles said...

I trust your heart.

Let's avoid a rabbit trail, though. Neither of us are Roman Catholic, for as you and I have each read the Bible we have come to conclude things that place us in a more Protestant/Evangelical camp. In this post I'm comfortable with that summary, and if I should feel led to speak more about it I'll put together a separate post.

Again, I'll give you the last word if you want it.

irreverend fox said...

hey Tony,

I do understand the post is about the EV movement. I guess my point is that I read alot on your blog and over at EV about Jesus being the source of God's grace (worded in various ways...but that is the jist). I fear that some, maybe you, believe that's a complete statement of the Gospel and it is not. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah's Witness, Mormons and Protestant/Evangelicals all call themselves 'Christian', each has a character in their theology named 'Jesus' who is the ‘Christ’, the ‘Son of the Living God’. And they all teach that man must receive the ‘grace’ of ‘Christ’ to be ‘saved’, that ‘Christ’ is the source of ‘salvation’. That's the problem that historic, orthodox and conservative Christians have with EV...they will not divide over issues that true Christians divide over (the doctrine of the Trinity and justification through faith alone).
EV is (cautiously?) Trinitarian for the most part from what I can tell. But the issue of Sola Fida is glaringly absent in their proclamation...because to take the stand would automatically cut off the RC's and EO...because both groups openly and consistently reject that doctrine. A massive problem with EV is that they include the RC and EO in their understanding of true Christianity. Those who are persuaded of RC and EO doctrines of Salvation (or deification) are lost, do not believe the Gospel…they play on the other team.

The problem is that Sola Fida is a key component of the Gospel message and to not proclaim it is to retard the entire not proclaim it is to not proclaim the Gospel. Think about that...that's a problem. By not taking a stand for Sola Fida, EV is not proclaiming the Gospel...what they ARE proclaiming is something other than the incomplete and retarded message…a different Gospel. Proclaiming 2/3’s of it is not possible and contradicts what Christ commissioned His chosen people to do.

I would LOVE to know that EV teaches at its core that justification is by God's grace ALONE, through faith ALONE in Jesus Christ ALONE. I’d totally back off if I saw that on their site. If they are proclaiming anything short of that however, understand, whatever else they are...they are certainly apostate and I’ll pray that God changes their hearts and curses all of their efforts till they are changed. If they can’t clearly proclaim the only true Gospel, then they (like RC’s and EO) play on the other team.

Stating that Salvation is found in the Jesus of the Holy Trinity falls way to short, it’s not nearly DIVISIVE enough...if that is as far as EV will go then that group is apostate...and for me...that is a real problem.

irreverend fox said...

just read over my last comment..and let me was brilliant...and...while I would say the group is apostate, that does not mean of course that every contributor or team member is, or there church is...but like I did say...that should be a problem, if my assesment is as brilliant as I believe it is ;^)

David Malouf -- said...

Mr. Fox,

I think you're mistaking E-V for a denomination or theology (as can be seen, only as an example, in your acronym lists). A quick survey of the historic and current publishings of E-V show its intent to be more of a "conversation" (their words) that is an effort to reform/emerge (semper reformanda). There is no goal to state anything creedal, the goal is to keep the conversation moving. Even their "creeds" are blaringly non-creedal, for this reason.

I don't think this is a semantic issue but an approach (perspective) issue. If they're not intending to "state the gospel" because E-V is an inside-the-Family discussion (that includes a ton of talk about those outside the Family).

Further related to this, your blog and The Epicenter Church website seem to major on specifics. E-V (and Tony Miles for that matter!) tend to major on the construct. That is, the starting point for whatever is encountered tends to start with the specifics or the constructs, respectively. This puts semantics into a brighter light in that there will be a natural miscommunication when these approaches communicate in the brevity of a blog. I write this because understanding Tony or E-V clearly will require you to spend some time understanding a wholly different approach to problems, ideas, new encounters, etc. When Peter (a more specifics thinker) writes of Paul (a more construct thinker) in 2 Peter 3:15f, you can see the echo of the difficulty inherent in uncommon approaches.

Lest the conversation digress into an _unnecessary_ fight :-)

irreverend fox said...

Mr. Malouf,

I do understand that EV is not a denomination...but it is "something".

I'm glad that you picked up on our desire to focus on specifics, it's very counter cultural I do understand...yet it's intentional. However, as you will pick up especially on the blog, we only take hard, black and white, stands on a very few key issues (the nature of God, Salvation and Revelation). By no means are we dogmatic in tertiary theological or social issues.

As for spending time to understand this wholly new approach to ideas and new encounters...I would suggest that I do understand the approach...I get irks me...and I reject most of it. I may come across as a simpleton who doesn't "get" the nuances of this new spin on modern liberalism...but that's not the case. I'm up to speed, I believe.