This review originally appeared Mmmmm, That’s Good Coffee – Written by Rick Stilwell (reposted here by permission)
This has been a fun, challenging, insightful read for me. As one who’s been reading and thinking and messing people up with "emergent" dialog, Tony Jones’ The New Christians (copyright 2008, Jossey-Bass Publishers) gets into the nitty gritty history and thoughts behind the movement in a way that’s accessible and personal.
I found "the emergent church" folks about ten years ago, reading some of their forebears and thinking new thoughts that scared me, to be frank. I attended a couple of seminars, traveled to Maryland for one of the Off The Map conferences, and read through alot of books. I put this new work right up there with the most meaningful of my library – good for anyone looking for someone "on the same page as me", and detrimental for anyone wanting to just keep the status quo religiously.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century: we became more religious, not less. Fundamentalisms now thrive in all major religions, churches and religious schools keep popping up, and religious books outsell all other categories…. Back in the pulpits, ironically, pastors continue to bewail that we’re living through the decline and fall of the Judeo-Christian American empire, that secularism is a fast-moving glacier, razing mountains of faith that have been a part of America since its birth. (p. 3)
It’s into this mess of paradox, oxymorons and mystery that Jones and others have sought to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling".
Some disparage the emergent church as the new liberalism, while others decry it as little more than hip, faddish evangelicalism for the cynical set. Some say it’s anti-intellectual because emergents are forsaking traditional academia for the more populist route of church work, while others vilify the emergents for overquoting postmodern philosophers and literary critics like Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish. They’re nothing but overeducated elite white males, they say…. [But] They share little in the way of leadership structures or church architecture or forms of worship. What they share is an ethos, a vibe, a sensibility. And that’s squishy. (p. 35, 39)
What I like about Jones’ prose is that he doesn’t water anything down. There are problems on both sides, there are misunderstandings all over, and there’s a need for forgiveness and mercy and grace from each corner. He does this with the historical potions of the story, and then does much the same with the theological discussion of truth, the Bible, interpretation, missiology. There’s a flow that’s working for me, like a primer on what I’ve been reading from my own vantage point that’s developed over the same passage of years.
I wanted to make sure I put at least one post out for recommending this book to those who want something different, who’ve been tweaked and now want to find that meaningful missing piece that just has to out there. It’s out there, alright – might not be this book, but there’s at least a blueprint here of what it can look like.