I recently purchased the latest offering by Tony Jones, The New Christians Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I had heard of this book awhile back; in fact I think it was via Marko’s blog sharing his endorsement of it that first caught my attention. As of late, I have found myself engaged in or asked to comment on discussions related to things emergent. Presumably this stems from my being a youth pastor. However, I believe myself to be an emergent infant in many respects and as such have felt the need to “bone up” on my emergent knowledge. Enter The New Christians.
As a way to help me process further my understanding of as well as my position to the emergent movement I am intending to blog my journey through Jones’ book. I welcome questions, comments, insights, challenges, and the like from any who follow me via iBlog as well as those that happen by.
Thus, the journey begins…
I am trying to read The New Christians with an open mind; or rather a mind that has been wiped clear of previously held notions and judgments related to all things emergent. Already, I’m finding this difficult as I read the first chapter Leaving the Old Country. Very quickly I found the voice in my head screaming to be heard, saying, “Well, of course he [Jones] is making emergent look good and everyone else look bad.” I feel to escape the “us verse them” mindset is both crucial and necessary if I, or anyone else, is to take seriously the emergent movement and consider how that movement relates to or against other church movements [i.e. evangelicalism, fundamentalism, etc]. It is also necessary to escape the “us verse them” trappings that so easily take root in order to establish my own personal convictions toward the emergent movement.
Rather, than offering a chapter by chapter review, I will share thoughts, questions and personal commentary as I read. As such, allow me to note that from the beginning Jones hit on an issue that I see prevalent within youth ministry and that is the commitment that we [Americans] have to our church denominations. I have said for years that youth do not care so much about the denominational name above the door of the church, but rather they are concerned with the message of the church. Jones notes “American Christians care less and less about the denominational divides that are so important to their seminary-trained pastors.”
The question put before me as a pastor is, what is my priority, agenda, and message that I am holding to and promoting? What am I doing as a pastor to keep pulse on the real issues facing my flock [teenagers]? In short, where is my focus; inward or outward?
Another point within this chapter that caught my attention was this quote, “The desire of the emergents is to live Christianly, to build something wonderful for the future on the legacy of the past.” It was here that I believe the skeptic’s voice in my head first spoke up.
What “something” is it that emergents are striving to build? Is not this the vision/purpose/dream of most any Christian church movement [i.e. what makes your vision better/more right than what is out there]? Is this just a polished attempt at arriving at something new for the sake of something new?
These type of questions began claiming space within my mind. I assume that in some ways the emergent church is still too new to fully articulate the details of this “something”. I am content with that, if it is the case. I hope that through more study, I can arrive at a fuller definition of what this “something” is to be. I do not like to be left hanging, if you will.
Finally, I will conclude by taking a look at what Jones titles Dispatch 1, which says,
Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements.
In a section which dove into the issue of denominational heritage, this Dispatch 1 caught my attention and caused me to think of the pros and cons to any sort of denominationalism. And if I am correctly understanding what Jones is communicating regarding the emergent church; while it is a denomination of sorts, it is not strictly bound to “one flavor” [to pull from Jones’ illustration], as are more main-line denominations. Is this however a pro or a con for the emergent church? I do not yet know. One thing seems to be certain however, and that is American Christians are starting to move away from main-line denominations in favor of, as Jones says, “[more] Church of the Van-Choc-Straw.”
The question that comes to mind for me revolves around our reason for attending a particular church over another. My gut feeling is that many of us attend the church we do because it is the church we have [the family] has always attended, or is within the same denomination of the church we grew up in [if we have moved away]. While this may not be entirely the wrong reason, it also may not be the best reason for attending.
Thoughts, atop of thoughts. Questions atop of questions. I am eager to continue on and discover more Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier.