This weekend I was in Norman and I found myself in a Barnes and Noble with a 15% off coupon (plus another 10% off for the membership discount) and a $25 gift card all burning a hole in my pocket. The combination of these things meant that I was a man in need of a new book. The book I picked up, and ended up purchasing was The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones. I found myself with some unexpected, but very much appreciated, down time on Friday and read a large chunk of this book in one sitting.
The New Christians is an engaging book that provides a helpful introduction to Emergent, from a few different angles. Jones, who is the national coordinator for Emergent Village, is ideally situated to provide many of these perspectives.
In the first chapter Jones discusses problems with the “Old Country.” One of the things that I appreciated about this chapter was that he critiqued both the problem on the left and right. The next chapter, “Dispatches from the Frontier of the American Church” is probably my favorite of the book. Jones gives a sort of insiders narrative description of how Emergent came to be. He is honest about disagreements and points of departure (particularly with Mark Driscoll) with others in the movement, especially as it has developed. In the books that I have read about Emergent, I had not previously read a narrative chronology of the development of the movement that was as helpful as this chapter.
Jones also focuses quite a bit of energy discussing the primary role that theology plays among Emergents. Jones writes:
As I looked back on my experiences in college, both at the liberal Congregational church and in the conservative campus ministry, I came to terms with the fact that these weren’t malicious people. Instead, the ways they lived out their faith were a natural response to the theologies they held. It was the theology that was broken. I’ll put it this way: theology begets a way of life. The better the theology, the better the way of life. Therefore, I claim:
Good theology begets beautiful Christianity.
And so it follows that
Bad theology begets ugly Christianity (103).
Jones concludes the book with case studies of several Emergent congregations, which helps to provide a glimpse in the variety and breadth of Emergent practice.
As I read the book I had three, not necessarily related, thoughts:
- It is amazing how many of the folks in Emergent are becoming celebrities! One of the hallmarks of Emergent, from my understanding, has been how the accessibility of the leadership. Even as recently as three years ago, a friend of mine was periodically having lunch with Brian McLaren. My guess is that folks like him are becoming less and less accessible somewhat in proportion to the rate at which they become better and better known. It kind of reminds me of what happens with mega church pastors. Someone starts a church and has deep relationships with the founding members, but over time many of them have to get used to having much less access to them as other things occupy more and more of their time. I wonder how Emergent has, or will, respond to this challenge. (This is not a criticism, just a question.)
- I have been happy to gain a deeper appreciation of how much these people care about and are committed to the Christian faith. I don’t sense that they are trying to lead people away from Christianity, but simply speak a language that other people can relate to. I think they are meeting a real need and creating the space for people to hear and respond to the gospel. Many Emergent Christians are living much more committed and dedicated lives than many of the conservative Christians who criticize them. I have especially appreciated Dan Kimball‘s theology, the more I have been exposed to it.
So, what are your thoughts? I am particularly interested in what ways you think Wesleyans can respond to or be a part of the Emergent conversation. What contribution do you think Emergent has to make to Wesleyan practice, or how could Wesleyan theology/practice inform Emergent?