This has been described as the definitive book on the Emergent Church movement out there. To some extent it should be, having been written by Tony Jones, national coordinator of emergent village.
Tony’s goal, from my perspective, is to to provide a rationale, as well as a framework as to how emergent came to be, why it came to be, what it is and how it functions within the christian community. He achieves all of these and with regards to the how and why emergent came to be, the story is fascinating.
Also, I have been challenged and to some degree, influenced by some emergent writings (or at least I call it emergent writings) authors such as Len Sweet and Mike Riddell (clarification – not all of Sweets and Riddells books are good, however some are really excellent, Aqua Church, Soul Cafe and Soulsalsa & Threshold of the Future by Riddell).
For Tony Jones and others in the emergent movement, the church in its institutionalized form as well as a large part of ‘traditional’ theology has become a huge problem – a barrier to those coming into or even remaining in the church.
This is a major part of the books focus – out laying the problems – and it seems to be something which many emergent books do well – tell us the problems, and why current theological frameworks do not work, but they are every light on how to move forward. Part of this, of course, comes from the acceptance that there may be many ways forward and we should not nail it down. Even so, what we see within emergent is an organization which I think will begin to struggle NOT to create its own particular theology and identity – emergent will and maybe already has entered the world they dislike – denominationalism. As it grows, as it develops it will morph and form into something – I think thats inevitable – the question is how will those inside emergent respond to this? Is this not already evident by the fact that they have the post National Coordinator?
The issues with this book, for me, were:
1.It really says nothing new – nor, to use their terminology, adds anything to the conversation. Same old same old.
2. What I cannot understand is why the deconstruction of traditional church structures and ways of doing church (which is not a bad thing) HAS to be linked to the deconstruction of theology. Yes, theology has been used as a weapon – yes people have had wrong theology – yes people have mis-interpreted the bible, but in all these errors it is NOT THE BIBLE that is wrong, but how fallible, sinful human beings have engaged with it.
Tony says the Bible is complex – but the answer to that is surely yes AND no – no because the message of salvation, of the gospel is clear but yes, the Bible, being the word of God is complex and mysterious and deep – but it is also knowable for us to live our life around.
3. Tony says that the emergent phenomenon began when leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith. That’s OK – but I would also want a conversation on how the Faith of the Living God will affect postmodernism. Surely thats just as good (if not better!!)
4. I know this comes from my conservative theological roots, but I struggle Tony’s assertion that emergents can speak with confidence, and passion but not with certainty because they do not know what they might be wrong about. Can we not speak with certainty that Jesus IS God? That Jesus rose BODILY from the grave? That to trust in Jesus is to have eternal life. Are these not certainty’s. And for Tony I am sure they are but it does not come across as clearly.
5. I disagree with Tony’s statement that one becomes a better interpreter sitting at a dinner party, engaging in a conversation. The Bible suggests that at some point the conversation must stop (be put on hold!?!) and action take place – that the interpretation becomes active in life.
6. My biggest struggle with emergent and Tony’s book is his views on scripture. ALL scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness (2 Tom 3:14-16). This is a certainty. Tony, on pages 144-146 appears to tackle the errors of scripture – using Noah’s drunkedness and subsequent curing of Canaan and also Jepththah’s daughter in Judges (were the father makes a vow to God to sacrifice the first thing he sees and its his daughter!) Tony says that this cannot really be God’s sovereign plan because it is so distasteful. He argues there is NO MORAL IN JEPHTHAH’s STORY, but we should approach this passage by allowing it to infect us, to live inside of us, like a virus.
No Tony – there is a moral and it crosses the testaments – it is that the man’s mistake was to make a foolish vow to God and so he must keep his vow, even though it means the loss of his heritage as a jew (no grandchildren will come to him) and the daughter (and this is my opinion) will go to heaven – her life ends on earth through no fault of her own, and she is taken into eternity with her God. Yes this is a tough passage but you cannot, and must not dismiss it because it is the word of God and it is there to say something to us.
The end of the book describes Tony’s church, Solomons Porch. it is a radical church – a postmodern church and by the way he describes it I instantly like it. I think how they do it sounds creative, fun and worshipful – what frustrates me is that emergent cannot see that you can live in a postmodern society, with a creative faith declaring the living God with a strong biblical foundation which takes the scriptures to be the absolute word of God and to accept that to teach God’s word in a creative way requires dedication to study.
As I said before – deconstruct the church if you must – but do not deconstruct scripture in such a way that removes it as the absolute word of God. If that makes me a fundamentalist – so be it.