July 17, 2008
New Christians VS. Vintage Jesus (Part 2)
Tony Jones responds.
As writer, I am always thankful for reviewers who are thoughtful and evenhanded. I'm afraid that Chad Hall is neither.
(Read Chad Hall's review here.)
Firstly, I clearly do not write that the emergent movement is the exclusive purveyor of the reformation that is currently underway in Christianity. I make it clear in the pages that Mr. Hall cites that it is the gospel that is red-hot lava, bursting through the centuries of accoutrements that have been collected by the church. It would, indeed, be the height of arrogance to suggest that the emergent movement and the gospel are one-and-the-same, but I do no such thing. Instead, I write (and believe) that there are major, tectonic shifts taking place in the church, and the emergent movement is part of that landscape.
Next, to caricature my treatment of convention and traditional Christian worshippers as "crusty old Christians" is, of course, Mr. Hall's right, but it does not accurately reflect my feelings or my writing on the subject. I am frustrated by the reified theologies of the Protestant right and the reified bureaucracies of the Protestant left - and I make no bones about that - but I refer throughout the book to my own journey through those systems and with those people. Indeed, my parents are among those people.
Speaking of that journey, I don't know that it's "condescending" and "supremely arrogant" to write negatively about a theological system of which I was a part and which I now reject, that of Campus Crusade for Christ (at least as it was practiced and taught at Dartmouth College in the 1980s). Is it similarly arrogant for a convert to evangelicalism to write about the failings of the Catholicism he left? How about for the Catholic to write about how Catholicism is superior to Protestantism? Is that supremely arrogant? (Indeed, isn't it supremely arrogant to write a review accusing an author of being "supremely arrogant"?)
And now to defend my friends in Seattle. Mr. Hall refers to them as "intellectually superior egoists." Honestly, I find this label shocking and demeaning. In that chapter, I write that the people at Church of the Apostles are working hard to find common ground on the sexuality issues that are tearing at their denominations (Lutheran and Episcopal), that they feel caught in the shadow of Mark Driscoll's imposing mega-church, and that, above all else, they have an unremitting fear: "is this possible to sustain? How long until politics or gender issues or something else tears COTA apart?" (209) And I wrote about their East Coast benefactors to show just how tenuous their little cohort really is. Seriously, how many "intellectually superior egoists" do you know who are on the dole?
This goes to the very heart of my concern with Mr. Hall's review. The people of Church of the Apostles are the very "crusty old Christians" I'm accused of constantly disparaging: They abide by the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, they are faithful members of two mainline denominations, and they are reliant upon the subsidy of a wealthy, old endowment. And yet I portray them so glowingly that they come off as arrogant as I supposedly do.
So, I wonder, which is it, Mr. Hall? Do I admire them, or am I surreptitiously undermining them by writing honestly of their struggles.
And to Mr. Hall's final warning, let me say this: Truly, the deconstructive tendencies in the emergent tribe may be our undoing. Or they may be the very characteristics that infuse some Christlike humility in us. In either case, I'm counting my blessings that God, and not Mr. Hall, will be the final arbiter of that decision.