UPDATE: Book giveaway. I have 4 copies of “The New Christians” to send to the first four people who email me with a picture of Tony’s footwear of choice while he’s on the road.
Prior to reading The New Christians, I have always told everyone that Pete Rollins’s How (Not) to Speak of God has been the best emergent church book written yet. I’ve read tons of stuff from Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Tim Keel and others, but I thought Pete did an excellent job of presenting the theological and philosophical foundation (or, I suppose that would be a non-foundation) for Emergent, as well as showing very practical ways in which that worked itself out in his own faith community, Ikon.
However, there is a new kid on the block: Tony Jones’s The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book a few months ago, and I read it in a day and a half I think. However, I just got the hardcover review copy in the mail the other day, and let me just say that in addition to being a great book, it just feels like a great book. The design and layout of the book is impressive, and other than the publisher spelling Dan Kimball’s name as “Don Kimball” – it looks great.
This is an extremely ambitious book by Tony Jones, the National Coordinator of Emergent Village, and a good friend of mine. He has written the book that I think many people have been waiting for. This book gives a very honest portrayal of the beginnings of what became Emergent Village (including some very revealing statements about Mark Driscoll’s initial involvement with Emergent), tries to explain who these emergent Christians are, looks at the theology of emergent Christians, and gives us some practical “on-the-ground” encounters with emerging churches and “dispatches” from those who are involved with the emergent church movement. This is a helpful book; but it is also, primarily, a hopeful book. It exudes hope for the church; hope that comes through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, but hope nonetheless. Tony talks about how emergent folk have a “hope-filled orientation toward the future,” and this book exemplifies that hope. After reading this book, one can’t simply accuse emergent Christians of “deconstructing everything to death.” Emergent Christianity, as Tony puts it, “is an effort by a particular people in a particular time and place to respond to the gospel as it (once again) breaks through the age-old crusts” (37).
There are 20 “dispatches” from the emergent frontier that Tony mentions in his book – here are some that I really appreciate and find helpful:
- Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciate the contributions of all Christian movements.
- Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality.
- The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.
- Emergents see God’s activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.
- Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma.
- Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.
- Emergent believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.
- Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy or a bureaucracy.
- Emergents start new churches to save their own faith, not necessarily as an outreach strategy.
- Emergents firmly hold that God’s Spirit – not their own efforts – is responsible for good in the world. The human task is to cooperate with God in what God is already doing.
- Emergents downplay – or outright reject – the differences between clergy and laity.
If you’re not familiar with the emergent church, you need to read this book. If you are familiar with the emergent church, you still need to read this book. Tony has written a great book here, and I hope you’ll take some time to give it a read.