The “New Christians” and a Recommendation on the Nature of Orthodoxy

Tony Jones is in the theo-blog news these days out with a new book complete with all the controversy that attends being an “emergent” (see here for definition of that term). There is a lot makes me huffy and puffy about Jones’ ideas, but as I’ve browsed his book and read his papers I’ve appreciated the stimulating thoughts and provocative ideas. Naturally, the controversy that follows him is over the status of orthodoxy—what is it and who gets to define it (I’ve written about this before, but the old blog is not accessible at the moment).

The question he asks is a good one: who gets to define orthodoxy? Following from that: who gets to enforce it? Who is the “us” and who is the “them?” Does the Christian faith have boundaries that cannot be crossed or does it function like a centered set people gather around? I remember going to one of his cohort meetings and hearing him respond to my question “Is New Testament Christianity possible?” with another question “Who gets to say what New Testament Christianity is?” The point, of course, he was raising was a matter of interpretation—something that has haunted Protestantism ever since the Reformation.

Admist all the furry of internet theoblog debate about the who’s and what’s of orthodoxy, I would like to recommend that people read the works of Roger E. Olson. In particular, his book The Mosaic of Christian Belief is an outstanding contribution to the conversation that has sadly been overlooked. In the book he explores what he calls a “both/and” theology that surveys several different issues and polarities that have been explored through the ages of Christian thought. His is an appeal to “The Great Tradition” that sees tensions between absolutes in the three main branches of Christian history: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Western Protestantism. Topics ranging from the nature of Scripture, the atonement, providence, and the church are covered with irenic clarity that seeks a kind of “mere Christianity,” though not without a decidedly Arminian bent.

His larger work The Story of Christian Theology is also helpful in showing how certain trajectories have been helpful and harmful to the Christian church. After reading thorugh the exciting plotline of twists and turns in Christian thought over two millennia one will get a clear sense that orthodoxy does not simply mean “right thinking” but “thinking that leads to and preserves salvation.”

With regard to Jones and his idea of the “new Christians” it seems to me that they are going the same direction as the liberal theologians on the first years of the 20th century did: from a salvation gospel to a social gospel. Gresham Machen’s work may a bit dated, but it shows that “nothing is new under the sun.” Still, I hope the New Christians will find in their exploration of Christian traditions the same concern for salvation Chrstians have always had.

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7 thoughts on “The “New Christians” and a Recommendation on the Nature of Orthodoxy

  1. I think Jones’ endorsement of Obama is a strong step in the direction of the Social Gospel, or at least a society of Christian Democrats. All the hand-wringing over “labels” among emergents seems to stem from the fact that such labels manifestly apply to them.

  2. Chad says:

    OK, I’m going to break my ban on sharing my opinion on blogs.

    One of the problems in modern day Christianity is that we have lost the value of paradox. It’s either A or B not both. However, even though it can be both A and B does not mean there cannot be a firm foundation to stand on. To me, the emergent movement has said yes to both A and B but has also taken out all the solid foundation that can be easily found in scripture. It kind of goes back to the old saying- If you don’t stand for something you will stand for anything. That’s what I see the emergent movement doing- Standing for anything. I personally think that’s sad and very unproductive when trying to come up with even a generous orthodoxy. Again, I see many modern day Christian doing the exact opposite thing which in my mind is also bad. They make a choice to believe A and than throw B out. The idea of paradox is something to be a afraid of and ends by being looked at as a bad thing. Now, by choosing just A you do have somewhat of a foundation but I think the foundation is waaaaaay too small. One of the goals in the Christian walk is to discover how long, wide, deep the fathers love is, and in my mind, you don’t discover that by just choosing A.

    The thought of “both/and” is by no means a new idea. In many ways, Jesus himself used a “both/and” approach when teaching. When attempting to look at the bible through “Hebraic” eyes instead of our embreaded western “Greek” eyes will see it all over the place. I would strongly recommend reading a book called “Our father Abraham” by Marvin R. Wilson. In my mind, it’s what both the emergent church and the modern day church needs to learn when pursuing Jesus.

    Peace and love y’all

  3. Yes, I would agree that there is a degree of “binary” thinking that is wrongheaded (left/right, black/white), but there is a sense of revelry that some take in “going beyond” everything and decontructing words and interpretations that neither the Old and New Testaments value. There is a sense of paradox in the Bible–no doubt. Many of the famouse Creeds of Christianity recognize it. Yet they are also foundational to what Christianity is. The Emergent’s disdain for “foundationalism” is quite overwrought. Discovering the mores of Hebrew mind is far more important than adapting things to the postmodern mind.

  4. I think, further, that much of the intellectual and theological heavy lifting necessary to even explore the juxtaposition of ancient Hebrew mores to the post-modern seems to be beyond the scope of many emergent leaders. Whether that stems from inability or lack of interest, I cannot say.

    However, the result has been that the movement takes on the characteristics of its earliest adherents. As a result, a movement ostensibly committed to sincere dialogue across a sea of diverse faith ideas is strikingly homogenous.

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