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.