The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier
By Tony Jones
Jossey-Bass, March 2008
288 pp., $22.95
Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists
By: Collin Hansen
Crossway, March 2008
160 pp., $14.99
A new movement is attracting a younger generation of Christians, shaking up institutions, denominations, and churches along the way. Not everyone in the movement is attracted to it for the same reasons, but they gather at conferences and online to share thoughts, debate, and learn from the elder statesmen of the group. Now a new book attempts to explain, sympathetically, what's really going on.
Actually, it's two books, and two movements.
Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed started as a September 2006 Christianity Today article. Now editor-at-large for Christianity Today, Hansen has examined why many young Christians are drawn to Calvinism, whom these new Calvinists are listening to, and what they're passionate about.
Hansen's book begins with a note comparing the relative obscurity of the new Calvinism and the prominence of the emerging church. Among his interviewees was Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village, and author of the new book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.
Jones is the author of several previous books, but The New Christians is more journalistic in its approach, describing the origins of the emerging church, why it's growing, and how it's changing.
The books and movements share a number of themes: reaction against entertainment-driven church life, desire for transcendence, rediscovery of tradition, and a need to answer common misconceptions about the movements. Christianity Today invited Hansen and Jones to read each other's books and discuss how the rise of one movement might illuminate aspects of the rise of the other. Are both movements scratching the same itch? Are there internal tensions in one movement that also appear in the other?
The conversation will continue over several days.
I appreciate how The New Christians recounts the history of Emergent, told through compelling stories and an explanation of its distinctive beliefs. Your analysis of the two emerging camps was helpful. One camp advocates an unchanging gospel message paired with new ministry methods. Siding with the other camp, you write, "To try to freeze one particular articulation of the gospel, to make it timeless and universally applicable, actually does an injustice to the gospel." I don't see Jesus or the biblical authors granting us the warrant to change their gospel message. But to a certain extent, I agree that when we alter the methods of gospel ministry, we inevitably change the gospel message itself. This point is too often missed when we evaluate the "seeker sensitive" methods of many evangelical megachurches.
I felt a certain kinship while reading your book. For one thing, we both grew up in the Midwest attending mainline Protestant churches. Then we left home to attend private colleges, where we became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. Our experiences with Crusade were quite different, and your story helped me appreciate this ministry's strengths as well as some of its weaknesses. I recently spoke with Crusade leaders who advocate more theology training for staff, and this development has already led to significant changes.
I found in your book a fundamental appreciation for the importance of theology. Now, our conversation will make it clear that we reach very different conclusions about that theology. But the young evangelicals I wrote about share your surprise and dismay with the message you heard from Leadership Network: "Theology just causes people to argue. We don't do theology." In both our books, there is a recurring theme of faith evidenced by works. Theology that only makes you argue is a theology not worth arguing. Doing theology means putting it into practice.
I too found it interesting about our commonalities in upbringing. That is, right up until we got involved in Campus Crusade. That was an important time for each of us, and it probably started us on the trajectories that you mention led to "very different conclusions" about theology. Honestly, I don't know how different they are, though, since I am committed to God's sovereignty, to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and to the atoning work of Jesus. And, I was pleasantly surprised how your book highlights the cross-pollination that's taking place in your circles between Baptists, Presbyterians, and charismatics. That's some ecumenism that I wasn't expecting (and another aspect of ministry that we agree on)!
Where we probably differ is not so much on theology, but on epistemology. That is, it seems the difference between the people you profile in Young, Restless, Reformed seem pretty darn sure that they've got the gospel right, whereas the Emergents that I hang out with are less sure of their right-ness. In fact, they're less sure that we, as finite human beings, can get anything all that right.
Here's another way I'd explain the differences. An American Christian today is beset by globalization, pluralism, and postmodernism (three terms that I use interchangeably). In other words, the world is a confusing mess. I think that conservative, evangelical, Reformed theology offers sure answers spoken in tones of certainty by authority figures. Emergent Christianity, for better and worse, offers more ambiguous answers (and even more questions!) in tones of less certainty but, hopefully, at least with what Lesslie Newbigin called "proper confidence."
I wonder, do you think that some people are just more inclined to look for sure answers, and others are more comfortable with ambiguity?
Tomorrow: Why the New Calvinists love paradox too, and Emergents' favorite Reformed blogger.
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