culture · emergent

Thoughts on the emergent – Part 6

Tony Jones, in his book The New Christians takes us on a ride through his understanding of the emergent movement and where it is going. I have only read the first few pages at amazon.com, but I would like to discuss what he says there as a discussion on the Emergent church. In his first controlling metaphor, Jones suggest that the church is like a pay phone. Pay phones used to be useful as a way of communication, but have become largely irrelevant as a result of the cell phone. He argues in a similar fashion that the church is no longer an effective form of communication.

Has the church become ineffective? Jones cites a Baylor University Study that suggests 85% of people attend some kind of church (he cites from page 6 on the attached pdf file, but does not go into great detail about the rest of the study). Because 85% of people go to church, Jones assumes that America must still be very religious (although we are not sure which America he is talking about…the study also cites that those between 18-30 are three times more likely to have no church affiliation). I would like to spend a moment here reminding people that statistics do not prove theories. We might say, there are a lot of people who go to church, therefore America is religious, but it is not that simple. America is a diverse nation, from diverse backgrounds. Look at how Baylor actually breaks down religion in America:

Unaffiliated: 10.8%
Catholic: 21.2%
Black Protestant: 5%
Evangelical Protestant: 33.6%
Mainline Protestant: 22.1%
Jewish: 2.5%
Other: 4.9%

I think it is interesting then that Jones say this in the book:

“The modern church–at least as it is characterized by imposing physical buildings, professional clergy, denominational bureaucracies, residential seminary training, and other trappings–was an endeavor by faith men and woman in their time and place, attempting to live into the biblical gospel. But the church was never the ends, only the means.”

Notice how Jones talks about the “modern church.” Is he talking about mainline protestants or evangelical protestants? Is he talking about Catholics or those who are unaffiliated? What place do black protestants have in this movement (have their been many black theologians in the emergent movement?). The book then goes on to talk about problems in the Anglican church, Episcopal church, and the Southern Baptist church as if because they all have problems they are all part of the same monolithic phenomenon. But the problems are not monolithic. They are all localized problems within particular denominations and I don’t know why or how Jones thinks he can speak to all of these denominations.

We need to spend more time in the local church and less time talking about the church universal. We have study after study coming out about the American churches, but the unsung heroes are the ones who are doing something at the local and regional level. The church will never be the church outside of the regional tendencies of particular places.  We can continue to make generalized statements about what “emergent” means, but I believe this expression can only be realized at the local level within the tradition of denominational churches.

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on the emergent – Part 6

  1. Thanks Tony,
    I hope you didn’t think I was being over critical of your book. I have only read the first five pages and a few online blog reviews of your book. I have a great respect for what you are trying to do, and I greatly appreciate your want to try and explain the emerging movement to the general public.

    In fact, after I wrote this post I was discussing what I had read with my roommate on the way to class, and we claim to the conclusion that it seems like the emergent movement is just a very textual revolution (and that has a lot to do with how easy it is with the internet and the publishing industry to disseminate literature nowadays). I really appreciate this because the texts of those greats like Dallas Willard and Tony Campolo have greatly influenced my theology and the way I want to do church in the future.

    I share many of your concerns about the “modern chruch,” but I am just wary of more and more books coming out on the subject to make more and more money. I just have this weird feeling that the emergent church is becoming “trendy.”

    Do you feel like it is becoming trendy, and do you think this is a problem?

  2. Well, I don’t write books to make money. Trust me, the money is not that good. I write books (and give speeches) to publicly vet my ideas — I want just the kind of thing that you and your buddy did on the way to class: dialogue about ideas that matter. Writing books is a way to bring that about.

    And it may be trendy, but that will pass…

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