The New Christians

You may recall that Kevin DeYoung, co-author of the book, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), was on a panel discussion with me a few weeks ago at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas. I have profound problems with Kevin’s book, the foremost being that 1) The authors completely ignored my published books and quoted exclusively from two blog posts, and 2) Kevin’s co-author attended a small, graduate-level class I taught, pretending to be a student, when in fact he was “researching” the book.

There’s been some buzz in the blogosphere from people who’ve watched the panel discussion, and it’s mostly broken along party lines.  During the panel, Scot McKnight accused Kevin of being uncharitable for cherrypicking his “emergent” sources and ignoring names like John Franke, David Dunbar, etc. I agreed. Mark Galli, the moderator, stopped Scot at that point and said that he thought the charge of uncharitableness was over the line. Mark later encouraged me to apologize to Kevin.

But I didn’t. I didn’t apologize because I think that Kevin was being uncharitable in his writing and his public comments. But it gets worse.

Not a week later, Kevin was speaking at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, his alma mater. In the Q&A time after his talk, two subjects came up among others. The first was the new monastic movement. Kevin has been kind enough to listen to the audio and transcribe his answer.

Question: Speak about the new monasticism and how it relates the emergent

Kevin: Yeah, I’m familiar but much less knowledgeable about the new monasticism.
The name that most people associate with that is Shane Claiborne, who definitely
has overlap with Brian McLaren and the emergent stuff. They share the same
political bent, the same passion for the poor and the least of these, which is
commendable. So on the one hand-and the last thing we want, you know in my own
church, is to so overreact: “You care about Darfur. You must be some emergent
person.” Ok, yes, yes, we want to care about these things. So I don’t want to
just say new monasticism is bad. You know if people are-if your college students
want to go rent some abandoned house in Grand Rapids and live there and have set
hours of prayer. It’s not going to help them any to say, “I heard that’s kind of
emergent. You shouldn’t do it.” I mean, let them. I think some of the danger are
a utopianism you have when you’re 21 or 22 and you’ll go do that. And “oh mom
and dad with their mortgage don’t understand what life is really like.” And then
you go live with seven other people and you start to think this is one of the
circles of Dante’s Inferno here, even if they all do read Shane Claiborne. So I
think we just need to be realistic, and not overreact when people are doing
these things. We need to think what people are hearing. If we just jump on them
they’re going to hear “See, you don’t care about the poor. You don’t care about
social justice.” I’ll say, no. Alright, so maybe go do that. But man, just keep
putting the cross front and center. That’s my beef with Shane Claiborne that it
gets to be sort of pseudo-Marxist, liberation theology lite without a robust
doctrine of gospel reconciliation.
[emphasis mine]

A bit later, Kevin was asked about the future of emergent. The audio of this question and answer allegedly does not exist, but according to witnesses in the room, a part of Kevin’s answer contained this exact quote:

Doug Pagitt,
who is in no recognizable way a Christian.”

In our email correspondence, Kevin has neither affirmed nor denied saying that. Every time I ask, he answers by writing about the context of his comments and what he intended in his criticism Doug. I told him that I don’t want the context of the quote — that’s just relativizing postmodern squishitude. I want to know the plain meaning of what he said. Context doesn’t matter.

Fellow Calvin alumnus Randy Buist was there, wrote down the quote, and immediately stood up to challenge Kevin’s characterization of Doug.

I believe that Kevin is being uncharitable in his comments about Shane and Doug.

Furthermore, Kevin admitted that he has not read anything by Shane, and he has met neither Shane nor Doug.

Kevin is not some blogger in his mom’s basement. He’s a published Christian author and, at this point, a recognized leader in the “young, restless, Reformed” movement. And he is publicly claiming that Shane Claiborne is a pseudo-Marxist without a doctrine of reconciliation, and that Doug Pagitt (or Doug’s theology) is not recognizably Christian.

Some readers will surely think me mean-spirited for writing this post. But, honestly, I write this only to hold a brother-in-Christ accountable. I would rather if Justin Taylor or John Piper told Kevin not to speak about another Christian leader in this way, but I doubt they will.  When I asked John Piper to chasten Mark Driscoll for his inflammatory language against me and others the same way he asked me to chasten Brian McLaren for Brian’s theology, Piper said it’s apples and oranges. He said that Mark’s incendiary talk about fellow Christians pales in comparison to incorrect doctrine.

And I guess this is where we disagree. I think that how we talk about one another really does matter. On this blog, and in my writing and speaking, you’ll hear me rant and rave about ideas. But, please, if you ever hear me publicly say something defamatory about a person, rebuke me.

I suppose that Kevin will respond to this at length. But, in the meantime, I asked him if there was anything he’d like me to include in this post. He wrote,

My point about Doug was that I consider his
theology outside of orthodox Christianity.  I don’t recall saying the quote
you’ve given.  I think if you talked to many others at the event, they
would concur that I repeated several times I wasn’t claiming to know Doug’s
character or heart, but that I believe his theology is heretical.  I went
to find the audio and unfortunately the recording doesn’t include all the
Q/A.  So the final comments about Doug’s theology are not

I conclude with three questions and a post script.

1) Is there something in the “young, restless, Reformed” movement that endorses this kind of talk? Honestly, I know of no other version of Protestantism on the scene today in which heresy hunters are given the microphone.

2) When does ignoring the written work of a fellow author, or speaking harmfully about someone — irrespective of readily available, published information to the contrary — rise to the level of “bearing false witness”?

3) In Matthew 12, Jesus warning is clear: Be very, very careful not to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the Evil One. (“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but
anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either
in this age or in the age to come.”) In other words, if something good is happening, we’d better give the benefit of the doubt to God’s Spirit — cuz if you say that a good work is authored by evil, then you’re in really, really big trouble. So my question is this: When do the constant charges of heresy and worse against emergent leaders rise to the level of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”?

PS: I’m sure some of you will be irate with this post. Others will be thrilled. Still others will be saddened that Christian leaders are engaged in this type of debate. I’m writing this because Doug and Shane are my friends, and they’re clearly disciples of Christ who have led many others to pursue a life with God in Christ. To imply anything else, as Kevin has, is unconscionable. Regardless of how you feel about another’s theology, you just don’t get to parade around and get paid to disparage people. That, my friends, is sin.

PPS: I also resonded to Kevin’s comments because Doug and Shane won’t. Doug is in Guatemala, building homes in a village he’s gone to for a dozen years. And Shane, I’m sure, is doing something equally Christ-like.

Me? I’m not doing anything nearly as noble. Just waiting to comb through your vituperations.

UPDATE: Kevin has written me another email after requesting contact info for Shane, and he gave me permission to post this:

I just got off the phone with Shane.  We had a
nice 15 minute conversation.  We didn’t get to press in to very many
issues, but we were able to talk about some things.  Shane believes in
our need to be reconciled to God through the cross.  I think we have some
different emphases and maybe even some different theology about what exactly was
accomplished on the cross.  But Shane told me he often talks about the need
for vertical reconciliation.  He also explained how he is interested in
wholistic salvation–body and soul–and is critical of liberal liberation
theology.  No doubt, there are many things Shane and I agree on
and some important things we don’t agree on.  All in all, in was
a helpful conversation and Shane was very amiable.  I had not
carefully studied Shane’s writings, so I shouldn’t have spoken as strongly as I
did in my off the cuff remarks.  By God’s grace I’ll be more careful in the

For my part, I applaud Kevin’s action. He and Doug have also been trying to connect, but Doug is currently building homes in Guatemala.

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