The New Christians

The New Christians


A New (and Better) Taxonomy for the Emergent Church

posted by Tony Jones

I’ve been generally unhappy with the existing taxonomies of the emerging/-ent church movement that are out there.  The most well known, I suppose, is Ed Stetzer’s triptych:

Relevants: “They are simply trying to explain the message of Christ in a way their generation can understand.”

Reconstructionists: They “think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the
structure is unhelpful. Yet, they typically hold to a more orthodox
view of the Gospel and Scripture.”

Revisionists: They “are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like
the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the
complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself.”

But Stetzer is no neutral third party.  He’s employed by the Southern Baptist Convention, and in the article in which he unveiled these categories, he made no bones about the fact that the third category (in which some people have placed your intrepid blogger) is the most distasteful to him.


Others have split more hairs than the number on John Franke’s head over emergent vs. emerging vs. missional.  Others cryptically write that their network has a “high view of scripture,” which clearly implies that others in the ECM do not. And there are, I’m sure, other categorizations that I haven’t seen.

(N.B., Scot McKnight’s “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” is not a taxonomy, but instead a list — and a pretty good one — of the influences in the movement.)

But everyone, Scot included, and me included, who has ventured forth a depiction of the nuances in the ECM, has had a theological agenda.  Until now.

Richard Flory and Donald E. Miller (no, not that Don Miller) have published their second book on the sociology of post-Baby Boomer religion.  It’s called, Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation. The rest of the week I’ll be blogging through their four categories of religious response to the postmodern situation.

But first, a summary of their previous book.  Flory and Miller, sociologists of religion at USC, wrote GenX Religion in 2000. Therein, they they conclude that, in contrast to the religion of Baby Boomers, the religion of GenXers is experiential; entrepreneurial; communal; race-, ethnic-, and gender-inclusive; and insistent on “authenticity in how one approaches one’s religious beliefs.”

Between their books, in a move uncommon to sociologists, they created a couple multimedia art installations that they showed in various locales.  In that way, they hoped to promulgate their findings beyond what one can in a university publishing house book.

As I said, more coming this week on their recent book…



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Kelly Powers

posted August 4, 2009 at 12:37 am


Hello Tony Jones, I have not talked with you before nor have I posted anything. I have been doing my own looking into things lately on what has been titled the “Emergent Church”. I have known about Rob Bell and Brian Mclaren for a little bit, but not much of you or Doug Pagitt. I have been reading various blogs you have and over a week ago got your book “The New Christians”. I been having concerns with people involved in the Emergent Church on the issues that you have described in this post.
I can understand this one: Relevants: “They are simply trying to explain the message of Christ in a way their generation can understand.”
I can relate to this one: Reconstructionists: They “think that the current form of church is frequently irrelevant and the structure is unhelpful. Yet, they typically hold to a more orthodox view of the Gospel and Scripture.”
But this one is the one that concerns me: Revisionists: They “are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself.”
I have been reading books I have and reading websites that have presented some serious issues concerning the gospel. Namely, why do we really need to know the Jesus of the Bible if there is no judgment to come? (hell/eternal judgment) If the work of the cross was not the primary reason for Jesus coming and dealing with the sin issue, then really what does it matter if someone dies and does not know the Jesus truly and is not born again?
From my readings thus far, and I am still reading, but I have seen many things that seem to raise a red flag on this Emergent Church direction with the message of a social gospel for humanity and neglecting the seriousness of eternity if one dies in their sins. I may of written to much, you may not even reply to people who post, but I am just curious your thoughts. For the record I am a born again Christian, I came to know Jesus and accept Him into my life when I was young, at the age of 6. From then on I have followed Jesus as my Savior and Lord, and have grown in my relationship and faith over the years, now being 38. I posted my site http://www.rootedinchrist.org and I have a basic statement of faith there among other things that share my Christian views. If you do read this, great, and if you reply even better.



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Marcy

posted August 4, 2009 at 4:16 am


Kelly,
It’s 12:30 in the morning so please forgive me if I’m less than lucid, but one of your questions caught my eye: ‘Namely, why do we really need to know the Jesus of the Bible if there is no judgment to come?’
It just struck me as an odd question; I don’t need to know Jesus primarily to escape some future torment. I need to know him because he’s good and beautiful and true, because he’s touched my life, healed my brokenness, given meaning in the midst of chaos, granted me peace, helped me to love more fully, to be more compassionate, patient…the list could go on and on, and I’m guessing with your history you could make one just as long. For me relationship with Jesus is about transformation, about realizing our spiritual need and recognizing the one who has the power to heal us, and letting him do it. I don’t need anything to scare me into his arms; his love is attraction enough for me.
It almost seems like in focusing on the hell-avoidance, one might risk missing the entire point. If we think the main reason we must know Jesus is to avoid some future punishment, have we really taken an honest look at ourselves, at the world we live in? Love and hate, greed and charity, hope and fear…even if you threw out any concept of sin against a holy God (not saying you have to, just making an example) these spiritual realities would still remain. Plenty enough reason to want Christ’s transforming spirit in my own life and in the world around me.



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Todd Erickson

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:18 am


When Adam chose sin, he chose a kind of madness. A decision to live, mentally, in a state where God wasn’t sensible, where beauty and goodness were not serious options in life.
All of creation is plagued by the madness of it’s stewards. The call of Christ is to return to a model where we are cured of that madness, and where we also, as continuing stewards, bring a cessation of that madness to all of creation, that instead life may continue in relationship with the creator, as was originally intended.
The objective is not judgment/avoidance of judgment, as the only purpose of biblical judgment is to bring things back into the alignment that they were created for. God’s standard doesn’t exist outside of creation…creation was created according to God’s standard, and Christ’s entire ministry is about bringing creation back into that standard.
So it’s not a list of do’s and don’ts, hell or heaven. It’s rescuing creation from a cycle of madness and illness that are destroying the very purpose for which it was created, and which we are called to rescue it by the one who rescued us.



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Kenton

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:15 am


I know in the Dallas cohort there has been a lot of disagreement about whether or not our tanning methods are too toxic.



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brgulker

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:17 am



Revisionists: They “are questioning (and in some cases denying) issues like the nature of the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell, the complementarian nature of gender, and the nature of the Gospel itself.”

I don’t see what the problem is here. I think it’s fair to say that both Jesus and Paul were revisionists in some way. Paul’s a fabulous example, I think, when it comes to understanding the Law with respect to the inclusion of the Gentiles. Paul’s Judaism conflicted with what he saw in Jesus (there is neither male nor female …), so he sought to revise it.
Many contemporary Christians are working with our own traditions on a similar, if not the same, trajectory: we look to Jesus as the self-revelation of God and compare that with what we see in the church. Some of us have concluded that complementarianism is little more than sexism framed in friendly words, and we view that to be at odds with Jesus.
Again, I don’t see the problem with that, so I don’t mind being called a revisionist.



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Kenton

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:17 am


Wait…this post is about *taxonomy*??? Oh, I thought it said *taxidermy*! Isn’t THAT embarrassing.



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Ted Seeber

posted August 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm


One person’s revisionist is another person’s heretic. When you’re trying to build a religious utopia, heretics cannot be tolerated.



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Len

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:23 pm


Looking forward to it Tony.



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Keith

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:58 pm


Or, as we find in the gospels, one person’s heretic is another person’s Lord and Savior.



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Kelly Powers

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm


I am not sure if Tony actually replies but if he does I would also like to know his thoughts on what I have shared.
Marcy thank you for sharing thoughts with me. I do appreciate your sincerity but I am not sure if you truly understand what I am getting at. You said: “It almost seems like in focusing on the hell-avoidance, one might risk missing the entire point. If we think the main reason we must know Jesus is to avoid some future punishment, have we really taken an honest look at ourselves, at the world we live in?” Let me ask what I previously said in my other post another way to you. What happens to people who don’t know Jesus when they die, they have not come to know Him, or they may Jehovah’s Witness or Muslim or Mormon or someone of the New Age who believes they know Jesus but they have different views on who He is and salvation. Marcy what happens to those people when they die, how is their sins forgiven or are they?



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Kenton

posted August 5, 2009 at 10:21 am


Kelly-
I can’t speak for Tony, but my understanding is that he never responds to comments, but he does read them.
As to the what happens when people die, a lot of us in emergent circles take a much more inclusivist (if not a downright universalist) understanding of scripture. A good place I like to point to is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt 25. In the story there a members of both groups who didn’t think they belonged there. Indeed, it seems like some of the goats even had their beliefs lined up right, and were shocked to find they did not end up with the sheep. So to answer your question, I would say that at least some of those you refer to end up fully reconciled to Jesus when they die.



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