Emergent's New Christians and the Young, Restless Reformed
Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village and author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. Collin Hansen is editor-at-large of Christianity Today and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. Both books take a sympathetic journalistic approach to a young but growing movement in American Christianity, examining why it's growing and how it's changing the larger church.
There may be some truth to the dichotomy you asked me about, but I suspect the situation is more ambiguous. The young Reformed evangelicals I interviewed would gladly stand with Emergents on your dispatch 14: "Emergents embrace paradox, especially those that are core components of the Christian story." The Bible affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But who knows how these twin truths always correspond? I love what J. I. Packer writes in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God: "The desire to oversimplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it."
In the spirit of your chapter called "The Theology, Stupid," I would like to discuss a central concern of the evangelicals I profiled. You wrote a section on Atonement that followed your story about meeting a pastor who "sits atop a pyramid of Reformed Christians." You contrast his view of substitutionary Atonement with Emergent Christians' views, which more commonly attribute the sins of the world "not to the distance between human beings and God but to the broken relationships that clutter our lives and our world." Can you help me understand how Emergent Christians tend to view the atoning work of Jesus?
Then, after recapping your discussion with this Reformed pastor, you say that emphasizing correct doctrine owes much to the Enlightenment's trust in reason and intellect. But it seems like the apostle Paul considered sound doctrine a core component of pastoral care (1 Tim. 6:3, Titus 1:9; 2:1, Gal. 1:6-9). The early church hosted ecumenical councils to hash out the Trinity and Christ's two natures, the paradoxical doctrines you cited in the chapter "After Objectivity: Beautiful Truth." How do we practice this biblical mandate to promote sound doctrine in a postmodern era?
I was encouraged to read that you are committed to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. I was also surprised, because in The New Christians you write that evangelicals are "destined to a life of establishing the veracity of the Bible in the face of contravening evidence and opinion." You then deconstruct a conservative argument for the veracity of the Bible as an example of "infinite regression," the futile exercise of foundationalism. How do you evade foundationalism and still affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture?
As you can see, your book inspired from me a very Emergent response lots of questions!
I'll try to answer at least one of those. There have been five or six major theological theories to explain the atoning work of Jesus on the cross over the last two millennia. Each of them, you might say, shines a spotlight on the cross from a different angle. Emergents want all those spotlights, figuring that the more light we can shed on the cross, the better we can understand it. One spotlight is fine. Six is better.
This talk about the Atonement brings up an aspect of both movements that I think is really interesting. For all of the Christian "celebrities" mentioned in both of our books (Piper, McLaren, Keller, Pagitt, etc.), very much of each movement (and the debates about the Atonement) has been driven by bloggers, often in their 20s, and often youth pastors or seminarians. I find the egalitarianizing effect of the "new media" to be salutary in so many ways. Sure, there are the crazy haters out there in the Reformed camp, but I've been overwhelmed by both the grace and the erudition of so many young, Reformed bloggers.