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.
Your note reminds me of a question John Piper fielded at the 2007 Passion conference. One student stood up in a Q+A forum and asked, "How do you stay so humble?" Piper immediately responded, "How do you know I'm humble?" This is clearly something he fights, as do all Christians. Humility is not something that comes naturally to the celebrity-crazed evangelical world. It's especially unhelpful when we treat our leaders as if they are inerrant and ask them to sign our Bibles. We should pray for our leaders and consider what we do that tempts them to pride.
I think if anyone has rubbed off on the older Reformed guys, it's one of the older guys himself: C. J. Mahaney. Check out the endorsements from some of his friends for his book Humility: True Greatness. In this book Mahaney, the founding pastor of Covenant Life Church in Maryland, helpfully defines humility this way: "Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness."
The Bible does address epistemological humility, as in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13:12 passage. But I think it's crucial to see that verse in light of that chapter's focus on love. Humility is often measured by how we love one another, our willingness to serve our neighbors. We can't help but think of the most humble act of human history, Jesus humbling "himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8).
This emphasis on loving one another in community is something I appreciate about the Emergent churches you describe. This was one of my favorite lines you wrote: "The church should be a place where individuals who struggle with self-centeredness get reminded that our calling is to be God-centered and other-centered." That sounds like the reasons I heard for why young evangelicals join Reformed churches.
Maybe that line is why I was surprised by your dispatch 17: "Emergents start new churches to save their own faith, not necessarily as an outreach strategy." In fact, I didn't see much in your book about any outreach strategies. Is that because of how you counsel your friend, to trust more in the Holy Spirit than in marketing (page 201)? If so, you have a lot of Reformed friends who don't love Charles Finney's lingering influence on the American church. How do Emergent churches practice evangelism?
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I appreciated reading about Mahaney in your book. I knew nothing about him before, but he seems like my kind of guy a real straight shooter. And I appreciate that the young Reformed folks consider their older leaders to be humble, but that doesn't always come across in the clips I see and the books I read. They may be humble in the face of the sovereign God, but they don't seem to preach with much epistemic humility. That's why I was wondering if the grace of the younger generation is trickling up.
Yours is a good question about dispatch 17. In writing that, I was simply trying to be honest. While some churches both church plants and existing churches have used emergent-type elements in their worship and marketing in an attempt to attract young adults, the churches that I have studied and visited do not think of their patterns of life together as an outreach strategy. Instead, the Emergent ethos grows out of (1) a dissatisfaction with church-as-usual, and (2) a desire to create something new and beautiful.
The obvious and valid criticism of this is that it's yet another example of American consumerism run amok in the church: if you don't like what you see, then just go start another church. But I submit that the church, both in style and in substance, has always been a reflection of the culture around it. In the Middle Ages, vestments and ceremony spoke volumes about the church's celestial power to an illiterate laity. In Calvin's Geneva, academic gowns and erudite sermons reflected an educated and cosmopolitan city at the brink of the Enlightenment.
And, in a Wikipedia world, the church will increasingly reflect the highly participatory culture in which we live. You've seen it in the Reformed movement, as more and more laypersons are reading serious theology and not simply leaving that to their pastors. We see it in Emergent churches with the dismantling of the wall between clergy and laity and the sharing of the teaching duties across the congregation.
One more question for you: I've been reading some of the young, Reformed bloggers write about our conversation, and one sentiment has stood out. Several have written that my affirmation of God's sovereignty, the inspiration of Scripture, and the Atonement is not good enough. "What does he really mean?" they ask. "I don't think he really means what I mean!" So, I ask you, do you think that any affirmation of the historic, creedal beliefs of Christianity by an Emergent will be good enough for the young, restless Reformeds?
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The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists are available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.