on February 21, 2008
A theme of this book could go something this: Emergents say they believe in truth, but they define it as something that is always changing and being refined, can never be grasped, and enfolds all beliefs, except the ones that insist there is only one truth.
The New Christians emphatically tries to convince readers that the "church is dead" (p. 4), at least church as we have known it. Jones uses several analogies to describe present day Christianity, such as it being like the nearly-obsolete pay phones, or a dying old growth forest, or compost (rotting vegetables). He says we can almost hear the "death rattle" of "America's church" (p. 5).
In Jones' efforts to convey to readers that non-emerging Christians do not care about humanity and the earth, he gives a detailed account of a chicken slaughterhouse where chickens are issued an electric shock and then their throats are slit. He says that the typical Christian just doesn't care about the world's abuses, tragedies, and woes, and says that when disaster hits, all they care about is whether "victims had invited Jesus into their hearts" (p. 18). Using extreme examples over and over to prove his points, Jones will leave many unsuspecting readers with the notion that up until now Christians have done almost nothing good for this world. Jones believes that the problems of the world are actually caused (at least in large part) by Christians.
Jones says that the gospel has been dormant throughout most of history, except during specific times when it was able to break through "human institutions." He states:
And although it [the gospel] has been crusted over for eons, it will inevitably find a time and a fissure, an opportunity to blast through that crust and explode, volcano-like into the atmosphere. (p. 36)
Ultimately, what one will come away with from Jones' book is that Jones (and all emergents, he says) believes that truth cannot be pinned down and set in concrete. What is true for today may not be considered truth tomorrow. And he isn't talking just about negotiable societal and cultural ideologies. He is talking about doctrine too. In fact, that is really the point he wants to get across in this book. Emergents love the Bible, he says, but they are not going to be so arrogant "[t]o assume that our convictions about God are somehow timeless" and to think they are "establishes an imperialistic attitude that has a chilling effect on the honest conversation that's needed for theology to progress" (p. 114). This progression of theology that Jones speaks of is not limited to areas of theology that are often and legitimately debated by Christian scholars. No; Jones says even the doctrine of atonement cannot be set in stone. He says it is "arrogant and a bit deceptive" (p. 77) to suggest that there can be any one understanding of atonement. Jones states that to "try to freeze one particular articulation of the gospel, to make it timeless and universally applicable, actually does an injustice to the gospel" (p. 96). He says we must "refigure our theology" (p. 104) and that "emergents" are "looking for a Christianity that's still exploratory" (i.e., theology is flexible - p. 108) and "a gospel that meshes with our own experience of the world" (p. 110). "Theology is not universal, nor is it transcendent" (p. 112), he claims, but it is "temporary" and we "must carry our theologies with an open hand" (p. 114). He adds:
[E]mergents reject metaphors like "pin it down," "in a nutshell," "sum it up," and "boil it down" when speaking of God and God's Kingdom, for it simply can't be done (p. 114).
In the end, Jones leaves his readers with this: "Jesus did not have a 'statement of faith'" (p. 234). In other words, Jesus was just as vague and unsure about what is truth, atonement, righteousness, the gospel, as are the emergents today. But this is a complete and horrible distortion of Jesus Christ, who did indeed have a statement of faith. In fact, everything He said was a statement of true faith, and He spoke as one knowing exactly what truth is: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:29)
And He also stated: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13)
Jones makes a case for mysticism when he says that "[E]mergents will use all of the means available to them to quest after this truth we call God. Jones say emergents "quest after God using the tools of the medieval mystics and the ancient monastics (i.e., contemplative prayer).... some will even be open to sources of truth that are external to traditional [biblical] Christianity, be it philosophy or another religious system (p. 159)." And it is in these other religious systems that Jones and the New Christians find "truth." He puts it well:
In the aftermath of the myth of objectivity [absolute truth], of fideisims and airtight systems, we're left to embrace our subjectivity, to revel in it, for it's only when we accept our own biases that we allow them to be shaped by contrary opinions and biases. One place where this is most poignant is interreligious dialogue" (p. 155).
For those wanting to learn about or find truth, this book will not be of any help except to show that the emerging church is not the place to find it and can offer no answers.