Finished reading The New Christians by Tony Jones last week – and led a discussion group on it at the Perth Amboy Church. (I was filling in for a friend who had a death in the family). I’m scheduled to lead a similar group (all from the Presbytery) in early August here in sunny Roselle.
I don’t want to do a book review, but would rather post those areas that resonated with me personally.
The book posits an interesting theory – that there has been a theological and philosophical change in the way we think and process information. This shift is linked to post-modernism and is marked in part by a desire for a more experiential form of religious expression. Without all the fancy language and hairy bits – the author suggests that in today’s world folks want to feel religion and not just know it. Religion has become more relational. My own response is that of course there’s been a change in how we process information, given the quickly changing context and the advent of artificial intelligence that was bound to happen. I won’t drag out my Philosophy degree here – but it seems pretty simple. I’m not sure that Tony Jones has nailed what that particular shift looks like, in part because I think it is still too new for anyone to know. He refers to his own group as Emergent – those Christians who are emerging in this present time.
My chief criticism of this point is that it is linked specifically to one socio-economic and ethnic group – which he willinging identifies as being generally young, educated and white. I believe that indeed there is a change in how we think and process information, but that that shift is more global in its reach. The Emergent experience may very well be what one small group knows to be true, but there are other emerging experiences that are not intellectual, young or white.
There’s other bits in this book as well -some of which are of great value. One of those bits is the idea that paradox is a part of faith, and that humanity has learned (after slavery, Hitler, etc.) that we can sometimes be wrong. So, the new Christian says “I believe this to be true with great conviction… but at the same time I’m willing to believe I may be wrong”. So, when the New Christian enters debate, especially in religious circles, it is done with much humility. ‘Afterall, I may very well be wrong.’
The final bit is the one that I have struggled with the most. Tony Jones speaks of being able to do church without doing religion (denomination, buildings, etc.) Again, there’s a part of me that really resonates with that. So much of our own church’s budget is tied up in structure (paint, boilers, etc.) that the stewardship of it pains me. Do I really want to be a part of a church where a huge percentage of the budget goes to the oil guy? Shouldn’t that money go to those in need?
What Jones does is worship in small house churches – or in bars or cafes. It’s public, not private, but there’s no physical church structure. In some ways it is very similar to how the church began, eons ago, when Paul went from place to place and house to house preaching. People gather there who have left the church years ago, searching for what they experienced that was good in that community.
Jones states (quite plainly) that it will be difficult for clergy (like me) who are in the system to even consider this. We’ve got pension plans (which he thinks is wrong) and other trappings of ‘professionalism’.
I disagree. I point to the hundreds of clergy who leave this profession every year without looking back. Most of us really have no problem leaving (we struggle more with staying). And although the structure and the building of the church is a huge weight, when used well I believe it is an asset. Here, in Roselle, we use our building for the community – indeed, the building itself has become an active part in our mission.
That said, his point is heard and understood. There’s a fine line between preserving a structure and system to preserve what was… and using that structure and system to tend to the needs of those around us.
But, I’m rambling now.
Get used to it. 😉
“So, when the New Christian enters debate, especially in religious circles, it is done with much humility. ‘Afterall, I may very well be wrong.’”
I consider people like Wlil to be “new Christians” (certainly Jesus, peace be upon him, never knew those types, or maybe he did and just called them hypocrites), and I just can’t see that phrase ever falling out of her mouth.
“What Jones does is worship in small house churches – or in bars or cafes. It’s public, not private, but there’s no physical church structure.”
Most of my worship is done exactly the same way, for different reasons, I suppose. Mine is mostly solitary worship, and I pray that there will be a solution to that problem for me sometime soon, but Allah knows best.
“There’s a fine line between preserving a structure and system to preserve what was… and using that structure and system to tend to the needs of those around us.”
I beleive that problem exists for every religion. Or at least the ones with which I’m most familiar.
You’re an anomoly, Rev. 😉
I don’t know you but I want to say how much I enjoyed this blog. As I started it I thought it was going to be a “Wow, I love this book and Tony Jones” bandwagin review but I appreciate and respect the amount of thought and discernment you brought to the table.
I have alot of thoughts on Emergent, Tony Jones and the like from study and experience but I’ll save it for another day. I will just enjoy your thoughts for now. Well done and well stated.
“You’re an anomoly, Rev”
Heh. I’ve been called worse.
The New Christians movement is an interesting one, Rodeo. It’s not the fundamentalist stuff you’re accustomed to. It’s… it’s sort of like if the RE/RI Christians got together with worship added in. Debate. Discussion. Honesty mixed with humility. And an openness to folks from other religious traditions as well.
(And yes, the setup reminds me a bunch of what the local Imam does here)
Funky. In a good, but in a good, but I’m wondering if it is a sustainable way.
Hey… thanks for stopping by. 😉
Our Presbytery is reading The New Christians for our summer book group. The responses have been in some ways more interesting than the book!
The architecture of churches has a long history and profound symbolism. I’m not sure that Christianity can do without it, and without the structure of liturgy, and still stay Christianity. I know the extremist Christians can… there’s a place nearby called the Judah Praise Temple… but the more idiosyncratic the name is, the less it seems to have to do with practical, positive Christianity.
I think you’re forgetting the input of some of the people on RE/RI. We had our fanatics and twits. The passage of time may cause one to remember only the best bits. Some of it got really ugly.
Ivy – the diversity is one of the amazing things. Again, there’s a huge dose of humility and the understanding that one’s own position may be wrong (which would exclude several of the RE/RI folks) but the *positions* they held would still be included.
It’s hard to describe, and it only works in a place where there’s true relationships.
As for the architecture – I agree with you, in part. Long before there were churches, there was the church. I wonder sometimes if what has developed into our liturgy and our physical structure hasn’t been linked to our oppression of others.
Rev, some of the women on RE/RI wouldn’t know humility if it smacked them upside the head. And they certainly wouldn’t admit even to themselves that they might be wrong about something they believed.
I get the bit about firmly believing something while acknowledging that it might be wrong. Even the Dalai Lama has said that if science proves something about Buddhism is wrong, Buddhism will have to change. Buddhism strikes me as being more experiential than Christianity does. With the caveat, as always, that I don’t understand Christianity particularly well. But I’ve thought for some time that it’s dying.
I don’t think it’s dying – but changing. The vast majority of folks still identify as Christians – although that doesn’t mean anything in regards to membership at a particular church. It doesn’t even mean they attend only on Christmas and Easter – just that they *celebrate* Christmas and Easter. We’re following in Europe’s footsteps in many ways.
That said, the Emergent group (the New Christians) are indeed…emerging. It’s a more organic way of being ‘church’.
As for RE/RI… yeah, and the humility is a key part. That said, there were folks on RE/RI who were Christians with radically different beliefs, who were still able to become close regardless of those beliefs because of a common understanding of humility and friendship.
It’s almost like what’s in common is an understanding of how to be in relationship with others.