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. 😉