Friday, November 25, 2005

National Youth Workers Convention, Part 2

OK, time to set the record straight on a few things:

1) I took no offense to Lisa's question. I did not suspect that she was trying to trap me. It seemed to me an honest question. But, it's just as honest to me to wonder why people are accusing me of saying things that they freely admit I didn't really say. I personally found Lisa's question honest and compelling -- even courageous.

2) The follow-up question was less gentle, and that's when I started getting testy. And the same man asked it even more directly the next morning. In a private email, he has admitted that he felt that I "needed to be cornered" because I was being too evasive in my answers. He's also admitted that this is pretty obnoxious, coming to someone's session in order to corner him. He and I have gone on to have a helpful and warm email exchange, and I appreciate his courage, too, in working this through with me.

3) I can see how my "google it" comment about semi-pelagianism could be taken as arrogant. Honestly, I only said that because 1) I thought it was a tangent, and 2) I haven't read about semi-pelagianism in 10 years, so I thought I might look stupid if I tried to explain it.

4) I don't think semi-pelagianism is a heresy. In fact, I think that almost all of us are semi-pelagians -- few Christians (though I do know some personally) can really hold to Augustinian Calvinism. My point was, be careful who you start calling a heretic, cos you're surely one, too.

5) I don't think that dispensational eschatology is "borderline heretical."

6) I think that dispensational eschatology is heretical.

6a.) Bob gets it (see comment). This is hyperbolic pandering by me.

7) I make sure and introduce myself as a father and husband and police chaplain before introducing myself as the national coordinator of Emergent. Funny, no one ever asks what the Edina Police Chaplains think about absolute truth. Or what the Joneses think about the exclusive truth claims of Christianity.

8) I often avoid conversations about absolute truth for a few reasons:
  1. it takes hours of conversation to even get to the same playing field on that issue. It can't be summed up in a few minutes; it's just too complex.
  2. I have read thousands of pages on this subject, and, to be quite honest, I find few who are willing to do the same. If you're willing to put in the time, I'll gladly talk to you about it. If you're looking for a soundbite, forget it.
  3. I've found that many of the people who query me about absolute truth aren't even willing/able to articulate their own position on it.
  4. I've talked about this a lot over the last five years, and now I want to talk about some new things.
9) I don't even know what it would mean for Emergent to have an "official position" on absolute truth. Really, I don't know what that even means.

10) I believe that friendship precedes orthodoxy. That is, one CANNOT be an orthodox Christian unless one is willing to live a reconciled life with others. Orhtodoxy cannot be known by a non-reconciled human being.


Blogger EL MOL said...

hear here . . .

4:33 PM  
Blogger Jason said...


Just for the record...

What does the Edina Police Chaplain think about cheesecake?

You know I have a question about where all this questioning could possibly be heading. It's a biggie. I figure if I asked it here people would take up arms. You know, the kind that shoot bullets.

~Jason Pauli

5:00 PM  
Blogger jay v. said...

...And as a fine Arminian, who in the heck would want to hold to hard core Calvinism anyway?

7:40 PM  
Blogger PA said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Ken Archer said...

"Friendship precedes orthodoxy." Tony, I'd be interested to see you develop this last point. I am inclined to agree with the statement. One concern would be that it would be misinterpreted by many to mean that, simply, friendship is orthodoxy. As if the conversation amongst friends is all that matters. I don't think you mean that.

Rather, what you may mean is that disembodied orthodoxy is not orthodox. Orthodoxy is not the result of some speculative activity of cloistered theologians. This reflects the butchered etymology of orthodoxy that would have the Greeks define doxa as doctrine. Doxa meant "belief", as is revealed by its cognate dokein which means "seem". Therefore, orthodoxy was barely even a word in Greek, as the compound "right" and "doxa" doesn't have much meaning. (The Greek word episteme (which means science and entails exactness) would be closer to doctrine.)

Thus what was meant by orthodoxy is another term much, much more often used in Greek both before and after Christ, which is endoxa, and which means commonly held beliefs of the most respected within a community. Engaging in community thus precedes engaging in endoxa/orthodoxy. In modern thought, the realm of rational knowledge has been narrowly confined to exclude all opinion as being prejudiced. We have thus lost an entire way of knowing that is both rational and mediated by the opinions of a community at the same time. It's no wonder that community is unnecessary to, and maybe even dangerous to, orthodoxy as currently conceived.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Bob Pyne said...

You are probably ready for this discussion to come to an end, but I have a couple of observations and a quick question.

First, it is interesting to see everyone clarifying what they intended their earlier statements to mean. That might provide some comfort to those who want you to say more about “absolute truth.” We all want our own words to be properly understood, and we assume that authorial intent is important in that process. At the same time, the fact that we are so easily misunderstood means that hermeneutics is trickier than many would like to think. Unfortunately, defenders of absolute truth are usually defending particular beliefs as absolutely (and obviously) true, and that’s when it gets scary.

Second, I appreciate your language about friendship preceding orthodoxy. We talked about this some in Princeton and this seems to be a nice way to say it. You might also say that orthodox teachings are passed on only in the context of reconciled community – the hospitable community of the church.

Finally, a question about that “dispensational eschatology.” There are different versions of that, as you know, but I’m assuming you are speaking primarily of the “Left Behind” variety. There are lots of reasons to dislike it, and I’m not asking you to rehearse those, but I’m interested in your comment that it is “heretical.” In some crowds that would be attention-getting hyperbole. In other places it would be pandering. Either way it is good sport and I don’t object. But if you mean that traditional dispensationalists are outside the tent of “generous orthodoxy,” the charge seems too strong. It also interests me that you would break out the “H word” for a modern teaching that is not addressed by the ecumenical councils. I’m not trying to defend it, just probing a bit to understand your use of the language.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Daniel Rudd said...

well said tony. It is interesting that there aren't very many divorces over "theolgogical differences"

8:01 AM  
Blogger Bill Arnold said...

5 & 6 gave me a good laugh.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Peter Zefo said...


I attended your "brotherly conversation" with Duffy in Nashville. FYI, I didn't find the semi-pelagian comment arrogant. It was a tangent and would have taken away from, not added to, the argument. You were right that if people want to understand more about the early church debates than they should "google" it.

I have also just finished Mclaren's book, A New Kind Of Christian. At first, I was frustrated because he would not spoonfeed me his stance on absolute truth or universalism. But, that is not his job to tell me what I am supposed to believe. Neither is it yours and that is what some of these people are wantin. They are looking for a "sound byte" to use in conversation. (i.e. - "I heard Tony Jones say that...")

I enjoyed your debate and the late-night conversation in Nashville.

~ Peter Zefo

6:49 PM  
Blogger SWK 254 Understanding Diversity said...

"I believe that friendship precedes orthodoxy"


jose h

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DUH-now I get it....Dispensational Eschatology=Left Behind Series!!! Yeah, it's crap!

11:21 AM  
Anonymous John Nichols said...

Hey Tony,

You might get a kick out of the song "Theologians" by Wilco.

They don't know nothing
About my soul
About my soul

I'm an ocean
An abyss in motion
Slow motion
Slow motion..."


4:54 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Pedrone said...


Love to hear you "unpack" the dispensational eschatology is heretical... by the way got the Moltman book. Will have it read by tomorrow.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Matthew Francis said...


You know, about your "google it" comment...

Actually, it struck me that what you said is not all that different from Jesus' attitude when he told the Pharisees: "Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." (Matthew 9.13)

They weren't interested in really understanding, they just wanted to trap him in his words. So he basically told them to go look into it for themselves.

Some people are like that today; and, of course, there are others who really do want to understand.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Jeff S. said...


I was at the "theology debate" and if I remember correctly, you were the faclitator (spelling) of the converstaion. You were right in your responces and I wish that it could have gone on longer.
I do find your comment on friendship first then orthodoxy. I find that youth today want to see some one who is a "real" person who really cares for them other than a person who throws a tract on their desk.
I would to see YS and other national ministries get into these debates, it is how all of our beliefs and the Bible came about anyway right?!

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


i like so much of what you say. my only thought is the outspoken need tougher skin.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Ali Campbell said...

No idea of the context - but like your responses anyway. I think it might have been Karl Barth who, when asked what he had learnt in all his years studying theology said, "Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so" - people didn't like that response! Keep challenging and thinking . . .

12:46 AM  
Blogger davis said...

Since you don't offer a trackback feature, one of my co-bloggers wrote a review of your book on Youth Ministry.

Postmodern Youth Ministry

In the past we have gotten in trouble for reviewing books without first contacting the author, so please accept my apology in advance for not consulting you sooner. The review was written last July.

Davis from Tu Quoque

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who is tony jones?

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, Jones tosses around semi-pelagianism and pelagianism b.c his heard his good buddy pagitt spew on it a few months ago at the colonade. It is just another way to say evangelical protestantism is lame and too conservative, and quite fankly, erroneous. I agree, but why not call it what it is instead of reverting to wacky pagitt and re-spewing pelagius? Why not just say calvinists grossly misunderstand Augustine as did Calvin and Luther...

Really, what Jones (and the emergent cohorts) wants to do is to re-invent catholicism/east. orthodoxy without calling it that. Yes, Tony I am presuming to know what you want. There is nothing wrong with admitting that the RCC and EOC may have had it right to begin with and calvinists have mucked it up a wee bit.

God bless,

PS Where is edina?

10:40 AM  
Anonymous John Stonecypher said...

Tony, you're doing a great job of graciously bearing the slings and arrows that get tossed your way. This is scary stuff for people, and frightened people throw stuff. I think that is precisely why friendship precedes orthodoxy. The fear of discovery (and the possibility of discovering you're wrong) can only safely happen in the context of love. Anyway, well said!

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am a dispensational pretrib premillenialist, and therefore I am a heretic. (Or at least by your standards of "perfection", 1Cor.12)

I was at the Pittsburgh conference and thouroughly enjoyed your "conversation" and bought both your Postmodern YM book & The Sacred Way. I find it disturbing however that after reading your (wonderful & informative) works that you would let all this nonsense lead your spirit to name calling. Because in fact, is that not the complete opposite of what a postmodern should do????

Please brother, after speaking to you in Pittsburgh I thought that no matter whether or not I agree with where you and the Emergant Church movement is going , I thought you were a great Christian brother, and one who loves the Lord with all his being. Please don't stoop to calling me a heretic for not taking my position on the way I hope to see you in the air!!!

In all things show love.


11:07 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

I think you found yourself frustrated in Nashville is because people wanted you to tell them what to think.

You said in late night that you are holding your cards for people to discover on their own yada yada. Saying that with discussion with Duffy might have saved you from some people calling you a heritic:)

You were seriously misunderstood but my friend and I really enjoyed everything you had to say. I didn't buy everything, but you challenged us about a few things. I guess that would be success.

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


honestly the only classes I took anything from were yours. I am still trying to figure out for myself what this whole postmodern movement is and even though I wish you could tell me I appreciate the fact you didn't. I was there at Nashville, in the late night theology discussion. I know a lot of it made you a little upset but just to let you know that not all of us are mad at you... some of us actually went away from there different...changed. Thank you for not letting everything be easy.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Sam said...

Absolute truth is not as difficult as you try to make it sound. When pressed for time, try something like,

"Absolute truth exists as an independent reality (this is ontology). Human understanding of that reality is limited for a number of reasons (this is epistemology). Thus, we can have some knowledge, but not complete knowledge about absolute truth."

Of course, if this isn't your position, then please don't say that. However, I find that such an explanation, while simplistic, is enough to get people thinking (and they don't need to read 10,000 pages of philosophers repeating themselves and quoting others who repeat themselves).

Also, as the national coordinator of the Emergent Church, you are put in the position of a spokesperson. It just comes with the territory that people are going to ask you these things. If the Edina police chaplains were as controversial as this movement, then people would be interested in that. But they are not, and while you may be tired of the questions, they're going to keep coming as long as you hold any kind of official or unofficial position in the movement.

It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Myers said...

What are you reading that leads to the beliefs that dispensational theology is heretical....I only ask cause I sit in the midst of Dispensational Hell at Multnomah Bible College, where "other" views are hardly tolerated with the excpetion of Dr. Brad Harper.

Can you shoot me a book list?

Also, the last we talked was at the National Youth worker convention in 2001 and the 2003 emergent, you rhetoric was that we should stay on board this ship and that transition/transformation of the modern church was possible. The most recent time I heard you speak your rhetoric had changed to get off this sinking ship, there is not hope. Break away and start fresh.

What caused this change in rhetoric?


ps sometimes, as I sit in this undergraduate program I feel like a graduate level thinker and writer/reader, stuck in undergraduate oblivion–missing this time of church upheaval.

12:07 AM  
Blogger lisa said...

thanks so much for following up on this converstation!!!

i take you at your word: i don't want a soundbite; i want thousands of pages to read...will you recommend some, please?????

thank you...

7:52 AM  

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