Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Public Response to Brett Kunkle

Disclaimer: This is my personal response to Brett's ETS paper, "Essential Concerns Regarding the Emerging Church." Brett emailed me the paper before he presented it, but, although I tried to call him a couple times, we were unable to speak before his presentation. He had asked me for written comments, but I told him in an email that I'd rather talk about it in person. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. What I also told Brett, in an email, was that I found him to be even-handed, and even generous at points, in the paper, but that I totally disagree with his conclusions.

I do not want to respond to this paper in a blog post. I don't really have time for this, and I really don't think this is the appropriate medium for this kind of thing. But Brett and others (like the A-Team) continually accuse me of not directly answering my critics. In fact, I spend a couple of hours every week emailing my critics, but only when they ask me specific questions or levy specific charges. Along these lines, Brett's paper has few charges against me and no questions for me. Nevertheless, I'll try to respond as I can.

I will not respond on behalf of Doug, Brian, or Spencer. I do not speak for them. And, though I do speak for Emergent Village, I am NOT speaking on behalf of Emergent Village here. Emergent Village leaders published a response to our critics in the summer of 2005, and that apologia still stands. This is my response, and mine alone.

Finally, Brett recorded an interview with me several years ago in which I answered each of his questions directly. That interview was never released, but I hereby ask Brett to release it publicly and leave it up to others to decide whether I evade Brett's questions or otherwise avoid true "conversation."


I'll proceed section by section.

1) Is Brett qualified? Indeed, Brett is just as qualified as anyone to pass judgment on my writings and speaking. He has listened carefully, I think, to what I have said and read some what I have written. I do wonder, based on this paper, if he has read anything of mine other than Postmodern Youth Ministry and my blog. I have written several books of a more spiritual nature, all of which contain confessio of my faith in Jesus Christ. For instance, on page 18 of The Sacred Way, I write,
I think that something about Jesus—who he was (Jesus of Nazareth) and who he is (Jesus the Christ)—inspired the people who developed these disciplines centuries ago. He led them on this quest, which really is unique to Christianity. For only in Christianity is there the belief that the one, true God came to earth as a human being, and that, to this day, we can know him in as personal a way as the disciples who shared lunch with him 2,000 years ago. That is, Christians engage in these spiritual practices not out of duty or obligation but because there is a promise attached: God will personally meet us in the midst of these disciplines.
I've even edited versions of the writings of John Bunyan and Augustine. So, if Brett has not read my books on prayer and Christian history, or has chosen to disregard the theological statements therein, then I think he may be less than qulaified to pass judgment on my orthodoxy.

Further, I find it strange that Brett's own qualifications have nothing to do with his own claims to orthodoxy (or, for that matter, orthopraxy). The only thing we find out about him is what church he attends. He gives us little else to go on. So, what qualifies him as an orthodoxy cop? Because he works for STR? Because he's allowed to present at ETS? Because he holds a bachelors degree from the Bible Institue of Los Angeles? And, I wonder, were Brett's own theological and philosophical dispositions to be judged by Calvin or Augustine or Luther, would they stand up? It's hard for me to know, since I've only interacted with Brett on what he doesn't like about me and my friends; I've not read his own substantive contributions to theological discourse.

2) Brett's appreciation of ECM and EV is extremely short -- in fact, it's the shortest section of the paper. To appreciate the missional nature of the ECM without enbracing any of the theology that makes missionality possible seems very difficult to me. But Brett doesn't tell us how he does this, so we're left to take him at his word.

3) ECM vs. EV and the leadership of the latter: Here Brett is fair, I think. But, regardless of how much he and others protest, Emerging Church and Emergent Church are and will be used interchangably. Also, I consider the Gibbs/Bolger definition (“Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures”) to be so broad as to border on meaninglessness. Every church in America falls under that definition.

4) The Cross: First of all, after saying that the views of McLaren, Pagitt, and Jones don't equate to the views of Emergent Village (as a traditional denomination might), Brett titles his section, "Three Essential Concerns Regarding Emergent Village." Instead, it should read, "Three Essential Concerns Regarding McLaren, Pagitt, and Jones." While he tries to tie us to EV earlier, he also says that we don't claim to speak for everyone who associates with EV. He's right: we don't. So don't paint everyone in EV with the same brush.

On the actual point of Jesus Christ's atoning work on the cross, Brett does not mention me, so I'll assume that I pass muster as orthodox on this point.

5) The Authority of the Bible: Again, I am not mentioned, so maybe I'm OK here, too. But I am on the record as reviling the so-called "doctrine of inerrancy." It's a doctrine that demands so many relative clauses ("in the original manuscripts"(which, by the way, we don't have), "in the author's intention" (which, by the way, we can't know), etc.) as to render it worthless. I choose, instead, to speak of the trustworthiness, even infallibility, of scripture.

6) The Nature of Truth: Yet again, I am not mentioned, even though I have spoken and written extensively on truth. I'm starting to feel left out!

But, let me defend a friend for a moment (even though I said I wasn't going to do this!). Brett takes Doug to task for "equivocating" on his use of the word, "truth." But that's like saying that I'm equivocating when I say I "love" my wife and I "love" steak. Of course I'm using the word "love" differently in each case. We do this all the time with words. So did Paul, which is what keep biblical scholars in business. When Paul writes of "righteousness" in one context, it means something somewhat different than in another context. To divorce Doug's words from the contexts in which they were written does him a great disservice. This is what I meant when I blogged earlier about Brett using a classic "straw man" argument.

It is not enough, Brett writes, "for EV leaders to say, 'We believe in truth, we believe in truth.'" He wants to say what we mean by truth. Yet I have talked ad naseum about what I mean by "truth," and I think I have been very clear on this point -- just ask anyone at the National Youth Workers Convention or the National Pastors Convention. I've even taped an interview with Brett in which I talk explicitly with him about what I mean by truth. Is Brett disregarding my clear and positive statements about truth because they don't aid his argument or because he is unfamiliar with them?

(Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that "scholarship" like this is allowed in an academic guild like ETS.)

7) Brett's Most Serious Concern: Opening the Door to Unorthodoxy: This section starts with a faulty premise: that any one person is closer to unorthodoxy than any other. That is, because we (MacLaren/Pagitt/Jones) are talking about certain topics that Brett deems dangerous, we're closer to leaving the historic, orthodox Christian church than someone else (for example, Brett himself). But let's all be honest about this: we've all had friends who were as deeply ensconced in evangelical orthodoxy as possible leave the church and the faith at the proverbial drop of a hat. Anyone can leave at anytime. People leave for all sorts of reasons. I have friends (and relatives) who have left the faith because of a spiritual crisis, an illness, a book they've read, a relationship they've gotten into, and an intellectual crisis. Brett might have a crisis of faith tomorrow and leave the Christian faith. It's possible; I know because I've seen it happen.

Here, in this section, Brett finally levels a charge at me directly. He quotes me from blogs and seminars saying 1) I am orthodox in my beliefs and 2) I am open to dialogue about even the most sacred Christian doctrines, like the Trinity. These two statements, Brett seems to imply, are contradictory (but he does not say how). He writes, "Orthodoxy is limited by its very nature." "There is a limit," he continues, "To what you can believe and still call yourself orthodox." But, again, he does nothing to establish this bald claim, nor does he explicitly show that I think orthodoxy is unlimited. Definitions of "orthodoxy" generally speak of "adherence" or "conformance" to "traditional" or "commonplace" beliefs -- they even talk of the early, ecumenical creeds. But no where is there a definition of limitations as being inherent to orthodoxy.

Brett, what are the limits of orthodoxy? And who gets to define them? And where do you get off making an assertion like that with no evidence and no warrants for such a claim? And where have I broached these supposed "limits" of orthodoxy?

In bold and underline, Brett writes, "The door to unorthodoxy is now open."

Brett, it's always been open, and no matter what you tell me I can and cannot "leave on the table for reconsideration," that door will not close. The bigger danger, it seems to me, is your misplaced confidence that your door is somehow closed to unorthodoxy. It's not, my friend, and it's extraordinarily arrogant (or naive) to claim that it is. You have just as much liklihood to veer into unorthodoxy as I.

8) Spencer Burke: Finally, my name surfaces again in regards to the Burke/Taylor book. Brett wishes I would say more than expressing my friendship and affection for Spencer (and Barry) and clarifying that neither is in leadership in EV (that's not to say that they won't be someday, but they aren't right now). I've read Spencer's book, and I've been talking to him for several years about the concepts therein. I chose not to endorse that book, though asked, because I disagree with some of the conclusions Spencer draws and the way that he gets to them.

But that choice has no, zero, none, zilch, nada implications for my friendship with Spencer and my wholehearted endorsement of his ministry. These are ad hoc decisions, book endorsements. For instance, I endorsed Scott Smith's book (which Brett falsely says we in EV have ignored), even though I disagree with much of Scott's philosophy. Scott knows that. I've told him. Because we're friends. Same goes for Spencer. And the same goes for several other friends I have with whom I diagree.

What I find troubling, in the converse, is how virtually no one in the conservative evangelical camp will do what Brett is asking me to do, which is publicly turn on a friend. (Well, I take that back: Dobson quickly abandoned Ted Haggard.) When Mark Driscoll makes openly offensive and un-Christian remarks, why doesn't John Piper publicly spank him? Why does Justin Taylor approvingly link to his blog post? Where are the public voices or Tim Keller and Mark Dever and Mark Galli and Michael Horton and Ed Stetzer and CJ Mahaney? Tim Challies seems to be the only member of that team with the cojones to call Mark to task. Are the rest doing it privately? We can only hope.

9) Pastoral Concerns: Brett concludes by recounting two anecdotes about persons he met who were "reconsidering" doctrines that he considers essential. Although these conversations took place at the Emergent Convention in 2005, Brett makes no claim that their thoughts are in any way tied to the teachings of McLaren, Pagitt, or Jones. Their mere presence at an Emergent event seems to be evidence enough that we are responsible for their theological drift.

While Brett may think that everyone who attends Rock Harbor Church with him holds certain doctrinal positions, I can virtually guarantee you that if I poked around a bit, I'd find some folks who were questioning some of those doctrines. Does that mean that Rock Harbor has "opened the door to unorthodoxy"? Of course not. Now, it may be true that folks who are struggling and questioning do not feel the freedom to talk openly about their theological struggles at Rock Harbor. I don't know. But I do know that many in Emergent Village generally feel that we've cultivated an environment in which they can talk openly. I'd say that the two men who spoke briefly to Brett in 2005 are a testament to that environment, and I'd rather have that than people who quietly slip out the back door because they feel like they can't talk about what they're really thinking.

So, there. I hope I've done justice to Brett's arguments (and lack thereof). I've tried to be fair and not be too snarky (but sometimes I can't help it). For the record, I consider Brett a very kind person and a brother in Christ. But I do think he's wrong about some stuff, and I think his paper could be much stronger if he made fewer unwarranted claims.

I'm Chatting...

...with Roger over at the A-Team blog in the comments section.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Going to be in Charlotte...

...for the National Youth Workers Convention? If so, please consider joining the excellent Emergent Village Charlotte Cohort for a gathering on Saturday night at 7pm. More info here.

Of Straw Men

I've had an interesting email conversation with my new friend, Jeff (aka, Senor Jefe). He responded to my post, on the Emergent Village blog, about STR's Brett Kunkle, and the paper that Brett delivered to the Evangelical Theological Society a couple weeks back.

Jeff argues that Brett creates straw men, only to knock them down. I've often had this concern about the critics of Emergent, and it's nice to hear that someone else sees that tendency, too. Several times a week, I get an emails that go something like this: "I think that you emergents are in danger of ________. Can you tell me if you are or aren't?" I respond by asking for spcific examples of said heresy, and I get back a quote from a McLaren book that doesn't explictly name the heresy, but maybe dances near it. It seems to me that Brett does this in his paper: these guys aren't heretics, but the things they say make me think that maybe, someday, they will be.

This raises all sorts of questions, like,
  • Who determines orthodoxy and heresy in a post-conciliar age?
  • Did everyone in the room know Brett to be orthodox?
  • Will someone let me know when I am unorthodox?
Scot McKnight had a good post on this type of thing last week.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Thermometer...

...that you see in the right panel is charting my progress toward completion of a book manuscript. The book is due in early January, so you can see that I have a ways to do. I figure that if I go public, this will raise my chances of finishing on time.

My writing method is to spend a lot of time stewing on the content, thinking, taking notes, and doing background reading -- I did this May-August. Then, when the book is pretty much "written" in my head, I have to bear down and write hard for a couple months -- I'm on my third draft now, having thrown away my first two drafts. I'm in that final stage now, writing the draft that I'll submit to the publisher.

I am fortunate to not suffer from "writer's block" -- when I sit down to write, the words are not a problem. Being disciplined about writing is the real obstacle.

But, as I was told years ago, there's a three-word formula to writing a book: Ass In Chair.

P.S.: New "Friend of Emergent Village" banners will soon be available on the EV website.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hermeneutic of Humility?

Daniel Henderson, “Keys to a Fruitful Life,” preached at Grace Church, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, November 5, 2006. Available here:

“Friends, it’s not an easy world in which to stand up for truth, is it? We’re in a society that doesn’t even believe that truth exists: ‘Ah, well, if it works for you, it’s true for you; if it works for me, it’s true for me. Let’s just all find our own way’…Within Christianity today there’s a big movement—it has some good and some bad to it—called the ‘emergent movement.’ One of the great dangers of this movement is what they call a ‘hermeneutic of humility.’ ‘Hermeneutic’ is the science of interpreting scripture, and, of course, the idea of humility. And the basic idea is, ‘Let’s not be too clear, too dogmatic, too strong about what we believe. I mean, how do we know we’re really right, you know?’ And in a sense, it’s giving into the conflict of society, giving in to the pressure of the culture to say, ‘Well, you know, absolute truth, we’re not sure, so let’s just be really humble about the way we communicate it.’

“That is a complete, dramatic antithesis to what you read in this passage.[1]

“Friends, I wanna tell you, how many of you raised successful kids by telling them only what they wanted to hear their entire life? Anybody? I didn’t think so. It doesn’t work that way, does it? ‘I want Lucky Charms for dinner!’ ‘No, you’ve got to eat your spinach,’ you know. ‘I don’t feel like going to school.’ ‘Well, just stay home, it’s no big deal; you know, education’s overblown…’

“You know, that’s not how you raise successful kids, is it? You tell them not what they want to hear but what they [pause] need to hear.”

“Friends, it’s the same in all of our lives…If you wanna to be a person of influence, you’ve got to stand for something.”

[1] He’s talking, at this stage in the sermon, about 1 Thessalonians 2:2b, “but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The 2007 Emergent Theological Conversation

Details are live.

The Resurrection...

...of the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort has begun. Join us on Thursday at noon.

Two of my favorite musicians...

...put an album out a couple years ago. If you like some traditional hymns in spare arrangement with only a trumpet and a piano, then I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Speaking of Speaking...

I received several emails after my last post about preaching for free. Since I've never really posted about it here, I thought I would now. I do write and I do work for Emergent, but I currently pay the bills by speaking -- neither of the other two endeavors pays enough to live on. I have to speak 2-3 times a month usually to make ends meet. I do not use a speaking agent, although some people think I should. I book it myself, and I've been fortunate enough to have plenty of invitations, especially in the fall and winter/spring.

Except, that is, in December and the summer. As you might guess, there aren't a lot of pastors' conferences in the summer, not many churches want to have me come in to speak/consult then, and most seminaries and colleges are locked down tight.

So, if the summer is a good time for you, let me know. I'd love to speak at your summer camp, retreat, etc., guest preach, or help with leadership training. If you want to pursue that, email me at jonestony@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why I Didn't Waste My Vote

I've posted my thoughts here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm Changing My Vote

After watching the final gubenatorial debate on DVR last night, I will cast my vote today for Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party. A wasted vote? Maybe, but I hope not.

I will not vote for Democrat Mike Hatch for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the record indicates that he's a horrible person to work with/for. A friend of mine who works in the state government calls him a sociopath, and his uncivil lash-out at reporters last week further confirms that judgment. So he's not a leader. And secondly, he's flat-out wrong on some issues, and far too ambivalent on others.

I had planned to vote for Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty, but I really found him utterly unimpressive during the debate. He's too political. By that I mean, he rarely answered the questions that were asked him, instead using any opportunity possible to attack Hatch or talk about an award he's been given. He's wrong about casinos (he favors the expansion of gambling in Minnesota) and he's pandering to farmers with his support of ethanol (which economists and scientists agree is not a viable long-term alternative fuel solution). He further panders to out-state voters by offering massive tax breaks to businesses rather than confronting the deeper issue that corporate farming is responsible for the weakening of small towns.

Hutchinson, I must say, made sense, and as an Emersonian pragmatist, I appreciate that. He thinks the state should get out of the business of gambling -- he said it's a bad way to fund any government. He doesn't think the government should be in the business of helping out some businesses (like professional sports franchises or out-state businesses). He supports a sales tax on clothing, combined with a lowering of the overall sales tax rate, all in order to stabilize the state revenue. These are commonsense approaches to the challenges of governing in the 21st century. He also called on both of the other candidates to pull all of their negative ads. Of course, they avoided responding to his challenge.

Could he, as an Independence Party governor, broker legislation between the two parties? I don't know, but he is obviously very bright and articulate and well-informed, so I believe he could.

Will he win? Surely not.

(This will mark the third gubernatorial election in a row in church I'll cast my vote for the Independent candidate: Ventura, Penny, Hutchinson.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some Good News

This seems to be a week in need of some good news, as we grieve another fallen Christian leader and watch the incursion of negative campaign ads even into the usually civil political climate of Minnesota.

On Saturday night in Anaheim, after a couple splendid days with my son at Disneyland, I hosted a late night theology discussion at the National Youth Workers Convention. Shockingly, there were well over 100 in attendance. The conversation was civil (which it hasn't always been) but robust. People talked theologically, they challenged each other, and I imagine that most everyone left thinking about something they hadn't thought about before.

Talking to Marv Penner (another speaker) in the Santa Ana Airport, he said something with which I resonated. He, too, had a wonderful convention with many stimulating conversations. He said, "I think we can quit saying, 'Youth ministry isn't just about fun and games,' because everyone now knows that it's not."

I don't speak explictly about youth ministry at the conventions anymore, since I'm not currently a youth pastor -- I think it would be disingenuous. Instead, I talk about more general things, like theology and the emergent church (which, of course, I hope have resonance with youth workers). In the six or seven years I've been at this, I can say that I've seen the conversation about youth ministry change qualitatively. Youth workers are more serious, more theological, more educated. It makes for great connections and friendships, that's for sure.