Thursday, June 07, 2007

Jerry Falwell

(This is, quite honestly, an auspicious way for me to reenter the blogosphere)

On April 14, just weeks before he died, Jerry Falwell preached a sermon entitled "What's Wrong with the Emergent Church?" I'm especially interested because he mentions me by name.

You can listen to the sermon here (it's also available on iTunes), and you can see his notes here. I suggest you listen as you look over the notes, since he several times leaves the notes and makes some extemporaneous comments.

He's got some things right, and some things wrong in this sermon. And I'll interact with them point-by-point. But the first thing I'd like to note is that this is not a biblical sermon. I mean, it seems to me that Falwell and other evangelical leaders excoriate "liberals" for not being biblical preachers, but in this sermon the Bible is hardly mentioned. He reads a passage from Matthew at the beginning, then briefly and vaguely mentions it later, and that's it. He doesn't interact with it, interpret it, or even preach about it. In that respect, this isn't so much a sermon as it is a speech, and it seems to me that the Bible is nothing more than a covering for a speech about some things that he holds dear.

1) The Intro: Jerry begins by saying that the emergent church started with people who are dissatisfied with evangelicalism. Partly right. Then he says, "I've studied the emergent church, and I'd like to tell you what's wrong with it." Based on what's below, you be the judge of how much "study" he's done.

2) The Passage: what I said above. I think it's funny when he says, "Right answer" about Peter's reponse to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" It's funny because it's cute, and because of how many times Peter gives the "wrong" answer to Jesus in other places.

3) Peter Drucker: Jerry quotes Peter Drucker on cultural shifts, then riffs on all the shifts he's seen in his own life. It's a bit eery that Jerry refers to his birth in 1933 and all the changes since then (ball point pen, computers, etc.). He says that other than the printing press and the steam engine, his parents grew up in a world very much like the Apostles. Hmm. That's curious. "And so the world is changing rapidly," he says, "And, unfortunately, so is the church."

4) Method and Message: Jerry goes on about how great microphones are and how styles of music don't matter. "I remember all of those changes, but they have nothing to do with spirituality. It has to do with preference and taste." I think many people would be hard-pressed to agree that they're musical preference is disassociated from their spirituality. But he does say that the emergent church has become destructive.

5) What is Emergent: He says that Leadership Network is the "fountainhead" of emergent, then he quotes at length from the LN website -- "You can look it up," he says, "At the Leadership Network." The problem is, it's not from LN's website, but from the Emergent Village website. He reads from this page, under the last three subtitles. I wrote those paragraphs, and, I must say, they sound great in Jerry's mouth! I wonder if anyone at Thomas Road Baptist Church that morning thought, "Hmm, that sounds pretty good! I'd better check that site!" I checked our analytics, and out hits weren't particularly high that day, so I guess not.

6) Context: Jerry talks about innovations in worship that are cool by him, then he takes us to task for re-analyzing "the Bible against the context in which is was written." He says that's from our own words, but I don't know where that's from. Nor do I know what it means to read something "against a context," but anyway, I guess he's on the right track here. Hermeneutics is key in emergent...

7) Foundation: He says we've built our movement on the wrong foundation (this is where he refers to the Bible, equating Jesus' statement about on this "rock" I will build my church with a philosophical foundation and with Jesus himself. Isn't Peter the "rock" in this passage???). He then accuses us of
Denying the divinity of Christ (I don't know of one person in Emergent who does)
Denying the Second Coming (I know of about 3 "full preterists" who do)
Denying the knowledge of Christ for salvation (again, I know of a few, but not many)

8) Slippery Slope: That's what he says we're on. Then he says something very curious: "I know the founders [of emergent]. I have ministered with them, and they have ministered here. We have been friends, and we still are friends. And I have cautioned them just as I am speaking here, that you have weak biblical foundations." So, if you are one of those emergent leaders who was friends with Jerry, please leave a comment below.

9) Theology: He says several times that we don't have any theologians in the group, that we don't care about theology, and that we learned everything we know at a few pastors' conferences. "No theology. A bit of knowledge, but no wisdom."

10) Non Sequiter: He talks about neckties and says, "Please bury me in a black suit and a red necktie and a 'Jesus First' lapel pin, or I'll come back and haunt you." Strange. Eery. He also talks about DC Talk, etc.

11) My sinful mouth: Now here's the fun part. We are
"encouraging profane and vulgar speech, in private and now from the pulpit. Tony Jones, who's one of the leaders of the emergent church, recently was speaking from the podium, and he was asked a question about the Bible. Here is what he said -- obviously I can't use the expletive, but I'll just use the letter. These are his words. He's the leader. He's the minister. He said, he said, 'The F Bible is scary to me. The F Bible is scary to me."
He then says that if anyone says that at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the men should rush the stage and remove that person from the building.

Now, I hope I don't have to say that -- unlike some of my friends -- I've never dropped the F-bomb in the pulpit, nor do I have any plans to (breathe easy, Mission Gathering!). What Jerry (or the person who actually wrote his sermons) found was a post at churchandpomo in which I wrote (in the midst of a longer post on deconstructionist readings of texts),
This connection between deconstruction and the Bible is especially meaningful, methinks. I am quite convinced that the Bible is a subversive text, that it constantly undermines our assumptions, transgresses our boundaries, and subverts our comforts. This may sound like academic mumbo-jumbo, but I really mean it. I think the Bible is a f***ing scary book (pardon my French, but that's the only way I know how to convey how strongly I feel about this). And I think that deconstruction is the only hermeneutical avenue that comes close to expressing the transgressive nature of our sacred text.
Well, I could go on and on. He compares a bottle of beer with cocaine. He talks about traveling "with some of them" to Egypt and, at a stop in Zurich, his co-travelers drank wine at dinner. Again, if you're one of the emergent church leaders who traveled with Jerry to Egypt, please drop a note in the comment section so I can hear about that trip. He lists Dave Travis (an LN staffer) as an emergent church leader.

Anyway, you can listen to the rest of it about how Jerry shuns all forms of evil, about drunk gospel singers, etc. It is wild stuff. He even promotes gossip in the choir (that is, tell me if you know of a choir member who is drinking or sleeping around, and I'll be sure they aren't in the choir next Sunday). We are "galvanizing into a denomination."

I must say, it is something to be immortalized by Jerry Falwell just days before his death. I will say this, during the whole "sermon" he seems to have a smile on his face. He was not an angry critic, like some. But still, I don't quite know what to make of it.

Wild stuff, friends. Wild stuff.


Anonymous josh said...

you should enlist the help of the journalist ingrid schlueter to get to the bottom of this. i hear she is really fair and balanced and insightful.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Matt W. said...

I'm a little bit dissapointed in you for responding to the most ridiculous of your critics, while continuing to ignore some of the more serious epistemological charges that have been marshalled against you. I mean, Falwell, come on...

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Nicholas said...

Here is my attack against you Tony. . .

You 'say' that this 'emergent network' is all about 'dialogue' and 'conversation'. So why do you wait until Pastor Teacher Jerry Fallwell is dead before you decide to 'enter into the dialogue'. Is it because you only want your end heard?

In order to have 'progressional diaolgue', I think you need both parties to be living.

Grumble. . grumble. . . post-modern. . . grumble . . .

12:30 PM  
Blogger Fajita said...

great to have you back in blogland. congrats on getting the book done.

I have not listened to the audio yet, but now I really need to. Sounds like it will be great.

I read a blog of a friend of mine and he is "just now" hearing about "the emerging church."

He represents a lot of people out there - millions to be sure. Thanks for the work you do.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Agent B said...

Someone could be the wisest, most profound and viable mouthpiece of God. Yet mutter (or write) "fuck", and you are discredited for eternity. Like you've never existed.

BTW, I never knew what emergent really was until your explanations that Sunday in Salem. So...thanks.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm sorry, but I find it hilarious that you would be accused of avoiding dialogue. A cursory glance at your blog would show why you waited some time to respond. "So, you wait for your critics to die, eh?" Too funny. That had to be a joke, right?

Also, I'm wondering if Matt might name some of the "more serious epistemological charges that have been marshaled against you." I'd be interested in reading what they have to say.

1:55 PM  
Blogger brett said...

Don't forget how much power Jerry had/has. He was/is able to muster the masses with just a slight phrase. You have done right to address this.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Beloved said...

Very... interesting... speech.

I get slammed from time to time for critiquing... okay, criticizing... renowned leaders, the charge against me being that I am arrogant to portray as foolish, men who are obviously much more experienced ministers and/or students of the Bible than I. Well, let another slam come my way...

It seems to me that, for many evangelical leaders (the same is undoubtedly true for leaders of other groups as well), experience is not commensurate with an ability to utilize sound reason. I'm fairly convinced that a leader's qualities are more or less developed by the time he/she achieves prominence, and that from there on out, his/her energies are focused on fulfilling an agenda, with very little energy devoted to continued learning. In other words, stodgy, fundamentalist (right and left wing), old-school shakers and movers are no more seriously to be reckoned with than younger, emerging (I mean that very generically) leaders.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Tripp said...

did you find out about Jerry's sermon because you listen every week? i hope franke and shults aren't offended that Falwell didn't think they were real theologians.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous rob said...

grumble.. grumble.. post-mortem church? grumble.. :)

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
Read My Inaugural Address
My Site=

5:37 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

after listening to that I need a drink...

10:23 AM  
Blogger kyle said...

that sermon is pretty fucking scary (and funny). Cheers.

11:21 AM  
Blogger thechurchgeek said...

hmmmmm...Tony, I guess I'm going to have to stop reading this dangerous blog of yours. ;)


11:51 AM  
Blogger Blogbarger said...

You and I have a mutual friend... Jason Mitchell. I live in Dallas and have been to Journey once (I even attended a lunch you were at here about a year ago?). Jason and I are both in leadership at Skillman Bible Church. Like him, I am a friend of emergent village. Yesterday was interesting because I listened to Falwell's speech on itunes and then I spent an hour and a half listening to Diana Butler Bass speak at the mainline conference. Both of these speeches were two sides of the same piece of bullcrap.

To be honest, I am sick of hearing about right-wing conservative Christians rules. I am equally sick of hearing people like Dianna praise her gay pastor and talk about a paradigm shift in spirituality. What was lacking in both of their speeches was any mention of how there is a God-man named Jesus who demands everything from us and yet nothing. I am a mystic, icon-using, post-modern evangelical who is somewhat lost.... but still I am looking for passionate, honest followers of Jesus. That's what this all about, isn't it?

12:12 PM  
Blogger el mol said...

oh good lord, jones scoreboards a dead guy (I support it and could learn from it), people go haywire as usual, then a buddy of mine drags ME into his rant (which I also support).

poker in september in dallas I say.

PS tony, he could have truncated that long introduction and name dropping of Mitchell by simply saying he has a hardcore man crush on you.

genius and wheels off.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Nate Myers said...

Just another example for me of uninformed knee-jerk criticism from the Christian right...along with ol' Johnny Mac (Arthur, that is) and his "Truth War." You'd hope they would read up a little before criticism to give them a little credibility with folks who don't uncritically accept everything they say, but then, that's the point, isn't it? Falwell's followers DO uncritically accept everything he says...the lack of hits on the EV site afterwards hints at that as well.

p.s. congrats on the comment from secret rapture. I rated that one a week or so ago.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Eugene said...

great post.
and welcome back.

what i would pay to read/hear what's on jerry's mind RIGHT NOW.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Peter Zefo said...

Tony, just one comment regarding item #7. I think the "rock" Jesus is referring to is Himself, not Peter.

Okay, two comments...the "f***ing scary" comment is a little over the top and unnecessary...the same point could have been made with different is phrases like that which add fuel to the anti-emergent crowd

11:01 PM  
Blogger The Confessor said...

I would love to see someone do research on how people like Jerry Falwell represent a version of xianity that is driven by the incessant need for an "enemy" to derive a sense of identity from.

this is, no matter what kind of "hopeful" veneer or language used, a fear driven non-faith. It is theologically laden, but not theologically rich. The so called "Truth War" is a prime example: Where's the fire? Who really is going toe to toe with J-Mac? Who is actually in conflict with him? That book is a window into intellectual Tourette's syndrome.

It's like watching a shadowboxer, not knowing what he is doing, and thinking he's just a poor soul having a seizure.

Sorry, if that was snarky...

Bottom line: To me, Jerry's is a religion driven by the sociological concerns of a particular sub-cultural strata of North America, not the substance of historic theology--despite its claims to the contrary.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for the post and commentary Tony. I guess the only thing I'd disagree with you on is your closing line - "Wild stuff friends." Falwell's talk seems to have been pretty much par for the course, and right up the alley of what I would have expected. I guess it must feel surreal for you to have been mentioned by him so close to his death, though.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I understand where Jerry is coming from. I know the right is scared or what they would say "concerned." Their message is changing and with a changing message, there is always be a power shift.

When I have watched the Old Time Gospel Hour it is like worshiping back in the1960s and 1970s.

Somethings don't change and change and that is to bad.


5:57 AM  
Blogger joe said...

i am new to your blog tony, but that is kinda funny. i didnt listen to the sermon. is he sincere or just trying to squash "the opposition"? i am just curious as to what he was thinking. not that your a mind reader.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous superstar said...

In honor of Pastor Falwell, you could at least spell his name correct.

4:58 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Tony - It seems as though much of your time is spent in a defense posture against the religious right. Perhaps there is a maybe a hint of genuine truth in their concerns?

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Superstar,
Since you are so interested in spelling, maybe you should broaden your interest to include grammar. You spell one's name *correctly* not *correct*

Tony, I bet Mr. Falwell is looking up at you right now realizing just how wrong he was in this life.


11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I´d be interested in reading some dialogue about the recent critique from two Moody Bible Institute prof´s. They try to make a distinction between the "emergent church" and "emerging" leaders (they say Brian McClaren). The link is: Wednesday 05/30/2007 - The Emerging Church: John Koessler & Kevin Zuber Wednesday, 2007/05/30 - Open Line

4:38 PM  

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