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.


Blogger Adam Omelianchuk said...

A plea for consistency: wouldn't calling someone's representation of a position a "staw man" imply that the criteria by which we judge a something "straw" be none other than what the person be represented (like an author) intended? The troubling thing about the discussions of truth and hermeneutics in emerging church circles is this confusion over absoluteness and certainty. If we can't know with the certainty of omniscience what meaning the author of the text intended, grasping that meaning is futile. I submit to you that it is not. We can know with degrees of certainty what it might be given that contextual circumstances are represented rightly.

And I think it is quite obvious given the context of the ETS that Brett's definition of orthodoxy has to do with resisting the kind theological liberalism that would deny the trustworthiness, or "inerrancy" of Scripture. That of course is understood to a particular sholarly community (that doesn't represent every and all evangelicals btw), which, I think, can be understood within the breadth of the tradition of historical Christianity with all its unities and diversities. The limits of orthodoxy within that community do not allow for a "no-boundaries" approach to matters like the Trinity and the Incarnation--which seems to be what Brett's concern was about. Is that true of Emergent or the names Brett names? Are their any definitive boundaries that can be drawn?

If there isn't, Brett, the ETS, the RCC, the EO, Reformed, and Anabaptists have reason are justified to express their concern.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, an observation regarding your comment, "Virtually no one in the conservative evangelical camp will do what Brett is asking me to do, which is publicly turn on a friend":

When Driscoll spoke at the Desiring God Conference last September, he talked about the Reformed tendency to emphasize doctrine at the expense of practice and the Emergent tendency to emphasize practice at the expense of doctrine. His point was that we should embrace both--contend for truth in an incarnational, relevant manner.

I bring that up because I'm seeing that played out here. You say that Reformed people don't "turn on their friends," and you want to know why they don't publicly come out against those who have behaved badly. Conversely, the Reformed want to know why Emergents don't publicly come out against the bad doctrine of their friends. Neither side sees the other as confronting their friends, when in reality, they both are--in the categories most important to them. We each consider the category we emphasize (doctrine or behavior) to be a public issue, and therefore the discussion about that issue is public, whereas in the other category, it's possible we both tend to address problems privately (I can't say for sure on this since I don't know if you address concerns about your friends' theology in private, but I've definitely seen behavioral exhortations passed around privately in my neck of the woods. Although, here is an example of a public exhortation by Piper to Driscoll.)

For example, just a few months back, Driscoll's theology was a huge subject of discussion in the blogosphere. The Reformed people DO confront and debate their friends in the area of doctrine. You're not seeing that because doctrine is not the area most important to you. You're looking for confrontation in your emphasized area and feel we are failing by not emphasizing it ourselves.

Ultimately, each side discusses the area of most importance with both those who are within their camp and those who are outside. Each side then feels shortchanged because the other side seemingly ignores its concerns (because that other side is too busy discussing its own main area of concern). Also, neither understands why the other is spending so much time talking about the less important subject.

First, I think what needs to happen if we really want to get anywhere is for each side to recognize what is important to the other side and dig in and address the concerns of the other side as valid--even if those concerns seem to be of lesser importance. Otherwise, the discussion will just continue to be

"We have concerns about your doctrine."
"Why are you treating us this way? This isn't right!"
"Why are you ignoring our concerns about doctrine?"
"Why are you obsessing on that and ignoring our concerns about your behavior?"

Obviously, that kind of a conversation is pointless.

Secondly, we need to have grace and encouragement for the other side when they do address our subject--even if it's given less attention than we think it deserves.


1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this discussion has real potential. I've read a lot of fundamentalist hogwash in critique of the emerging church; Kunkle's paper has a respectability about it that I find rather useful. As a staffer at Church of the Apostles, I'm certainly on board with the emerging church movement. Tony: I'm sure you're weary of the onslaught of well-meaning but uninformed critics. I don't think Kunkle is one of them, though, and I think you're being overly defensive. In one sense, he's wrong: to be emerging does not mean to be on a slippery slope toward heresy. But in another sense, he's right: it may mean removing some of the sources of security that have kept us from sliding. That's part of the point.

The point is that there ARE dangers. We say that inerrancy is too confining, too reactionary. What is our view, then? Certainly, in my church community, the question has been raised: what special authority do the Scriptures have, and from whence does it come? Bald-faced, nuanceless substitutionary atonement feels barbaric. But then, why did Jesus have to die? There are many in our community who are struggling with this as well. Truth has many facets, prositions being only one of them. Does culture set the agenda, then? How do we teach our children?

The emerging church's critique of Evangelicalism has often consisted in the observation that these questions do not have easy answers, and that we cannot, for security's sake, manufacture easy answers. Fair enough; but that leaves us somewhat defenseless, without our castle walls to guard against the torrents of heterodoxy, skepticism, secularism, pantheism. What do we do?

We have to dignify the question, even if the answer is, "It's messy, and without the guidance of the Spirit, we won't make it." The answer can't be, "What are you talking about; we're just as secure as ever." It IS dangerous, and it makes pastoral care very tricky. We're not saying that sermons are wrong. We're definitely saying, though, that indoctrination is neither holy nor helpful.

So what's the middle way? I don't know. Any answer will probably sound like a non-answer. But the question is a good one. We genuinely need to ask it of ourselves: how are we going to carry on the tradition, without resorting to dogmatism, but without surrendering to cultural whim? And when the question is put to us by our critics, I think it means that they have come to understand us, even if ultimately they come to a different answer. It's a good question, and a good critique. But it doesn't sink us; in fact, it's our bread and butter.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Denny Burk said...


It sounds to me like your are looking down your nose at Kunkle's theological training:

"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. . .

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

These statements strike me as elitist and unhelpful. They seem to imply that only people with Ph.D.'s from elite universities can read and understand books. But perhaps I've misunderstood you.


2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before anyone else comments and words like liberalism and/or fundamentalism are used...please stop taking the words out of their original context and their original meaning. The "LIBERAL" theological enterprise began with the work of F.S. Schliermacher and rotatated around a new starting point for theology, anthropology. To be "liberal" is to begin with the human being, and the so-called "universal religious experience" of all humanity.
To that end, no theological enterprise that is Theocentric is liberal. The statement that not holding "inerracy" (which does not mean truthworthy)is not neccesarily a liberal theological presupposition. (Do not read this as my own opinion) People who believe God is the absolute transcendent God could possibly begin with God and to safegaurd from what are usually preceived as contradictions or historical descrepancy would then say, "The writers them selves were inspired to write specific ideas and the move from divine thought to human thought creates discrepancy> The Spirit inspired Scriptures were then recorded, and the Spirit continues to make them the Word of God." That is outside the historical "liberal" project The word can't be used for "I don't like what you have to say there." The word means something, don't misuse it. We cant say I know blue has meant a particular color, but now I want to apply it to apples. Apples are now blue, hand me a blue.

Fundamentalism was a reactionary movement that saught to preceive the trends of F.S.S. They thus asserted their fundamentals (which they gained from the same epistemology as the "liberal project." However, this group quickly solidify into an unbending group. Henry was the man who lambasted the "fundamentalists" for their lack of engagement with the world, and their "Uneasy concious." Calling Piper, Dricsoll, Etc, fundamentalists if (like the use of saying not holding innerency makes one liberal - it can be part of a liberal methodology of not) is using the word in a wrong manner. This term is usually meant to say I dont like what you are saying there as well, since it is divorced from its meaning. Neo-fundamentlist MAY (this may also be wrong) be appropriate, becasue they are attacking a different think (However, they too are very guilty of using the wrong meaning for theological terms in order to paint their enemies in the light of error and darkness).

The historical meanings of the terms liberal and fundamentalists are not up for debate. Let us then play fairly.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

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

Tony, this kind of work is pretty much par for the course at ETS. The quality of the work presented there, for the most part, just isn't very high. Part of the reason is the echo-chamber mentality that pervades there, and part of it is that the kind of training available to many evangelicals in their colleges and seminaries just isn't very rigorous.

I hope Brett releases that interview. It will be interesting to see if the questions he raised and the conclusions he drew about you in his paper were or were not already answered in your interview with him. If so, then "straw man" doesn't seem too far off base.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tony. You know how I fee about all this. I just wish I had said it as well as you... :)

Nice response.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


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.

With all due respect, I think you're comment illustrates precisely the problem some folks have with the EV/EC.

1) EV has set itself up, by definition, as a movement with few boundaries. You ask what authority makes Brett capable of being the orthodoxopraxy (like it?) police and perhaps that's a valid question.

But wouldn't you agree that there is a need for some policing? Let's be real here: There are lines which, if crossed, take you into something very different than Christianity. And yet there is no unit of measure - creed, catechism, doctrinal statement, scribbled notes on a napkin - that holds the feet of anyone within EV to the fire.

Perhaps 'public opinion' within the conversation is the final authority... However, a quick glance at any history text shows that's a pretty poor power to exalt.

There is a real risk for the EV to become the theological wild west. And no one within the movement seems to respond to that concern with anything more that "Who died and made you boss?" or "We're just talking here, there are just ideas".

Personally, I'm concerned because I haven't heard any of the vaunted cross-communication coming out from within the EV...

When any of the EV leaders say something 'edgy' (controversial), I don't here any real backlash or corrective statement coming back out within the movement or from other leaders. Instead, every seems to be scratching their gotees and saying "Interesting"...

Everything has become very fuzzy, and there's nothing/no one who seems to be scratching a line in the sand.

Whether or not you 'speak for the EV', you're a recognized leader. What you (or Brian or Doug) say does carry weight for the movement - whether or not you put it on EV letterhead. That's the price of the mantle of leadership.

Now, I'll just go back to being nobody...

5:36 PM  
Blogger Jugulum said...


I didn't understand the distinction you make in your statement on the authority of the Bible. You say that you revile the doctrine of "inerrancy", but will speak in terms of "infallibility".

What difference in definition or connotation do you see between the two?

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that this paper is a weak representative of scholarship, especially coming from ETS. The first paragraph seemed incoherent, and he mispelled (although a common occurence) one of his main source's name (Scot McKnight).
However, I do feel that compared to others within the conservative camp who have written critiques of the EC, he has at least attempted to immerse himself in its culture before shredding it.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a couple of things.

first, you're probably going to want to close your comments again before you awaken the sleeping giants.

two. i'll start a gang with you if you want. me and nick and you. we can throw pagitt in just cause he's crazy tall and has reach.

i say instead of taking the verbal punches from all the critics, we roll up our sleeves and start brandishing some knuckles (not to be confused with kunkle). they say the best defensive is a good offensive.

i'm just saying. it'd be like the sopranos but better.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bible Institute of Los Angeles? It hasn't been called that since the sixties!

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh . . .

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm new to all these theology debates... but this smells the same stank that turned me off to theology in college when I took a course on theology - people making decisions about orthodoxy and heresy. Now I'm sure it's VERY important, and I know Tony is a theologian - as are these people who make dumb comments about other people's beliefs and whether or not they are heretics... and I am sure I am ignorant and naive for not caring enough about orthodoxy and heresy and theology - but it all seems so childish sometimes. Like pushing bolders up hills while arguing at the same time why your hill, your bolder, and your way of pushing the bolder is right. I feel tired for Tony - and others like him - who have to constantly be writing responses like this one (which I haven't read because I don't have the time or energy to even enter into this sort of thing... ) and constantly are sticking up for what God has revealed to them...

what a chore.

I thought Jesus' yoke was light and easy...

I respect Tony for what he does... for fighting the good fight against people who's main tactic is to nag and complain their oppenents to death and then claim victory and that their "orthodoxy" has defeated the enemy of God... or something... when really most people just don't have the time or energy or willingness to wrestle intellectually with intellectual snobs - who bark alot but have no bite, talk a lot but have no walk.

Sorry... I just get frustrated with Christians sometimes when they make it so hard for others to even try and be real in their quest to find God.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Lexi said...

Tony -

Why even respond? What purpose does it serve? He claims your a cow, so what. Hey look, there's Tony Jones, he's not a real boy, he's a cow.

(that's a serious question, btw)

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's comments such as the last few here that make the notion of Emergent being about conversation more difficult to defend.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Lexi said...


LOL. We take ourselves too seriously. The idea that we can somehow semantically divert someone from their deep held belief is absurd to me - if this dude has it out for Tony and the boys, so what. Conversation calls for communication and if two people are speaking a different language, isn't there just noise? Judging by Tony's intro, and inferring from Kunkle's speech, Brett had his mind made up a long time ago. I'm sorry, but you can't have conversation with someone if they believe you are wrong from the git-go.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...


Thanks for the posting. I understand what you are saying and I appreciate and respect your view. However, I must say that I respectfully do not agree with your response to Roger. He brought up a very good point and one that is glossed over many times by those in the EV and EC world.

As an Evangelical myself, I have been accused of not "being conversant" with those in the EV world. I have done what many (Jones, Paggitt, McLaren, etc.) have asked us Evangelicals to do before responding and read their works, watched their DVD's, looked at the blogs, asked questions, even emailed McLaren (who has yet to respond after over 6 months) and others (Paggitt, etc.) and yet I have come to the conclusion after prayer, careful bible studying, talks with older Christians, that I disagree with the emergent movement.

What Roger is saying here and what I am saying is that many in the Evangelical world are trying to engage and to converse, but when we disagree with guys like Tony, McLaren, Paggitt, they throw accusations out against us that are unfounded and actually ridiculous. How's that for a conversation stopper?

I have a couple good friends that are Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews. Whenever we talk we usually end up disagreeing with each other, but that is okay. We still talk and hang out, etc. But whenever I talk with EV and EC folks, who claim to be "on the same side", a little disagreement explodes into a huge issue and the doors of communication are essentially shut. That is what many in the Evangelical world are upset about. You want us to talk and converse and yet when we do, you shut it down, especially when we dont agree with each other. Of course we are not going to agree, just as I dont always agree with my wife (even though she is always right :) )

Do you see where we are coming from? But probably not...but that is okay, we will still converse!


5:35 AM  
Blogger Jugulum said...


I think you're being entirely unfair to Brett. I see no basis for your notion that his views as being "deeply held" such that they are inaccessible to argument and rational discourse.

You are dismissing Brett's contributions as being irrational, prejudicial, and beyond the reach of reason. That seems quite rude, and does nothing other than shut down potentially fruitful discourse. (I recognize that sometimes it will be true--sometimes you have to walk away from a pointless conversation. But your basis for judging Brett here seems paltry.)

You closed with, "you can't have conversation with someone if they believe you are wrong from the git-go." I beg to differ. I have had many conversations in which I believed (for some reason) that someone was wrong from the git-go, but was then convinced by their calm, perceptive engagement with my arguments and with the issue at hand. Having a strongly-held viewpoint does not imply anything about one's willingness to listen openly.

6:22 AM  
Blogger brett said...

can you have a conversation with a wall and it be mutually beneficial...why does it seem like those who tend to criticize EV or those associated with the emerging church, continue to say that there is an unwillingness to have conversation about anything "that matters" like their particular POV on theology, orthodoxy, fish bait, etc.?
I have had some of the most profound conversations within this environment...but when i have "conversed" with a critic it has turned into them telling me why I, them, we , us are wrong and what I should believe.
So if you could try to make the distinction between conversation and lecture at the forefront, it would be greatly appreciated

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, can't we all just get along.

Jeff G.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Jugulum said...


Regarding your comment that conversations with EV critics are more like lectures than discourse: I don't doubt that your characterization is fair in many cases. I wasn't there--maybe even all of the conversations you've had were like lectures. I know that people attempting to defend orthodoxy are often guilty of inappropriate dogmatism and somewhat paternalistic and/or professorial attitudes.

I would like to suggest a possibility for you to consider. (Maybe you already do keep it in mind, I don't know.)

Someone might not be guilty of this error even though they tell you why you are wrong and what you should believe. Suppose they (1) listen to you carefully to ensure they understand what you're saying, and (2) refrain from blanket appeals to human authority or assumed scriptural interpretations, and (3) present their rationale clearly, and (4) allow you to respond, and (5) engage with your response. In that case, I can't see what grounds you would have for criticizing their manner of conversation. In that case, telling you why you are wrong and what you should believe seems to be an entirely loving, kind, humble, caring, Christ-like, reasonable way to converse.

If people are failing to do the above, I completely understand where you're coming from. But I would be surprised if Brett Kunkle were failing in that manner. At least, my experience with Stand to Reason--the organization with which Kunkle is affiliated--is that they stress and (usually) exemplify these principles of conversation.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Conversation calls for communication and if two people are speaking a different language, isn't there just noise?"

I've said before that if this is the postmodern view (communication isn't possible because people are speaking different "languages") then the more people believe this as our culture becomes postmodern, the less you will see of rational discourse between people who believe different things. The above comment is an example of this playing out. But when persuasion and debate for the goal of truth are impossible, isolation within our particular group, frustration, and anger are sure to follow. Is forceful rule by the most powerful far behind that if there is no rational discourse between people of different "languages"? Something to think about.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Nick and Josh Podcast is on the case, how do we organize to call Brett to release this earlier recording?

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing like a good ole theology debate to get people all riled up. I swear some of these comments are longer than the post itself and I think that breaks one of the ten commandments of blogging. Blogs are a crappy medium for debate, but a great place to start a gang. Can I join?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...


As someone who graduated from an evangelical university and now attends an evangelical seminary I will officially refrain from partaking in the conversation.

Obviously the combination of my weak mind and having learned from poorly trained professors would do little more than bog down your lucid discussion.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I almost graduated from an evangelical university, but I had to leave before I went insane.

Just thought you should know.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Jugulum said...


I just did a quick check. Amy's comment is the longest, taking up two screens in my browser. Tony's blog entry is eight screens in my browser.


12:11 PM  
Blogger James said...

One of the things that I appreciate most about emergent/emerging is the fact that friendship (love) trumps doctrine and theology. I have many close friends and a SP who disagree with me on doctirnal issues, but we choose to love each other first.

Thanks Tony (and others) for making EV like that. We need more...particularly in evangelical circles - even when the discussion "leaves the door open!"

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tony, Thanks for the work, I am just becoming aquainted with what God is doing via emergent. Your books rock! Don't give the critics the satisfaction of a response, although your response shows your heart and is a good example to us.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tone down the rhetoric just a bit. Tony and I don't think theological disagreement (no matter how serious) and friendship are mutually exclusive. Indeed, we just had a good conversation on the phone this morning.

So, let's be careful not to attack people--their character or motives--in this conversation. Instead, let's stick to the theological ideas and doctrinal views. And at the end of the day, we'll go have a beer together and talk some more...

Brett Kunkle

1:28 PM  
Blogger sam andress said...


You're so orthodox. It's just that evangelicalsim in its most popular forms has insisted on basing orthodoxy not on the early ecumenical councils, but on the fall out of the European Reformation. Ironically, some of these evangelicals would not be too orthodox if they were to take Calvin or Luther as a whole.

I look foward for the chance to share a conversation over a beer, next time I'm in Minnesota.

- Sam

2:03 PM  
Blogger Lexi said...

I apologize Brett. I have had a really bad couple of days and unintentionally the spirit of my involvement displayed this. Let it be known that my breath smells like foot. Cheers brother.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

This is a theological argument so don't be surprised if it gets pointed at times. Heated discussion is what helps to refine the point and will actually help Tony and Brett to be better theologians. It is easy to get nervous when theologians start attacking ideas but that is what they are... ideas... it is clear that while Tony does take a swing at Brett's qualifications it is more like the first jabs at the beginning of a boxing match. This is how academic theology is done it can't always be a nice backyard picnic (and let's be honest, underneath the smiles at those family gatherings you know that there is often dysfunction and simmering misunderstanding and wrong-thinking no matter how good you say the burger is).

So to the inevitable, "Can't we all just get along?" The answer is yes, of course. Sometimes there will be genuine personality conflicts which are a symptom of our sickness. However, every critique of EV and, vice versa, the "evangelical" movement helps both sides figure out just where they are in the vast landscape of "thinking on God".

Personally, I push Tony on many of these issues quite often. He pushes back. But look, the questions of who Jesus Christ is, how exactly He brought us salvation, how evil exists in the world, how God does Godstuff, election, the sacraments, etc. etc. are all the categories that theologians have argued, debated, and celebrated since Jesus was born... ask a disciple if they had any questions... umm, yeah they did. Who among us is greatest? How will we know when the end is here? What is heaven like? Are you the one?

I would say that it is not helpful to swing the PhD around because the above questions are the ones that all of us share... which makes us all theologians... and, by virtue of our Savior, gives us a chair at the table... Latin-inscribed vellum or not. The PhD gives one a place to argue in the academy, but, in the end, theology only works when all of us get to play.

Chris Enstad

8:46 PM  
Blogger tony said...

I just posted this on the STR blog:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your impassioned responses to Brett's paper and my blog post. Brett and I spoke on the phone yesterday, and had a nice chat. I could hear the smile on his face and the sounds of his kids in the background. I went home and baked cookies for my kids last night.

My point is, for Brett and me, our continued friendship is the most important element of this dialogue. Remember the days when Democrats and Republicans in Congress would fight like cats and dogs all day, then do out for a drink together at night. That doesn't happen anymore in Congress, but it still does among Emergent Village and Stand to Reason. We communicate openly with each other and, when possible, break bread together.

Brett and I harbor no animosity toward one another. I wish I could say the same about some of our blog commenters. I do not think Brett's a heretic or an evil person. Do I think he's wrong about some stuff? Yeah. And I also think my wife is wrong about some stuff, but I still sleep in the same bed with her every night.

Regarding the specific problems some of you have with my response: 1) I brought up Brett's educational qualifications in my response because he brought up mine in his paper. I honestly don't think that either matters to the argument, and I was trying to show that, albeit somewhat slyly; 2) mine was a blog post, not a paper for presentation at an academic guild -- I've written plenty of the latter, but this was not one of them.

I do find it a bit disheartening that most of the commentary and posts on other blogs have been about this "throw down," about the *tone* of our arguments, or about my challenge of Reformed leaders to hold Mark Driscoll relationally accountable. There has been *very little* substantive dialogue about either of our statements.

But, that's why I'm glad to have a friend like Brett. He sharpens my thinking. You should all be so lucky.


4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think blog will let you accept fair suggestions and other peoples feedback

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks tony. but i'm still open for starting a gang if anybody is interested. or at the very least a secret society.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't understand the distinction you make in your statement on the authority of the Bible. You say that you revile the doctrine of "inerrancy", but will speak in terms of "infallibility".

... expanding on this thought, isn't that equivilent to "I don't believe in X but I do believe in X"?

Freedom from error or untruths; infallibility: belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=inerrancy)

10:55 AM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

speaking for myself... why Christians get mired in the debate on infallability just really blows my mind. These orthodoxy litmus tests are so bunk when the world is burning and people are starving.

here's an easier definition that I particularly like:
Is the Bible true? Yes, insofar as it is the manger in which we find the Christ.
Does the Bible get things wrong? Yes. For instance, in Leviticus rabbits get lumped in with animals that chew their cud... unless rabbits used to be called cows I believe that that is untrue... and yet, it has nothing to do with my faith in Jesus Christ.

But back to my previous point: besides the academy, who benefits from these endless trials about orthodoxy? The Enemy in my opinion. With such a vast mission field, and so many who have never heard the Good News... these kinds of debates are distinctly American and are born not of suffering or struggle but of opulence, comfort, and prosperity.

Instead of these endless quizzes on who dots their "i" and who doesn't, how about stories on how these movements have lifted someone's feet from the clay? It's like Doug's books... here's our community, this is what we do. Immediately the guns come out, yeah but, yeah but, yeah but.

In short: if EV doesn't have a webpage with a statement of each and every one of their doctrines that people seem to want to be carbon copied from their own church's website, what is really at stake?

9:10 PM  
Blogger Andy Rowell said...

I have done a post entitled

How to overhaul Evangelical Theological Society Conferences

It begins this way:

Tony Jones makes this comment about one of the ETS papers this year:

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

Tony shouldn't be shocked. There is no quality assurance whatsoever at ETS. I should know because I presented this year at the Evangelical Theological Society and my paper was not that good!

My challenge: We evangelical-leaning, theologically-rigorous blogging generation folks need to step up and help the Evangelical Theological Society get better because it needs it. I hope some of you will contribute to doing just that.

Andy Rowell
Taylor University
Department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I look foward for the chance to share a conversation over a beer, next time I'm in Minnesota.

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11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate you taking time to construct your response...'tho I'd have tended to be a little more snarky...

As someone raised in the evangelical/conservative bubble, the EC was both refreshing and intimidating to me a few years ago (past tense noted)...thanks for your enduring perseverance in this conversation, bro.

1:45 PM  
Blogger brad said...

hi tony,

i would like to thank you for your response. following this is helping my growth in christ with my mind and my heart. hearing of your friendship and how you are handling this is encouraging as well.

even if you might remotely feel it a waste of your time to respond (not saying you do feel this way), i want you to know that it has been beneficial for me to read your response.

so, again, thank you.


8:00 PM  

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