Friday, June 29, 2007

Rejected by Wheaton

Last winter, I was one of the plenary speakers at the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference. I was asked to present the emergent perspective on the relationship between the corpus of patristic literature (the "Church Fathers" and the early councils) and the present church. I gave it the old college try, and was greeted with mixed reviews. Some reported their own ambivalence and the feelings of "disaster" among the theological intelligentsia. I was even emailed by one MDiv student that his professor mocked me in class the next week. Nice. Two other influential persons sent me long emails detailing their disappointments with my paper. Several Wheaton students approached me after the talk to thank me for it and express their agreements. So, it was a mixed response.

Yesterday, I received a call from the Wheaton folks informing me that, against the objections of InterVarsity Press, my paper will not be included in a forthcoming book on the conference. When I asked if it was my scholarship that was in question, or that I was "off message," I was told, "The latter." I was then told that parts of my presentation were "provocative but less than helpful." Ultimately, I was told, I did not treat the Fathers and the Councils as normative to the life of the church today. I argued that we're in conversation with the Fathers today, just as they were in conversation with one another in their day. I also posited that the victory of one theological position over another was as much a matter of politics and context as a matter of divine providence. Finally, the lack of marginalized voices in all of the ancient (and medieval and modern) theological debates should give us all pause.

Does that mean that the Councils and creeds and Fathers lack authority today? I hope not. But I hope that they will have a more credible authority if we understand all of the vicissitudes of their times. As in our day, they had pressures on them from all sides, and, while I in no way think this precludes God's Spirit from guiding the process, it was not a unanimous and clean decision on, say, the dual-nature of Christ.

Finally, this: In the last four or five decades, with the maturation of evangelicalism, several schools of thought on the appropriattion of ancient sources have developed. Most evangelical church historians could draw you a diagram of these schools and tell you the various leaders of the schools, as well as telling you into which one they fall.

Emergent, on the other hand, is less than ten years old. As such, we are making our first forays into these hallowed grounds. We're in process. In other words, my paper was in no way a final statement on the authority of the Councils, but a first attempt at a faithful articulation of the emerging position.

What I find a bit troubling, however, is the mixed messages that we're receiving. On the one hand, emergent is accused of not being theologically rigorous enough. But then we're excluded from a book like this on account of our preliminary conclusions. Had my essay been included in the book, I assume it would have come under some sharp critique, and, as a result, I would have become a better theologian.

Instead, I will avail myself of the new media and post it here. Read it and decide for yourself. Please note that these are my notes for the presentation -- they have not been edited for a scholarly book. I was asked to present in such a way that would be approachable by undergrads, pastors, and professors, so I attempted some humor and lightheartedness. And you'll want to scroll along with the powerpoint presentation, too, since that was essential to my paper.

Lemme know what you think...

Get the paper here.

Get the powerpoint here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks tony...for everything you do! I'm sure it is hard bearing the weight and burden of leadership that you bear, but I hope you know that bearing and leading is much appreciated by many people.

thanks, again, Tony!

12:41 PM  
Blogger Laura Springer said...

Tony, thank you for posting this. It's absence from the book is unfortunate, but we are indeed thankful for alternative publishing.

I will read it with much interest, as I am reading through many of the church fathers as I trace the trajectories of ecclesiology in preparation for a Th.M. thesis on EC ecclesiology.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Chad M. Farrand said...

I guess this isn't really surprising. You now join quite a long list of amazing "speakers" and theologians on the infamous Wheaton Blacklist (Rich Mullins was also on the list I hear).

What really bothers me is their flat-out refusal to acknowledge another stance on Orthodox. The analogy of baseball is clever, and not simply "unhelpful."

Anyway, I am sorry that this has happened.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article tony. i thought you might have mentioned something about the 'indirect' authoritative influence the fathers exert by supplying us with our conceptual/verbal categories. even though we're removed by 2,000 years the fathers are strangely still part of our 'context' in some way.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It́s a move from the ontological - orthodoxy is - to the eschatological - orthodoxy will be."

Love it!

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quick typo note: top line of p.26 says "purview of on leader" but the "on" should be "one."

Otherwise, I appreciated your proper insight that there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. This is a tough pill to swallow for Protestants clinging to sola fide, but must be correct. Orthodoxy is meaningless without it being embodied in the life of the community following Jesus.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this, Tony. Several quick thoughts:

* Give the Wheaton folks credit for inviting you to speak. That took courage on someone's part.

* I suspect that an emerging theology is not going to be developed in the same structures (seminaries, Christian colleges) that developed "traditional" theology. It will be worked out on blogs, email, podcasts, etc. Your posting your presentation here is part of that process, in a way the Wheaton book will never be.

* Thank you for your courage in engaging and thinking about these important questions. You provide thoughtful, intelligent leadership for many of us who are seeking to follow Christ in the 21st century.


9:40 PM  
Blogger Tripp said...

When Wheaton broke up with you did they say after their Q.T. it just wasn't God's will? I had a conservative evangelical girl do that to me in high school.
BTW, the title of the conference was 'Ancient faith for the Church's future' and after reading the essay I have no idea how what you did did not fit. Maybe they should have titled it 'Church Fathers would be conservative modern evangelicals if they were here.' I guess many of us should thank them, since we now get the essay for free and can save the money of buying the book. Thanks for sharing.
Emerge On.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Fajita said...

Nice work. I figure I'll link it and send all 6 of my blog readers over here to read for free what they could have paid a couple dozen bucks to read.

The paper is scary, but not in the heresy way (to me anyway). It is scary in the God-appears-to-involve-us-in-creating-Christianity kind of way. If God is consistent, then we have some authority as communities of faith to theologize as much as any group ever did.

Thanks for the freebee.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for sharing here. I'll look forward to reading the paper. I'm sorry that Wheaton didn't include it.

I don't want to be picky here, but I was hoping for a little clarification.

You said, "In other words, my paper was in no way a final statement on the authority of the Councils, but a first attempt at a faithful articulation of the emerging position."

THE emerging position or AN emerging position? While I affirm your personal efforts, IMHO emergent has done well to avoid staking out too many official positions, for the sake of conversation. I'm just curious how you see your contributions within the larger scheme of things.

Again, I don't mean to nitpick.


11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I indeed noticed the same wording on the paper re "articulation of the emerging position." I thought there was no such position.
At any rate, I enjoyed the paper and glad you posted it, Tony.

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
Looking forward to reading your paper. The powerpoint is excellent even though, as you have mentioned, it spurred mixed reactions. Just a few comments on that.

Unfortunately, I think your visual media came up against two sources of resistance: intellectual snobbery and Protestant/Evangelical distrust of images. Making matters worse, you probably had both in the same room.

As a filmmaker I have encountered this academic atttitude before. Digital media are often viewd as "lesser" art forms. I would argue quite the opposite since these media incorpprate the skill sets of other media - including fine art, photography, drama, etc..

The Protestant/Evangelical distrust of images runs deep. Much of it comes from our Protestant paranoia about art and icons in church. It may seem like hyperbole to suggest that that had something to do with your reception but in my experience, that impulse runs deep in among some in our churches. There is an underlying feeling that the visual is trivia at best and salacious at worst.

This was best illustrated for me when I was seeking to rent space for our church to worship in from a Calvinist institution. After I described our church and how we use the visual arts, the manager looked at me disapprovingly and said, "You know the Bible says 'faith comes by hearing'"
As if faith by seeing, tasting, smelling or touching has been divinely precluded.

The widespread use worship lyrics, film clips and worship media may seem to contradict my point. However, there are still DNA fragments floating around the Body of Christ that assume "If you're making your point with visuals, we cannot take your point seriously." It makes it easier to dismiss content by dismissing the media in which it was presented.

Obviously the above was not the core reason for your paper being rejected. I am only suggesting some unexamined attitudes that might have contributed to the response you recieved.


7:46 AM  
Blogger el mol said...

genius post. we leave one open chair at our poker table for you and one right next to it for one groupie. wheaton and their affiliates now have the public and permanent UNvitation and provide ample fodder for our enjoyment.

7:53 AM  
Blogger el mol said...

I dedicate this genius prose to Wheaton:

They are pouring over Sanskrit on the ivy league moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Cast all the school and meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It's knocking over fences, crossing property lines

Four winds, cry until it comes
And it's the sum of man
Slouching towards Bethlehem
A heart just can't contain all of that empty space
It breaks, it breaks, it breaks . . .

sincerely, Conor Oberst

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first I would say that among the commenters, it seems to me that the remarks about
-giving Wheaton credit for asking you to present in the first place,
- the articulation of "the" emerging position as opposed to "an" emerging position,
-use of powerpoint/images as something that might arouse suspicion
would be worth your consideration.

That said-
Wow! Tony. This is truly a Beautiful statement. As people who make a big deal about our faith being Historical, how in the world can we not locate the source of orthodoxy in the events of the Christ Event? As NT Wright says, when Jesus wanted to leave the disciples with something that would give meaning to what he was about to do -go to the cross, rise from the dead, ascend to the Father- he gave them a meal. It should surely follow that as we move through Time, with an eschatologic fragrance in our nostrils, orthodoxy would indeed "happen".

I don't have the "academic credentials" to critique the paper itself, but I do think it is a positive and very fair statement of what I understand makes up an emerging perspective on theology. I want you to know it has given me a great deal of hope today. I also want to affirm your teaching gift, with which I was impressed as you moderated the emerging church workshop at San Diego last year.

Best regards to you-
Dana Ames

7:56 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey Tony, I enjoyed reading the paper. I appreciate the opportunity to read and comment.

I see three main things that I would suggest might be helpful for you in speaking of this.

The first is just a question of speaking to be heard.

The story of the strike zone is really nice. You could have just finished a little stronger. You said this, but maybe could have underlined it. The strike zone is what it needs to be so that the game of baseball continues. Faithfulness is holding to the hopes that caused the rule to be written.

There could be a critique of the hope of orthodoxy, a critique of the idea of orthodoxy and a critique of the content of orthodoxy. Maybe you would have gotten a better listen if you had been able to make it more clear that you refuse to critique the hope of orthodxy, that the church would be the place which reveals Christ by the way it loves. But it is the hope of orthodoxy is what forces you to critique the idea and content of orthodoxy.

The second point is on the issue of orthdoxy vs orthdoxy. Again you said this a zillion times in your paper, but maybe needed to underline it.

I think that in some sense we can draw a distinction similar to the one that Derrida draws between Law and Justice. Orthodoxy the event is mediated by textual orthodox beliefs. (forgive me if i am mis-quoting Derrida here, i am only an amateur philosopher).

The instant you write down a belief, you begin to exclude the questioner who faithfully brought the question. And so the text begins to seperate, rather than to bring together, and so, just like law and justice, that which mediates destroys that which it mediates by the very act of mediation. Attempting to bring unity is also that which creates dis-unity. It only takes a casual look at the state of the church today to see how true this is.

So can the opposite happen too? Can you become be more true to the hopes and dreams of orthodoxy by being unorthodox? It seems ridiculuous, but again, church history shows that people have come to the conclusion that they must do this, over and over again. But our idea of orthdoxy has no room for this, and so we have schismatopia.

Wanton rule following and wanton rule breaking are both straw men which need to be set on fire and discarded. Are we left then with nothing to guide us?

What postmodernity offers us is a language of love for orthodoxy. What we are reaching for is this language which lets us write down rules, and break the rules, all under the banner of Orthodoxy. We think that we can learn from this conversation on difference and other going on, in the same way the the church learned from the conversation on similarity and self that happened in the enlightenment.

And the third and final thing might have been, instead of going on the defense, as it semed to me you did in the close few paragrpahs, to actually read a church father as an example of what this actually means in one living breathing context, where someone could “judge the fruit”, which in the end is the question we would love to have people hold us accountable for, does all this actually result in the Kingdom of God being near.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just got finished reading it. and it goes without saying that you're smarter than they are. and less pretentious. you're like a poetic rapper who spins rhymes and lyrics in harmony spitting pithy words of genius in their faces.

don't know where that came from. but for real, this is good stuff. don't let the man get you down. they say you should articulate stuff and when you do they get mad when it's not what they wanted you to say. it's a less than sincere effort to invite and then exclude. one could even call it rude and hypocritical.

but what more can you expect coming from the plush suburban homes and offices of wheaton.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

listen to Misfit Toy too- wisdom, be attentive :)

4:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Tony, thanks far calling it as you see it!

1:39 AM  
Blogger James said...

Tony - don't know if this is the appropriate place, but I can email you the same Q, I guess...

You talk about their being "no" Christians, in a negative theology kind of way. I wonder if that also can (and should) be found when we understand that a Christian is "like" Christ. The very dfinition of what a Christian is includes the fact that we are "like" Jesus, but not exactly Jesus, we can never be exactly (and I'm wesleyan!).

The same, like you have stated, is easily applied in discussions of orthodoxy. Thanks muchly for posting your paper and putting words to many of our feelings/intuitions/thoughts.



ps. I'd write more but if I hang out on too many emergent websites I'm bound to find some picture of naked animals, with all that animal sex going on - lol!

6:55 AM  
Blogger Mike Stavlund said...

I don't understand why they're giving you so much static on this-- it looked like a perfect strike to me (a center of the plate, belt-high fastball).

7:38 AM  
Blogger Dan Turis said...

I totally see why they nailed you. Not that they are right. Someone young is using lesser known information and drawing conclusions on it. It's like Scott Sunquist who teaches Church history from a eastern perspective, it blows minds and creates disagreements. Orthodox Priest Thomas Hopko said "We were the original protesters","you cant see church correctly until you see it through the history of orthodox church."
Wheaton has the prerogative to disagree and even hold back such thought. However they are undercutting their own mission statement. They are no longer an institution of thought and learning as much as a training facility to create thinkers who are like them.
Thats fine i guess but that will die. I always find it a bit audacious when people compare the Emergent movement to the reformation. However Blogs are the modern day printing press and pamphlets. As you say Tony "We are in the death throws of modernity."
I will write more about this on my blog because i am taken back by it, but you cant deny that youth will patiently wait this out?

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, it saddens me to hear that your paper was not received well in Wheaton. I agree that it would be nice to include your paper so you can recieve some good criticism and learn yourself.

for those down on wheaton, i recently graduated from wheaton, and i can promise you that it was my time learning there (especially in grad school) that prepared me for my thoughts now within the emerging church discussion... so all that to say that wheaton is not a place that ignores good discussion, and i am sure there are some (students and proffs) that resonated with what you presented...i know i did.


11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If orthodoxy is defined by the community (your statement, not mine), then is there anything wrong with the evangelical community defining orthodoxy and declaring that you are out of bounds (or, out of the strike zone)? It seems that is just what has happened. And you're surprised, why?

2:54 PM  
Blogger Richard H said...

A couple of observations:
1. You use the imagery of baseball, of strikes and balls. My perception is that the Wheaton folks weren't clear that you're playing the same game they are. While you may be both playing baseball (let's call this level of the analogy Christianity), you're playing a different variant (say a different league with different rules, or Korean baseball which uses a different kind of ball [since the evil Japanese use a US style ball]). Or perhaps the problem is you are making an unexpected or incoherent move in the game - perhaps the game is now in the seventh inning, and you're supposed to be up to bat, and instead your pitcher comes out to take the mound.

2. When we define things - i.e., figure out what they are - our actions include positive elments (saying what the thing is) and negative elements (saying what it is not). Evangelicalism long been defined not only by what it is (an orthodoxy centered on inerrancy, a Reformed flavor of traditional soteriology, and often a dispensationalist eschatology), but what it isn't (liberalism and fundamentalism).

Liberalism has come in many flavors in the past century and a half. Evangelicalism finds it easier to differentiate itself from Liberalism than from Fundamentalism, perhaps since Liberalism differs more ideologically, and Fundamentalism differs more sociologically.

Evangelicals are not convinced that they can't not be liberals - that they cannot refrain from contending against liberalism. Once you stop arguing with liberalism - whether because you like liberalism (which they suspect), or don't think the battle is worth fighting - they have no option, given the negative component of their own self-understanding - to understand you as anything but some sort of liberal. Maybe you're only a deluded liberal, a liberal who isn't sure what you are, but a liberal nonetheless.

3. Do you want to be an evangelical? Do you want anyone to perceive you as an evangelical? Why or why not? As an evangelical Wesleyan in the United Methodist Church I'm misunderstood from most directions. My denomination's functional theology is mostly some variety of liberalism, but more often than not it tends to not be very theological at all. Rather UMs tend to looks for the kind of orthodoxy you speak of - an orthodoxy mostly indistinguishable from orthopraxy. As a theological minority in this huge, lumbering, bureaucratic institution, I've found that that doesn't work very well. While Orthopraxy might be enough to sustain an individual or a small group for a while, I don't see it sustaining the church in its larger groupings over a significant expanse of time. On the other side, most evangelicals in other churches doubt me (a) because I'm a United Methodist, and (b) I'm a non-foundationalist.

4. Tying the last two points together, if you want Emergent theology to be palatable to Wheaton type evangelicals, you need to find ways of saying what you're not that don't feature so prominently what they see as central. When you tell them to their face that what is important to their tradition is not important to your own, then why would you be surprised if they don't want to include your address as part of their publication? Can you come to the point where you can converse with a Wheaton-like audience and identify positive commonalities (in doctrine, style and theological rhetoric) AND negative commonalities (in ways you differ from mainstream culture and other ideologies, whether connected to the Christian tradition or not)?

5. Needless to say, Emergent is open to different parts of mainstream culture than is the bulk of the American evangelical movement. I don't think either group has yet figured out what to do with "culture" (variously defined), but right now their flavors clash. As far as culture goes, Emergent has more in common with mainline folks. (of course, Evangelicals see that commonality with mainline [liberal, in their thinking] folks, and find another clue to where you're really coming from. You can say that cultural location isn't relevant the way they think it is, but they don't yet believe you (unless, again, they are a mainline evangelical).

6. Finally, don't worry about it. If you see the Emergent movement - assuming there's enough homogeneity to call it A movement - as desiring a connection with its parent (ah yes, the dreaded generation gap and its dynamics!) Evangelicalism, then you'll just have to keep working at it and work it out. You obviously know enough church history to know that these things take time.

7:51 PM  
Blogger russ said...


It's too bad Wheaton is not including your paper. I was at the conference and I agree with Wheaton that your paper seemed a bit off the message of the conference. Those who do not recognize this to be the case might think differently if they had heard your paper in the context of the others. Personally, I am a proponent and participant in the emergent conversation. I am also very interested in the roots of our faith, and was actually led in that direction by my emergent journey. That being the case, I was very excited that you were speaking at Wheaton and that I would get to see you there as well as the philosophical discussion in Philly immediately following. I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness and diversity expressed over-all at the Wheaton conference and I wish that you had been able to attend the full conference yourself as I think you might have been pleasantly surprised as well. When your time to present came I was a bit disappointed that your paper seemed more of a somewhat defensive primmer on emergent than a true engagement with the subject matter of the conference from the emergent perspective. It's not that I thought your paper was bad. Quite to the contrary. I just found it to be a little off topic and certainly a missed opportunity. The mood I experienced at Wheaton suggested to me an atmosphere that was ripe for some winsome words from the emergent front on the subject at hand. Honestly, it seemed to me like you came in with certain negative expectations, and to some extent your approach and attitude towards the conference going in may have contributed to the all too inevitable outcome. I loved the conference at Wheaton and I loved the conference in Philly. I do think that your paper at Wheaton was a bit of a mismatch and a missed opportunity. That's all. Nevertheless, Wheaton should voice their critiques and go ahead and include it in the book. That's what dialog is all about. Thanks for giving it "the old college try" and thanks for putting together an AMAZING time with Kearney and Caputo in Philly.

8:21 PM  
Blogger John Zenkewich said...

Hi Tony:
I'm not a theologion but I will give it a read.

What about posting the audio from your presentation so we could listen along and look at the powerpoint?

8:43 AM  
Blogger N.C. said...

so much for being the Xian "Harvard".

1:02 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thank you for posting this. Its really refreshing to read unequivocal expressions of emerging thought. I'm not surprised at Wheaton's reaction though - I saw the first stirrings of their inquisition against postmoderns when I was there. Its easier to silence questions than to address them.

Anyway... with your baseball analogy - have you seen the Northern Exposure episode where the merits of modern vs. postmodern interpretation of literature are debated using baseball and the poem "Casey at the Bat"? I think that was my first introduction to these ideas.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it helps any The Wittenburg Door gets letters from Wheaton College students who say the read the rag under the covers hoping they don't get caught.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

"Maybe they should have titled it 'Church Fathers would be conservative modern evangelicals if they were here.'"

Well said Tripp!

10:42 PM  
Blogger russ said...

"Maybe they should have titled it 'Church Fathers would be conservative modern evangelicals if they were here.'"

I just have to say... this is a gross misrepresentation of the attitude and vibe of the conference over-all.

More accurate might be... "Many conservative evangelical pew-sitters would be shocked at some of the things we are talking about and embracing here"

At the conference we heard from presenters who were Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed, Baptist, etc... One of the presenters was even a fellow who had been turned down for a faculty position at Wheaton because he was perceived to have "Catholic leanings." So... I'm not defending Wheaton in general. And I would certainly not be qualified to do so. But I was at the conference and I am just calling it like I saw it. I was surprised at the diversity and the open-mindedness. I was pleased that Tony had been invited to represent the emergent view. One presenter (the Anglican) actually said in regards to the Church splits of the Great Schism and the Reformation that neither should have ever happened. That's a pretty pomo (or at least pre-mo)statement if you ask me.

Finally, I was surprised by the general lack of knowledge and naivety amongst presenters of the conference regarding the emergent church. But, I sensed an interest and willingness to learn. I think something about Tony's paper and presentation and response to questions (much of which would be lost of those simply reading the paper)simply caused more confusion and walls to go up than learning and dialog. Much of Tony's message seemed to spring from the recent effect of Kearney/Caputo exposure along with (what I perceive to be) a fairly recent elevated questioning and possible rejection of the creedal tenants of our faith by some emergent leaders, Tony and Doug in particular. This type of leaning would be in direct antithesis in many ways to the message of the Wheaton conference over-all. Interesting timing to say the least. :-)

9:34 AM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Tony -
I look forward to taking the time to read your paper. I also discovered, while attempting to catalog my library this weekend, that I own one of your books and have not taken the opportunity to read it yet. This will soon be remedied. I majored in Philosophy & Sociology in college - and at a Baptist school, so there was plenty of Theology studied as well. I traveled up for Wheaton conferences. If there's one thing I learned, its that the dissenting voices in a conversation can end up bringing beautiful changes in perspective if they are persistent. But the prevailing voices will do everything in their power to prevent a paradigm shift - its not in their best interest. Or is it?

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your paper...twice.

I interacted with it a little at

10:28 AM  
Blogger tim a said...

Tony and all,
is there a place where this discussion continues?

am about half way through the book emergent manifesto of hope and see some strands...

i think there are issues about whether this is intra-mural play or inter-league play...
which may influence whether this well-crafted piece appears as a brush-back pitch... or down the middle...

from where i sit i cant call it...
but there are so many issues of interpretation in this emergent so called conversation...
that it does seem wise to put in more hours on what is the message and who is delivering it how to whom... ?

saying that ortodoxy must go w orthopraxis doesn't actually clarify anything for me --
Who's spin on orthopraxy??

Tim A

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If indeed orthodoxy is an event, then Tony, you are correct in concluding that orthodoxy has happened and in fact happens.

However, isn't orthodoxy equivalent to proper doctrine? Wouldn't it be best to understand orthodoxy as flowing from God --- the One who never happened, the One who had no beginning or end, ever, at any time.

I see the council at Chalcedon as a bunch of church leaders talking about and debating what the Bible says about truth. In this case, they arrived at orthodox trinitarianism, a solid Christology. But truth of Christ existed long before they ever got together!

If orthodoxy happens, then truth happens or occurs. Since truth flows from God, then orthodoxy does not happen...

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In your blog posts, I've found a slight tendency to 'victimize' yourself when met with opposition. Excuses and accusations seem to abound, but there is hardly ever any positive reception of criticism. It's as if the other half of the dialogue just have you wrong. Two comments this post illustrate this.

"In other words, my paper was in no way a final statement on the authority of the Councils, but a first attempt at a faithful articulation of the emerging position."

Now, perhaps this would be fine to defend a blog post, or even an editorial. But you were asked to speak and present for a very well noted theology conference that expects their invited speakers to offer presentations with a view to publish them. In light of this, your excuse for your paper as being a "first-time attempt" would appear to gain very little sympathy from those who know what has been expected from speakers at this conference in the past, which far exceeds that of a 'first-time' endeavor.

Moving On:
"On the one hand, emergent is accused of not being theologically rigorous enough. But then we're excluded from a book like this on account of our preliminary conclusions. Had my essay been included in the book, I assume it would have come under some sharp critique, and, as a result, I would have become a better theologian."

Again, bars have to be set Tony and institutions need to be responsible and thoughtful about whom and what to publish. Wheaton's own scholastic reputation is on the line when it submits a set of papers for publication. No one can make the complaint that you make. For example, not everyone can be accepted into the doctoral program in which you find yourself. What if someone complained that they could have become a better theologian if a certain institution would have just given them 'the benefit of the doubt' chance, which you seem to chastise Wheaton for denying you by the title of this post.

My advice for being taken more seriously by non-emergent types (be they academic or popular evangelical conservative types) is to avoid such 'victim' perspectives and answer criticism with real and substantial rebuttal rather than excuses.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are people so praiseworthy about the ball/strike analogy? If you've read the paper he clearly borrows this from Fish. Anyways...

Tony, when calling orthodoxy an event, why did you merely appeal to Caputo? It seems you would have been much better off appealing to Barth on this point, or even those today who follow use his actualism today. I can at least think of 2 or 3 at your very own school.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's an overstatement to say that your paper was rejected by Wheaton. The very notion of rejection implies a preexistent standard of acceptance, whereas Wheaton simply called you out on strikes as they saw fit.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Ross said...

Hi Tony

Thank you for a very stimulating paper, which seems to capture well the spirit of the emergent/emerging churches.

I have been reading Calvin again lately (is that allowed?) and what strikes me over and over again is, first, how he feels that the churches he is part of are also 'emerging', that they have not emerged yet. But, secondly, how in trying to establish reformed churches and theology, he keeps going back to those who have been there before.

He wants reliable guides from the past to help him on his journey in the present. Hence his constant conversation with the Fathers.

When I travel, I take a guide book - Lonely Planet, usually. I don't follow it slavishly and sometimes I think it gets it wrong, but mostly it saves time and helps me to make fewer mistakes than if I had not consulted it.

Some emergent people talk as if they are so in love with the journey that they prefer to get lost rather than take a guide with them. We can either admire their spirit of adventure or deplore their arrogance.

If it is in 'communities where, together, we are figuring out where the strike zone is' doesn't that include those who have gone before whose witness surrounds us. Isn't this what is meant by 'the communion of saints'? Or is it to us only that the Word of God has come?

6:16 PM  
Blogger sam andress said...

I found your paper to be utterly and delightfully, wel...orthodox?

It's so difficult for us Westerners to relinquish our incessant dualism between "knowing" and "doing". I found our dialogue with Caputo to be quite stimulating.

Your paper reminded me of Kierkkegard who tells us that the goal is never to be Christian, but that in order to "become Christian" we need to cease being Christian.

Of course anyone who defines faith as a list of points of belief will shriek at that statement. But if we believe the faith of Christ is one in which we are called into resurrection and following and movement, then the words of Kierkegaard and even yourself point us closer towards the strike zone.

2:40 PM  
Blogger russ said...

Ross Royden's post reminded me of this...

"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around." - Orthodoxy, 1908

4:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


I like you, but frankly I am not getting why you are complaining about this. You openly challenge traditional evangelicalism, and mock the traditional concept of orthodoxy. Are you really surprised your not included in the book? It would be more of a surprise if you were included.

And frankly, your reading of church history is more than flawed. The Fathers of the early church were not simply looking for a "conversation", they were looking for "true truth". They were not willing to die for the sake of a conversation, but rather the defense of rock solid factual truth.

If the emergent church has any hope of impacting the evangelical world--and I certainly hope it does--it must learn to have more respect for the evangelical/historical concept of orthodoxy. Orthopraxy has never been denied--just look at the Puritans who cared more about orthopraxy than any other religious group in history.

You talk a lot about having a "conversation". But a conversation is more than just you speaking, and then whinning when your not heard. To converse means you must meet people where they are at. How have you done that to traditional evangelicals?

6:30 AM  
Blogger Dylan said...

Chad wrote: "I guess this isn't really surprising. You now join quite a long list of amazing "speakers" and theologians on the infamous Wheaton Blacklist (Rich Mullins was also on the list I hear)."

Regarding Rich Mullins: you hear wrong. Rich Mullins was an invited chapel speaker a year or two before I started my time at Wheaton. He was on the schedule to return but died about a month or two before his schedule chapel appearance.

On a more general note, Wheaton College has an explicit commitment to educate their students within a particular theological framework and to equip them for service to Christ and for His Kingdom. That's why they let go a popular anthropology professor while I was there--his theology didn't fit the statement of beliefs. Period. The leadership of Wheaton has a responsibility to ensure orthodoxy more than to "dialogue" with emerging theologies.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Dylan said...

Josh wrote: "but what more can you expect coming from the plush suburban homes and offices of wheaton" [sic]

Those sort of attacks come easier when you don't look to closely at the truth. As a Wheaton grad, I got to know many of my professors beyond simple classroom involvement. They were individuals committed to Christ and His Kingdom. Many of them had served on the mission field and/or currently served in a missions capacity while teaching. Many were involved beyond official responsibilities in discipling students and training them to "go and make disciples...".

If I reflect on my closest friends from Wheaton--just a random selection of the student population, I've got friends serving, not merely living, in:
Western Europe, Eastern Europe, several in Russia, one in a country I'm not permitted to name for safety reasons, one that has traveled to very rural Africa to train pastors, another that took his wife and newborn daughter to a place of extreme poverty in West Africa to reach Muslims.

That doesn't even begin to include those that are still in America but actively doing ministry that involves personal sacrifice, often financially.

Wheaton College is not about plush homes. Wheaton College is about Christ and His Kingdom and that includes sacrifice and service. I know from experience.

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, I read your paper and liked it. I have no idea what is going on at Wheaton or IVP, so they'll have to speak for themselves. But, I do agree with your premise that orthodoxy emerges from our living out and with our faith. The church fathers were no more superhuman than we are, and some were less so. And, frankly, some of their thoughts are rejected now by theologians (allegorical interpretation for example). Which doesn't mean we don't owe them a debt, but theology is dynamic. We fear what we do not understand, even in theology. Keep up the good work! Frankly, if you'd been accepted at Wheaton, you wouldn't be emerging, would you? -- Chuck

4:03 PM  
Blogger newmatic said...

“But how is this reliance on the Holy Spiritís intervention not a theological cop-out? How do we not use the Spiritís activity as a conversation-stopper when our hallowed texts and histories are deconstructed?

This is the inherent aporia of orthodoxy, as it is traditionally conceived. Christian orthodoxy, when defined doctrinally, when seen as a set of beliefs, be it bounded or centered, is too easily deconstructable. We are left to rely upon logical-postivism and empiricism to take us as far as it can, then we invoke the Holy Spirit to take us the rest of the way.”"

Tony, I agree that as humans that are part of an ever-fluxing culture that we our theology is subject to forces beyond our control. As you have said earlier in the paper, to this can be helpful because it brings different perspectives.

To this end, throughout history, my hope in following truly after the true God becomes as you said a “robust pneumatology.” And thus, I disagree with your implication (if I read you correctly) that this is a theological cop-out.

If we are to journey with God what grounding do we have but God himself? And this especially with the recognition that we are flawed, unstable people. If we cannot turn to the Spirit, where then can we turn? If not there, then what ever else we turn to that is not God, does in to itself become subject to change?

To non-beilevers especially, appealing to “faith” or the “Spirit” when caught in a connundrm seems like a cop-out, but it in a very real sense is the best place we can turn to. This by no means excuses a rigorous loving of God with our minds, but I believe that we must acknowledge that finity cannot grasp infinity and that our human minds can only reach so far in reaching for God.

In summary of this not-that-well thought out comment, I agree that the church father’s while seeking truth were undoubtedly working as sin-stained men influenced by external forces. But what was their hope in seeking it? What was their grounding? If we remove the Spirit from super-intending human history (I know that’s a loaded statement), our orthodoxy even as an event ends up as you said it would without the Spirit: logical-postivism and empiricism, that is “ourselves as the standard.”

6:43 AM  
Blogger newmatic said...

One other not on doing theology via blogs, the web, etc. To me, doing theology this way does promote conversation, however I would raise the question of the quality of conversation it brings out. Blog posting and comments because of its informal nature does not encourage me to be rigorous in my thinking as much as say writing a paper might or participating in a formal debate might due. That's not to say that this kind of conversation isn't helpful, just that I think there is a strong place for "formal" theologizing. There are people much smarter than you and me who dedicate their whole lives to this sort of thing and spend the time to do the tedious, rigorous work :-)

6:47 AM  
Blogger Cobus said...

Looks like this might become one of those cases where the fact that the paper has been rejected cause that more people will read it, than if it was accepted:-)

4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Review of emergent & postmodern

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Nate told me to read this post and your paper during dinner last night in Bend, OR (with my wife Jacki ---Toomie's Thai - ABSOLUTELY wonderful). Nate has come to appreciate that we are REAL baseball fans.

In terms of your post and your paper, the suggestion that a "strike or a ball does not exist until I call it," --- well --- it depends upon the count.

If it's 3-2 and the batter hits either a ball or a strike out of play, the count remains the same and the pitch is recorded as neither either for or against the batter. This is the irony of the saga of the non-publication of your paper from the Wheaton Conference in their forthcoming "conference book."

The reality is that they changed the rules of the game and counted you as "out" when you had been invited to play on the team, had been provided with an at-bat, ran the count to 3-2 (as all in attendance represented). The problem is, the you fouled off the "next pitch" and they called you "out!" For everyone else who came both before and after you to the plate, those batters would still be in the box.

In my opinion, it's "foul play" on their part for sending you to the dugout in this situation. However, the grace and professionalism that you have treated this situation with, speaks volumes about your character, being a role-model for enduring personal and professional sacrifice, and prioritizing the essential necessity for preserving "the integrity of the game."

Thanks so much for being such a good sport. Your team mates know what "really" happened here...frankly, in my rule book, you drove in some important runs. The final score does not always reflect how the game was played or who the real winner truly is.

You're a winner Tony.

See you in August.

Bill Dahl

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just have a few comments. Sorry if I am more critical than positive, but you have asked for dialogue and my comments try to seriously interact with his paper.

1. He writes, “there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy” and “there is no difference between the two.” Yet it seems to me that although true orthodoxy is never without orthopraxy, it does not follow that you can’t “speak” about orthodoxy independently. Fire never occurs without oxygen (assuming there is no strange way of doing so I am not aware of) but that does not mean that they are not two distinct things. You are right that true, orthodoxy and orthopraxy always go together, but that doesn’t mean that there is then no distinction. I realize this isn’t quite your argument in this paragraph, but I do sense something along these lines possibly there.

It seems to me similar to a conclusion one might reach about speech act theory. We do things by saying things or do things with words. On the other hand, we also say things when we do things. However, just because saying and doing become intertwined it doesn’t negate the valid distinction between saying and doing. You can’t completely collapse the one into the other. It seems to me that by characterizing orthodoxy as event and saying that thus “there is no difference between the two” you are making a similar argument. The two may belong together but it seems to me almost as if you are collapsing them into each other.

2. You seem to think that denying orthodoxy in the traditional sense is the result of acknowleding that our knowledge of God is always incomplete. The traditional view is not acknowleding the eschatology of knowledge of God. Yet at places I don’t think your argument pays enough attention to the fact that orthodoxy is only a broad framework and not a complete system of knowledge of God. An orthodox confession is not the same as a systematic theology. Systematic theology spells out much more detail and what a confession would leave as broad or vague, often a systematic theology tries to spell out. The traditional position knows that our knowledge is incomplete. We will never have a complete systematic theology (ST). Our ST is always a journey and progress both personally and historically. But this does not entail that we can’t have knowledge now of the basic facts or confessions of the Christian faith. Again basic facts understood in a basic way. I think I know what an apple is even if I can’t define it in terms of all the atoms it is made up of. We can make Trinitarian affirmations even if terms or parts of that affirmation is capable of numerous ST or philosophical expansions that are consistent with it. Orthodoxy is a general boundary and even on the issues it does speak to it does so in a manner that underdetermines the precise choice of a particular ST formulation.

If you don’t believe me on this, just read contemporary literature on the Trinity by people who would all agree with the orthodox confessions. There is endless debate of how to flesh out the details and specifics even though they already agree on the confessions. So just because one acknowledges orthodox confessions does not negate humility because of eschatology nor does it end discussion nor does it exclude the fact that people are going to flesh out different aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity or think out different implications or even try to flesh out the details in different conceptual categories based upon there cultural location.

So many (not all) of the differences you point out in your paper seem to have to do with differences over the details and not the broader picture.

3. I am also not sure that your umpiring analogy is appropriate. With Christianity it seems to me that you are claiming that we should not presume to have orthodoxy because we are in transit in our understanding until the final day when we will truly see. But this seems to presuppose that there is a right and true interpretation. But in the umpire analogy it seems that the point is that there is no right interpretation. In the Christian faith it seems to me that you are saying the epistemic situation calls for humility while with umpiring it is not merely epistemic. It seems to me that there is no single interpretation to be known ever or even possibly.

4. On your interview on the Al Mohler program you seemed to indicate that certain doctrines only come into existence at a certain time in church history. Yet I would be curious to see studies of this sort on various doctrines that pay attention to at least several key points. First, a doctrine can be held by somebody just with brief phrases even if they never reflect on it further. Second, a doctrine can be implict in other things they hold in which case the doctrine isn’t completely new. Third, just because you don’t find the precise terms that we use today in explicating the doctrine doesn’t mean the same idea is not expressed in different words. Fourth, as Moore pointed out, just because the issue doesn’t come to debate until a certain time doesn’t mean that it wasn’t held before then.

5. That confessions are to be sung and lived doesn’t mean that we can’t have definitive content in them that we take to be orthodox. Even if people disagree at times that doesn’t prevent us from affirming them as orthodox. OT confessions were poetic but nevertheless they had definite content and the fact that perhaps only a remnant got things right didn’t negate the fact that the faithful continued to affirm orthodox faith in Yahweh. They may have not understand everything but they did truly understand some things and that is what they affirmed.

6. It is not enough that there may have been politics with the decision of Chalcedon to question it. It has also stood the test of time. You might reply, “Well they have done so by force and politics and powerplays.” Yes but those who have defended it have come up with good theological and exegetical arguments. To which you might respond, “Yes but those arguments and the rationality used there was influenced by culture, upbringing, and so forth.” Yeah, but we can say this about anything. I could say this about your argument. To which then you could say this about my argument about your argument. Where does this really get anybody to simply say they were influenced by culture, upbringing, and so forth?

7. I am not sure that the echoing on the sermon on the mount is the best idea. Much of the point of the “you have heard… but I say to you…” in the sermon on the mount seems to be the authority of Christ. At least for me the allusion brings in associations of authoritative pronouncment. I am hoping that is not what you intended so I thought I would mention it for at least consideration in future presentation of the paper. However if you don’t see those associations then please disregard my comment.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"just got finished reading it. and it goes without saying that you're smarter than they are."

I'm a bit late to this party and I haven't read the article yet (though I will) but this kind of statement, made by a commenter here...? This is truly unhelpful. People aren't more or less intelligent based on whether or not they embrace your premises and project. To characterize the views of those you like as "smart" and those you don't as "dumb" is as lazy as it gets.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Paddy O said...

Like Annie, I'm really late for this conversation. I was originally only a little late when I first read this but after a bit of pondering I suspect I'm showing up after even the lingerers have left.

However, I guess I have a couple of things to say not least because I'm loyal to both sides in this conversation. I'm very much within the emerging/missional world now and have been basically throughout its development over the last 15 years. However, I also graduated from Wheaton with history and Bible/Theology double major, with the great bulk of my history degree emphasizing church history. Indeed, it was as a sophomore that I was for the very first time exposed to the wonderful writings of the Early Church. Wheaton, in short, helped me fall in love with church history and the early church in particular.

So, even though late, I have perspective. And while I very, very, very much respect your work Tony, I have to say I agree with Wheaton on this one. I think you missed a great chance.

Here's why. One you were asked "to present the emergent perspective on the relationship between the corpus of patristic literature (the "Church Fathers" and the early councils) and the present church."

You didn't really do this. Instead you brought the topic back to a favored emergent emphasis on the relationship of orthodoxy and emerging thought. An interesting subject but surely this battle is more precisely defined as between Christendom and post-Christendom thought. The early church, however, is pre-Christendom, and so should be of a curious conversation.

To focus on your chosen topic "orthodoxy" and emphasis the postmodern rejections, you reflect an almost entire dismissal of the early church conversation. And I mean early church, not the later Chalcedon church of the then emerging Christendom.

You use two sources. Vincent of Lerins as a model for the philosophy you are asserting and the proceedings of the Council of Chalcedon to express the political power plays. This is your engagement with Patristic sources.

Which is fine if you were speaking at an Emergent conference to encourage people to let go the restraints of Tradition for the sake of the movement of the Spirit. Not fine if you are engaging Scholars most of whom already know the history. They know it was fractious. But they invited you to address, it seems, how these early and formational writings can guide us through post-modernism.

In my reading you come off as quite similar to DA Carson's recent work on the Emerging Church. You assert philosophies and motives, setting up straw men so that you can disable them and assert our own present possibilities, using these to dismiss their motivations. Even as you fight against people dismissing your and Emergent's motivation.

Rather than doing that it would have been much more interesting to set up a conversation. We know Emergent isn't dependent on the writings of the Fathers. How is that different than any Protestant movement? What would be interesting would have been to hear how Emergent thought interacts and how it would land on the discussion.

There are many, many volumes of writing that were opposed to such a thing as Christendom. By neglecting these and by instead spending almost 30 pages to make a 2 page point you seem to suggest you're not aware of the conversation, thus allowing opposing scholars to dismiss your work as not sufficiently knowledgeable.

I respect your work, Tony, and have greatly enjoyed your other writings, but this presentation to me feels the historical content did not exceed the bounds of Wikipedia.

Where is Tertullian, who combatted formal hierarchy and presents a picture of liturgy very much in tune with emergents? Where is Cassian the less formal but more active opponent of Augustine, whose books resonate significantly more orthopraxy than anything I've ever read. Where are the Eastern fathers, or the Desert fathers, or the Shepherd of Hermas, or even the Didache which has an amazing flexibility with its call for boundaries.

The early church is rich in resources that would add amazing depth to the conversation. And to dismiss them all as seeking power means to dismiss many who, unlike any of us, died for the sake of Christ. You can do that with Chalcedon, but to say Irenaeus or Clement or Polycarp were engaged in politics is grossly insulting to men who paid for their faith with all they had.

And that is, to me, the problem with this paper. It is reactionary, provoking on things that I don't think you even believe. A pitch that goes behind the batters head might be called a strike, but the umpire calling it will be sanctioned and maybe fired. Such reactionary provocation plays well in conferences of the discontent but it's not nearly as interesting to those who might be hostile but are fair and willing to listen.

Had the topic been "What is Emergent" then I would have liked this paper and applauded its depth. For a paper on the relationship between Emergent and Patristic sources, however, it's entirely empty of real interaction and suggest that the rejection of orthodoxy as a goal has a lot more to do with ignorance of patristic sources than a refined choice.

Wheaton is conservative but I have never in my life been involved with people more seeking after God and more engaged with primary sources. They are hard, challenging, but fair, pushing at times to find the gaps. And I feel that without properly engaging Patristic sources but rather rejecting them out of hand by simplistic historical conclusions you gave them a very, very big gap indeed.

That's why their decision makes since. You spent about thirty pages on the emergent perspective of patristic literature basically saying what could have been your rejection of the invitation. The answer you seem to have given in your presentation? "There isn't one." Thus there's just no reason to include the paper in the proceedings.

I love your work and writing, Tony, so feel bad this is my first post here, but I guess the echo chamber of those dismissing Wheaton and supporting what really isn't an academic piece needs a challenge of its own.

8:33 AM  

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