Friday, February 22, 2008

Response to Tony Jones' Challenge

A couple of days ago Scot McKnight posted a chart that listed some people who were inside and outside of the realm of "orthodoxy." If you haven't already seen it, you can check it out HERE.

First of all, I don't necessarily endorse the chart. I want to make that clear.

Anyways, one of the four people who were listed as outside of the realm of orthodoxy was Mr. Tony Jones.

Well, Tony is apparently an avid blog reader and this post did not elude his Technorati grasp. He seemed a little perturbed about the assertion that he was outside of the realm of orthodoxy. Here is the gauntlet that he laid down in the comments section of the post (comment #93, to be precise):

"Sadly, this is happening more and more to me, and I continue to offer the same challenge: Will someone please show me where, in print, I have said something that is outside of classic, historic orthodoxy. I may not be evangelical, as it’s been defined over the past 150 years, but I’ve never claimed to be an evangelical. But surely Christian orthodoxy is much broader than modern evangelicalism. Was Augustine orthodox? Luther? Aquinas? Hildegard?"

Now, at the present time (10:19 Pacific Standard) 51 posts have followed on the heels of Mr. Jones'. However, I don't think that any of them set out to specifically show where Mr. Jones' has stepped outside of the realm of "classic, historic orthodoxy." There could be a couple of reasons: 1) people are not familiar with either a) classic, historic orthodoxy, or b) they are not familiar with Mr. Jones. Or 2) They are too afraid to venture a critique of a doctoral fellow at the venerable Princeton Seminary. Regardless of why no one has responded, I'm going to make a very brief attempt to show why Tony Jones can and should, at this point, be regarded as someone who has consistently located himself outside of "classic, historic orthodoxy."

First of all, he asserts that "orthodoxy doesn't exist." This was said in his presentation at last year's Wheaton Theology Conference. You can find him blog posting about it HERE. He says,

My "paper" went for a bit over an hour, then there were about 40 minutes worth of questions before Vince Bacote and I finally had to cut it off. I'll likely publish a version of that paper somewhere, sometime, so I'm not ready to give it all away here. But, the gist of it was that I said that orthodoxy doesn't "exist." Instead, orthodoxy is an event, in the Derridean/Caputoean sense. That is, orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There's no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, "See that? That's orthodoxy. That's what we're trying to get to."

Now, here is my problem with what Tony says here "in print": he is saying, very clearly, that "orthodoxy" is something that is defined by a human community. That is, when the community (and Tony, if you will read, means a "local community") gets together and does church and does theology, they come up with "orthodoxy." What this means, however, as Tony says, is that "orthodoxy doesn't exist." There is no such thing as universal, correct propositions about God or Jesus Christ. Rather, the community decides what is true about Jesus Christ.

If we engage in a very simple, 13th-grade logical analysis of what Tony is saying, we will see that he has now lost any ground for saying that anyone is outside of the realm of "orthodoxy." Mormons have banded together, and in their "local community" have decided what is and is not "orthodox." Martin Luther, rather than fighting heresy was simply fighting against what the whole of Catholic Christendom had deemed "orthodox." If Tony was around, it can be assumed that he would have told old Martin that it was silly to fight against heresy. "I mean, come on Marty, there isn't any orthodoxy out there to measure the papacy by anyways!"

This is my first problem with Tony Jones. The moment you say that "orthodoxy doesn't exist" you've dropped out of the realm of even being considered as "orthodox." You can't be an orthodox Catholic, an orthodox Protestant, or an orthodox Orthodox. You can't even be an orthodox Mormon. You've essentially made yourself irrelevant to everyone.

Even if he adopted a Barthian view that our theological endeavors could only be partial, modest, imperfect and incomplete, I would have a better view of him. But Jones, if we engage in reductio ad absurdum, is saying that orthodoxy isn't even out there, so all of our theological endeavors are simply arbitrary. Further, they can be deemed orthodox or heretical to the extent that they accord with the popular opinion of the local community.

We need to understand here that this epistemological stance of Mr. Jones effectively nips any constructive theology in the bud. From here on out all he can do is "talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc." Those all sound nice, but Jones has already told us that the way he talks, worships, prays, and writes has nothing to do with a God who is "out there," but instead is just the way his community has arbitrarily chosen to approach God. And, if Jones is right, a community of atheists would be orthodox in their denial of God's existence.

I'll stop rambling about this now, and if Tony would like to show me how this opinion that "orthodoxy doesn't exist" fits into the realm of classic, historic orthodoxy, I'm all ears.

Second, it is unorthodox and, dare I say, heretical to adopt a stance of antagonism towards Christ's church. Where has Tony articulated such an antagonistic stance? He finally comes clean, at least a little bit, right HERE. He says, in commenting on Jack Caputo's new book:

Here's what I don't like. I don't like that Jack lands the plane. I like it when deconstruction flies around at 30,000 feet and drops cluster bombs of intellectual TNT on church ladies and M.Div. students. That's fun. I should know, since I do a fair amount of it myself. Shockingly, church groups often pay me to come into their places and deconstruct them. I go Jesus on them, you might say. Or, to avoid a messiah complex, I go Isaiah on them.

Jack does a lot of that in the first four chapters, and he even does it in chapter five when he suggests using Jesus against the Bible. What kind of crazy hermeneutic is that?!? I love it!

Ah-ha, so he really does delight in a) never answering the questions put to him, and b) shaking the faith of “church ladies” and “M.Div Students.” Hmmm, you know what, I’m going to sound like a total fundamentalist here when I say this, but if you know people are believers in the Lord Jesus and you like shaking their faith and belief just for “fun,” you have an affinity with Satan who loves to question the clear commands of God (ie, “do not eat of it, for in the day you do you will surely die.”). On the other hand, we see Paul instructing the young pastor Timothy to teach “good doctrine” (and Tony, save the comment that Paul’s conception of “doctrine” is purely pragmatic. Have you read the book of Romans? And Tony, save the comment that Romans has a socio-rhetorical purpose in its original community, that’s BS, and Tony…). The tenor of Paul’s advice to Timothy is that people are supposed to be “built up,” not “deconstructed.”

Now, I’m all for some “deconstruction” if we mean allowing the Bible to correct our false practices and beliefs in order to reconstruct true practices and beliefs in their place. But read Tony’s post on Caputo, he doesn’t like it when Caputo, in a rare moment of inconsistency, actually makes some positive assertions. Tony doesn’t mess with the old “church ladies” and “M.Div students” for the purpose of “teaching,…reproof,…correction,…or training in righteousness.” No, rather, he wants to have “fun” by shaking people up and up and up. He has no goal, no answers. His epistemology won’t allow him any!

Now, I’d ask Tony to let me know if this spirit of deconstruction for deconstruction’s sake, a deconstruction that precludes any answers, falls within the realm of “historic, classical orthodoxy.” Oh wait, there is no such thing as “historic, classic orthodoxy.”

Come on folks, this is incoherent drivel! Are we going to continue to listen to this nonsense?

And Tony, I don't know why you get all "butt-hurt" about this stuff: as the whole emergent thing continues to pick-up steam, it seems that there is more and more money in heresy. I mean, I'm going to go pick up a copy of your new book tomorrow!


tony said...

Great post, Matt. I intend to respond at length. In fact, Scot and I are planning to write an article together on the nature of orthodoxy.

(One correction: If you think that anyone's getting rich off of emergent book sales, then you're sadly mistaken.)

Matthew Wilcoxen said...

Thanks Tony,

I don’t want to be more inflammatory than I already have been. I’m considering revising some of those comments in my post and may do so later (to be honest, I’m pressed for time today).

Anyhow, you have indeed been very gracious with me in giving me your cell phone number and offering to host me in Minnesota. I have no question in my mind that you are a kind and loving man.

Now, when we come to the realm of ideas, I also have no question that you are a very smart man. Smarter than me, I’m sure. You have all the accolades and accomplishments that our society can afford. I do think, however, that the stances you’ve taken (as I’ve read them so far) result in absurdity. Now, I’m really open to hearing what you have to say in response to that. I’ve emailed you some questions before and, although you were very gracious, you would not answer any questions about your epistemology and where that causes you to land.

I think, if your confession on churchandpomo is any indication, that you have to have some understanding of the level of frustration that your refusal to answer questions can create. In fact, your confession led me to believe that you enjoy creating this frustration because it is “fun.” I think that this frustration is woven throughout my post. To your credit, you are able to separate my frustration from some good questions.

Tony, if we are all part of the Christian community here, then I think you should listen to the critiques of the community and answer them: I’m not the only one saying these things. We need to see where you stand on some things, and if you don’t stand anywhere, than that is a stance in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

ha. a lesson on playing nice. its funny how our tone changes when we talk to each other...imagine what dinner together might accomplish.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think you're right; this is a lesson in playing nice. At the same time, our consideration for one another needs to be accompanied by clarity. So if the entire church is invited to the dinner party, and the discussion involves clear and accessible answers to all participants in the converation, then yes, dinner might accomplish much.

Norman Jeune III said...

For those of you who may not know, there is another follow-up post to this dicusssion on the main page of our blog.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your response to Tony, and don't worry I know alot of folks at Princeton that are PHD's, that means nothing to me. What does mean something to me is that you critique tony for shaking the faith of church ladies. I work for the church, as a pastor, and believe me people in the west need their faiths shaken if they really want to practice orthopraxy. Another point I would assert with as much humility I can muster, is that i would agree with Tony that orthodoxy does not exist in and of itself. If we judge orthodoxy, what is the guide? Which creed would you use to judge it. The apostles, the nicene, chalcedon, Westminster Confession. I think this is what tony is getting at. Each of these statements that defined Orthodoxy were situated in historical debates within christian communities. I think orthopraxy is a much better guide. Do we love our neighbor in a manner like the good samaritan? These are concrete stories that shape our identiy that we can gain some common ground among men and women that care about the message of Christ.
Thanks Nick Works

centuri0n said...

Dude, I think you have a problem with the nuance behind the statement "to adopt a stance of antagonism towards Christ's church".

I think it assumes a baptist view of the body of Christ which is less-than-useful here. For example, when the Protestant churches produces confessions that called the Pope "antichrist" and his church a "synagogue of Satan", they were talking to people who were visibly the church of Christ. However, I think you'd be willing to join me in affirming that this language was wholly-correct because of the errors of those people.

I'd be interested in seeing what you have to say in response to that. Overall, I think your post is good; I think it nneds a touch-up only.

Matthew Wilcoxen said...


To be honest, I don't really get what you're saying. I was pretty sure that "Christ's church" is something fairly broad and understandable across denominational lines. I also have thought that the "body of Christ" is a pretty clear Pauline conception in the New Testament. Let me know exactly what about my usage is Baptist and then I can respond. Thanks!


centuri0n said...

In Baptist usage, only saved people are rightly called "the church". So a congregation which is full of unsaved people is not a "church" or part of "the church". That's how you're interpreting Pauline usage of the word in the NT.

However, in more paedo-friendly circles, "the church" equals "all who are baptized" (which is how they interpret the Paulin/NT use of the word) unless they are under some kind of ecclesiastical judgment -- so a congregation full of people who wind up denying penal substitutionary atonement or original sin is a "church" unless it is actually shown the door by some kind of authoritative body.

In that, I think one can have "antagonism" toward "the church". Personally, I'd say I have "antagonism" toward the church exemplified by Emergent Village, but because we don't have a really efficient way of having an ecclesiastical review of their work/talks/conversation/theology/whatever, we're in the unenviable position of having to deal with them as allegedly part of the Christian church until such a time that they can declare they aren't.

Does that help?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear Matthew,

I like your post just the way it is. But if you want to lightly edit it, sure.

Although I'm fairly intelligent myself as compared to the mean of the American population, I'm rather non-plussed about discussions of IQ when it comes to being a faithful follower of Jesus.

Nobel-laureate and staunchly unrepentant atheist versus an uneducated, but faithful Bible-believing disciple? Give me the uneducated, but faithful Bible-believing disciple every time.

There's an Intelligence Quotient and there's a Biblical Disciple Quotient. The two quotients don't always coincide.

wwdunc said...

Matthew, you wrote,

"If you know people are believers in the Lord Jesus and you like shaking their faith and belief just for 'fun', you have an affinity with Satan who loves to question the clear commands of God (ie, 'do not eat of it, for in the day you do you will surely die.')."

I don't know if this is what you meant to say or if this is a part that you want to edit, but I agree with it wholeheartedly as it stands.

Wyeth Duncan

Matthew Wilcoxen said...


Thanks for the distinction there, I think that this could come into play at certain points, although Tony and I were able to converse without quibbling over our conception of the church.

I'm glad you have an eye for details and keeping me honest. :)

Matthew Wilcoxen said...


There isn't much about the post that I want to change, especially the part you quoted.

The only thing I would change if I had it to do over again, is that I would have cut out some of the vitriolic comments; I can get carried away sometimes. At the same time, there needs to be room to express passion over things that are very important.

Ryan McDaniel said...

I think everyone needs to read The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison. There is a definitive orthodoxy the has been passed along, as argued very well by Mathison. Of course if your a deconstructionist then there are other issues to discuss... But especially for those who are foundationalists, it disturbs me that you would affirm no official orthodoxy. We should revisit what Sola Scriptura really means.

Pastorboy said...


I think you and your partner did an excellent job.

I did an on-camera interview with Tony that is filled with un-orthodox statements. This might interest you. While Tony is a nice guy, he is suffering with a bad case of post-modern flu, in which the cure in unknowable.

I am glad to see young people who are on the mark theologically and are doing a great job being discerning.

terriergal said...

pastorboy - I applaud your attempt to get the truth through to Tony... I do think you let him off way too easy though. I kind of like the way the discussion (back in October I think?)between Matt Slick and Doug Pagitt went, or Todd Friel and Doug Pagitt... (for example).

Matt -- the beginning of the article makes it look like Scot McKnight endorses and came up with the chart himself when actually he posted it from someone else and asked for comments.

I think I'd put most of the people in the middle over on the right side (outside orthodox belief) with the definite exceptions of D A Carson and John Macarthur, and the remotely possible exception of Mark Driscoll, at least in formal discussion. But some of his practices and things he says are bordering on blasphemous.

Pastorboy said...


I am glad to get props from you, because the whole purposedrivel name and concept is one I love :^)

Anyhew, my tone was dictated, I think, by three things:
1. This was an off the cuff interview, and I did not know what to prepare for.
2. I am a pastor, and by nature, I desire to try to win people over by being gracious and being at peace with them. That said, I tried to balance it with a desire to stand for truth. I was at a loss because I was caught off guard by the tone and the content.
3. I didn't go through with my Gospel presentation at the end, because he was filled with pride in being one who doubts. This is a man who knows the scripture, clearly, but does not believe that the law is for him. He is trapped in his vain babblings and mocks salvation.

Thanks for transcribing, Terriegal. I do truly appreciate your website. If you desire to see me in my confrontational mode, I have open-air preaching on my website.

Zach Lind said...

"butt-hurt"? classy. :-) you might want to check to see if that kind of language is kosher with your BIOLA code of conduct requirements. ;-)

but seriously, it's cool you and tony are able to have a back and forth. hopefully it can lead to better mutual understanding. peace.