Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Couple Brief Critiques of Tony Jones and the Emergent Movement

Justin Taylor is linking to Christianity Today's dialogue between Tony Jones and Collin Hansen. First of all, great idea by CT. It's just too bad it has to be so brief.

Tony Jones' ideas have been the subject of criticism here at Christians in Context in the past (by both Matt and Norm); to his credit, he has taken this criticism in stride up to this point. Nonetheless, I cannot help but take issue with two points he has made here so far.

First, in his post from Day 1, Jones states, "Honestly, I don't know how different [our theological conclusions] are, though, since I am committed to God's sovereignty, to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and to the atoning work of Jesus."

The problem with this is how little it says. I have personally interacted with numerous Mormons who have said almost these same words. No, I'm not calling Tony Jones a Mormon (or even a non-Christian). I am saying that this is not a helpful statement because of its lack of qualifiers. Emphasizing agreements by equivocating on differences does not help the discussion.

To his credit, Hansen asked Jones about this and Jones responded with his view on the Atonement. On Day 2, Jones says, "There have been five or six major theological theories to explain the atoning work of Jesus on the cross over the last two millennia. Each of them, you might say, shines a spotlight on the cross from a different angle. Emergents want all those spotlights, figuring that the more light we can shed on the cross, the better we can understand it. One spotlight is fine. Six is better."

The problem here is that "spotlights" is a bad analogy. If these six theological theories were not often contradictory, the analogy would be fine. But simply put, either Jesus' death was or was not substitionary. Either Jesus did or did not ransom us from Satan. Either Jesus did or did not model an example for us.

That said, the helpful side of Jones' statement is that I really can (and should) at once affirm that Jesus died in my place and achieved victory over demonic powers.

But let's be honest: we all know that this is really not the question we have for Emergents. The real issue is often substitution, and that is because (a) we think the Bible affirms it, and (b) we think that the implications are too central to the gospel to not be clear about it.

It seems that the underlying assumption for Jones is that theology matters in principle, but not that much in practice. If it did we would not be so able to casually assume that each of these theories has enough truth in it to be worthy of our attention. That said, I don't think Jones really believes that theology doesn't matter, but I'm not sure how else to take that statement.

The question really is whether each spotlight is actually on the cross or not. When we figure that out, then we need to figure out which ones are biggest and brightest. When we figure that out, then we need to step back, look at the whole picture, and worship.

Of course, I could just be one of those nasty foundationalists stuck in my Enlightenment categories. But frankly, I like my Enlightenment categories. They're comfy. And for that matter, I think maybe the Bible had a few more of those categories than Jones allows for.

One last thought: I do appreciate the tone of the conversation. Jones and Hansen are beautifully gracious to each other, and I only hope I have followed their lead here.


P3T3RK3Y5 said...

i think "spotlights" are a great analogy – one that correspond to points of view.

lets say i show you an object;

you see "a rectangle".

but someone else standing to your side says "its a circle".

must these be mutually exclusive? or could it simply be a cylinder?

I think there are more dimensions to god and truth than simple dichotomies suggest.

Read Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott some time.

Norman Jeune III said...

I can't believe you mentioned "Flatland"! I read that book- it was interesting. Its quite an obscure read. Good illustration!