The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier By Tony Jones

tony jonesTony Jones is the theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, MN (Doug Pagitt’s church). Prior to this, he was the National Coordinator for the Emergent Village (2005-2008) as well the Young Adult leader for Colonial Church of Edina, MN (1997-2003). Jones holds degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div. in systematic theology/postmodern philosophy) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Ph.D in practical theology).  He currently lives in Edina, Minnesota,  and is active in the PTA and Cub Scouts as well as severing as a volunteer police chaplain (255).

The thesis of Jones’ book is fairly simple: to tell the story of the emerging church. That is, to tell the story of how the emerging movement started and what factors affected its growth and development.

To do this, Jones starts off chapter one by describing the “Old Country” dominated by mainline Protestant and evangelical churches. After describing the various problems on both the ‘right’ and ‘left,’ Jones describes the new “Frontier” being pushed open by the emerging church (chapter two). Throughout both of these chapters (as well as throughout the entire book), Jones makes liberal use of personal testimonies – highlighting the fact that the emerging movement is not about doctrine or church structure, but is about real people finding freedom in God to live hope filled lives.

Chapter three marks a shift in the book from describing the landscape in which the movement exists to describing the movement itself. This shift continues through the next two chapters (ch 4 & 5) where Jones talks about the theology of the emergent movement as well as how they view truth and the Bible. The last part of chapter five is very telling as it describes the emergents’ contentment with biblical paradoxes (i.e. they don’t have to have all the answers).

The last chapter in the book (ch 6) takes a more practical view as Jones describes how three emerging churches function in their individual contexts. In between these stories, there is a section in which he compares leadership in the emerging church to Wikipedia, the famous online encyclopedia which allows anyone and everyone to contribute to the articles. This selection was very enlightening as it helped put the theoretical ideas of community into practice.

I have always had a natural bent towards history. I love seeing the trends, the hows and whys that come together under the hand of the Lord to produce something beautiful. In telling the story of the emergent movement with the whys and hows, Tony Jones sheds more light on the emerging church than all of the books I’ve read previously. For the first time I can understand why they seek community; why they focus on the life and ministry of Jesus; why they do church the way they do. And to be honest, I like what I see – for I see people passionately seeking after a living God active in the world today.

I really enjoyed Jones’ chapter on reading the Bible (ch. 5) as he does not simplify or reduce the Scriptures into short, easy stories. Instead he embraces the complexity of the stories as they reflect human life and experience. While this view of the Bible is intriguing, the implications of reading the Bible this way are huge as it removes the clear cut doctrinal statements of the traditional church. Things are no longer seen in black and white, but in shades of gray – which, honestly, can be scary. On the flip side, it does force you to rely on God for direction and guidance, which is a good thing as the church as tended to rely on human intellect and reason.

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