|The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier|
The following is Part 1 (Part 2) of an interview with Tony Jones about his forthcoming book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (to be released March 3, 2008). Tony is the national coordinator of Emergent Village, and a doctoral fellow in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Find out more at Tony’s website.
JAKE BOUMA: Tell the readers a little about yourself – education, ministry experience, family life, etc. How did you get from baby Tony J. to the author of “The New Christians”?
TONY JONES: I grew up in Edina, Minnesota, the same town where I now reside. My parents were (are) great people who were faithful, but didn’t take their faith too seriously. And I mean that in a good way. So many of my friends in ministry grew up in homes that were spiritually toxic. Not me. My parents are highly educated, well-rounded people. They highly valued education and made sure that my brothers and I were serious about school.
We went to a great church — a funny hybrid of mainline and evangelical Protestantism, and I was very involved there growing up. I went to everything. And that church had a great stance on letting kids move into leadership positions early, so I was counseling camp and teaching Sunday school, etc., even when I was in junior high. From there I went to Dartmouth College and immediately to Fuller Seminary, a journey that I recount in my latest book (The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier).
After seminary, I was a missionary for three years, working primarily with Oglala Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Then I took the job as minister to youth and young adults at my home church. It was there that I hooked up with Doug Pagitt and some of the other early emergent leaders. Honestly, my life hasn’t been the same since. This book is a record of our thoughts and activities over the past ten years.
JAKE BOUMA: In some of the early reviews of “The New Christians” there are already comparisons to Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christian” (e.g., ysmarko). For myself (and many others), ANKOC was my first encounter with “emergent” ideas, and really resonated deep within my soul. What is your response to the comparison, and how do you see your book functioning within the grand scheme of things?
TONY JONES: Well, that’s a bit hard to tell. My book is a little history, a little philosophy, theology, and telling stories about what’s happening “on the ground” right now. Like Brian, my book is kind of one step removed from being a memoir, but there are memoir aspects to it. I guess one thing that I hope will happen is that it clears up some misconceptions about what we emergents are all about.
JAKE BOUMA: Yeah, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions about emergent-types across the board, but particularly from critics of emergent. What would you say to the critics to encourage them to read your book? What will they take away from it?
TONY JONES: Well, I think that my book will clear up a lot of misconceptions. I argue that emergents really love the Bible and spend a lot of time in the Bible, for instance, against the criticism that we don’t. I also argue that we’re all relativists — even so-called “fundamentalists” are relativists. I run into lots of people who say they’re real worried about the direction of the emergent church, and when I ask what they’ve read, they say nothing. They’ve heard “things.” Or they’ve read a blog post about emergent. I hope they’ll read this book so that at least they will be informed.
JAKE BOUMA: Are you talking about a genuinely “new” group of Christians, or are you simply articulating ways (“the third way”?) to be authentically Christian, implying deep roots in history and tradition all the way back to the primitive church? Additionally, is the title “The New Christians” a value statement in any way?
TONY JONES: It’s not a value statement, really. But I am arguing that this is part of the future of American Christianity. And, to be honest, I think it is the preferred future. I think this is the way to go; I cast my lot with these people. I think the roots of emergent go way back, of course. So when I say “new Christians,” I really mean a new way of being Christian — a way that is rooted in the past but is also uniquely postmodern.
JAKE BOUMA: The United States was at its birth seen as a spiritual frontier for Christians. How is what you’re talking about different from that time, or the Great Awakening or the Reformation? Do you see any similarities and/or differences?
TONY JONES: I think there’s a similar DNA that runs through all revivals (Benedict, Francis, Luther/Calvin), and there’s even more in common when you talk about American revivals (the Great Awakenings, Pietism, Azusa Street, seeker movement). Emergent surely shares much in common with those revivals. But we’ve also come along at a unique time in history, so things like a global economy and electronic media make our movement different as well.