Have an account? Log in or

“Unorthodox Interpretation of Scripture”?!?

I like Marcia Ford. I’ve met her, and I’ve blurbed at least one of her books. She’s a fine writer. But her latest piece in Publisher’s Weekly continues a trend of less-than-helpful journalism surrounding all things emergent.

Her fourth paragraph reads,

Many in the emerging church “conversation,” the preferred self-descriptor, distinguish among three terms: emerging church, an umbrella term for the category; emergent, referring to an unorthodox interpretation of scripture; and Emergent, shorthand for Emergent Village (EV), a largely online community. Most of the publishers PW spoke with used the terms interchangeably, as does the Christian community at large.

Again, I defy Marcia — or anyone for that matter — to find for me a place in which I have written something that interprets scripture in an unorthodox fashion. Listen, I’ve written many books, all of which contain scores of references to scripture, and I have yet to be accused of being unorthodox in any specific case — it’s always in these vague, general ways.

Let me be even more specific: I ask Scot McKnight — a friend of mine and someone who’s familiar with several of my books — to weigh in. I invite Dan Kimball, who has recently blogged about how he’s joining Scot and Erwin McManus and others to form a new network of non-emergent folks focused on evangelism. For that matter, I invite Erwin McManus or Len Sweet or any other notable figure of contemporary Christianity to 1) Define “an orthodox interpretation of scripture” and 2) Show where I have breached said orthodoxy.

Now I know that many bloggers and commentors will weigh in on this. The young Calvinists will say that I misunderstand the atonement, and the young liberals will say that I read the Bible more literally than is correct. But, while you may have differences of opinion with me, I think it’s truly impossible to say that I have landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy.

So what this is, primarily, is shoddy journalism, in which loosely held conjecture is repeated often enough to be believed. When it’s repeated in a blog, it’s no big deal. But when it’s repeated in a reputable source like PW, then it’s troubling and it borders on libel.

As to the rest of Marcia’s article, it’s hit-and-miss. Primarily, it seems, she allows herself to be a mouthpiece for various evangelical publishing houses, each of which (as you can guess) has some chips on the table (my publisher included). Some have invested in “emergent” category and want it to stick around, others have chosen not to and would like it to go away. But I’ll tell you this: they’ve each used the words “emergent” and “emerging” in the marketing materials for books and on back covers when they’ve thought it would sell more books.

Finally, this: I know and respect each of the women who were interviewed about women authors and leadership around emergentland. And for three of them, I’ve been at least partly involved in the publishing of their books. Emergent Village — and the conversation, more broadly speaking — has not been perfect at getting women a louder voice, but we have surely been part of the solution more than part of the problem. I have personally presented many book proposals by women to all three of our publishing partners, and I am currently at work on two book acquisitions for Jossey-Bass, both of which are by women. I have literally begged female scholars to write for our series with Abingdon — but, as you might guess, female theologians and biblical scholars have no dearth of publishing opportunities.

Further, the Emergent Village board is half women and has been for years. And the biggest book and event of the year are headlined by a woman.

Again, to all the commentors, I’m not claiming perfection in this regard; I’m not even claiming success. Trust me, I have a daughter, and I want her to have the same opportunities as her brothers (in fact, here’s what she said when Obama won the nomination: “I’m glad that Hillary didn’t win, because I’m going to be the first woman president.”) But I am claiming (somewhat defensively, I suppose) that I (and Brian and Doug and many others around Emergent Village) have been very deliberate in our efforts to give women leadership and power in our very small corner of the Christian world. By God’s grace, we will be more successful at this as time goes on.

Don't miss a post! Enter your email address to receive Tony's blog posts in your inbox.

  • I agree, you guys HAVE done well in this area, as for Marcia Ford, I’m a little disappointed.

  • carla jo

    I think you are dead on here–on both counts. I read that line about emergent being defined by an unorthodox reading of Scripture and wondered what she was talking about. Unconventional reading? Sure. But as someone who has been deeply inside the emergent publishing picture from its earliest days, I can’t think of a single example of an author being unorthodox in the theological sense. No one has ever claimed that Jesus is anyone but the Son of God. No one has denied the resurrection. No one has denounced God or suggested that the Bible is anything but the Word of God for the people of God. If there are examples out there of authors or pastors or theologians who are involved in the emergent conversation saying any of that, I don’t know who they are.

    On the woman front, I think you are right that, while emergent hasn’t led to the full participation of women in all churches everywhere, it has certainly been part of the solution, not part of the problem. Again, I don’t know of any emerging churches in which women are denied a place at the table–unless those churches are under a denominational structure that holds such a doctrine. However, Julie Clawson and Margaret Feinberg make the point that I think holds the most weight here in terms of the representation of women in emergent publishing. The publishing world is based on authors having a platform from which they can sell books. So publishers want books from authors who pastor churches or who have been involved in ministry for a while or who have otherwise proven themselves as having something to say that people want to listen to. Unfortunately, those positions are rarely held by women. It would have been interesting for Marcia to look at how the representation of women authors in the emergent publishing picture stacks up against other “brands” of ministry books. My guess would be that we are actually doing a relatively good job of getting women’s voices out there.
    But honestly, the biggest issue is that publishing dynamics have traditionally favored the male leadership model. I see emergent working to buck that trend by promoting a whole different model of leadership and authority. Leading a church isn’t the only way to have a voice in the conversation. A strong, well-read blog, an innovative ministry, a fresh take on an old problem–these are becoming meaningful ways for women to build a publishing platform.

    And really, if there’s a woman out there who wants to write a thoughtful critique about her negative experience with emergent, well I think that’s a book.

  • Tony, et al.,

    I have found the emergent conversation to be wide and varied but I cannot find a place where I have found you or Doug to be unorthodox. In fact, I think that you allow yourselves to be drawn into these theological debates and wish that you would just let the Christian”ists” yell and scream about tradition and just continue “living” as the Christian communities you are being called to.

    What I witness is both sides, at times, refusing to hold their beliefs with humility. I wish that folks would go ahead and say what they believe and why but, in the end, at least admit that they just… might… be… wrong. It was a lack of humility that hardened the hearts of the Pharisees, and contemporary Christians always risk falling into the trap of doctrine over love of neighbor. If the truth is truly the truth, then why not let communities of fellow travelers have at that Word and eat it and live it and make mistakes and make their way together having at least tackled the big questions together?

    Keep it up, I say, the Church, and the Word, and GOD for goodness sake, all of these things are big enough to withstand a mistake here and there…

    Best regards,

  • I think this is a misunderstanding based on a poor choice of words.

    As I read the sentence, I think Ford means “unconventional interpretation of Scripture,” not “non-orthodox interpretation of Scripture.”

    Unorthodox has been used as a synonym for unconventional in non-theological contexts for a long time, and I suspect that is what was meant here.

  • I think it is possible Keith is correct.

  • If he is, I think it is a poor choice of words though, being one is talking about theological movements.

  • Tony,
    I just finished reading The New Christians a few weeks ago. Great book, by the way. But I completely agree with the others who have posted here. There was nothing in the book that made me throw it down and cry, “Heretic!” There was, however, an unconventional take on scripture that opened my eyes to a few things, and for that I praise God.

    That being said, I would argue this: if the “orthodox” view of scripture is what has been at work in the church for the past 1500 years, then maybe we DO need more “unorthodox” voices. Our orthodoxy hasn’t exactly been working for us as of late. And I think we have missed a lot of “God-at-work” moments by clinging too closely to our idea of what is orthodox and what is not. The religious leaders of the day thought that Jesus was WAY unorthodox in his interpretation/embodiment of scripture (hence trying to throw him off a cliff). The question I would ask of Marcia Ford and others is this: Is the “orthodoxy” in question JESUS’ orthodoxy or OUR orthodoxy? If it is OUR orthodoxy then, yeah, I’ll be even MORE unorthodox than this.

  • I simply don’t get the critique that you are unorthodox…at all. It doesn’t make sense and has become a huge hinderance to the movement. People tell me all the time about their concern over Emergent’s “low view” or Scripture or its “low view” of Christ and (at least in this case) I’ll defend you until I’m blue in the face. I don’t understand how mainstream folks can buy into that argument.

  • I think it is good to call people out on this sort of language, even if it is unintentional, but especially if it is not.

    The truth is that I have FRIENDS ask me all the time if I have gone off the theological deep end by espousing the emerging movement. They know I am orthodox in my faith and would gladly repent if they could show me an error.

    Each time, I ask them to point to specific instances of a breach of orthodoxy either in myself or those I am reading/talking about/etc. They can never produce them. And these rumors continue to swirl–degrading the efforts of many through (apparently) false accusations.

    It is time to put the rumors to rest and move on…

  • Tony, several responders are dead-on. I was thinking “unconventional,” not non-orthodox in the theological sense. Poor choice of words, born of having to distill 25,000 words of notes down to less than 3,000. I’ll respond to some of what you wrote later, when I have a chance to re-read my article — I’m up to my ears and beyond in political stuff this week — but for now, please understand this: I’m a “live and let live” person, I had and have absolutely no agenda when it comes to the emerging church, and I am so far removed from the emergent fray that I had no idea my story would hit such a sensitive nerve.

    If being a reporter means that I’m a “mouthpiece” for anyone (please note that there are at least three non-evangelical publishers in the mix), God help all journalists everywhere. I interviewed the publishers PW told me to talk to, asked the same questions of each, and offered their responses. That’s it. Period. I left out all the vitriolic and incendiary stuff (not necessarily about any individual) that seemed personal and directed at the movement rather than the publishing element of the movement.

    This was simply a report on the emerging church category, not an investigative piece on the movement itself and certainly not a biased piece. I have no axe to grind. I’ve interviewed thugs, convicted felons and many a scoundrel who avoided conviction, and I’ve exposed practices that resulted in a new consumer advocacy law in one state. I’ve made a lot of enemies, including entire industries. But never, ever have any of my stories been branded “shoddy journalism” by anyone, not even those enemies. After 35 years at this, I’m stunned that a feature story on a publishing category would garner that level of criticism, especially from someone whose work I admire and respect.

    Oh, and I’ve been criticized for not going after the emerging church in that same article. Some people apparently read it as pro-emergent and felt I should have been on the attack. So…it seems that it’s all in the reading.

    For me, it’s all in the writing. And at no time during the writing did I feel that I was doing anything other than reporting on what the publishers conveyed to me.

  • How cool would it be if we were all labeled based on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy?

    I would hope that none of us would state that we feel that we have an accurate and comprehensive orthodoxy. I also would assume that none of us know exactly where our orthodoxy is skewed, incomplete or otherwise in error. Those two assumptions lead me to tread lightly and humbly on the matters of orthodoxy…mine and others.

    I also would say that unorthodox is a relative and ambiguous word. “Orthodox” and “unorthodox” when labeled by me really begs the question of my interpretation of scripture as much as it does the person I attempt to label.

  • My take, Tony, is that she puts you in Emergent Village, which she says — inaccurately — is an online community and which she doesn’t connect to unorthodox interpretation of the Bible. And I don’t see that she is putting you in “emergent”.

    Once again, she gives three terms: emerging, emergent and Emergent Village. I would say she puts you in the last one.

  • Having read the article I think there’s just a lot of misunderstanding about emergent, emerging and EV- In fact, I’m not even a fan of Sine’s lineations. Marcia – I think there is a bit of a strong reaction here because emerging folks are often accused of being “non orthodox/unorthodox”

    – I think Scot is right, I don’t see it as Marcia personally speaking out “against” you or EV or anything but there is certainly a lot of muddying of the waters. (unintentional I’m sure)

    I want to reiterate tony that I have defended you and doug and the rest o EV many times on the women issue. I often use the explanation you gave in Denver at your book signing (which you gave graciously btw). I still have frustrations about the way women are treated in the christian sphere but you guys haven’t been party to that. (by and large that I have observed or experienced)

  • Jason

    Tony, why don’t you do this. Instead of appealing just to people of your own community for definitions and challenges, why don’t you invite people from a broader spectrum of theological thought to do so. You are committing intense navel gazing here by not doing so.

  • Well Tony I think you are too orthodox. I am not sure what orthodox means when interpreting a particular scripture. I have found that many theologians beat up texts to get them to be orthodox. Borrow a Doug line and say, “this conversation doesn’t interest me.” I do think it would be fun to pick a few scriptures and let a bunch of people get their exegesis on.

  • Tim Fitch

    So whose definition for orthodox are you using? Wasn’t the concept of orthodox created to figure out who was in and who was out?

  • Tom has it right here — the question of orthodoxy is really one of perspective. An Arminian and a Calvinist would each consider their interpretations and applications to be “orthodox,” but the opposing side would not.

    That’s why much of our theological language is problematic. It’s one of the reasons I first gave up on the word inerrant and then later infallible. I just try to do my best to read, interpret, and apply Scripture, knowing that it doesn’t always pertain to everything in modern life!

  • Honestly, I think Tony’s response and request would be a wise thing.

    I can understand his frustration too.

    To be constantly characterized by a loud-mouth minority of “gate keepers” and their sycophants as “beyond the pale” over and against his constant clarifications and clear cut statements is maddening to witness, much less be subjected too. (And I’ve personally experienced such jejune insistence in my own ministry life with respect to the EC.)

    The sad reality is that a political game is being played by many of Tony’s critics and to let certain claims go unchallenged and, frankly, un-rebuked is only going to be the source of more unnecessary pain that distracts from the mission of the Church in the world.

    A reasoned, courteous and measured place of disagreement is one thing, but the building of reputation and perceived “gravitas” on the basis of flaming people with overwrought rhetoric, arm-chair anecdotal “research” books, and the generally obtuse whine of “unbiblical” when what is meant is “I don’t agree/I’m threatened by difference/I don’t like how the deserved critique applies to me” is tedious, softheaded, and just plain callow.

  • What’s the big deal? Why is maintaining orthodoxy such a high value? I think this is a weakness of some in the emerging conversation: trying to have their cake and eat it too. Yes, I understand that emergent people consider themselves orthodox, just maybe not in the modernistic use of the word. But some people define orthodoxy differently: they (rightly or wrongly) equate orthodoxy with evangelicalism (or maybe even fundamentalism). But the labels don’t concern me. Maybe it is an advantage of age, or of being unknown, but I don’t care at all what people label me.
    And I think some emergent people could stand to think the same way. If you get hot and bothered when people don’t think you are orthodox, you come across as wanting to be an evangelical who can go out and get a beer when he wants. Liberal (liberated) in practice, orthodox in doctrine. Go ahead and break the ties. People (sadly) do not understand that orthodoxy goes back farther than the Scofield Reference Bible.
    And doesn’t insisting on the label “orthodox” put a damper on what is supposed to be a CONVERSATION?

  • while i understand its a hot button issue for Tony to be labeled as anything other than orthodox – that is his choice to make it an issue. and more power to him

    the red flag that i saw – was that we still don’t have a definition behind emergent and how its different from emerging – so we have a (yes precisely, sloppy) reporter making one up.


  • youthfccramona

    I don’t think “emergent” was assigned a very fair definition. First of all, “emergent” is not just some hermeneutic of scripture it is informed by much more than just interpretations. Secondly, However it is “unorthodox” needs to be clarified because orthodoxy is subjective. A more full definition is necessary.

    But I think McKnight is right. I think the journalist places you in the Emergent category.

    -Wes Ellis

  • Interesting…
    I don’t think “emergent” was assigned a very fair definition. First of all, “emergent” is not just some hermeneutic of scripture it is informed by much more than just interpretations. Secondly, However it is “unorthodox” needs to be clarified because orthodoxy is subjective. A more full definition is necessary.

    But I think McKnight is right. I think the journalist places you in the Emergent category.

    -Wes Ellis

  • In the arena of religion or theology discussions, conflict will exist until the eschaton. No offense to you Tony…as I need to take a dose or two of my own medicine here but…
    If any of us are overly concerned with what someone is saying about us and our beliefs I would suggest we stop speaking publically, writing books and putting things out in the public realm to be critiqued.
    In so far as I have discovered in my short time around an Emergent Cohort or reading more emergent books, a huge component of emergent is that it is new… new ways of looking at things, new questions being asked and new answers (or contentment with no answers) being offered. Should anyone be really shocked to discover that “new” thoughts, especially in the area of Faith or Politics, is met with defensive postures or skepticism? I am not surprised to learn that something new is labeled “unorthodox”…true or not.
    In a perfect world we could all be properly labeled with names that make us feel warm and fuzzy…true or not. In a less than perfect world we have to be realistic and know that sometimes we will all be taken out of context, ridiculed unfairly and misunderstood despite our best attempts to be understood…leading to uncomfortable labels. So what?

  • rodney neill

    A view for a tiny backwater ( Northern Ireland)

    I must admit I get baffled and bamboozled by the emergent/emergence/emerging church/not a church conversation as there seems to be liitle consensus on what these terms actually mean and they are primarily interpreted against an American cultural backdrop . For those who try to follow the conversation outside of America and reflect how it translates into other cultures it is very fustrating.

    Rodney Neill

  • Patrick


    I thought your latest book was excellent and helpful for articulating what the emergent spirit & vision is about.

    On another note, I think the debate over scriptural “orthodoxy” is a complex and highly nuanced one, and much wider than emergent or non-emergent categories. Moreover, many Christians simply are not aware of this wider discussion. I’m thinking in particular of the movement that is trying to recapture the theological interpretation of Scripture.

    A few book suggestions for those interested: (1) “Reading Scripture with the Church” (Adam, Fowl, Vanhoozer, and Watson); (2) “Text, Church, and World” (Watson); (3) Engaging Scripture (Fowl); The Drama of Doctrine (Vanhoozer); (4) The Brazos Theological Commentary series; (5) The Two Horizons commentary series (Joel Green, etc.). Each of these, in their own way, is wrestling with how to interpret scripture faithfully as the church in light of important contributions from contemporary theology, biblical studies, and (sometimes) hermeneutics.

    Again, thanks for your own work and for raising such important issues!

  • Cool Runnings

    John 13:24
    By this the world will know that you’re my disciples…

    Romans 12:10
    Outdo one another in showing honor…

    1 Corinthians 13
    You can understand all orthodoxy and have all theological knowledge, but without love it’s all garage

    1 John 4:18-19
    Perfect love casts out fear… and…
    We love because he first loved us

    Orthodoxy= Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength plus loving your neighbor as you love yourself

    From one raised, reared and rooted in the Lutheran Christian tradition, I could say a lot more but I don’t have my Book of Concord handy. But I believe that my sign off phrase to be deeply Lutheran and orthodox and Christ-centered.

    Loved people, love other people,

    Cool Runnings

    P.S. In seminary they would have said “indicative, imperative,” but I work among people for whom grammar memories from school causes them to break out into hives so I decided that wasn’t very loving.

  • Jason

    Tony, you and your comrades continue to comment on the atonement and it’s proper place, and slight those who take a view of the atonement as central to the Gospel. I just read Isaiah 53:12, and its comment on the atonement and that it would one of the central issues to how we would recognize Messiah. Will you please state what is the current opinion on what place the atonement does take in your emerging brand of theology?

  • Cool Runnings


    As you may know, this is one of the Suffering Servant passages.

    In the original historical context the Servant may have stood for an individual, the prophetic community, or the Jewish people.

    Later, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, many Christians see this text as referring to the cross and how God through Christ rescues us FROM sin/death TO righteousness/resurrection.

    I would advocate for the cross as being central

    An understanding of sin as a “condition of bondage” as central

    An understanding that we need to be liberated-rescued-redeemed-reconciled from “out of” that condition.

    I happen to join others in critiquing the “penal substitution theory of atonement” as THE GOSPEL when there are other enriching metaphors that also are truth speaking. The “penal substitution theory” has at times been distorted into anti-good-news.

    I advocate an orthodoxy/orthopraxy where God acts to save and we are invited to respond to God’s goodness through faith, love, and service.

    Further, in the emerging conversation, we are shifting away from mathematical-scientific-foundation truths to relational-transformational-healing truths.

    For example, one could say, “I’ve decided to follow Jesus” and that gets translated through the Christian media industrial salvation complex. And a lot of good and godly things can happen that way. Another approach is one where you find yourself accepted, found, claimed, and chosen by Christ- prior to any response on your part.

    It works like this.

    Those who been loved by God, love others in God’s name.

    Those who have been forgiven by God, in turn forgive others in Jesus name

    Those who have been fed by Christ in the Sacrament, in turn feed the poor with manna from heaven.

    Those who have been grasped by a suffering, sacrificial Messiah, they, in turn, counter violence by embracing suffering, sacrifice themselves rather than resort to revenge… and the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the Church.

    Hope a few of these rambling thoughts strike a chord.

    Cool Runnings

  • Jason

    Cool Runnings,

    Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate them because it helps me to understand where you all are coming from. The more I am reading, the more it seems to me that their are three possibilities: 1. The language used to express oneself is different, but the concepts are the same; 2. The atonement is not the issue, in as much as the atonement take center stage to a much deeper richness that the Gospel empowers and advocates; 3. The emerging expression of the faith truly advocates for eliminating the idea of an atonement because of a truly different opinion about sin.

    I want to take the the first two and be satisfied, however, I am truly concerned about the issue of sin not being taken seriously as a deeply rich part of the narrative that helps us to understand God’s story and ours. Sin is the dominant theme of the Bible, and God’s love for us despite that sin has it’s climax in the Messiah, Jesus, who sacrifices His life for the people of the world. It begs the question, “What is Jesus sacrificing Himself for?” You said yourself that God acts to save. If there is no sin or need for atonement, then what is God saving us from?

    I truly don’t understand where the emergent expression is coming from. My understanding of the Gospel is not limited to the atonement, although it does find it’s foundation there because the expression of love, forgiveness, and meeting the needs of others for the sake of the name of Christ compells us to meet Him at the cross. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will recieve the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit are necessary requisites for living the life you describe above. The Gospel, while it begins with atonement, doesn’t stop there. The Gospel is the Good News that our sins are forgiven, AND that we have the empowerment to live reflecting the character of God and be His ambassadors for further reconciliation.

    I further do not understand how a penal substitution “theory” can be so cavalierly dismissed. I know of the many other metaphors contained in the Scriptures that reveal God’s character and help us understand the Gospel, and the God as Judge is one of them. Judgement narratives and parables came from the mouth of Jesus Himself, and judgment is the theme of the Book of Revelation. As for a strict adherence to non-violence and that this is some all-encompassing Christian ethic is starkly contrasted in Jesus Himself coming and wiping out a sizable chunk of humanity gathered against Him in Revelation 19.

    If the emergent church feels we have lost the other enriching metaphors of God’s relationship with His creation because, in your opinion, “God the Judge,” has come to dominate, then lets add back in the other narratives. However, that’s not what I hear in the emergent rhetoric. “I don’t want a God who is not as compassionate as me.” “Original sin is not a biblical idea.” “Paul misread and misconstrued what Jesus said.” “What if we discovered that Jesus was not born of a virgin and did have a wife and three kids.” Emergents are throwing out babies with bath water. The birth of Jesus, for example, and it’s fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 as a prediction of said event, is questioned, even though it is attested to in Matthew 1:22-23. I understand that the virgin birth is an unneeded doctrine because of the experimental notion that original sin is bad theology, but how can it be dismissed when the Bible itself testifies to it’s occurance?

    I find the rhetoric disturbing, and I find the postmodern extremism of throwing out modern philosophical notions because they have been summarily dismissed as untenable shortsighted. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to be participating in a forum like this without modern thinking. Modern thinking has given us great progress, in technology AND theology.

    I find myself wondering if I am far more holistic in my theology than the emergents…

  • cincyjake


    Regarding Revelation 19, don’t you think that your interpretation of that passage runs counter to what we see of Jesus in the gospels? Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you – doesn’t there seem to be a bit of a disconnect between that statement and the picture of him annihilating his enemies? Unless we believe that Jesus is going against his own teaching, shouldn’t this discrepancy give us pause and make us wonder if we’re not missing something in Revelation?

    I think its important to remember that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and that apocalyptic literate by its very nature is metaphor. Unless we literally think Jesus is going to come back, hold his sword in his mouth, and wave around his head while using it to cut down his enemies, maybe there’s something else going on there. I think it fits far better with the nature of apocalyptic literature and with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels to recognize that Revelation 19 is also metaphor, referring to the gospel and its message of the Kingdom of God that overcomes “the world”. This makes sense, of course, because the metaphor of a sword is used for God’s Word elsewhere in the New Testament – most notably in Eph 6:17 and Heb 4:12.

    Regarding the quotes you mention towards the end of your post, I’d be interested to know where they come from (as well as the context of some of them). I seriously doubt that many of them represent the mainstream thinking (if such a thing exists, given that this movement is more about the conversation about theology than it is about advancing a particular theology) of many in the Emergent movement. The statement “original sin is not a biblical idea” has been argued by quite “orthodox” Christians for quite a long time. Not all “orthodox” theological traditions believe in original sin. Additionally, “What if we discovered that Jesus was not born of a virgin and did have a wife and three kids?” is a question, not a theological statement. Asking a question does not make someone “unorthodox”.

    ** I continue to keep the terms “orthodox” and “unorthodox” in quotes because, like many of the other commenters on this thread, I’m not sure those terms are very helpful. “Orthodoxy” changes depending on who is defining it – much the same as terms like “liberal” and “conservative”, which mean next to nothing in theological circles these days. It all depends on who is using the terms.

  • Jason


    Allow me to counter you contention that Revelation is only a metaphor by refering back to any number of incidents on the Old Testament. Let’s take one of the more “silly” examples in 2 Kings 2:23-24, where God takes two bears and mauls 42 youths. The coming of the white rider (aka Jesus) is totally in character with the God revealed in the Old Testament. God the Son came first as the suffering servant, with grace on hip lips. God the Son will return again as King and Lord of all. Philippians 2:10-11 “…that at the name of Jesus veery knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    I see no disconnect between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of Revelation and the Yahweh of the Old Testament. There is a progressive and holistic revelation of who God is throughout the Bible, and that revelation doesn’t stop at the Gospel narratives. Within the Gospels themselves, Matthew 23-25, Luke 16:19-31, the turning over of the money changer tables–do these passages whithin the Gospels themselves provide further disconnect to Jesus statements of love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

    As for Revelation being apocalyptic literature–true. However, the interpretation of the Apocalypse is not determined by your reading of the Gospels exclusively. It is interpreted taking into account the entire panoply of the Biblical narrative. Apocalyptic literature is symbolic, yes, but not metaphor. Jesus use of the phrase “abomination that causes desolation” in Matthew 24:15, repeating Daniel’s prophecy in 9:27, shows that Jesus was using apocalypse not as metaphor, but as literal. You guys need to be consistent in your assertions and take into account ALL that the Bible says, and not lean solely on literary mechanics, because they will lead you false conclusions if followed mechanistically. Correlating the Bible sometimes reveals certain departures from hermenutical mechanics–which is exactly what many in the Emergent Movement are advocating for, anyways.

    Jesus does literally come back–he said so Himself. However, the sword from His mouth is a SYMBOL of the power of His Word. The text does NOT say He waves His head around–you have eisegeted that. Jesus strikes down the armies gathered against Him with the power of His spoken word–a much more powerful picture of what Revelation reveals that takes into account all of the Bible, both OT and NT, fulfilling a literal hermeneutic Jesus Himself uses for the OT and includes the revealtion of God’s character from the OT, not just the New.

    By the way, if Jesus does end up having a sword coming from His mouth–it goes to show you that God can do ANYTHING.

    As for the quotations… The compassion quote is taken directly from Bart Campolo’s article, “The Limits of God’s Grace,” from the Journal of Student Ministries (I can’t find the article or the date of publication–The Journal shoved it under the carpet for its controversy). The exact quote is, “I am a free agent, after all, and I have standards for my God, the first of which is this: I will not worship any God who is not at least as compassionate as I am.” I say, “Wow…” The original sin remark comes from Tony Jones while leading a theology discussion at the NYLC in 2005, Pittsburgh. The Paul statment is what is being said and debated at the forefront of the theology discussions in the Emergent Movement. The virgin statement is lifted from Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis.” I acknowledge the last one in being a question. However, the question is dropped early in his book without giving any explanation to the implications of erasing the virgin birth. The Gospel writers took painstaking detail to explain Jesus virgin origins–to dismiss it out of hand as Bell does hypothetically without explanation is irresponsible in the least.

    In no way do I have time to provide the entire contexts for these quotes. However, they or the ideas they represent exist and they represent a departure from a holistic view of the Biblical narrative. Nor am I accusing anyone of being unorthodox. Tony just took that word off the table by stating there is no good definition for the term, and therefore, in a postmodern wave of the wand, would probably never concede a definition anyways. Definitions don’t exist for postmoderns, except for the definition that their are no definitions.

  • Jason

    I have one more interesting tidbit to throw at you guys. The first expression of the Gospel is found in Genesis 3:15 and is wrapped up in a violent act against another being–Jesus crushing Satan. An unusual act in light of the gospel that the emergent movement is developing that places its emphasis solely on love. Or perhaps your working definition of love is flawed? And, of course, I bet you’ll say Genesis is a myth and a metaphor, too.

  • Jake


    I’m not going to reply point by point in the interests of keeping this post from being too long. But a couple of observations. First, Genesis 3:15 has little to do with this discussion unless you literally believe that Satan is a serpent, and that at some point in the future Jesus will literally step on his head. That verse does clearly tell us that God wins, no question – but I’m not sure of anyone that views it as a literal descriptor of how he will win.

    Second, I didn’t ask you if there was a disconnect between Jesus in Revelation and God in the Old Testament – I asked about the Jesus of the Gospels. Yes, I am fully aware of the passages you’re referring to in the Old Testament. I’m also aware that there are plenty of passages in the Old Testament (ie. Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament (pretty much all of it) that indicate that God deals with people differently after Jesus. Is this conclusive? No, of course not. You can make the argument you’re making, but I think that Jesus’ statements in the gospels are a part of this change in the way God has chosen to deal with people, and I see nothing in the text that indicates that Jesus preaches non-violence the first time he comes, then uses violence the second time. Not when it fits better with the genre of apocalyptic literature to view Revelation 19 as symbolism (probably a better choice of words than metaphor, you’re correct).

    Note also that I’m not at all saying that Jesus doesn’t come back . . . just that what we see in Revelation 19 may not be intended to literally tell us how its going to happen. Of course he says he’s coming back – nobody’s denying that. Nor am I denying that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” – I’m just saying I don’t think that Jesus needs to, or will, use violence to make that happen. I’m sure you would agree that he doesn’t have to use violence – since you agree that God can indeed do anything.

    If this discussion is going to continue, I’ll ask that you refrain from making assumptions and sweeping judgments about what I believe. I am indeed taking into account what ALL of the Bible says . . . but I don’t think it all fits together very well the way you’re interpreting it. And no, I don’t place an emphasis solely on the love of God – I’m well aware of the idea of judgment and wrath that we see in Scripture. But again – I think God is fully capable of exercising his judgment without the literal violence that you see in Rev 19, and I think the symbol of the sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth (the power of his message), along with Jesus’ teachings in the gospels and what we know of apocalyptic literature, argue very convincingly that there is a problem with taking Rev 19 as a literal description of what will happen when Jesus returns. I DO, however, think it tells us quite clearly that when Jesus returns, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him as Lord, and that will happen because of the power of his Word, of the gospel message.

    Anyway, my point is that your potshots about what “Emergents” believe (and I’ll say again that there is no set theology that defines this movement) are not helpful. If you have a question, by all means ask. But please don’t make assumptions about what I or others believe, assume somehow we don’t care what the whole Bible teaches (we do, but might apply it differently than you), or put words in my/our mouths. It doesn’t lead to any kind of helpful, fruitful conversation or understanding.

  • Jake


    My apologies if this discussion has gone too “off-topic”. Like many of the other commenters, I greatly appreciate your work. I thoroughly enjoyed “The New Christians”, and I wish that many people would focus more on our mission to reach the lost than on policing everyone else’s theology. What we believe is certainly important, but the list of “essential beliefs” for being a Christian often gets far too long, and the issue of what it means to ACT like a Christian is too often pushed to the side. I do love the openness that Emergent has brought to theological conversation – we shouldn’t be afraid of honest dialogue if we’re truly searching for truth. And no, I’ve seen nothing from you or other Emergent writers that puts you outside of Christian “orthodoxy” unless that term is defined very narrowly indeed.

    Anyway, if you feel this discussion has gone too far off the intent of the original post, I’ll gladly let it go.

  • Marcia – “Un-orthodox” and “un-conventional” mean very different things, especially in the context… sadly the former is often used where the latter is more appropriate i.e. to mean what the contemporary church holds as “orthodox”, what fits within a conventional hermeneutic.

    I agree with the early comments, though some of the writers within Emergent Village may say things which challenge that conventional/current hermeneutic, I have read nothing that has not been within the broad history of Christian thought.. the problem arises when we have a modernist/evolutionary world view i.e. we believe we have refined and reformed theology to the point that what we now hold is the ultimate expression/interpretation… when we lose sight of and respect for thinkers, mystics, prophets and theologians from across the globe and throughout the ages… when we stop reforming and contextualising.

    I guess for many this “post-modern” world is alien so one would expect a theology which is explored and expressed in it’s context will be “unconventional” to them, especially when one of it’s values is to listen to the voices of others; pioneers, poets and dissenters and to question the things we have held on to without thought.

    With respect, using a phrase which is not what you actually mean and which would be unhelpful to readers seeking to grasp your meaning *is* surely “shoddy journalism”?

  • Pingback: Emerge-ed? — Further Thoughts : Subversive Influence()

  • Tony – I think the mishandling of this issue by both you and Marcia is unfortunate. I’ve always thought of Emergent communities as getting back to basics and making scripture / faith more relevant by stripping away all the unnecessary junk that has bogged down “orthodox” Christianity for centuries. However, instead of addressing your concerns with Marcia directly (Matthew 18), you chose to vent your emotions publicly through your blog. In the same way, Marcia responded by posting a comment on the blog instead of contacting you directly. It seems like this whole thing comes down to a misunderstanding over a poor choice of words…one that could have been cleared up privately. If you felt that you needed to have your side of the story heard by your readers, maybe you and Marcia could have come out with a joint blog post (conversation style) that could have clarified both of your positions…instead of slinging emotionally-charged insults at one another through the safety of blog posts. I would expect this kind of passive-aggressive behavior from my “traditional” protestant friends who are too proud and set in their ways to resolve their differences personally…but not from people as progressive, faithful, and intellectually savvy as the two of you. I hope you and Marcia can find some common ground in the weeks to come.

  • Jason

    I want you to notice something in the exchange between Jake and I. The substance of my arguments have been swept aside by calling them potshots and “sweeping judgments,” Jake goes ahead and makes a sweeping judgment himself about a literal hermenuetic and its reading of Daniel 9 and Jesus’ quotation of it in Matthew 24, which argues for Jesus use of a literal hermenuetic.

    Where does the conclusion come from that Jesus preaches an ancient form of modern non-violence ethic? It must be from a different Bible. I guess by eisegeting Ghandi into the text and not exegeting it. Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Non-violence my foot! You need to be able to back up what you believe with substantive, informed research and a knowledge of the biblical text and how it interacts with itself, and not with sweeping judgments that fail to account for very glaring issues like the one concerning Jesus’ quotation of “the desolation that cause abomination” in Matthew 24 or this one in Matthew 10.

    This is the technical biblical work that is summarily swept away as esoteric and irrelevant but actually strikes at the heart of the hermeneutical concept that the Bible is a big metaphor and should be read as such. The contains metaphor. The Bible is NOT a metaphor. There is more to look at than just literary characteristics. Grammar, authorial intent, archaeology, cultural context and audience perspective, history, and so much more have a direct bearing on how to read the Bible.