The New Christians: a book review

The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones, published by Jossey-Bass (March 2008)

I received an advance copy of this new book a few weeks ago. It’s a good introduction to the emerging church conversation, and it fills in some of the history that I certainly didn't know.

Jones tells good stories. I really liked the one at the beginning about his being intimidated by the über-coolness of a woman sitting next to him on an airplane. "As we were taking off, she was editing a very hip-looking graphic novel with the blue pencil of a savvy New York editor." Imagine his discombobulation when she pulled out her rosary beads.
“Does … not … compute…”

This story illustrates his point that Americans are not becoming less religious – but they are differently religious than before. Americans are less and less fitting the usual stereotypes of evangelicals, Catholics, liberals, etc. Our 21st century religious practices reflect a more flexible attention to the leadings of the Holy Spirit rather than strict adherence to a single denomination or a particular leader.

An amazing statistic for me was his fully footnoted assertion that 85% of Americans know with which specific Christian church they are affiliated. More believable was the corollary that many people don’t care so much about the docrine of that church. Instead, there are a wide variety of reasons that people choose a particular church community.

He also illustrates how many, many people, especially young people, dislike the current polarization of American religion. He characterizes the emerging forms of church as valuing community over individualism, participation over consumption, and complexity over rigidity.

The book is interspersed with definitions of many terms that he uses: modern, postmodern, foundationalism, paradox, liturgy, Pietism, atonement, etc. I like the definitions, and the variety of voices, but the layout of the book seems choppy. I think the book includes too many different design elements. It resorts to cutesy symbols for email or internet conversations to signal the changes in frame and voice. Not quite smiley face emoticons, but close.

Jones makes a repeated point of telling the reader how he tries to listen and speak humbly, especially with people who disagree with him. I think that’s great. It doesn’t actually fit my experience of hearing him speak or reading his conversations on the internet, but it’s good that he’s working on being less belligerent. Humility is indeed a virtue.

A minor sidenote for me was that the format of the annual Emergent Gathering in New Mexico, which I kind of wanted to go to last year, and kind of want to go to this year, sounds a lot like the annual San Francisco Monthly Meeting retreat. I want to go to the Emergent Gathering more and more each time I hear about it.

The best line of the whole book is Dispatch #3, on page 35:
“The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through."
This simple analogy speaks volumes to me. I think it sums up the emerging phenomenon. It fits with my observations and experience. It gives me hope.

The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier also gives me hope.
Thank you, Tony Jones.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the review.

2/18/2008 12:13 AM  

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