Fuzzy Thoughts of David

Reflections on Chapter 1 of The New Christians by Tony Jones

Just read the first chapter of Tony Jones’ new book, The New Christians. I don’t have the book. The chapter I read was free on the internet. I requested a copy from Tony to review on Missional Methodist Movement website, but as of now, I haven’t received it. I mention that because I want to be fair and also I have no idea where he is heading after the first chapter.

I thought Tony had a lot of good insights into the current issues with the church, religion and spirituality. I find myself leaning more toward missional and/or the emergent side of things, so I will probably agree with much of what Tony has in his book. However, there is one area that I think needs to be explored more in the emergent and missional movements. That are is the area of holiness.

It has taken me about 20 years to come to terms with holiness. I am a UMC pastor and the father of our denomination is John Wesley who had a lot to say about holiness. For a long time I ignored what he had to say and I don’t think I am alone in that. I ignored it because holiness always seemed like it was based on rules and regulations and I certainly didn’t want to follow the path that other holiness movement folks did.

Tony Jone, while discussing some of the problems facing churches writes:

The evidence is in: millions of individuals ‘‘inviting Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior’’ at megachurches and Billy Graham crusades has done little to stem the moral dissolution of America. And ironically,it’s the very individualism engendered by evangelicalism that has resulted inthis predicament. The primary emphasis of evangelicalism is the conversion of the individual, but that emphasis has also handicapped evangelicals in their attempts to tackle systemic issues like racism and poverty and thus has left themopen to manipulation by political forces.

Tony’s point is well taken. The church is very individualistic (which I hate, but struggle to break away from). It also has seemed to be pretty inept in the way of social change. But, is that because of the emphasis on individual conversion?

Later he writes:

The church that doesn’tchallenge its members to face the core ethical issues that confront themevery day at work is the church that has abdicated its responsibility. Many churches, particularly evangelical ones, make this mistake, and here’s why:too many evangelical churches have emphasized the vertical, just-me-and-Jesus relationship to the exclusion of the horizontal relationships with other human beings and with all of creation.In fact, a major study in the 1990s showed that the individualism inherent in American evangelicalism is directly responsible for evangelicals’ inability to diagnose and solve systemic social issues like racism and abortion. In other words, the formula for evangelical growth—namely,individual conversion—also precludes many evangelical churches from affecting the very changes that rally its members. So when I asked about the chickens,it was a theological non sequitur to the middle managers; as long as their relationship with Jesus was all right, everything else would take care of itself.

You will have to read the chapter to see why he asks about the chickens.

I agree with Tony on the problem, but I don’t think it is because of the focus on conversion. I believe the issue is we have separated justification from regeneration…which John Wesley wouldn’t do. Basically if your sins were forgiven, God’s power also came in and created, in you, a new creation. Wesley’s expectation from those who were forgiven from their sins were they would also be saved from the power of their sins.

Holiness, for Wesley, was the standard way of life for a Christian, however, while we have kept the focus on forgiveness, we have neglected holiness. It is holiness that is missing today and holiness would transform the Church. We already have an example of what a focus on conversion and holiness brings….just look at the Wesleyan revivals under the Wesleys. They literally transformed life in England. Not just the spiritual life, but also the social life. [edit: If we receive the mind of Christ as Wesley contends, then it makes sense that our agendas would reflect the will of God. This results in the outward focus of, as N. T. Wright says, “putting things back to rights.” ]

I was planning on writing some more about holiness (which I still plan on doing), but I thought it was interesting that Jone’s doesn’t seem even to bring it up…instead he seems to imply that we can address these social issues in some other way. Again, I lean toward the emergent/missional way. I believe emergent/missional is the best way to live out the life of the Gospel in our current culture, so I interested to read what else Jones has to say.

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