What is more pitiful than a whiny, whimpering adult? Where’s the courage?
In WWII General Patton smacked around a GI who whimpered, “I can’t take it any more!” Patton got in big trouble with parents back home worried about their kids fighting overseas, but on the front lines Patton was loved and adored by his men. His indomitable courage sent his armies cutting through German lines “like poop through a goose,” Patton said. He was a winner, and so was the Third Army, which became the safest army to fight in because they rolled over Nazis. By contrast, General Bradley’s army got bogged down in northern France (“Hedgerow Country”) and was slaughtered mercilessly by entrenched Germans until they finally broke out of it.
Like Patton’s armies, the healthiest and safest Christian groups are those piercing the darkness, invading territory held by desperate, spiritual tyrants of this realm. “Go!” Jesus charged his people, “All power on heaven and earth has been given to me…and I will be with you always.” It was not a rule, it is the winning direction for leaders to lead churches, since all our power and authority goes into the offensive movement, piercing the darkness. Such indomitable courage spread the Gospel across Communist China, despite horrific opposition, and China is now the most Christian nation on earth. (And Christianity is still illegal there!)
But now American Christianity embraces numerous and popular whiners instead of winners, cowards far more culpable than Patton’s GI. At least the GI suffered the physical shock of real explosions and deserved some sympathy, but these church leaders are whining about feeling misunderstood by their critics, and using their hurt feelings to dodge reasonable criticism. Shamefully, the tactic is working, because solid Christian groups are coddling them everywhere.
The New Face of Christian Leadership
By now it may be obvious this is the creepy, touchy-feely world of Postmodern Christianity, known as the Emergent Church, spearheaded by Tony Jones & McLaren & Co. Watch how Tony dodges reasonable objections by complaining bitterly about feeling misunderstood by conservative scholar John Bohannon:
Imagine, if you will, that you’re writing your dissertation on left-handed hitters in baseball…But here’s the thing: your entire PhD dissertation is based on what they’ve written and said about their own swings. You never once attended a game and watched any of the four sluggers take an at-bat. That would be a fatal flaw in this hypothetical dissertation, and it is the fatal flaw in John S. Bohannon’s dissertation-cum-book…” Tony Jones at Jesus Creed
I know what a dissertation is, but a “cum-book” eludes me. Or is Tony just poking Bohannon in the eye with a dirty little wink-wink? This is the epitome of pre-pubescent behavior, people, but Tony somehow musters considerable sympathy by reducing a scholarly dissertation into a dirty schoolboy pissing-match. (No girls, it was not your imagination…the boys really were retarded in elementary school.)
This is the new face in Christian leadership, people? He whines endlessly about “the fatal flaw” of the dissertation-cum-book because Bohannon never called Tony, never came to Tony’s house, never met his wife, they never had coffee together…his list of emotional hurts are endless:
Bohannon is not the first critic of the emergent/-ing movement to fall into this trap. Before him, DA Carson, John MacArthur, and Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck have made the same error of writing books about the ECM without visiting… (Tony Jones at Jesus Creed)
All Tony’s critics “fall into this trap” unless they first meet and talk with Tony before publishing, he warns. Other writers, he complains, “had the decency to meet with me and others face-to-face,” but for Bohannon, “this lapse is fatal to his project, in my estimation.” I would be surprised if anyone other than Tony thinks Bohannon’s scholarship is “fatal” for such a trite reason.
Is it a reasonable expectation in scholarly discourse to require “the decency to meet with me and others face-to-face,” as Tony demands, or is it really as infantile as it sounds? It is infantile, and certainly unrealistic. The critics of Augustine, Aquinas, and all dead authors will “fall into this trap,” since a face-to-face seems quite improbable. Will Tony hold a similar grudge against history scholars? This “face-to-face” expectation is reduced to an emotional, feel-good demand, simply because Tony cannot cite any factual errors arising from “the fatal flaw” of avoiding a personal visit to Tony’s place.
Imagine President Obama at a news conference complaining his detractors “never first met face-to-face with me before they criticized me!” What howls of derision would erupt from the Republican side of the aisle! What shamed faces would hang on the Democrat’s side!
Yet Christian America is actually rallying around leaders who should never command respect. What is wrong here?
If this critique seems harsh, consider the astonishing hypocrisy Tony unleashes against his conservative critic, even while Tony admits he never met face-to-face with this guy:
But the second half of the book [is] a result of Bohannon’s pedigree…Here’s my two-word review of Bohannon, Part 3: entirely predictable. As a dissertation submitted to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one might guess that Bohannon is less than favorable toward a couple of the preachers he’s studying. Although he rarely does it in the text proper, in the footnotes the author shows his true colors, repeatedly stating that Pagitt and McLaren do not believe or practice “orthodox Christianity.” …Try as he might to maintain objectivity — and he repeatedly states in the text that he’s trying to be fair — Bohannon concludes just how we’d expect him to. (Tony Jones at Jesus Creed)
It strikes me as incongruous, at best, to complain about summary judgments and pigeonholing from his critics when Tony employs the language of bigotry and castigation like “pedigree” and “just how we’d expect him to,” as a good Southern Baptist boy. Hypocrisy is not an unfair description for Tony’s cause, proven by his own, unambiguous derision of Southern Baptists. I too might say a few impolite words about my Southern Baptist brothers, but I would certainly feel foolish (or at least awkward) expecting a face-to-face meet with their Xenos-critics (if such an animal exists).
The real surprise is how unaware Tony is towards his own self-contradiction in such a short essay. If we didn’t know better, it looks like Tony deliberately set himself up for the hypocrisy charge, but since his essay is quite serious, the best explanation is perhaps an intellectual temerity at work, or an editing glitch.
Think about it: how do such timid minds command any following? To be sure, Americans are maturing more slowly today, so psychologists are extending adolescence into the late 20s. Tony is in his mid-30s, however, and other Emergent leaders like McLaren are nearly my age, yet still clinging to adolescent angst and hurt feelings. It is a phenomena worth digging into because it is so new, especially since weenies are posing as leaders. It is, in fact, a malaise arising out of Americanized Christianity which is perpetuating such leaders. In all cases, the Emergent leaders were born and raised in Christian, evangelical churches.
Just think about it, and we’ll pick it up next time.
- Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Tony Jones at Scot McKnight’s blog, which contains the Tony Jones article cited.
- Silly Conversations at the NeoZine, featuring Tony Jones in a panel debate.
- Theoblogy – the blog of Tony Jones.
- The Thread (in Time)
- Free Emergent Church Book