Chuck Colson, Tony Jones, and conversational train wrecks

10:01 am | Emergent Church

For the past several weeks, there has been plenty of tension and heat generated by Chuck Colson’s articles concerning the emerging church and reactions to those articles by emerging folks (in particular this blog post by Tony Jones). I have been watching this and am continually grieved in my heart that so much misunderstanding can exist within the body of Christ.

After reading his article, it is clear to me that Chuck Colson’s primary concern is about the metaphysical nature of truth first of all, and secondly that an absolute truth has real and powerful implications about how we understand and live within the world - indeed, within the postmodern world. He has a deep and abiding passion for Living the Truth in a postmodern world - we cannot simply dismiss him as a heartless and uncaring soul.

Tony Jones seems to misunderstand Colson’s concern. Jones’s primary concern is about how we as a community come to understand the truth. His response is geared toward the interpretation (hermeneutic) of truth, arguments about realism/antirealism, and the epistemic knowing of truth (truth as encounter). He does not respond to Colson’s concern about the metaphysical nature of truth; neither does he interact with Colson’s point that the nature of truth has real implications on how Christians should live. Sadly, he complains about the “polemical nature of the church today” but engages in harsh polemics himself.

Emerging folks who are reading Colson generally don’t understand that Colson’s concern is the metaphysical nature of truth. They think that Colson is being unfair, is dusty and old, and even immoral for not listening to what they are saying. As a result, Colson is demonized while Tony Jones is congratulated - reinforcing an us versus them mentality and increasing hostility toward Colson and others who are “them”.

Critics see Colson’s concern and see Tony Jones as either dishonestly engaging in sleight of hand and dismissing concerns of Colson and other critics, or as simply not understanding what Colson’s concerns are. But their voices, combined with the responses of emerging folks, have not produced insightful illuminating dialogue, resulting instead in heated, angry, vitriolic exchanges.

This postemergent sees a huge train wreck of misunderstanding with bodies strewn everywhere. Chuck Colson has a valid concern and has expressed that concern quite honestly in his article. But this concern has been misunderstood, with the effect that Tony Jones and other emerging folks have become militaristic in their thinking, have gone on the offense against Colson, run to grab their swords, then flailed them about wildly without concern about who or what they hurt in their zeal to take down Colson. In the heated dialogue and rush to the defensive, many people are deeply wounded, including me. Watching this confusion from a distance grieves my spirit and causes me to weep. Brothers, this need not be so.

I would beg the following of Tony Jones: Declare a truce with Chuck Colson. Go out of your way to make contact with him. Make your intention not to be defensive or polemical, but seek rapprochement and healing of the wounds that exist on both sides with an irenic approach. Make time to talk with him - not by email or some text form, but by voice. Work toward reconciliation - give him the benefit of the doubt and try to understand in his own terms what his concerns are. Don’t jump to conclusions about what he means or is trying to say - actively listen to his concerns, and try to understand them even if you disagree with them. Show him respect that is due another human being and a Christian brother. Instead of assuming that Colson isn’t listening, anticipate that the problem is miscommunication without assuming that the problem is just on Colson’s side of the conversation. The most pernicious communication problems happen when we assume that the problem lies with another person, rather than with ourselves. And most of all: Do not give up on trying to reconcile differences just because it is slow or difficult. Very rarely is anything that is worth doing going to be easy - reconciliation needs to become more than a one time event, but an on-going process that is lived out daily. We as believers should not be people that are quick to attack, but rush to seek peace. Reconciliation is a lifestyle that applies equally to our relationships with the hurting and broken postmodern world as it does to our relationships in the Evangelical church.

The ministry of reconciliation should be the heart of our approach to a postmodern culture. The absolute truth of Christ’s statement “Blessed are the peacemakers” should be taken to heart by all of us, and put into practice. I am pleading with all my brothers and sisters who still identify with the emerging church to please take the need for reconciliation seriously, and embrace the meaning of “Blessed are the peacemakers” as a daily part of your life. Emerging Peter, put down your sword.



RSS feed for comments on this post

Tony Jones

Comment on July 12, 2006 @ 6:31 am

Some of us have, indeed, tried to be in contact with Colson. His “people” always tell us that he’s too busy to respond.

Also, I get that he has a metaphysical understanding of truth. My point is, metaphysics is dead.

I’m afraid your post misrepresents and demonizes me — ironically, just what you accuse me of doing to Colson.

[I’ve been in touch with Tony Jones by private email since he posted this comment in order to express some of my concerns and reiterate that I felt that reconciliation was still the best path, regardless of how difficult it may be. As far as claims about metaphysics being dead - I think that this overstates the case quite a bit, since metaphysics is still an indispensible tool for Christians in sharing their faith, though there is a need for a certain bedside manner in how it is used. Hopefully I can blog on this subject more fully at a later date. –michaelh]

4 sp@mbots e-mail me