tony’s unoriginal sins

Here is my brief assessment of Tony Jones’ blogposts that deny the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin.  Besides the immaturity (“Watch out, Brian, the NeoReformed stormtroopers went after Scot McKnight last week, and they’ll probably come after you here!”), Tony’s posts suffer from ignorance and arrogance.

1. Ignorance:  Tony reduces original sin to original guilt, overlooking that it also contains moral pollution or corruption.  Tony apparently believes that everyone sins, but he doesn’t say why—is it something in our environment or something we inherited from our parents?  If it is the former, then Tony cannot explain why everyone sins.  If it is the latter, then despite his protests, Tony actually holds one expression of the doctrine of original sin.  The Eastern Church teaches that we “automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality, but not his guilt” (see my previous post on “original sin and the Eastern Church) and some Protestants believe that we become guilty only when we act on our sinful disposition inherited from Adam. 

I don’t agree with these positions, but at least they aren’t heretical.  My point is that Tony’s incomplete definition of original sin produces theological confusion.  Does he really deny the doctrine of original sin, or does he only think that he does?  He certainly denies original guilt—which is a problem, but does he also deny original corruption—which would be heresy?  He doesn’t say.

2. Arrogance:  Tony Jones (Tony Jones!) has the temerity to disagree with the Apostle Paul.  He says that Romans 5 could be read in two ways—the way that Paul intended or the way that Tony prefers.  He writes:

[1] If one believes that there is some kind of spiritual nature that is passed from mother (or father) to child by a biological process, as Paul likely believed, then this passage will be taken one way.  [2] If, however, one does not believe that the taint of Adam’s sin is genetic but is instead an archetypal account of the human condition, then it will be taken another way.

In his post on original sin and Genesis, Tony clearly says that he opts for #2.  He writes that Genesis 3 is “paradigmatic as opposed to factual” and that it does not teach that Adam and Eve “were changed at the genetic level that would infect subsequent generations.” 

To reinforce that he knows that he is disagreeing with Paul’s meaning in Romans 5, Tony wrote a subsequent post entitled, “Was Paul Wrong?”  Here he asks the rhetorical question, “If you, through and honest and thoroughgoing process of study and discernment, come to decide that the Apostle Paul was wrong about something in his writings, have you forsaken your claim to be an orthodox Christian?”

Interestingly, in the same post Tony says “I believe that Paul’s writings are inspired and authoritative.”  If Tony means “inspired by God,” then by his own admission he is not only disagreeing with Paul but also he is taking on God. 

At this point all hope of a productive, Christian conversation is lost.  If Tony thinks he is free to disagree with God whenever God says something that Tony doesn’t like, then I don’t know what else to say.  Unless every member of the conversation stands under the Word of God, there is no point in trying to understand it. 

At least Tony is right about one thing:  the original sin of Genesis 3—the sin of wanting to supplant God—is paradigmatic and archetypal.  It’s present in Tony’s posts on original sin.







82 responses to “tony’s unoriginal sins”

  1. Thanks for the heads up on TJ. I can’t read him regularly, but he offers abundant material for blog responses. A former evangelical who drank deep of Princeton theology and emerged a stereotypical liberal whose firm convictions will never be hindered by proof texts.
    God is good

  2. What I do not understand is why Tony Jones should be concerned with the question: “have you forsaken your claim to be an orthodox Christian?” given what he has said elsewhere about the evolution of orthodoxy. To ask the questions presupposes there is at least some element of orthodoxy that is unchanging and must be adhered to. He has stated quite ‘clearly’ the orthodoxy is a product of the community and that there is nothing you can actually point to and say “there is orthodoxy”.

  3. Randy Buist

    One thing is certain; you enjoy a dog fight as much as Tony.

    It would be helpful if you recognize that Tony likes to push against the norm because much of the church has lost it’s way. Going the same way we have been going will leave us with few followers of Jesus.

    So what if Tony takes on Yahweh? David did in his laments. Jacob actually wrestles with God. Peter straight out denies him. The other twelve desert him. AND yet these are the pathetic faithful we’ve been hearing about for thousands of years.

    What if we actually cared enough about the things of God that we actually would question him?

  4. Questioning God is a very tricky thing to do 1) because we often accuse more easily than we question and 2) the answer may not be what we like.

    It seems to me that Tony Jones has questioned God, the answer wasn’t what he was comfortable with, so he went the answer that best fit him.

    From reading Tony’s blog, it seems that the norm he is pushing against is scripturally-based, orthodox Christianity (like his support for full inclusion of homosexuals in all aspects of the church). That’s a very dangerous path to be on.

  5. taddelay

    Either A) Tony feels free to disagree with God, or B) you misunderstood what he believes about Paul, Scripture, inspiration, etc.

    I don’t see why you’re asking if Tony feels free to disagree with God when you know he would reply that he’s not. That leaves option B, that you simply don’t get how this works out in his understanding. That’s not a bad thing, but accusing him of believing something you know that he doesn’t is not civil christian conversation. Why jump to labeling him with something you know he would not assent to at all?

  6. mikewittmer


    I’m surprised that the person who said he wanted to punch me in the face is now giving me advice on Christian civility. I assume you’re being ironic.

    I did my best to understand what Tony is saying, but I’m willing to learn if you can tell me where I misunderstood or misrepresented him. I think that the only way that you can make the case that Tony does not believe that he is disagreeing with God is if he doesn’t think Romans 5 is God’s Word. But then you’ve got another problem, haven’t you?

  7. mikewittmer


    I didn’t start this. I’m only responding to Tony’s posts. I wish it wasn’t necessary. I wish my book wasn’t necessary, but it apparently is.

    I think that you confuse wrestling with God with theological error. Do you really think that Peter’s denial of Christ and the desertion of his disciples is something to emulate? Do you really think that if we don’t question God it means we don’t care?

  8. (to mike)

    … but you are responding to Tony in kind. I’m just saying you like a jump into the dog pit as much as he does…

    if my life reflects the life of his first twelve disciples, i’ll live and die with much conviction that i lived a life blessed by God…

    …we are absolutely lieing to ourselves if we don’t believe that we emulate the failures of the disciples every day…

    … we deny Jesus Christ with our lifestyle each and every day… while we may have ‘correct’ theology in our minds (even be it ‘original sin’), our faith pales compared to those in India, Africa, and China…

    … and I do think that if we don’t question God, we don’t care as much. Yes. We continue to pray ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in the heavens,’ and yet? why should we not ask God where he is? David did it all the time…

  9. Why does Tony Jones assume that if sin is passed from parent to child that it must be biological/genetic?

    Seems like he’s the one who’s guilty of misunderstanding the beliefs of those he’s pushing back against.

  10. “… we deny Jesus Christ with our lifestyle each and every day… while we may have ‘correct’ theology in our minds (even be it ‘original sin’), our faith pales compared to those in India, Africa, and China…”

    Please explain. Seems like you’re saying Christians in India, Africa and China have automatically obtained some level of righteousness that Christians in the Western World have not or can not.

  11. no… i’ve just had the opportunity to see the persecution, spent time with them, saw the way they thought and lived… and it seems our faith seems to pale…

    … good grief. let’s at least be honest. we have no idea what it means to feed the poor compared to so many others… yet we spend and spend and spend on ourselves…

    … and then we argue about original sin… is it no wonder that our young people are walking out the front doors of the church and going to the peace corp or finding an intentional little community in the middle of dark neighborhoods…

    … do we really believe our particular doctrine of original sin really matters that much?

  12. The genetics comment strikes me as odd, does Tony really think most people who have a doctrine of original sin assign it to being passed on genetically, like if we could find and eliminate that gene we’d end sin? I mean at one point there were many who saw it as passed down physically, but that seems to be a very minority understanding now right?

  13. Brian McLaughlin

    Randy. You are correct on many fronts. Many of us Western Christians have failed to feed the poor. Many of us spend too much on ourselves. And this is why many are reacting against the Western church…the emerging church being the largest example. So your points are important.

    However, there is a reason why original sin matters. There is a reason why sin and doctrine matters and it is this: when we go out to the middle of dark neighborhoods, what are we supposed to do? Love and feed them? Absoutely. But is that all a Christian should do? Or does a Christian also have the responsibility to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ that will provide abundant life to day and forever (an abundant life that transcends circumstances).

    Discussions of sin are important because it keeps us grounded in the fact that we are all sinners and we don’t merely need a hot meal (which is important), but we also need salvation that cannot come from ourselves. I think the concern with minimizing sin is that we tend to lose the saving work of Jesus Christ.

    Don’t you agree that Christians are responsible for both?

  14. mikewittmer


    For the sake of Christian charity, please focus your comments on the issue at hand and not the motives or character of the people who are making them. Your ad hominem remarks are an unkind distraction from the conversation.

  15. taddelay

    i’ll assume the “punch in the face” comment is just a joke. I hope you’re not actually hurt by that, because you keep bringing it up as if it mattered to you. It was seriously just a joke, so i hope you weren’t offended.

    Ah, so we can admit you don’t understand tony? Good. You can’t say he would assent to something that you know he wouldn’t actually assent to (i.e. “I disagree with God”) and say you haven’t misrepresented him. I don’t know what he believes about Paul and inspiration, but we ALL know he certainly doesn’t believe he can disagree with God. Saying otherwise about someone is just trying to be contrary. If you don’t understand his theology (cause i don’t have his theology nailed down enough to explain it for him), then you should just ask. That would be my advice.

  16. Joel


    Excellent post and an excellent summarization of Tony’s beliefs. The guy is arrogant, just as the entire EC movement is. Coming from someone who has “emerged” from the Emergent Conversation, I know from first hand experience that it’s no different than the “fundamentalism” (meant in the negative connotation, not in reference to the teachings of Machen and the like) they so despise.

    If you don’t mind me sharing some of my posts from my own site, below are links to posts I have made concerning the EC, some of which come from conversations I’ve had with Tony Jones and Mark Scandrette. I find it utterly ironic that the most civil and friendly one I’ve spoken to has been Peter Rollins, probably the one furthest from Orthodoxy out of them all…

    “Emerging from the Emergent Church”

    “My Conversation with The Emergent Church”

    “Mark Scandrette’s Response”

    And, of course, relying on your book:
    “You can’t, but I can”

  17. Mike,

    I appreciate your efforts (pause) probably more than you realize.

    With that said, it’s not fair to question my ‘Christian charity’ when you have directly questioned the faith of Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones.

    Recently you calle Brian McLaren a heretic. So, to question my ‘Christian charity’ while not doing the same yourself isn’t fair nor honest.

    Furthermore, the books that Brian writes are always prefaced by something like “I’m not sure I believe this to be true, but this is what i am thinking/proposing.”

    On the other hand, you recenlty commented that your recent book was ‘necessary.’ I doubt Brian would ever suggest that any of his books were ‘necessary.’

    Furthermore, to judge his faith from his half-fictional books isn’t fair either! While I despise the ‘Left Behind’ series, I dare state that no ’emergent’ types have questioned the faith of it’s authors for writing them.

    So, let’s be honest that ‘Christain charity’ fails in more direction than just mine.

    While you may have issues with Tony Jones idea of original sin, neither has he questioned if you are a heretic. On the other hand, you have done so with him.

    How do we dare to throw around that term and yet call others to ‘Christian charity?’ Or, what is Christian charity if we also dare to call others heretics?

    Let’s be fair here. If we think it is fair to take the ball and run off the playing field, then we should expect the same of our fellow brothers.

    Or are they really not brothers at all? Is this your point in calling McLaren, Jones, and Paggit heretics?

    Would love to hear more without invoking ‘Christian charity’…


  18. Brian McLaughlin,

    Your last response to me: Amen & Amen. We are totally incapable of any sort of lasting good without God’s Spirit among us.

    A thought to ponder: While I think we need to remember that we are sinners, if we focus on the sin rather than God, our attention is again turned to us (as sinners and broken people) rather than on God.

    A philosopher pointed this out to me tonight… he may be on to something. So, while original sin is significant, if we stay focused on it, we are focused again on ourselves rather than on the God of creation who desires tha we focus on the things of him. 🙂

    I much apprecaite your insights.

  19. Joel


    There is a difference between Christian charity in speech and speaking the truth of a situation.

    If someone is factually a heretic then calling that person as such isn’t demeaning or an insult. It is no different than saying, “Fred is from California.” It is a factual statement, regardless of what connotations we put on the word “California.”

    Likewise, if McLaren or Jones or anyone else is teaching something heretical (which they do, whether or not they preface it with, “Well I’m not sure if I believe this” [then why write about it or get mad at people who disagree with it?]), then they are ipso facto heretics.

    Now, we might ascribe a negative connotation to the word heretic, but this doesn’t change the fact that someone is a heretic. Negative connotation or not, a heretic is a heretic.

    Now, if Wittmer came out and said, “Tony Jones is an idiot and needs to just shut up,” then yes, we would have a case of lacking in Christian charity. But simply calling someone for what they are without doing so in an insulting way isn’t contrary to Christian charity.

    Maybe he could have used a different word. Would, “deniers of orthodoxy” or “false teachers” be more acceptable? No matter what, when someone engages in heresy there are no positive statements to make about the person. Heresy is, by definition, a negative activity (that is, it denies something), thus it can only be referred to in the negation, as a denial of something. No matter what, whenever we label something under a negative context, or refer to it as a negation approach, it sounds like we’re attacking that ‘something.’

    Hope that clarifies the position.

  20. Joel

    Also, as an addition, the doctrine of original sin is actually a lynchpin within Christian theology. Without believing in the inherent sinfulness of man, we lose the reason Christ came down to die for us. A denial of original sin is actually what led to the Social Gospel, Liberation theology, and the Moral Example theory.

    It eventually cheapens the view of the Cross and what Christ accomplished on the Cross. He didn’t die for our sins, He merely died as an example. This, of course, can lead to John Caputo’s conclusion that Jesus actually died against his will (and the will of God – see Caputo’s book, “The Weakness of God”). The point being, when we deny original sin (whether it be that we carry the guilt or that we simply are born with a naturally sinful nature) then we lose the need to be saved, we lose the need for Christ.

    I think of Chesterton, who in his book “Orthodoxy” said that Original Sin should be the one belief that is never denied as it is the most empirically proven belief within Christianity.

    It is a vital belief – without it, we lose a need for the Gospel.

  21. mikewittmer


    I don’t know if I follow you, but let me restate my understanding of Tony’s view for you.

    1. Tony disagrees with what Paul means in Romans 5.

    2. Paul’s meaning in Romans 5 is not different from what God means in Romans 5, inasmuch as Romans 5 is God’s Word.

    3. Tony disagrees with God.

    Tell me what I’m missing here.

  22. mikewittmer


    Amen. You expressed my position very well. Thanks!

  23. so, if we believe in ‘original sin,’ then we have a more profound understanding of the gospel than those who don’t adhere to it?

    so, from this doctrine, we can summise that God is more alive in our lives than those who question this doctrine?

    please don’t say yes.

  24. Joel


    Why not? If you don’t mind me jumping ahead, I think you’re beginning to form a false belief.

    The fact is, what we believe DOES affect our walk with Christ. Not believing in Original Sin does affect our view of the Gospel, which in turn affects our walk with the Lord. Think of it this way:

    You begin to date this girl named Sarah. She’s really just an acquaintance, so you don’t know a lot about her. If you don’t know a lot about her or deny the important parts of who she is and what she does, it invariably will affect the relationship you have with her. Now, it doesn’t cause you to fail in the relationship (though enough denial of who she is certainly would beget this), but it does do damage to the relationship.

    In human relationships, we grow in those relationships by getting to know the people as they are. A husband knows things about his wife and if he denies truthful aspects about his wife, then the relationship is inevitably going to have some rough spots.

    Likewise, how we view God will affect how we walk with God. As a doctrine becomes less essential and affects less or our worldview (i.e. pre-tribulation or post-tribulation), our belief on that issue isn’t quite as important. But when the belief is important, dare I say a lynchpin to the entire worldview (that is, that Christ came and died for us, which is the central belief of Christianity, but can only be justified if we are, in fact, born sinners), a denial of that belief certainly affects how we walk with God.

    If our beliefs about God didn’t interact with our walk with God, then conceivably we could believe God is a pink bunny rabbit in the sky or a flying spaghetti monster and our walk would still be unaffected.

    I hope you don’t mind me going the long way around on your question. The logician in me wanted to just jump out and point out that you’re relying on a logical fallacy of an emotional appeal, but I wanted to give this a deeper treatment than just simply pointing out that the argument is illogical to begin with.

    The other logical problem is you’re building off a non-sequitur in your original premise. Just because one accepts the doctrine of original sin doesn’t necessitate that the person has a better understanding of the Gospel. One could accept the doctrine of original (either as guilt or as a sin nature) and still come to an erroneous understanding the Gospel. I’m merely saying that in order to have a proper understanding of the Gospel, one must have a proper understanding of original sin. The order, however, is not reversed (e.g. original sin begets a proper understanding of the Gospel).

    Though a belief in original sin is a necessary component of understanding the Gospel, it is not a sufficient component. Since it is necessary, but not sufficient, one can believe it and still miss the Gospel.

    Your second premise deserves the same answer as above, that just because we have a better understanding of Original Sin we somehow have a close relationship with God is false. As stated above, Original Sin is a necessary component of the Gospel, but not sufficient.

    Now, I will say this – if someone has a proper understanding of the Gospel in all of its components and applies the Gospel and attempts to live existentially moment by moment in the Gospel (all apologies to Francis Schaeffer), then yes, that person’s walk is more alive with the Spirit than someone who denies certain components of the Gospel. That might sound cruel, but it is the logical conclusion if we follow the Biblical propositions on the relationship between doctrine and works. A closer walk with God doesn’t mean a person is better – just at a different spot in his spiritual path than others.

    I guess I’m simply pointing out that your rhetorical questions (or at least I took them as rhetorical – if you meant them otherwise I apologize) are logically fallacious.

    Hope that helps.

  25. taddelay

    my guess is that you misunderstand how tony views inspiration working in scripture. He certainly doesn’t hold to a verbal plenary view, so who know’s? I don’t know exactly how you view inspiration in scripture, but i’ll be that if you had to line up you’re view and what you think tony’s view is, tony would agree with neither. As you know, the word “inspiration” doesn’t mean the exact same thing to everyone. That’s where i think the disconnect is on that particular item.

  26. mikewittmer


    Your response doesn’t address my post, so I’m not sure what else to say.

  27. Joel,

    I don’t think we can say that a proper understanding of original sin is an essential for understanding the gospel?

    WHERE in the biblical text can you find that it demans us to believe this in order for salvation?

    Again, while Mike doens’t like me to bring it up, the theology held within our minds becomes the stuff that we worship as much as God.

    If we really believe that we must understand original sin to comperehend the gospel, at what age does the Spirit inform us of our original sin? Does this come pre or post conversion?

  28. Joel


    I’m not a big believer of “solo scriptura” (I do like ‘sola scriptura’ and ‘prima scriptura’ however), so I don’t think I need a chapter and verse to prove everything I say about the Bible. God gave us minds to figure stuff out. 😉

    With that in mind, I look at it logically:

    (1) The Gospel teaches that Christ came to save man from his sin
    (1′) We must be given a new nature once we are in Christ
    (2) If we must be given a new nature and be saved from our sins, then our current nature must have sin in it (original sin)
    (3) Therefore, to understand the Gospel, one must understand the sin nature of man

    Now, does this have anything to do with salvation? No, it doesn’t. I have a far better understanding of the Gospel than a 13 year old accepting Christ at youth camp, but we’re both equally saved. Wittmer has a better understanding of the Gospel than I do, but we’re both equally saved.

    The better understanding of the Gospel does, however, affect our sanctification. As alluded to in the syllogism, the process of sanctification is us putting on a new nature. However, if there were no sin inherent within our old nature, then we would simply be redeeming the current nature. For instance, we’re told that our bodies and spirits are redeemed in Christ (eventually). This indicates there is nothing inherently wrong with either (let’s not be Gnostics here). However, we are told that we need a new nature.

    If our old nature has to be replaced and not simply redeemed, then what was wrong with it? Do you see where I’m getting at?

    Now, you can attack the propositions, but (I believe) the syllogism is logically sound. If you agree with the propositions, but offer the following

    (4) Therefore, believing in a sin nature or denying it has no effect on the Gospel

    is contradictory to (1), (1′), and (2) (aside from being a non-sequitur).

    Thus, though a belief in a sin nature might not be essential to salvation (though belief in our personal sins is certainly essential to come to Christ – otherwise, what is there to repent from), it is an essential belief to hold if one wishes to grow in Christ properly. It doesn’t deal with our justification, but it does deal with our sanctification.

  29. Joel

    One other point to add –

    Our beliefs about God are actually essential to worshiping God. I know that Peter Rollins comes out and says that we can create an intellectual idol out of our beliefs – and he’s right, sometimes we can, so we should always be open to listening to other ideas – this doesn’t mean all beliefs about God are necessary. Though He is transcendent, I think we often forget that He is immanent as well and has revealed Himself partially to us. This means that we can know some things about God, more appropriately, what He has revealed.

    In fact, the word “God” is quite empty outside of a proper definition and connotation. I can say, “I worship God,” but if my beliefs about God are that he’s a Chong like character smoking a bong up in the sky, then I might be using the name “God,” but I’m not actually worshiping God Himself.

    As I alluded to earlier with the example of a relationship, if I say I know John, but describe someone who isn’t like John, can I really say I know John? Now some of this deals with salvific knowledge and other parts just deals with growing in God. So I’m not saying all our beliefs about God are what save us, but we do have to have a minimal understanding and acceptance of who He is in order to be saved.

    There are connotations when you say God and all of those connotations are beliefs. If we separate “God” from “doctrine” or “beliefs,” then we’re left with an empty shell of a word, because anything we say about God – even if it’s Rollins’ hyper-negative theology – is still a doctrine/belief/theology.

    Does this make sense? I know it’s not clear-cut and I apologize for that, but there’s only so much one can write in the space of a blog comment in the middle of the night.

  30. taddelay


    you’re missing it on point 2. Ask Tony, and i guarantee you guys have different thoughts on what inspiration means.

  31. Joel


    Seeing your reaction to Tony, should we expect a book on original sin soon…”Total Eclipse of the Heart” perhaps?

  32. Joel

    Then again (sorry to spam), maybe you could do one on the importance of being in the image of God, title it, “Every Breath You Take.”

  33. mikewittmer


    I had thought of that title, just to keep my song titles streak going, but I didn’t want to compete with Plantinga’s book on sin. But maybe if I restrict it to original sin, that might be worth doing. I’m actually toying with the idea about doing something on faith. I think there is a lot of confusion about the nature of faith, doubt, knowledge, and trust (as evidenced on this blog), and think there may be some value in exploring that–a pastoral book to help those who are struggling with faith and what it means to follow Christ.

  34. mikewittmer


    Tony’s practice doesn’t match his rhetoric. He said in his post, “Was Paul Wrong?” that “I have no desire to avoid the hard saying [sic] of the the [sic] Bible, particularly those of Paul. I believe that Paul’s writings are inspired and authoritative.” Then he disregards the authority and the content of the hard saying that he doesn’t like. So while I agree that Tony would not say that he is disagreeing with God, by his own admission he should know better.

  35. Joel


    I’m not sure it would really be competing with Plantinga – it seems the two of you have two different “markets.” Plus, even when he tries to write popular books, he can’t avoid the analytical style he’s used to.

    At the same time, I do admit that a book on faith is desperately needed. I attended a meeting in Waco, TX that is supposed to based off Rollins’ Ikon Community. In fact, he was there (he’s actually a nice guy and very open to those who are opposed to his point of view).

    The entire theme was about doubt. Multiple people expressed the pain they had in doubt and how they hated how they were treated by other Christians, “Simply have faith,” “Christians shouldn’t doubt,” “The Spirit doesn’t let us doubt,” and the like. I actually wrote about the event on my own site if you’re interested in what occurred.

    I would say such a book is certainly needed, especially if you can incorporate some elements from Os Guinness’ book “In Two Minds.”

    I think such a book is desperately needed, especially for people like the ones I met in Waco. Faith is a tricky thing – on one end, people are afraid of it and cling to their doubt. On the other you have some who treat faith as though it were some mechanism we can use to turn God into our personal genie (e.g. faith-healing, name-it-claim-it, etc). Then you have others that treat it like a leap…there’s quite a bit you could cover in that book!

    As for book titles, why not have some fun with this?

    “I Want to Know What Love Is”

    “The Way to Your Heart”

    “Walk of Life”

    “True Faith” (that band, New Order)

    “If I Ever Lose My faith”

    Then again, you could just go with George Michael’s “Faith”…

    Oh the 80’s…if I were an atheist and wanted to argue against the existence of God, I would point to 80’s music and ask how a good God could allow that to happen.

  36. Joel,
    Foreigner, Journey, Styx, REO, AC/DC… perhaps you need to know the college high school kids are still buying and dancing to this stuff.

  37. Mike,

    I just read thru your post and all the comments again after thinking about it most of the day. While you don’t want to make this a personal thing, your entire post is ridicule of Tony. I would hope we could argue against Tony’s position rather than attack Tony, but you really only question his faith rather than his position.

    Much of the point of being a friend of emergent stuff is being in friendship even when we disagree. Trusting that God is at work in another’s life even when we disagree with them.

    So, we often fail to arrive at the same conclusion because we know it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is Christian friendship — knowing that we will often end up at different positions and still knowing one of us is likely more correct than the other.

    BUT being right isn’t the most important thing. Perhaps it is in theology, but it isn’t in real life. Being ‘right’ ends marriages. Being ‘right’ ends friendships and ends familial relationships. Being right creates wars and never peace.

    When Jesus prayed that ‘they be one as we are one’, I doubt that he was kidding. Real friendships trust that being ‘right’ is secondary to knowing that you are moving in relationship with your friend.

    On the other hand, being right divides and ends relationships. It may be one person is more correct, but it seems this wasn’t the prayer for the Ephesians. Rather, the prayer was for unity among believers.

    Perhaps a fair question for the night: Is being ‘right’ with an understanding of original sin of more valuable than friendship with others who see aspects of God differently?

    Perhaps being ‘right’ is more important, but then we ALSO disagree with God regarding being in unity with fellow believers. In which case, being ‘right’ at the expense of Christian unity also leads to being directly in opposition to God.

  38. Joel


    There’s a difference between “being right” and teaching the truth. We teach the truth to friends so they’ll begin to grow in Christ, because God is far more important than any friendship we have on earth.

    Likewise, Paul said to be on the lookout for false teachers, to oust any false teachers, and went so far as to say that anyone who changes the Gospel story or preaches one contrary to the orthodox one should never be listened to and should be condemned.

    Now, if Mike were attacking Tony Jones’ view on pre-trib or post-trib, I think you and I would be in staunch agreement. However, Tony’s denial of original sin – as I have shown – is huge. It transcends friendship. If something negatively affects our relationship with the father, then we must bring it up in our relationship with each other. That is true friendship.

    To be corny,

    “Friends don’t let friends believe heresy.”

  39. Joel

    Though this is quite childish of me, I found the following link quite relevant to the discussion:

    Paul was harsh in many of his epistles on what might seem to us to be nonessential items. Either Paul was sinning when he did this, or we have taken a Western construct of what it means to be “polite” and “loving” and applied it to our understanding of the Gospel.

  40. Joel:
    Our understanding of gospel has long been shaped by our culture and experience. To some the gospel or ‘good news’ is linked to the release from oppression and injustice. To some the gospel means salvation from eternal death and punishment. Other perspectives lead to other readings and renderings. What we need to ask is this. What was the gospel Jesus preached and Paul embraced?

    As long as Christians cling to a ‘in/out’ type Christianity rather than a ‘centered on Jesus’ type understanding we will experience divide and suspicion.

    I stand by my views on centered Christianity drawing us into the viseo, or dream of God through faith in Christ with conciliatory hearts. To even assume we have ‘truth’ is to credit ourselves with more than we deserve. As I have just indicated to Joel our gospel has been shaped and molded by our perspectives be they modernity, evangelical, liberationists leaning…whichever…we come from a subjective viewpoint…we can’t help it…but we must learn to recognize it.

  41. Daryl,

    I think that undoubtedly our view of the Gospel has, at times, been shaped by our cultural upbringing. This happens with people.

    But I have a hard time believing that this is a universal event. I’m reading through the Church fathers (the major ones, started with the Didache and working my way up to the council at Nicea) and they agree with what I view to be the basic Gospel.

    I talk with Christians from other cultures and they also believe in the basics, or what has always been considered Orthodoxy.

    Some people may place a different emphasis on different parts of the Gospels and others might change how they practice the Gospel or how their ecclesiology functions, but over all, their view of the Gospel (on the basics) is quite consistent.

    Yes, there might be some who differ or deny certain orthodox teachings – but they’re generally called heretics. 😉

    As for what Jesus taught and Paul embraced, it’s what I’m teaching. I didn’t make it up, it’s something that has been passed down for 2,000 years. Would you feel more comfortable if I made the claims I did in previous comments, but backed it up with Scripture?

  42. joel, daryl would not feel more comfortable with verses backed up by Scripture. he knows the text pretty well, and he’s been an amazing pastor for 25 years.

    his point, i believe, is that we always are after the ‘truth’. we always want to be sure that we are teaching the ‘truth.’

    yet, we turn our back on our love for our neighbor every time we claim to know the ‘truth’ better than our neigbhbor even if they profess Jesus Christ.

    we turn our back on God every time we say the Lord’s Prayer and yet defend and promote theolgocial differences… ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in the heavens.’

    we turn our back on God every time we commit to the Apostle’s Creed and yet fail to recognize the depth and breath of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    if we are honest, daryl’s perspective of a centered set Christianity allow for differences while also embracing the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, as well as demostrate a serious commitment to loving our neighbor.

    if we claim to know the truth of the Scriptures and yet make the ‘truth’ our main priority, we deny:
    1 – that Jesus Christ is Lord because he is no longer our main priority. “Truth” becomes our main priority.
    2 – we deny our neigbhor’s voice has value even when they disagree.

    when we take the pursuit of ‘truth’ as our primary goal in following Jesus, i think we nearly miss him entirely. thinking of James & John’s mother arguing about who will sit on the right & left side of the Father, and Jesus simply says, “You just don’t get it.”

    My sense is that much of the evangelical church in North America, while well intentioned, doesn’t get it. If our public witness had value, we wouldn’t simply look like idiots to the rest of the world.

    it’s no Jesus or God that unbelievers don’t like or trust. it’s these pathetic arguements about ‘truth’ and being ‘right.’

    this entire conversation reminds me of exactly why i walked out of full time paid ministry eight years ago —

  43. mikewittmer


    Thanks for your wise and helpful posts. I would like to see your blogpost about the meeting in Waco, and would even make it its own special post so we can all see it easily. Can you send me that link?

  44. Joel


    I can certainly see where you’re coming from. But I think you might be confusing some terms, which is easy to do because the mentality you criticize is the mentality that began to confuse those terms!

    However, the one thing you said that hit me in quite a weird way was this:

    “1 – that Jesus Christ is Lord because he is no longer our main priority. “Truth” becomes our main priority.”

    I compare that with John 14:6, where Jesus claims He is the Truth (in fact if we use John 1 to back up 14:6, then we see that Jesus is the “logos,” that is, the rational Word – thus, truth is rational…just a thought experiment) and I have to wonder if we are pursuing true truth (again, apologies to Schaeffer), wouldn’t this equate that we are pursuing Christ?

    I think the problem is you’re attacking a mentality that is false, a modernistic mentality that separates truth from action and make the act of knowing truth a purely mental exercise. This doesn’t seem to be what truth is. However, there is a mental aspect to truth in order that we might test certain beliefs.

    I stand by my previous statement a few posts up that unless we know the truth about something, then our actions will be negatively affected.

    I think the ultimate disagreement between us (and not just you and I, but the two views represented) is that we have two entirely different views of what truth is and how we come to truth. Though I believe our culture affects us, I fall more into a quasi-Augustinian epistemology, with a taste of Critical Realism and Plantinga’s Warrant. To specify that, Augustine taught that ALL truth was brought to us by the imago Dei or by the Spirit working in us. Thus, such truth allows us to transcend our cultural barriers and biases. I don’t go to the extreme Augustine does, but I do believe that when it comes to knowledge about God that isn’t evident in Creation, we must rely on revelation and the working of the Spirit through our studies to help illuminate the truth of God to us. Once we have this truth, we actualize the truth through acting in caring for one another.

    When someone violates the truth that is revealed in Scripture, illuminated to us through our studies (so we must actively pursue the truth through rational thinking) by the Holy Spirit, if the truth violated is significant to the Gospel narrative, then we must approach that issue. That is the truly loving thing. Love does not mean we are passive – Hebrews 12 (I believe, I’m too lazy to look it up) speaks to this issue. Those who are disciplined by God are loved by Him through discipline. Thus, love isn’t always a passive act.

    I can’t think of any other way to describe where I’m coming from and where I believe Mike is coming from in his critique of Jones’ position. I think it boils down to we have different views of how we obtain truth, the nature of truth, and what it means to be loving. If we forsake doctrine for the sake of unity, to the point that we begin to take away doctrines that affect the Gospel or the Gospel itself, we’re left with nothing. I could, conceivably, believe that Jesus was just the ancient equivalent of a stoner who taught some good lessons, but still consider myself part of the Christian community. No one could question my faith or my teachings because of the potential disunity. That’s not a Christianity worth believing (apologies to Doug Pagitt).

    On a more personal note, I would hope that you and Daryl are active in getting this message of brotherly love to people like Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and others in the movement. From my own personal experiences, after meeting Mark Scandrette, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Peter Rollins, and others, Peter and Doug were the only ones who were really cordial after finding out that I disagreed with their positions. Doug was cordial and Peter was extremely friendly. The others I have met have been – for lack of a better term – jerks. I hate to describe them in this manner and, if not for their writings against conservative Christians and how they generally describe such Christians with disdain, I would think that my interaction with them was merely an anomaly.

    I hope this helps a bit more to explain my position.

  45. Joel


    That is the post that deals with the event. If you ever get bored and browse around, there are other posts dealing with the EC. Some from events I have attended, others from my studies, and others from my impressions about the EC as I was slowly sliding their way a few years ago.

    Thank you for the compliments. I means a great deal considering it was your book “Heaven is a Place on Earth” that really pushed me in the direction of philosophical study.

  46. Layman Speaks


    You said “As long as Christians cling to a ‘in/out’ type Christianity rather than a ‘centered on Jesus’ type understanding we will experience divide and suspicion.”

    Me: No kidding….but then ultimately Jesus will devide the sheep from the goats will He not? It is axiomatic that doctrine devides, but this comes with the price for knowing Jesus as Truth encarnate. I fear your undefined Jesus may not be the Christ revealed in history and in the text of scripture. I really do not believe that Jesus is impressed at all with our warm fuzzies about Him but instead desires that we may know the Truth so the the Truth can set us free.

    You said “To even assume we have ‘truth’ is to credit ourselves with more than we deserve.”

    Me: While this sentence may read as humble to some, I read arrogance.(and a self refuting statement) Your suggestion that somehow God cannot comunicate with man is absurd and empty. If the creator God in eternity past providentially planned the giving and recording of His word to man, it is only spiritual deafness that will not hear it. From the moment of creation God Himself has defined how He may be approached. He was gracious enough to not only reveal Himself but to ensure that a great deal about Him was written down. All of this revealing for the grand purpose of His own Glory and that fallen men and women may have a way of entry into His presence. Please don’t think that anyone may come into God’s presence without Him holding out the sceptor. Any other way will lead to death. Sadly Daryl I fear your inclusivism may lead many to destruction.

  47. Joel

    you said: ‘they are jerks. I hate to describe them in this manner’… may have been a check in your spirit.

    If you hate to describe people this way… you probably should not.

    You may have drawn some false conclusions based on limited exposure.

  48. Joel


    I said I hate to describe them that way because I want to like them. However, based on that exposure, that is exactly what they acted like (specifically Scandrette).

    Also, as I stated about me wishing it were just a limited thing:

    “if not for their writings against conservative Christians and how they generally describe such Christians with disdain, I would think that my interaction with them was merely an anomaly.”

    Maybe it was just a one time thing, but the way they speak of conservatives seems that they just hold quite a bit of hatred toward anyone who buys into the ideology.

    I also find it quite interesting that out of everything I said, THAT is the one point you chose to focus on…

  49. Joel: I am not into long debates in this medium…I just thought the check may have been the Holy Spirit. So that caught my attention.

    Perhaps one day we will meet and have opportunity to speak with one another. I believe face-to face is a good thing.

  50. Joel,

    Why should you expect Tony, Doug, Mark, or anyone else to really give you much love? You’ve characterized other followers of Jesus as ‘sliding’ in a way that is judging of other’s salvation.

    If I choose to hang with people, I’ll probably choose those who want to listen and pay less attention to those who are simply screaming from the balcony. In fact, I’ll take those who are interested and walk away from the noisy ones.

    With that said, I’ve broken break with all of these men that you mentioned, and they are good friends. Furthermore, there are very few followers of Jesus in America whose lives can hold a candle to that of Mark Scandrette.

    Be cautious that you don’t enrage the God who has saved you when you are nearly damning of some of his followers.

    Finally, those in your EC group have been more than beat down by fundamentalism. To claim that they are unkind suggests that they should get up one final time for another knock down. Perhaps the wisdom of the Spirit has taught them to simply walk away; I doubt you really wanted to become a friend to any of them for the long haul?

  51. Joel


    For someone who was crying out for brotherly love earlier, you are certainly quite quick to judge me and my intentions. Does this not bother you? You’re displaying not only the very attitude you were decrying, but the very one I was describing.

    Regardless, I fail to see how I was judging anyone’s salvation or condemning anyone to the “fiery pits of eternal damnation.” I simply pointed out that the Gospel they believe in is incomplete and subsequently would affect their walk with Christ. This is a fact, as I have shown. Now, if they’re correct in their view of original sin and I am wrong, then likewise my belief will have drastically negative affects on my walk with Christ – but it won’t send me to Hell (just as their belief doesn’t send them to Hell).

    So you’ve been jumping to conclusions, specifically about me as a person, without ever addressing the arguments I put forth. This is similar to what Scandrette did to my friend and I when he wrote quite a nasty email to us concerning our meeting with him. He then published it on my friend’s site, making it a public issue.

    Now, I’m not sitting here wallowing in pain or lamenting the woes cast upon me. To be honest, it means nothing to me other than my belief that the EC is no different than the Fundamentalists – both are equally judgmental, both are equally cliquish, and both waste no time jumping to conclusions and judging those that have a voice of opposition to their beliefs. They’re really the same thing with different beliefs.

    How do I know this? Because I’ve had the “joy” of being in both camps, though not as a participant. I had to endure a rabidly fundamentalist church that (and I kid you not) shut down its food closet for the poor in order to help raise money for the three million dollar sanctuary. I’ve seen the ugliness that fundamentalism produces – I’ve been a victim of it. It’s what drove me to the Emergent Church.

    However, I was never fully satisfied. It [the EC] was high on attitude, but low on content. Anytime someone voiced a conservative voice, no matter how respectful and open the person was, he was always looked down upon. There was no openness.

    In fact, the only time I’ve felt any true and honest openness from an Emergent event or from an Emergent leader was when I attended an event in Waco, TX with Peter Rollins. I’ll be so blunt to say – according to my interpretation of the Bible, I have difficulty believing he has accepted the true Christ (notice I don’t say that he has or hasn’t, that’s not my call, only that his beliefs point in a different direction). I told him this, but we still got along. We were still friendly with each other. He told me if I’m ever in Ireland to look him up – and I fully intend on it!

    Is it so hard to believe that I would really want to be friends with these people in the long run just because I disagree with them? I disagree with them greatly, but they’re still human beings made in the image of God Randy. One of my friends is a dogmatic atheist (he actually has the word “Atheist” tattooed down the side of his body). He HATES Christianity, but I’m a friend with him because I love him as a human being. There is no contingency plan on my friendship with him – it’s not, “I’ll be a friend with him for this amount of time until he sees things my way.” As long as he’s open to being my friend, I’ll be his friend (but I’ll always share the Gospel when the opportunity provides).

    I feel the same way about those in the EC. I would like to be their friends, but so often they turn a cold shoulder to me or shut me off because I’m open about my disagreement (again, Rollins is a shining exception). And even here Randy, I have you ignoring the content of my disagreement and coming right after me – is that friendly? Is that how you make friends? How could I be your friend Randy when you’re already closed off to me, all because of what I believe? I ask you (a bit tongue in cheek, and with an allusion to The Big Lebowski) – who’s the fundamentalist here?

    I hope if you choose to respond, you’ll respond to the content of what I have said in previous posts and this one. I have tried my best to respect your opinion (but still disagree and show why) and respect you as a human being and respect you as a brother in Christ. If I have failed, then I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.


  52. Yooper


    I actually find it easier to get along with those who are honest and not afraid to state who they really are and what they believe (if anything). e.g. I can respect the late Charles Templeton, when reading his memoirs I can sense his inner battle because he really wasn’t a believer and would not continue misleading people as such, even though it brought him wealth and fame. That was a different era.

  53. […] with regard to doctrine. As an example Wittmer points to the fact that original sin has now been abandoned by Tony Jones. The next domino to fall, says Wittmer, is the deity of Christ. I came away from this event with a […]

  54. […] has spent time confronting serious theological issues within the emergent church movement, such as this blog post in which he details a leader of this movement unashamedly disagreeing with the Apostle Paul in his […]

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