the bottom of the slippery slope

It probably isn’t too productive to comment on the comments of “emergent” authors, as they have taken pains to make clear that they are no longer with us. As they might say, their centered set doesn’t overlap with our bounded set (which, of course, demonstrates that they too can’t avoid having a boundary).

But in case there was any doubt, read Tony Jones’ post on Dan Savage, the gay man who not only forever slurred the good name of Rick Santorum (see my post, “homosexual hate speech” below), but who also argues for open marriages. According to Savage, monogamy is an unrealistic expectation for many people. Rather than hold ourselves to such a harsh demand, we should allow ourselves and our partners to experiment with other lovers. If we have a “good, giving, and game” partner, then our adulterous flings will only enhance our marriages.

How does Tony Jones respond? He writes:  “I don’t know if Savage’s ethic jibes with a biblical, Christian view of sexuality.” He adds that Savage’s view is more realistic than the puritanical view held by most Christians, and that “for the first time in my life I’ve met Christians who are in ‘open’ marriages or are practicing polyamory — and I’m committed that my theological/ethical response to them be both Christian and pragmatic/realistic.”

There was a time, not that long ago, when Jones would know whether “Savage’s ethic jibes with a biblical, Christian view of sexuality.” His current ignorance does not arise from his “realistic” view of sex, but from his obvious denial of the clear teaching of Scripture. This is where many of us warned the emergent “conversation” was headed. We just didn’t think it would arrive so soon.







14 responses to “the bottom of the slippery slope”

  1. I’m not convinced this is the bottom at all.

  2. Back when the emergent movement began to move towards denying the Biblical passages on homosexuality, I asked one question that was NEVER answered.

    “Why do you want to hold to monogamy so much? What if a couple agrees to be ‘open’ in their relationship? Is that acceptable too?”

    The only answer I ever got was, “That’s just a stupid question.” Yet here we are, just a few years later, with them saying, “Well, I don’t see the problem with it.”

    ‘Holiness’ is a curse word, a repugnant idea from the past; we should never forget that the Corinthian church was PROUD of the young man sleeping with his father’s wife, presumably because this made them more progressive with the culture.

  3. mikewittmer

    Good point, Bill. I don’t want to think about where else this will go. I spent three hours in Vegas last weekend, so I have a general idea.

    Joel, this is an excellent observation. Guess from here on we’ll have to demand that they answer even our stupid questions!

  4. I happily joined the Emergent movement in seminary. I am glad to see Jones back off a bit. I remember attending the annual Emergent Conversation a few years ago with Jurgen Moltmann and he kept eyeing me like I was a Russian character out of a John Le Carre novel. Despite that, Tony, like Doug Pagitt, is a likeable guy and I hope that he continues to move in that direction.

  5. Jonathan

    @Mike only 3 hours, I spent 3 days in the wonderful place that is Vegas… amazed every time I’m in that city for work.

    Is there justification some place for this new belief in marriage?

  6. mikewittmer

    You like Vegas? The city made me sad. I felt bad for the people who go there to get happy. And everything is fake.

    The only justification I can think of is that we shouldn’t deny ourselves whatever we desire. You can look at our present economic situation and learn how well that philosophy works out.

  7. MIke,

    What about Jones’ comment that he knows Christians “who are in “open” marriages and practice polyamory”? Either he meant “self-identified” Christians or his definition of a Christian no longer squares with anything in the Bible. One of my exceeding frustrations with the emergent church is the lack of clarity with terms.

  8. Hey Mike,

    Of course centered sets do in some sense have boundaries … the boundary is the direction your life is pointed. In a Jesus centered-set, the directional question is: Is your life pointed more and more towards Jesus? Are you closer to Jesus than you were yesterday? Part of the understanding of a center-set is that we are to be constantly moving closer to Jesus (no total sanctification here – if Paul felt like he hadn’t arrived – I’m not optimistic about my chances).

    Now the danger in this approach is: How do we know it is the true Jesus we are moving towards, and not just a Jesus that is the projection of my own personal wishes and desires?

    I think you would say, and I would agree, the answer is the true Jesus will look like the Jesus revealed in the Bible and in particular Jesus found in Matthew, Mark. Luke and John. Of course the difficulty in establishing the true Jesus is a differing of opinions on interpretation. So,even saying the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t remove all of the confusion. But this is the least of the difficulties and stresses of a center-set approach.

    Where things get really sticky are the times someone feels like they are taking steps towards Jesus, but we might feel that they actually aren’t. (I feel like Jesus said it is OK to embezzle from my boss…I really am attracted to her and even though she is married and I am married I feel like Jesus is saying it is OK) What should we do?

    Here is where things tend to get quite heated between a center and a bounded set approach. In what I am sure is a completely unfair generalization, people taking a bounded set approach will declare (sometimes loudly) what the right course would be (the boundary – a la Matthew 18 warning a brother, or Paul warning the Corinthians about the man sleeping with his mom-in-law).

    A centered-set approach would be to urge the person to continue to seek Jesus and ask Jesus about what is going on in their life. And here is the really hard part, trust that Jesus through the Holy Spirit will respond. That Jesus is good and that Jesus will lead (John 10).

    Now, having sat under you in a number of classes, I am anticipating that your push back would be: Why not do both? Why does it have to be either or? I guess partly I say amen. But I also just honestly wonder, does the drawing of the boundary work? My gut is probably it does sometimes, maybe particularly in an area like Grand Rapids that is Bible beltish and has a rich appreciation for the Bible, but for the person who gives no credence to the Bible would it?

    I have started to think about it this way. In general, Muslims, based on the Koran, would say that I am an infidel and could quote chapter and verse (or whatever the equivalent in the Koran might be). Without sounding callous, I’m unpersuaded by “the facts” that they might present me with from the Koran no matter how much they might contend that the Koran is true.

    You seem unconvinced by “the facts” of the forming of the grand canyon. You also (assuming I’m reading you right) are unconviced by Rob Bell’s “facts” from scripture, (and just guessing – he by yours – I know the pushback from both you and Rob- “but I used the Bible correctly”).

    Here is my question: Would someone like Savage, who I am guessing puts very little credence in the Bible, be persuaded by the facts you present from the Bible? Are perhaps even more to the heart of the matter: Are you in real life conversations with people like Savage? If you are does it work when you say the Bible says?

    A centered-set approach takes the view that it is actually the Holy Spirit that will convict the world. Really this has come as a great relief to me, because for a long time I thought that was my job. So in real life conversations I am working to point people to Jesus and to get them to interact with the Holy Spirit. In these conversations I have to trust that Jesus really is good and that the Holy Spirit is one who will bring course correction to peoples lives.

    Jesus is alive and leading people to life and to himself through the Holy Spirit. Some really thoughtful people, who really do love Jesus are seeing some pretty great results in really secular places like New York and Cambridge from pointing people to Jesus, urging them to interact with the Holy Spirit and then seeing them take concrete steps towards Jesus.

    Please allow me to add to an overly long comment, by recommending that you and your readers take a look at these two posts which would help give centered-set folks a fair hearing: which I think are pretty thoughtful Jesus affirming takes on following Jesus in an increasingly post-modern culture. (I especially think the second link is helpful).

  9. mikewittmer

    Hi John, I’m glad to hear from you. I would say that I have a centered set as well (centered on Jesus), but would add that my set, like all sets, must also have a boundary (this is something that McLaren and company don’t seem willing to admit).

    I would also distinguish between knowing and showing. I know who Jesus is and what God desires for marriage because it is revealed in Scripture. While I would use that in conversation with Savage, I also know that apart from the Holy Spirit (as you rightly say), he would remain unconvinced. So I would also resort to natural law, trying to show him from nature, reason, history, and common sense how his call for open marriages will cause more grief than he knows (e.g., his plan was tried by high society in the 60’s and 70’s–remember the “swingers”, and just led to much divorce and anguish).

    So the fact that Savage disagrees with me does not cause me to doubt my understanding of Scripture, but his rejection of Scripture and the lessons of history do make it difficult to persuade someone like him.

    The point of my post was to express shock and dismay at Tony Jones, who claimed to no longer know what God’s will was in these matters. That’s a problem, don’t you think?

  10. Mike,

    I’ve been engaging with Tony Jones over this on Twitter. I commented that that biblical Christians aren’t polyamorous or in open marriages. He then responded “I’ve looked, and I can’t find anyplace that Jesus, Paul, Peter, Augustine, or Calvin use the phrase “biblical Christians.”” Comments like that grieve me for what the emerging “conversation” has wrought.

  11. Hi Mike,

    I know that the point of your post was to express shock and dismay at Tony Jones. Fair enough. I get the point. But I wonder, would this post if Tony read it have the effect of him moving towards Jesus? If Savage read it would he move towards Jesus? If Savage’s readers read it would it move them? I get they might not be your intended audience, so I’m just asking in theory.

    “…Tony Jones, who claimed to no longer know what God’s will was in these matters. That’s a problem don’t you think?” I think the problem is Tony’s, not mine. My problem is: Asking myself am I following Jesus?

    My question would be what would point Tony towards Jesus. What would point Savage? What would point me? What points you? I am asking will shock and dismay that Tony is not in the boundary do it? Did shock and dismay from some fundamental circles at Heaven is a Place on Earth change your mind?

    I get that effectiveness may not be the ultimate measure of how we are to live and interact with each other, but it is a fairly pastoral question.

    I’m asking myself this question a bunch now days. Will this help me move towards Jesus? Will this help others? I love the Bible. It is great for moving people towards Jesus. Jesus thought that he was the main point of the Bible.

    My main point is that a centered-set approach strikes me as working better than a bounded set approach. (I know why not both – I’m saying when push comes to shove I will choose center-set). Again I would highly commend those links. I think they are thoughtful and honestly wrestling with a center-set approach.

  12. mikewittmer


    “Don’t Stop Believing” was my good faith, gracious attempt to move emergents toward Jesus, the professed center of their (and my) centered set. As far as I can tell, none of them listened (and I personally handed a copy to Rob Bell, so it’s not like I didn’t try). I would say that the only way Tony Jones can possibly move toward Jesus is if he accepts the authority of Scripture. But that is clearly something he no longer believes. I don’t see why you or I need to accept any responsibility for his apostasy, as he’s been warned numerous times by many people.

  13. Interesting.

    John, I really appreciated the ‘stage 4 faith’ presentation. The whole excerpt was thoughtful.

    Mike, I would be interested to hear your comments on that article.

  14. […] recapitulation of these four marks of evangelicalism.As card-carrying evangelicals continue to take me to task because I’m asking questions, I get Bo’s predicament.  As evangelicalism shrinks […]

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