Publishers Weekly Reviews The Teaching of the Twelve

PW has posted their review of my new book:

The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community Tony Jones. Paraclete, $14.99 paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-55725-590-7

Calling the Didache “the most important book you’ve never heard of,” Emergent leader Jones (The New Christians) briefly unpacks the theological and practical lessons to be gleaned from one of early Christianity’s most overlooked texts. Less than half the length of the shortest New Testament gospel, the Didache (“teaching”) informed new Christians about spiritual practices like baptism, prayer, hospitality, fasting, Eucharist, generosity, and basic morality. Dated between 50 and 130 C.E., it is one of the oldest extant Christian texts not found in the New Testament. Jones writes engagingly, explaining the Didache’s meaning and importance while also introducing a surprising interlocutor called “Trucker Frank,” a Missouri truck driver whose house church has based its life together on the Didache. The great and unique value of this book is its vision of how Christians today might put the Didache in practice, rather than as a contribution to early Christian studies; in fact, biblical scholars and historians may raise eyebrows at a few of the book’s assumptions, particularly its oversimplifications about Gnosticism. Jones, however, has done a great service by recovering and interpreting this neglected classic for the ancient-future church. (Feb.)

"Unorthodox Interpretation of Scripture"?!?

I like Marcia Ford. I’ve met her, and I’ve blurbed at least one of her books. She’s a fine writer. But her latest piece in Publisher’s Weekly continues a trend of less-than-helpful journalism surrounding all things emergent.

Her fourth paragraph reads,

Many in the emerging church “conversation,” the preferred self-descriptor, distinguish among three terms: emerging church, an umbrella term for the category; emergent, referring to an unorthodox interpretation of scripture; and Emergent, shorthand for Emergent Village (EV), a largely online community. Most of the publishers PW spoke with used the terms interchangeably, as does the Christian community at large.

Again, I defy Marcia — or anyone for that matter — to find for me a place in which I have written something that interprets scripture in an unorthodox fashion. Listen, I’ve written many books, all of which contain scores of references to scripture, and I have yet to be accused of being unorthodox in any specific case — it’s always in these vague, general ways.

Let me be even more specific: I ask Scot McKnight — a friend of mine and someone who’s familiar with several of my books — to weigh in. I invite Dan Kimball, who has recently blogged about how he’s joining Scot and Erwin McManus and others to form a new network of non-emergent folks focused on evangelism. For that matter, I invite Erwin McManus or Len Sweet or any other notable figure of contemporary Christianity to 1) Define “an orthodox interpretation of scripture” and 2) Show where I have breached said orthodoxy.

Now I know that many bloggers and commentors will weigh in on this. The young Calvinists will say that I misunderstand the atonement, and the young liberals will say that I read the Bible more literally than is correct. But, while you may have differences of opinion with me, I think it’s truly impossible to say that I have landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy.

So what this is, primarily, is shoddy journalism, in which loosely held conjecture is repeated often enough to be believed. When it’s repeated in a blog, it’s no big deal. But when it’s repeated in a reputable source like PW, then it’s troubling and it borders on libel.

As to the rest of Marcia’s article, it’s hit-and-miss. Primarily, it seems, she allows herself to be a mouthpiece for various evangelical publishing houses, each of which (as you can guess) has some chips on the table (my publisher included). Some have invested in “emergent” category and want it to stick around, others have chosen not to and would like it to go away. But I’ll tell you this: they’ve each used the words “emergent” and “emerging” in the marketing materials for books and on back covers when they’ve thought it would sell more books.

Finally, this: I know and respect each of the women who were interviewed about women authors and leadership around emergentland. And for three of them, I’ve been at least partly involved in the publishing of their books. Emergent Village — and the conversation, more broadly speaking — has not been perfect at getting women a louder voice, but we have surely been part of the solution more than part of the problem. I have personally presented many book proposals by women to all three of our publishing partners, and I am currently at work on two book acquisitions for Jossey-Bass, both of which are by women. I have literally begged female scholars to write for our series with Abingdon — but, as you might guess, female theologians and biblical scholars have no dearth of publishing opportunities.

Further, the Emergent Village board is half women and has been for years. And the biggest book and event of the year are headlined by a woman.

Again, to all the commentors, I’m not claiming perfection in this regard; I’m not even claiming success. Trust me, I have a daughter, and I want her to have the same opportunities as her brothers (in fact, here’s what she said when Obama won the nomination: “I’m glad that Hillary didn’t win, because I’m going to be the first woman president.”) But I am claiming (somewhat defensively, I suppose) that I (and Brian and Doug and many others around Emergent Village) have been very deliberate in our efforts to give women leadership and power in our very small corner of the Christian world. By God’s grace, we will be more successful at this as time goes on.


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