Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Bohannon Responds to Tony Jones

Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Bohannon Responds to Tony Jones January 22, 2011

This post, by John Bohannon, is a response to the review of Tony Jones of Bohannon’s book on preaching in the emerging church. (Tony’s site here.)

The Secret of the Toe Tap: A Response to Tony Jones’s Critique of Preaching and the Emerging Church

Imagine, if you will, that you are given an assignment to write a book about the hitting practices of four of the best left-handed hitters in major league baseball—Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki, David Ortiz, and Josh Hamilton. Your aim is to capture each player’s method of batting in addition to representing their core beliefs and philosophy about the role of the hitter within the game itself. But here is the catch; you may not get the chance to interview these sluggers in person or see them pound out a hit or homer in their home stadium.

What should you do? Does the possibility of no home field interview or edge of your seat ball park experience remove all hope of accurately capturing and assessing the hitting beliefs, philosophies, and practices of these players? Would it be a fatal flaw to even attempt such a task?

The above hypothetical opening resembles the argument raised by Tony Jones in his review of my book, Preaching & The Emerging Church: An Examination of Four Founding Leaders: Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, and Doug Pagitt. His response to the questions above is a definitive yes as he applies it to my work. While I will respond to this concern, I want to first reply to three others raised in his review.

First, why should McLaren be exempt from a work that analyzes the preaching within the Emerging Church? Yes he has retired from the full time pastorate, but does this mean that he has stopped preaching and teaching altogether? Does this mean that a historical analysis of his homiletical practices is no longer valid or that his influence has ceased? Like player cum Coach Ozzie Guillen, his change in roles did not lessen his impact on the game. If anything, it heightened it.

Second, why does the fact that McLaren, Kimball, or Driscoll’s lack of explicit works on preaching have to be considered “problematic”? This is one reason why I wrote the book. For those who want to learn about the preaching theology, philosophy, and methodology of key players within the Emerging Church movement without having to spend two years digging through books, articles, interviews, book chapters (on preaching), conference notes, blogs, videos, recorded lectures, and audio sermons, in order to discover, as Tony writes, the “homiletical postures and strategies of each,” then this might be the right book for them. It is my hope that the reader will find my research of value, or as Tony puts it, “unparalleled,” and the book as a whole to be a “thorough record of these four men and their approaches to the kerygmatic act”—thus a helpful contribution to the homiletical conversation rather than a problem.

A third concern is the direction the review takes when Tony addresses part three, “Contending with Biblical Revelation.” Tony is undoubtedly a gifted, intelligent, and pithy writer. I get it (although I did have to look it up) when he gives my work a two word Shark Sandwich-like review—“entirely predictable.” Predictably, Tony and I would disagree on how to interpret his terse assessment, but I do appreciate his critique and I pray I learn from the insights provided. In this same section Tony oddly implies that I hide my biblical convictions in the footnotes. I prefer to assess my notes as adding documentation of specific evidence that affirms my position stated in the main body of the work. I have no desire to be “dodgy” or “hard to pin down.” I hope this, again in the words of Tony, “literary thoroughness” will provide the reader the data necessary to make their own conclusions.

Last, regarding this third concern, I disagree with the words chosen by Tony for his summary of my position on these four preachers. Let me explain. I disagree and agree with some of their homiletical positions—be it their theology, philosophy, or methodology—as I am confident they would with me. Yet my disagreement is not meant to be a personal attack nor is my agreement meant to be an idolistic endorsement. If the term “odious” simply implies a strong disagreement about the issues raised then fine, and if the phrase “my hero” simply means I appreciate certain aspects of one’s preaching ministry then fine. On this latter point, I hope all preachers would affirm that there is only one hero and His name is Jesus (Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:18, 28).

Returning to the hypothetical baseball assignment and the methodology concern raised by Jones, if the writer could not observe or interview these hitters in person would it definitively equate to a strike out or loss? Maybe it would, but not necessarily. In today’s digital age a writer could glean a great deal about each batter’s swing from a plethora of sources. Here is but one example. If you were to Google these players you would quickly discover that there are instructional hitting video’s available. Unlike the explosive speed of the bat in real-time, these video’s slow down the pace so that you can discern frame by frame the exact batting methodology of the player. For example, I discovered a teaching video featuring Hamilton and a University Baseball Coach where the coach walks the viewer through each facet of Josh’s stance and swing explaining one of the secrets to his success—the Toe Tap method.

Now that is something you could capture in an interview but would it necessarily prove any more helpful than an endorsed video of the same content? Or would watching a game, even from VIP seats, prove more valuable? If a writer takes a crack at the assignment with no firsthand interviews, is it possible for his work to still provide valuable insights for the reader? I think so. Yet how could the writer know for sure if he got a hit with his research? Maybe the best answer would come from the players themselves. Let them answer the inquiry, “Did the writer represent your hitting convictions correctly?”

Concerning my book, I find it encouraging to read statements from Pagitt who shared with Tony that “he got me right” or “He’s done his homework”—other preachers represented in the book have shared similar remarks. This is all I could have asked for as a writer knowing that one of my aims was to represent their homiletical convictions as clear, concise, and correct as possible. Yes significant differences (and agreements) do appear in the critique section and I pray that these differences (and agreements) will become the focus of any further conversations—knowing what is at stake as preachers discern how to best proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ, the gospel.

Could more have been done in the research area such as visit Tony and Doug in Minneapolis? Yes, the possibilities are endless and I take responsibility for any shortcomings. Yet I do hope Tony and those who commented on his review will find solace in knowing that I was able to see—in person—each preacher as I traveled to cities (and faith communities) such as Dallas, Seattle, Raleigh, and Charlotte to hear them either preach and/or teach on theology, homiletics, and ecclesiology. What I discovered, which I found honorable of each preacher, is that what they professed in their preaching and teaching was exactly what they professed in their writings—books, articles, and blogs. And like Hamilton’s Toe Tap secret, I also learned some insider homiletical tips; not just from digital recordings but rather from conversations with some of the preachers themselves (e.g., p.82, fn. 119).

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  • rjs

    Nice response.

  • JoeyS

    I think I’m more concerned with the fact that this earned a PhD. In what way is his research an academically rigorous endeavor? I ask in honesty. After reading both the book review and the response it seems, as one commenter mentioned in Tony’s review, more like the work required to obtain an MDiv.

  • rjs


    Perhaps, but there really is not enough here to judge completely. That was my major comment on the original as well (based on download and skim of the book, not on Tony’s review).

    However, the range of acceptable work for a dissertation varies quite significantly across schools and disciplines. This has been drummed home for me lately as I am involved with graduate school discussions across social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, engineering….

    Even within a discipline all Ph.D.’s are not created equally … which is why advisor recommendation, school of degree, and subsequent (or prior) publication of the work plays such a significant role in job searches. In very rough terms – I’ve read and examined dissertations that seemed to reflect less original research than this book, and I’ve read and examined dissertations that reflected substantially more original research (on occasion 4 or 5 years of full time work).

  • Christine

    Why get side-tracked on whether this work deserved a Ph.D? As someone commented during the last go-round on this issue in November, unless you’ve read it in its totality, you probably don’t know enough to say whether the work merited a Ph.D.

    Scot, I’m glad you allowed for a response by Bohannon. I think he did a nice job of positing his views vis a vis Tony Jones. It was interesting that you chose Tony’s review of Bohannon initially as he obviously has a ‘dog in the fight’ and isn’t exactly coming from an objective, detached vantage point!

  • rjs

    The e-book in PDF form is available here:
    I agree with Christine, some kind of comments should only be made after reading or at least looking at the book.

  • JoeyS

    Fair enough. His response is thoughtful and I appreciate that.

    I would point out that as far as homiletics go it is important to differentiate between preaching and teaching as the two, though similar, are different disciplines and require different philosophical postures.

  • DRT

    I agree, good rebuttal.

    I would contend though that the title of the book is misleading since it can plainly be assumed that the author would have had the primary evidence of watching the preachers preach.

  • Robin

    I am confused about the insistence on (1) interviewing the pastors and (2) hearing them preach in person. This wasn’t a dissertation about voice tone or gestures during preaching, things that can only be gleaned from watching the sermon. This is a book about preaching and homiletics, which when I had it in seminary was mainly about sermon organization, outlines, etc.

    As far as something like this being “dissertation quality.” How many history and historical theology Ph.D.s have done their dissertations solely on the writings of guys like Luther, Calvin, Sibbes, Spurgeon, Poe, Washington, etc.

    I haven’t read this book and have no reason to think it is particularly good or “dissertation quality”; but neither is there anything to indicate that doing an analysis of the writings of a person or persons is necessarily insufficient for doctoral work generally. The only possible reason I could think that such an analysis should be disqualified up front is that the subject (the emergent church movement) is so insignificant that an analysis of their writings couldn’t possibly yield results that would shed light on the act of preaching.

  • Richard

    I still wonder about the thought process that says, “even though I have the chance to interview, I won’t.” I understand writing from source material if you have no alternative but when you’re offered the opportunity, why turn it down? That’s where his “foot tap” analogy breaks down – even the example he cites is a direct interview with a player and a hitting coach, albeit by video. You’re not drawing your own conclusions from watching hours of hitting practice, it’s allowing the batter and hitting coach to speak for themselves.

    I don’t know if it necessarily disqualifies his work from being PhD, but it seems curious to me and I question the approach. I will download the ebook and read it when I get a chance, thanks RJS.

  • dopderbeck

    Is there any reason why I should care very much what one person I’ve never heard preach thinks about the preaching of another person I’ve never heard preach?

    Seriously, can’t we get beyond all this defining of each other?


  • Scot McKnight

    Dopderbeck, still smartin’ from that basketball loss today? Ha.

  • dopderbeck

    Oh, you stinker.

  • John

    Richard, thanks for your feedback. The footnote reference given at the end of the article is to highlight an example where, when possible, I did interact with the selected preachers. On that occasion McLaren recommended I study his work “The Story We Find Ourselves In” as a resource to help grasp his perspective on how to communicate the big picture of the biblical narrative—in addition to other counsel. I agree that an interview can be important; however, I don’t believe the absence of one is necessarily a fatal blow to a research project. God Bless