Trinitarianism and Orthodoxy in the Emergent Village

Tony JonesTony Jones, the national director of Emergent Village, is not happy about Brett Kunkle’s ETS paper which argues that some leaders in the emerging conversation have opened the way to unorthodoxy. I have read Kunkle’s paper, and I think he is on to something despite the protest of Tony Jones.

I won’t rehash the argument of the paper here, but I will point out one aspect of Kunkle’s presentation that is particularly troubling. On page 11 of his paper, Kunkle quotes Emergent leader Doug Pagitt who says that “the Trinity is not wrong but it may not be the only way to understand God.” It’s statements like these that lead Kunkle to the conclusion that the Emergent conversation is but a stone’s throw away from unorthodoxy.

I’ll leave it to you the reader to read Kunkle’s paper for yourself and to evaluate it on its merits. But I will offer one reflection. If some on the radical side of the emerging church think that the Trinity is really up in the air and not a fixed point of Christian belief, how can one come to any other conclusion but that unorthodoxy is afoot?

Like I said, I think Kunkle is onto something here, but I don’t expect Tony Jones or any of the other Emergent leaders to admit as much anytime soon. Rather, what you can expect to hear from them is more questions and deconstructions about the impossibility of knowing what orthodoxy is. As a matter of fact, this is precisely what Jones has already done in his response to Kunkle.

But don’t take my word for it. Go read Tony Jones’ response for yourself: “A Public Response to Brett Kunkle.”

(HT: Justin Taylor)


  • Jared Tabor

    Hey deny,

    I guess thats the inevitable progression when a movement says that everything is up for debate and we cannot put parameters on what true orthodoxy looks like.However, a person figures that they would never begin to mess with the doctrine of the Trinity. This should cause the Christian community that are riding the fence on the “emerging” movement to jump one way or the other.

    One more thing, have you heard of “modalism” (think thats what its called)? Something like God has operated in different modes throughout history; OT -God the Father, NT(Pre-ascension)-God the Son, and now God the Spirit.


  • Brian W


    I’m not impressed at all with your remarks. Principally, your charge concerning Jones’ tactics in responding to Kunkle’s orthodoxy concerns. You say, “Rather, what you can expect to hear from them is more questions and deconstructions about the impossibility of knowing what orthodoxy is. As a matter of fact, this is precisely what Jones has already done in his response to Kunkle.” I read the article and didn’t remember Jones making comments like that. But before responding, I read the article again (because you stated I would find it there)… he didn’t say that.

    His argumentation is concerning Kunkle’s failure to show and demonstrate how Jones has somehow walked away from orthodoxy. And even the quote you cite about the Trinity didn’t even come from Jones, but from Pagitt. And I have to say, Jones is correct in his argumentation. Any faithful definition of orthodoxy concerns itself with fidelity to “approved” doctrine. But who does the approving? People. God’s people; his church. You can not get away from the subjectivity here. So Jones is spot on when he challenges “who” determines orthodoxy. The Bible isn’t “orthodoxy”; people’s/The Church’s expression and understanding of the Holy Scriptures is deemed “orthodoxy”. And when that happens, subjectivity is required. This is an incredibly important point that you seem to take for granted.

    I think reformers have forgotten a key aspect of Reformed theology; namely, the constant need to continue reforming–Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda. Obviously, the reformers didn’t mean that the church is supposed to change into something different all the time; but they did mean that the church should be constantly “turning to” or “turning again” as the constant dialectical process of theology continues. In that way, eveything is always on the table, in that we are constantly looking to be faithful to the biblical witness in light of our present philosophical, scientific and lived world.

    For some reason, the traditional branch of evangelicalism looks negatively on their brothers and sisters engaged in this process and presumes the worst rather than the best. I find this terribly sad. I’m certainly not “Emergent” or “emerging”; I’m a local pastor in the woods engaged in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so the Spirit of God transforms the tiny sliver of the world entrusted to me–I’m not an emergent apologist. But I didn’t get the negative sense that you did from Jones’ comments. I didn’t get that he’s ready to walk away from the Trinity. I didn’t get that Jones was “elitist” in questioning the scholastic quality of Kunkle’s paper (a reference to your comment on JT’s blog). I just didn’t get that. Why did we come to such differing conclusions?

    Do you feel positioned to level such remarks against a brother? Do you believe you’ve engaged sufficiently with your fellow heirs in Christ to really say this is what they are up to? I know you qualify your remarks by saying “if they’re going in this way”, but seriously, the suggestion from the traditional camp is obvious. I’m surprised, I guess, by your remarks.

  • D. Taylor Benton

    I think like almost any group, sect, denomination, and what not, there are those that lean a little too far in the wrong direction. I have been perplexed by the emerging or emergent or whatever you want to call it “movement”. I think there are some great observations one can make about the community of believers that harkens back to acts in many ways, other than that, postmodernism seems to have its “fingerprints” on everything about the EM. That is a little too risqué for me.

    To Jared, I am sure Denny has heard of Modalism, also known as Sabellianism from one of the guys that championed its cause, a Libyan priest named Sabellius that Tertullian wrote against, and I will assure you that this heresy just as in the 2nd century, is exactly what I just called it, a heresy. So many councils denounced Modalism and excommunicated people like modalism’s earliest proponent Noetus. Therefore, I hope that helps you.

    I don’t necessarily think that anyone would be brave enough and/or obtuse enough to hold that position in the EM, I don’t know if your comment was correlated or not.

    Keep it Coming Dr. D! (Or should I say dance master D)

  • Jared Tabor

    Thanks guys for the feedback. I had heard of Sabellianism (didnt know what it was), and it wasnt in reference to EM. It came up in conversation with a friend who knows someone who holds to that position.

  • Nace


    I read Tony’s response. I felt he was pretty clear on his rebuttal. I also agree with your comment on the blog about a hint of “elitism”. Just wondering if you saw his last comment to the post. It was a sweet little, “Brett and I are cool” post. I like the fact that the EV brings up conversation that we can talk about deep matters that people don’t think about but should. Not in the ETS crowd right now, but it blows that you were in my new stomping grounds (DC) and I missed ya.

  • Art Stauffer

    To Jeff Miller: From Someone raised Southern Baptist, “Baptists who think they are orthodox. That is fascinating” I actually laughed out loud. That’s a great line. Although I do have an interesting question for the rest of you. In reading the arguing and bickering taking place over something that I see as splitting hairs over an issue that isn’t really fully addressed in the bible between Modalism and Trinitarianism, isn’t there an awful lot of brain power, energy, emotion, and time being spent on these issues as opposed to the issues that Jesus really addressed in his own words in the Gospels? Such as helping the poor, working among our communities, etc.? I am just curious as to how all the blogs and divisive commentary is actually helpful to the Christian Community?

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