My Conversation with Dr. Tony Jones


Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to ecclesiologist Dr. Tony Jones about his new book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.

Tony and I actually go way back. When Tony was the National Coordinator of Emergent Village, from 2006-2008, he asked me to help behind-the-scenes, maintaining the Emergent Village website, sending out email updates, helping with the podcast, etc. It afforded me the opportunity to interact with and get to know this amazing network of missional Christians and become a deeper part of the “generative friendship” that has been life-giving and transformative for so many of us.

Tony’s book The Church Is Flat is the product of his PhD dissertation research, which took Tony to 8 emerging churches over the past 7-8 years, doing interviews and collecting countless surveys. (OK not countless, he counted and there were 2,020!) Tony gives a good, three-minute introduction to the book in the first part of the interview.

I think what Tony talks about in the book, in terms of church practices that are supported by the theological ideas of Jurgen Moltmann, are really worth reading and considering for anyone doing church planting or new church development work in the U.S. today. Also, for anyone interested in the history of the emerging church movement and an insider perspective on where it’s heading now, The Church Is Flat is a must-read.

Toward the end of the interview, Tony and I discuss one of the more startling admonitions he makes in the book, which is this: “The emerging church movement … will have a hard time standing on its own without ultimately coming under the patronage of mainline denominations.” Tony sees this as a tragedy. I see here, instead, an opportunity. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and, of course. But only time will tell whether emerging churches can forge new ways and models that are sustainable or whether they’ll be reliant on old money to do new ministry.

The other really important point, and one of the “money quotes” from the interview (so to speak / pun intended), was about funding the emerging missional church, which is what I spoke about with a group of about 20 people at Soularize last week in San Diego. Tony, who is helping organize a conference (May 1-3, 2012) in Minneapolis on Funding the Missional Church, said this: “A lot of churches are really struggling, and [non-profit fundraiser Brad Cecil] would basically say there’s certain things that churches are doing wrong and a lot of it has to do with how we tell our story.”

This ties back into an important point Tony makes about emerging churches earlier in the interview, when he describes the strong feelings that emerging church participants have about their faith communities: “I’m so committed that there’s a place like this where anybody can come no matter what they believe.” Now, that’s a church story worth telling … and supporting.

I hope you enjoy listening in on this conversation between me and my friend, Dr. Tony Jones:


Tony explains what The Church Is Flat is about – 00:12

Tony gives his take on the Hartford Institute research on “spiritual vitality”03:47

Tony’s advice for church planters – 08:00

Tony’s unique take on “missional” – 09:35

Here’s the exact quote from Jurgen Moltmann (1978): “Every change in theory demands a change in practice. Every practice demands a change in theory. Every change in theory and practice must bring a corresponding change in the rituals of life.” Here are more of my thoughts on this.

Money quote from Tony on “missional”: “Nobody’s getting back to anything. We’re pushing forward! And there’s another way to think about ‘missional.’ That missional is a new interpretation of the Gospel that has ecclesial ramifications and consequences.”

Tony unpacks panentheism – 12:39

Tony on denominations, big government, and the questionable sustainability of the emerging church movement – 17:18

Tony on funding the missional church – 24:50



Tags: , , ,

Posted on 10-27-2011


  1. Ann LaMar says:

    November 29th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I’m interested in this conference. Is there any guestimate yet on the cost? Or do I just keep watching FaceBook?
    Thanks for the interview with Tony and for the work you’re doing!
    Ann Shell LaMar
    Pastor, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
    Tulsa OK

  2. Steve K. says:

    December 2nd, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Ann,

    The best thing to do is keep an eye on the Facebook event page:

    You may also want to sign up for JoPa Productions email newsletter so you can get the latest updates directly from them in your inbox:

    Steve K.

  3. A Missional Shift in Our Thinking About Purity | | the online home of Steve Knight says:

    December 9th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    […] like me, the struggle Beck unpacks in Unclean is a familiar one. It’s the same thing Tony Jones talks about in his new book, encouraging us to adopt a theological posture of panentheism. That may […]

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment via Facebook