Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Interview with Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels - Two REAL-LIFE Authors!

This has been a weird week for posting. Yesterday was the MP3 giveaway (which goes till the end of the week) and today I interview two real-life authors, who've actually... written books. Crazy huh? I guess I am starting to hob-nob with the cultural elite or something!

Without further ado, I'm just going to jump in and let them talk about who they are and what they're doing.

Zack Skrip: In a few sentences, tell me what your book is about and why you felt you needed to write it.

Zach Bartels: Kinda Christianity is about how to become emergent in all of its glorious, befauxhawked fullness. It actually came from a facebook status update I wrote one day: "Zachary Bartels has decided to become emergent. Any advice?" People were throwing out the usual tongue-in-cheek critiques, but my good buddy Ted kept firing pure satirical gold. And at one point, I just said, "Ted, you need to stop giving away the funny for free. You write the book; I'll do the illustrations." He decided this would be a good sort of test-run for Gut Check Press. It grew from there and we wrote it during a couple of sessions in the soon-to-be famous Pastor Zach's Basement..

Ted Kluck: Our book is a blatant, mean-spirited, heavy-handed, uncharitable, judgmental satire of Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity." Personally, I felt like I needed to write it because a.) McLaren's book was so bad and b.) I was completely bored/jaded with publishing and wanted to start my own company and design t-shirts. Mission accomplished.

How would you describe emergent theology, and what is its most distinguishing feature?

TK: I'll let Zach handle the nuts and bolts of the theology stuff, as he is our Company Chaplain...but personally I think it's most distinguishing feature is its unspeakable smugness. We wanted to parody it one more time before it completely became a parody of itself.

ZB: As we say in the book, emergent theology is a bit of a misnomer, since Kinda Christianity (like the old liberalism) is far more concerned with what I do than with what God has done (e.g. sent His only Son into the world to save us from our sins and all that boring stuff). But insofar as the emergent crowd is forced to "do theology," I'd sum it up in the words of Christopher Walken: "improvisation and crazy make-em-ups." And making stuff up is easy for emergent types, because they've pretty much downgraded all Scriptural propositional truth statements to sub-inspired status (especially the writings of that misogynistic Paul character), and instead build all their (non-)doctrine around narrative.

From that point of view, then, what does God have to say about…ummm, let's say, adultery? Your first instinct (flipping to Exodus 20) is dead wrong. Instead, look to the story of the woman caught in adultery. Throw in a term like "the relationally other," and you can double-talk your way out of a blanket prohibition on adultery with ease. Before you're done, Jesus is basically pro-adultery, as long as it's "loving," "tolerant," and "respectful." Or better yet, look to the story of Mary and Martha, make up a fun back story, wherein both were caught in adultery before coming to faith, and then build your theology off of that. It's all about twisting the story. If you get stuck, remember to emphatically accuse your opponents of reading the text through a Western, Platonic lens. Tell them that you reject this approach and then read the text though a Postmodern, hipster, yellow submarine, anything-goes type lens. If that fails, you need to buy our book. In fact, it might be safer to buy several copies. Do it now.

Who are you guys? What makes you uniquely qualified to author this book? How long have you been studying 'Kinda Christians?'

TK: Who are we? I am on the fringes of the Young Reformed Hotshot movement because I authored a couple of books with Kevin DeYoung, who is a bona fide Young Reformed Hotshot. One of the books was called "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be." It was way more serious than Kinda Christianity. It was also longer. I am also the only Young Reformed Hotshot who has also written books about Mike Tyson and Arena Football.

ZB: Well, Ted's a famous author who has written two massively popular, award-winning books on the emergent church. I'm a pastor whose work is featured every single month in a distinguished church newsletter. Seriously, though, I've been studying this movement as long as it's been around. In its early days, I was drawn to and found the stuff Dan Kimball was writing to be quite compelling. Of course, back then, no one could have predicted that, in 2010, a book like An Emergent Manifesto of Hope or A New Kind of Christianity would be par for the emergent course. It was just about reclaiming mystery and returning to "ancient/future" worship and that kind of thing.
Having researched two books on the topic, Ted can probably be called an expert. I wouldn't call myself an expert on the subject, but I'm informed enough that Michael Wittmer sent me each chapter of Don't Stop Believing as he wrote it, for my feedback—even listed me first in the acknowledgments (take that, Gary Meadors!). Ultimately, I'd point back to a corny old sermon illustration…bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit money, not by handling a lot of fakes, but by becoming so overly familiar with the real thing that the counterfeits jump right out at them. I'm just a guy who has loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ and obsessed over it to the point where the fakes are easy to spot and expose. And I hate seeing my brothers and sisters falling for funny money.

How does this book help the overall conversation? - Will this help people move forward and see McLaren/Bell/Miller for what they are?

TK: It won't help the overall conversation at all. In fact, it will probably either make people mad at us or make them laugh. Or both. But hopefully just make them laugh. That's the only goal for this particular book.

ZB: We're actually hoping to contribute zilch to the conversation (and we say as much in the preface). Well, maybe a few laughs. Every conversation needs laughs, right? Really, we don't expect that many people will have their minds changed by anything at this point, much less a little comedic book like ours. The emergent/orthodox split has reached the point where both sides just fall in line, load their talking points into their muskets, and fire. If someone really wants to read a thoughtful piece that "contributes to the conversation," though, they need to get a hold of Ted's books Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church (co-written with friend of the K-D Empire and ever-rising YRR star, Kevin DeYoung). Our book is just for yucks. Our hope is that emergent Christians will find it funny too. After all, the ability to laugh at ourselves is what separates us from the lower primates. Seriously, gorillas have, like, zero sense of humor.

McLaren states everyone who doesn't agree with him is living in fear of reprisals from the monolithic conservative evangelical movement. Are evangelicals so terrifying that you felt compelled to write this book in order to protect your families?

ZB: Yes.

TK: Evangelicals are sometimes terrifying, but not because of this. Thinking in particular of most of their t-shirts, music, and the Left Behind/Facing The Giants type-movies. That said, I'm a monolithic conservative evangelical myself.

Why didn't you name your book Adversus Ermergentus I think it has a way-cooler ring to it....but that's just me.

ZB: Are you implying that there is a more clever term/title than "Kinda Christianity?" If so, you're just embarrassing yourself. I actually came up with it while working on the "coffee shop illustration" (you can see it here) and knew at once that I had gold on my hands… It was even more epic than when I coined the term The Calvinati.

TK: Your title sucks (just kidding, sort of:) No seriously, we went with Kinda Christianity because it was so similar to McLaren's title, and we think it captures the emergent theological perspective perfectly.

Once again, I learn that an Irenaeus joke, no matter how witty and well-placed, will always fall flat! Moving on... To many, the emergent church is merely a movement that is seeking to meet unbelievers where they are at, use smells and bells without being sacramental, and be relevant to the greater culture. Are these bad things?

ZB: Yeah, for the most part, I think they are, but these are comparatively venial sins. Contrary to some in "our camp," I don't have a big problem with relevance for the sake of grabbing attention, as long as we then use that attention to preach the Gospel. If someone wants to light some candles, fire up some U2 Videos, and "do church" on sofas, I'm sure the heck not going to break fellowship or even try and correct them—as long as the preaching of the Word and the sacraments are ultimately at the center of what they do..

Is this all they (the emergents) are doing?

ZB: Not anymore. I've got friends who pastor ├╝ber-hip-slash-relevant churches and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I think they have stopped short in following the emergent movement to its current manifestation. At this point, rejecting the substitutionary atonement, questioning the reliability of Scripture, and engaging in outright New Age mysticism is not uncommon at many of these churches (I mean "gatherings.").

What should be the Christian response?

ZB: They should all buy our book.

Ha. Ok, sounds good. Ted, do you have anything to add?

TK: The smells and bells have gotten pretty ridiculous. For an example, click here: This parodies emergent better than we ever could, except that it's serious.

How long until we can expect Kinda Christians: for Women/Children/Singles/etc?

ZB: Do we look like complete sellouts to you? I mean, honestly, I'm a bit offended. (read: next fall).

TK: Up Next: The Five Love Languages of Kinda Christianity. Kinda Christianity Action Figures. Kinda Christianity: The Movie.


Well thank you guys for doing this little interview! I had a lot of fun with it and I hope this has been helpful to my readers, many of whom have likely never really looked at what the Emergent Church really is or what it leads to. If any of you readers have further questions feel free to ask them in the comments, and maybe I can persuade these guys to check back here a couple of times and provide a little follow-up.

*UPDATE* Check out Frank Turk's Forward here.


  1. Nice interview! I wish I could hang out with these guys!

  2. Haha. Yes, I'm sure you do, Mrs. ZB.

  3. Is it fair to lump McLaren, Bell and Miller into the same stream? Seems kind of presumptuous to me.