Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church
By D.A. Carson
Published 2005, Zondervan
The whirlwind of blogs, web articles, and conversations about the Emerging Church has left many Christians confused and curious about what the Emerging is and what its purpose is. D.A. Carson offers a book that approaches the big picture of the Emerging Church within a postmodern culture.
Carson starts his book by giving a broad profile of the Emerging Church. He has to repeatedly admit to being broad because much of the topic at hand is broad already. He states, “At the heart of this “movement” – or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the “conversation” – lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is “emerging.” Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation.”(12) He explores the works of many of the more well known and revered Emerging leaders such as: Chris Seay, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Todd Hunter, Henri Nouwen, Spencer Burke, and more. Carson closes his opening chapter by concluding that, “…the emerging church movement challenges, on biblical grounds, some of the beliefs and practices of evangelicalism, by and large it insists it is preserving traditional confessionalism but changing the emphases because the culture has changed, and so inevitably those who are culturally sensitive see things in a fresh perspective. In other words, at the heart of the emerging reformation lies a perception of a major change in culture.”(42)
In chapters 2-5 Carson points out some of the good qualities in the Emerging Church movement by examining it’s questions and analyses. He spends much of his time quoting and examining the thoughts of the Emergent leaders. If you are seeking answers about what some of the core thoughts of the Emergent Church are, then these chapters will give you a startling glimpse. Carson is quick to applaud those who ask good questions, but he is just as quick to cut them down logically and biblically when reductionism or manipulation of the truth is present. He is also quick to point out the lack of uniqueness in some of the questions or assertions that are being stated as if they’ve never been uttered before: “the emerging church movement has numerous strengths, and we should be grateful for them – but they are not exhaustively theirs.”(56) Carson also makes sure to tear down the broad stroke scare tactics that many Emerging leaders use: “the rhetoric of these discussions is almost always over the top: the church must adapt to the postmodern world or it will die; unless we get on board with the direction of the emerging church movement, we are probably out-of-date modernists and absolutists to boot – all set forth in absolutist terms.”(84)
Chapter 6 is when D.A. Carson really gets the axe swinging. He postulates that a good and concise approach at showing some of the weaknesses within the Emerging movement would come from analyzing and examining two significant books. The two books examined are: A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren and The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke. The quotes Carson pulls from each book are startling in light of the up rise in praise and admiration of both books. Quotes like the one from Brian McLaren’s preface, “Beyond all these warnings, you should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness.”(158) Carson accuses McLaren of disarming the reader with an over-the-top mea culpa while “repeatedly painting all of confessional evangelicalism with the narrowness of the most conservative twig of the most conservative bunch.”(159) It would seem after such a ridiculous preface that nobody would get to the first chapter of McLaren’s book which leads me to believe that Carson’s assertion about “disarming the reader” must be true to some degree, judging from the consistent praise and admiration people give the book.
Carson spends 24 pages exposing the major problems with McLaren’s book, so quoting anymore would be over kill, read the book. However, Carson only needed to spend 3 pages dealing with Chalke’s book, due to the ridiculous nature of the content within it. This quote should be all you need to see why: Chalke speaks about God, “The Bible in fact never defines him as anything other than love. But more than that, it never makes assertions about his anger, power or judgment independently of his love.”(183) Any biblical scholar or junior high youth attendee knows this statement to be utterly false. D.A. Carson should be applauded for the patience he must have exercised while penning the three pages dedicated to dismantling the fallacious and repugnant statements of Steve Chalke. I’ll leave the other statements to be read by curious readers, but take my word for it, they get worse.
The final two chapters of D.A Carson’s book are like a breath of fresh air. He exegetes enough Scripture passages to last a month of study and reading while dealing with many of the topics needed to be addressed within the postmodern culture. Those who might think Carson leaves you with nothing more than the sinking ship of the Emerging Church will be pleasantly surprised with his approach at dealing with the questions proposed by the movement. This book is worth the read for anyone seeking to be educated on what the Emerging Church is saying, and what the Christian should take from it… the good and the bad.