Emergent Carson?

* Andrew Hamilton (Hamo) did us a great service by posting up his recent conversations with D.A. Carson – and confirms to me the need to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slower to publish. That is partly why people like me in Asia have been pretty silent and cautious on matters regarding emerging church movement or emergent conversation unless I’m asked. Hamo did ask me to give some thoughts which was nice – and I said I’d try to do it after an article i wrote on “the emerging church movement” for a local monograph/magazine. For now, I’ll pick out the stuff Hamo wrote that caught my attention.*

The Carson Conversation I
“I re-read Carson’s book on the day before and as I did got quite angry at the criticisms he levelled which just are not true of most of those I know in the Australian scene. I found myself needing to stop and pray that we would listen to each other and not just fire a bunch of bullets, because I was not impressed.”

… In his book Don comes across at times fair and reasoned and at times ‘spiky’ and harsh. He does not sound at all impressed with the emerging church crew. However in person (as is the case with many authors) he was personable and easy to speak to once we got past the small talk. I appreciated that he asked questions of Geoff and I that sought to understand who we felt we were, what we were doing and how we were using terms (“church/mission/pastor/missionary”) Without actually stating it, I think he was able to gauge from our conversations that the ’emerging church’ in Australia as we were speaking about it was a somewhat different beast to the one he was critiqueing in his book.

We share similar but also different theological positions, however the common ground would be a comitment to orthodoxy and the central tenets of the faith.

.. I would have really liked to address some of the issues surrounding Carson’s comments on Brian McClaren, as I don’t believe he has been entirely fair to him, but given the brevity of time we needed to let those issues drop and simply speak of how his criticisms looked in the land of Oz.

… One thing he did stress was that he felt the EC in Oz (at least as defined by Geoff and I) would not be considered EC in other parts of the world. Hmmm… And therein lies much of the problem.

the Carson Conversation II
“Those who know me would know that I haven’t always sat comfortably with the term ’emerging church’, because it has such different meanings around the world and I don’t want to sign on to some of those definitions.

If it’s the next clever trick out of America to make your church grow then I sign off now.

In Oz we choose to use the term ’emerging missional church’ to emphasise the focus of our attention – the recovery of a missionary identity in the west.”

… I am not worried that most here will believe me a heretic because of Don’s book – those who know me certainly won’t – but I am concerned that those who are new to the area will accept the word of a respected theologian over and above a local missionary they do not know personally. And I am concerned for the shadow his book may cast over those seeking to experiment and explore new ways of being church and doing mission.

… My understanding – (please correct me if wrong) – is that there was no actual face to face interaction with emerging church leaders or interaction with specific ’emerging churches’.

The sample group for research were the writings of a limited number of texts which may or may not have been read accurately. (At this point I was ‘gonged’ giving me 3 minutes to wind up my talk. I wanted to address some issues related to B Mc but just didn’t have the time…)

As well as being limited to the writings of Americans (Chalke excepted) it does not explore the variety of nuances of the Emerging church around the world. It seems to define what is happening around the world by what is happening in America. This is problematic.

… Not everyone is down on propositional truth. In fact I don’t think I know too many EC Aussies who would dismiss propositional truth at all. A more humble approach to scripture is not a denial of its truth, simply a recognition that we do not know completely.

Our primary concern – as with all missionaries – has been how to live in the culture and yet not embrace its negative aspects.

… As we engage with people we do risk syncretism – but we are already syncretistic and I believe we kid ourselves if we think we are untainted by our context. We just don’t see it as well.

… Ironically we don’t speak a lot of the whole post-modern deal over here. It was talked about 5-10 years ago, but it doesn’t seem to be the primary issue. We just accept that this is the world we live in and get on with it.

… In conclusion I would like to think we are as concerned for biblical fidelity as I am sure Don Carson is concerned for seeing the gospel transform our world.

We may come at these questions from different angles and that may shape our understandings and perceptions.

We need each other and we need to listen to each other. We need quality biblical scholars to help us read the Bible more effectively and we need earthy on the ground missionaries who can keep the scholars honest.

… A large part of my concern with what Carson had to say was related to the fact that I don’t know any theologically aberrant ECers, but the book seemed to suggest they were the norm.”

The Carson Conversation III
“Someone asked me if I still see myself as part of the emerging church, given Carson’s critique and his statement that ‘we may not actually be considered emerging in other parts of the world’. My response is to say ‘Yes I am.’ Not because I subscribe to all that he critiques, but largely because I am not about to allow him to define me out.”

The Carson Conversation IV
“He did however mention yet again that we seemed to be of a different breed to the North American scene and that he was not concerned that we drift off in eccentricity. That’s an interesting comment because (as much as I am ignorant) I would assume there is great diversity in the US scene also.”

The Carson Conversation Final Reflections
“Perhaps the critique that is offered of the EC would be better received if it were not given (by some) with the implication that many of us are probably no longer Christians. In the face of those kinds of comments I do get tempted to sign up for a crazy liberal theological position just out of frustration. Usually its only the more wacky ‘reformed’ bloggers who make these suggestions, but others sometimes walk a thin line too.”

Sivin makes the point that even if there is some validity of this stuff to the English speaking western world, there is still Asia and Africa to consider. Do they fit the critique also? Sivin – I’d love to hear your take on it all.

“If I had to choose some issues to say ‘yes’ to, then I’d sign on to the final warning about sectarianism. There is always the danger of creating divisions and polarising, not what we are about (see Geoff’s section) Of course the publishing of the book actually contributed to a further marginalisation of the ECs as churches became somewhat more skeptical and other significant leaders (Piper etc) began to speak out also. So in a sense the sectarianism was actually foisted on us by the critique.”

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