Becoming Conversant: initial thoughts
Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, which I ordered back in January, finally arrived this week. I’m half way through it right now. I hope to review it fully in a bit, but here are some thoughts so far. The book is good! Carson’s got a sharp mind and he’s worth reading. It’s not a hack and destroy job; it’s a book with some substance and I think it makes a contribution. (Carson comes from my camp so it’s not hard for me to understand his perspective.) It’s primarily a book about epistemology (how we know things). That makes it fairly limited. Scot McKnight puts it this way:
I think DA Carson’s book is really “becoming conversant with the emergent epistemology of Brian McLaren.”
Okay, and Stan Grenz as well. I wish that Carson’s book was broader. Nevertheless, someone needed to critique McLaren’s epistemology, and Carson does it well. Carson misses some of the best features of the emerging church, or at least he doesn’t deal with them in detail. I wish he had spent more time on where it attempts to return to Scripture. He seems to think that the emerging church is primarily motivated by culture, whereas I tend to see it as that PLUS as a theologically driven quest to rethink theology apart from some of our mistaken assumptions under modernity. He could have celebrated its concern to state the Gospel in a more holistic way, on its focus on community and justice, for instance. (Carson does acknowledge some of the strengths of the emerging church, and is more generous with his praise than many critics I have read.) I think Carson makes a good point that the emerging church hasn’t attempted to critique postmodernity as much as it has modernity. It also is vocal on some issues of social justice while it is strangely silent on others that are more typical of modern evangelicalism. It could take a few more unpopular stands, and Carson argues that it is generous toward most movements except for modern evangelicalism. Fair enough. I am glad Carson has addressed some of the concerns that have been expressed since his lectures have come out. He acknowledges the reaction on blogs and has replied to some of the concerns expressed by David Mills. The emerging church reacts against the perceived arrogance of the modern evangelical church. Carson points out (rightfully I think) that the emerging church can likewise appear smug, and that is a bit of a turn-off. I wish Carson would engage on a relational level with some within the emerging church. I think both sides could learn if they actually talked to each other. Carson can talk at the emerging church, but it would be more effective if it was a dialogue. Overall, I’m pleased by the book so far. It has some good things to say and isn’t what I feared it might be. I would recommend it. A proper review is still to come.