More thoughts on a great missed opportunity…
Carson states quite clearly in the book that ‘the Emerging Church is hard to put boundaries on’, and therefore many of his criticisms and affirmations ‘will simply not apply to everyone involved in the scene’. He also is keen to state that ‘much of the good going on in Emerging Churches is also going on in ‘normal’ churches.’
But he is also very careful to argue, for example, that the Emerging Church’s critique of modernism is shallow as not everything in modernism was wrong and bad. (For example pages 71 – 73)
This line of argument makes no sense. He wants to critique the Emerging Church, but has to admit that his criticisms will not apply universally. Then he want to base one of his criticisms on the idea that it is wrong to dispatch with modernism as the Emerging Church’s critiques of it do not apply universally.
This is absurd. You can’t have it both ways. Either critique the church as a whole – within which much more than the ’emerging’ part of is theologically shallow, unclear about its cultural critiques etc. – or make your criticisms stick with particular references to particular churches. Unfortunately, one of the only places he has tried to do this is with reference to Steve Chalke – ‘Leader of the Emerging Church in the UK’.
This is simply very poor research. Steve himself would in no way want that label, I’ve never heard anyone else give it. So even while his critiques may remain valid, they are critiquing a part of the church that doesn’t see itself as ’emergent’, sending the book off the ’emerging’ radar and into something else.
To be honest, I’m not sure Carson got the balls to write a tightly focused work on particular manifestations of the Emerging Church, because this would require his actual physical involvement relating to real people face to face, not separated from the real danger of relationships by pages from academic texts. This separation has led to inaccuracies and an inevitably ‘cold’ analysis of a movement that is big on relationships.
I would have far preferred to see a work encouraging and nurturing. The more I read, the more I wonder if he is modeling himself on some image of his beloved Paul – who also can come across rather harsh. The difference? Paul was writing to friends. People he actually worked with and had relationship with. ‘Becoming Conversant…’ reads like a demand that conversation stop. And is all the more ugly for it.
Contrast this with the excellent The Meaning of Jesus – written jointly by Marcus Borg and Tom Wright. One a liberal scholar, the other a conservative, they profoundly disagree over major issues. But they are good friends, and outlined the book while spending time ministering and speaking together. It is a wonderfully affirming read – rigorous, but with a sense deep mutual respect – and overarching unity that at the end of the day they are both faithfully trying to follow Christ. Precisely the sort of book I wish Carson had written.
But let’s be clear here. We need to have this same attitude, even if others don’t have it towards us. To be known for our love. So who’s going to love up Don and ask him to spend some time with them? Or go spend time with him? Go on Si – the book suggests you seemed to enjoy your last meeting at the airport!