As I told Andrew Jones in my blog at his site, I am a former colleague of DA Carson’s at TEDS; I had the office next to his for years; he is my friend; I consider him an expert; I do not have the book but I am in contact with those who know what is in it. I can sketch here only the briefest summaries of what is there, and I am encouraging everyone to buy it. And I am encouraging everyone to read it carefully; avoid reactionary responses and listen to this most careful of scholar. I expect all of us to learn from him.
I’ll be posting several blogs about this topic.
Before we can even begin to discuss the proposals and evaluations of DA Carson in his must-read forthcoming book, we have to observe that “defining our terms” is both fundamental and (at the same time) extremely difficult. For instance, what does “emergent” mean? Will we use it for Robert Webber’s form, Brian McLaren’s form of the Emergent, Doug Pagitt’s form, Steve Chalke’s form, Andrew Jones’ form, the Willow Axis form, or will it be for the many, many who have adapted the Emergent label and are using its ideas in rather normal churches? What has to be admitted up front is that Emergent is not a “fixed” or “reified” Object that can be described the way one can describe Wrigley Field or the Lincoln Tomb or the White House.
DA Carson has himself for a long time been involved in trying to get the term “Evangelical” more “accurately” defined (footnotes deleted) as he and other theologians have sought to find that powerful connection of the Reformed Churches from Calvin to Jonathan Edwards to more 20th Century forms of that theology. But, others have fought hard to maintain a looser, sometimes calling it a more “sociological,” definition. And one thinks here of Don Dayton (who thinks it embraces the Wesleyan movement) or others who think it is even much wider than that (as can be seen in Randy Balmer’s romp through the churches, in his “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”).
So, let’s issue this up front: it is not going to be easy to define Emergent, and so when one gets into this discussion, it is best if one recognizes one is defining and responding to, if I may be so bold to adapt an expression from Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast.”
On top of that, it just so happens that Emergent work is done in the trenches and not in books and journal articles: you learn about the Emergent by talking to its leaders and its people, by reading its bloggers, by attending its conferences and conventions, and by attending its churches. Over and over I’ve been told this: “Scot, you can’t read this stuff in some book. No one has put it all together. You have to get on the internet and attend the churches.”
Now to DA Carson… who is singularly qualified to get into this issue because of his biblical expertise and his previous examination of pluralism, “The Gagging of God.”
DA Carson says this book is rooted in the lectures he gave at Cedarville in February 2004. He thinks a self-identity has been established in the Emergent movement and he says that he will have to generalize to move the discussion forward. The Emergent movement recognizes that culture has shifted and that a new church is “emerging.” DA Carson admits the variety and boundary-shifting ambiguity of the Emergent movement.
He sees the following characteristics of the Emergent Movement: (1) protest and he describes the story of Spencer Burke with his problems with spiritual McCarthyism, (2) protest against the modern and here he will show that postmodernism, while open to various meanings, is essentially discontinuous with modernism and is an epistemology that is anti-foundationalist, (3) protesting on three fronts – not just evangelicalism and modernism but also the seeker-sensitive church.
#1: Does “emerging” refer to the postmodern culture in all its varieties, or to the church hat accompanies that shift in culture, or to the ideas that are part of that culture, or to the gospel that responds to that culture, or to the gospel taking shape in a new way in a new cultural paradigm? The answer to this question matters immensely. And I’m not sure DA Carson, or even some of the Emergent folk, are all pointing at the same “thing” when they speak of “emerging”.
#2: Is the “emerging” movement fundamental a church of protest? And, if so, is the primary target of the protest evangelicalism? What are its targets?
#3: Is the postmodernist epistemology of the Emerging folks (and one should not simply equate postmodernists and the Emergent folks) essentially affectional over against rational? inclusive vs. exclusivist? authentic vs. the absolute? is social history more significant that the history of ideas?
#4: Is “emergent” or “integral” thinking superior to traditional absolutist rational thinking?
#5: Has the Emergent movement understood culture accurately? Does it appeal to Scripture accurately?