Carson and my sleepless night

I have been up most of the night and might not sleep at all. I am really disturbed after listening to D.A.Carson’s sermon series on The Emerging Church.. Carson is a well respected Bible teacher, and I am disappointed to hear so many misconceptions and misfires. I am wondering how to address his remarks without disrespect to him or disunity within the church. What i might do is write up something and have a discussion at Suddenly Seminary on September 13.

Carson has a book coming out on this topic soon and I think he will get a lot of flak from people in the emerging church who will feel misrepresented. I am also worried that missionaries overseas who are struggling with how to reach out to a postmodern world will read his book and get the wrong idea.
I don’t have time to tackle it right now and i would rather go back to sleep, but i will say a few words so that i might sleep.
To be fair to Carson, he has read a few of our books and attended an Emergent conference. I would guess that he has not visited many (any?) actual emerging churches, and is not aware of various streams of emerging church.
Regarding the [implied] accusation that emerging church people do not believe in truth or moral absolutes and that they tolerate everything, my response is this . . .
1. That is not true.
2. That is not right.
3. I will not tolerate it.
4. Because of answers 1-3, either Carson’s description of someone in the emerging church is not correct, or I am not a part of the emerging church.

Tape 1 is his description of the emerging church, which he believes is American and about 10 years old.
(I can hear the non-Americans groaning)
Tape 2 (for purchase only) lists some criticisms of what he thinks the emerging church believes. Below are a few quotes:

Weaknesses.
1. "The emerging church movement does not understand very well contemporary discussion of postmodernism. In other words, it builds an awful lot on postmodernism and I’m not sure if it always understands what it is talking about.

"Some of it is mere sloganeering"  . . .  and [our slogans] are manipulative

"Their analysis of where we need to go turns very strongly on their analysis of what postmodernism is about so if there are huge questions of their analysis of postmodernism, if the foundation is that weak, then how do we do our assessment of the next stage?

2. "The emerging church does not assess modernism very well.

Their analysis of where we need to go turns very strongly on their analysis of what postmodernism is about so if there are huge questions of their analysis of postmodernism, if the foundation is that weak, then how do we do our assessment of the next stage?

“. . . the leaders of the emerging church movement are responding as much to their own limited backgrounds as they are to anything else and then projecting those backgrounds on the entire evangelical confessional movement  and then projecting that onto all of modernism and creating a fair bit of false antithesis.”

3. The emergent church movement needs to begin talking about where postmodernism should be confronted, not catered to.

4. Postmoderns need to recapture the sweep of biblical texts, and without fudging.

“If we shouldn’t go into the business of what is right or wrong, then of course we cant say that slavery is wrong today either. That has a nasty stinger in the tail, brothers and sisters, a really nasty one. . . .

“It seems to me that this emerging church group needs to be more careful to avoid sectarianism.“
When he [Brian MacLaren] is writing his own books, and this is true of most of the field, everything is cast so much in a them and us perspective, that in fact they are becoming sectarian. They have their own web sites, their own chatrooms, their own approved speakers their own blurbers and they are off here and everyone else is off somewhere else. That’s the heart of sectarianism. “

I can’t comment on all these right now, but the one on slavery bugs me. Last weekend at the Roundtable for Global Emerging Church, we decided to collaborate together to end human trafficking (modern day slavery) and some of the people are already working on the web site. I should really go to sleep now . . . .

UPDATE: I wrote some thoughts out here

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

38 Comments

  • Andrew, as you probably know, Brian McLaren was my pastor for 13 years and I ran small groups and adult ed at CRCC for a couple of those years. Anyway, there was a local leader who had a concern with Brian’s writings and before he published anything he took the time to meet with Brian and express his concerns. In a similar spirit, I would encourage you to write Dr. Carson an irenic letter detailing your concerns.

  • I think a letter to Dr. Carson would be good. A number of us are concerned about his approach, but I do believe that Stephen has identified a solid, biblical approach to the concern.

  • I heard these a few weeks ago and was gonna blog on them but couldn’t find the link!
    I was so disappointed because I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Carson as an exegete. My disappointment was not so much that he criticised the EC (as some of his criticisms were valid) but at points I think he is just plain wrong:
    I think that BDM is anything but sectarian. I have rarely spoken to such a gracious person who can be passionate about what they believe and positive about those who believe differently. I know a number of people for whom this has been an over-riding impression of and lesson from Brian.
    I think that the EC actually looks at the whole scope of scripture far more than the modern evangelicalism that I was brought up in. I’m willing to concede that mine was a unique experience, but I didn’t even realise Christians could or should get involved with social action till I was 18!
    I’ll stop there… I agree that a letter might be a good idea and I don’t think you were harsh at all.

  • I think it’s worth considering that altthough the application of his thoughts is wide of the mark, there is more than a grain of truth in his critique. The EC does often sound as if it is a separatist group from the wider church – we all know that that isn’t the reality (esp in the UK) but perhaps we need to respond positively to the critique – if that’s how we SEEM, maybe we need to express ourselves more clearly? I also think he’s right that a lot of our talk about postmodernism is skewed. I don’t agree with him that that makes us weak or lacking foundations, but it does mean we have more work to do. So – why not thak him for his invaluable critique as well as telling him why you/we disagree with the application.

  • Thank God for Carson! Not that I agree with him totally, but that there is some benefit in listening to a contrary opinion even if it’s not entirely true. Y’know, maybe in part there might be some truth in what he says? I don’t think we should dismiss what he says outright, but should pray about it, think about it and reflect upon it. Even if we totally disagree with him, there is huge benefit in checking and double-checking what we believe and why, and that only happens when criticism takes place.
    Maybe, some of what he says may be true, after all emergence isn’t just one church in one place! Whether some here would say this is not the emergent church they know, and they maybe be right, but it is right when it comes to SOME emergent bloggers I’ve come across. Several of my blogs have expressed concern at the way SOME emergent bloggers don’t seem to care about deep theological study or that the Bible does have answers to many questions, but would rather quote a big name or use a long, new word (surely not to impress?). They either don’t research the Bible well (or at all) and just mimic postmodernism and don’t care what the answer will be, so (I guess they end up asking) why bother? I’ve asked some questions of those folk to test the waters (after all maybe I’m wrong!) and got quite a few puerile answers that show very limited Bibilcal understanding or have received a dismissive responses of ‘why bother?
    SOME are so far away from the Insititutional Church and so opposed to it, that they seem to actually throw out the baby with the bathwater and move away the ‘christianity of the ages’, and so end up vaguely christian and open to all kinds of influences. Ofcourse not all emergent folk are like that.
    There’s also lot in those Carson quotes I disagree with, but at least his criticism will cause a stir and ‘force’ folk to ‘nail their colours to the mast’ and some good may come out of it. Maybe emergence will be defined not so much by ‘us’ but by our critics informing us what they see us doing, rather than what we think we’re doing. Let’s face it, emergence has some way to go and it’s bound to take some blind alleys occassionally.

  • Thoughts about the emerging church

    I’m really fascinated by the emergent movement. But I have to say that I don’t know much about it. What I know about is gleaned from the works of Dan Kimball and Brian McLaren. Which is why I found D.A.

  • I haven’t had a chance to listen to Carson’s comments yet, but I certainly will before I comment on them. I would like to say, however, Andrew your words were not harsh, they struck me more as puzzled or troubled and honest. My experience with the EC to this point has shown the EC to be mindful of studying the Bible. That is what attracted me. There was an authenticity that came from a personal struggle of faith rather than a Sunday School created theology that was only half understood. I suppose there are those who are trying to replicate the POMO thing, but there are also untold numbers of people putting on the facade of evangelicalism everyday. perhaps I don’t understand yet and will once I’ve listened to the comments, but I can say that for me, the EC is not about a type of church or service, because within the EC they vary; for me, it is about meeting a culture with the living word of God and sharing the gift I was given in a way it can be appreciated.

  • In some ways his comments are frustrating because they are over generalizations of what postmodernity is all about but at the same time it could be said the same thing about modernity.
    I think he is right in this statement to a degree… “. . . the leaders of the emerging church movement are responding as much to their own limited backgrounds as they are to anything else and then projecting those backgrounds on the entire evangelical confessional movement and then projecting that onto all of modernism and creating a fair bit of false antithesis.”
    But the way he says it, “The leaders of the emerging church movement” is the wrong way to put it. Who are the leaders? It isn’t as if it is a cognitive movement. At the same time he is frustrated by our generalizations of the “evangelcial confessing movement”, he is putting many of us under the same tent. Not a great way to enter dialogue.

  • I’ve heard the lectures (given at Cederville College last Spring), and, Andrew, you’re right on. Carson does a very superficial read of a few select books, mainly just quoting the tables of contents and then mocking them (e.g., “McLaren says we’re post-industrial! How can we be post-industrial when we live in the most industrial time in history?!?”). In other words, it did not seem to me like he had done a thoughtful or thorough read, since that’s not Brian’s point in that chapter whatsoever. Further, he only quoted books by Brian, Dan Kimball and Spencer Burke.
    What I have found to be the most troubling is his assertion that, while the emerging church is “simply responding to the whims of culture,” The “Real Reformation” (his words) was solely and exclusively a movemement to get back to the Bible. Now I don’t know any self-respecting theologian who make such an unqualified claim about the Reformation, nor one who would deny that societal forces were also at work as catalysts for the Reformation.
    Which leads to my final point: Carson is a biblical scholar, not a systematic theologian, and not even close to a practical theologian. If he wants to criticize our biblical hermeneutic, I’m game, but I don’t give him much leeway to lambast our theology nor our relation to society or history.
    P.S: Doug Pagitt has invited him to come up here to visit Solomon’s Porch. No response…yet.

  • I think that that no-relation Tony has provided a proper analysis. And to your earlier question, Andrew, I do not think you are being harsh.
    To Maggi’s comments, I would not mind a good critique of the emerging church. I think that would be incredibly healthy. I only wish he were offering one. I have such a huge dose of respect for Dr. Carson. However, to properly offer critique one must *start* at the right place, and that, it seems to me, is the concern that so many of us have.

  • A few things… I’ve never heard of Carson. The “emerging church” hardly boils down to Brian McLaren. At its core, what’s going on in this “movement”, if it can properly be called that, is not about postmodernism. Not sure if making a big deal about responding would help. If he or those like him, haven’t spent the time to make real or meaningful contact with anyone really doing this stuff at this point, it’s doubtful he will now even if approached. And once again, I bet I’m not the only one who’s never heard of him.

  • Good response, Tony.
    Maggi, Jonathan, I think the frustration that many of us feel comes from the fact that we know we need criticism and we know that Carson can offer a better criticism than that.
    Alan, you’ve never heard of DA Carson?! 😉

  • As someone who has a huge respect for Carson and has read just about everything of his I can find, I will have to listen to his comments. However from your summary Andrew, and from what I have learnt about the EC, it strikes me as a bit of a natural extension of lines of thought he set out in the Gagging of God.
    Mind you I agree with 3. not just for EC but for all Christians.
    A former pastor of mine has met DC when he was in Australia and found him very open, approachable and irenic. Write to him.
    I’m off to listen now.

  • I, too, have great respect for Carson– he was one of my favorite profs at Trinity. But he’s not without his faults.
    Two things:
    1) If Carson is talking about it, it means more people are hearing about it, which is good. If the EC is of God, it can handle critiques from big boppers like him, and in fact, some of his critiques might help.
    2) He did the same thing several years ago in a bash against the Vineyard movement in a chapter in a book called Power Religion– painted in broad strokes, was totally misinformed on a number of points, and his colleague at the time Wayne Grudem wrote a scathing critique of his critique, and couldn’t really get Carson to own up to his mistakes. So while you should contact him with your concerns, don’t expect too much of a response.

  • I am appreciative of Carson as well, for his candor in dealing with topics of youth ministry and his honesty.
    I listened to the first talk on line, and I think he is assessing the emerging church in America only. As a non american, I also groan. However, I appreciate his evaluation of emerging churches and the way he praises them for their outreach mindedness. I hope that the Lord God sustains this orientation found in the “emergers”; may we not become comfortable.

  • Hi Andrew, people on both sides of the emerging church need to understand each other. This is how I see it: The emerging church is responding to chlture, the other side sees it pandering to the clture.
    I think the EC needs to understand the culture a lot more, but from where I sit the EC seems to be developing a culture on its own, and getting increasingly irelevant to the surrounding culture – a bit like the institutionalised church but not as bad.
    The Insitituionalised church seem to use their bibles more than the EC. The EC need to get into the bible more _ which I think you`ve said on occasions.
    You and Carson need to have a beer.

  • Anyone is susceptible to creating straw men to argue …

    Sometimes we engage something we are all too unfamiliar with as an adversary. Rather than take the time to learn, we skim authors who purportedly represesnt this other side. We draw some conclusions. We rally our base. We offer some…

  • D.A. Carson and Emerging Church

    I was talking with Spencer Burke yesterday, and I found out D.A. Carson’s going after the “emerging church” crowd. I guess he really took Spencer’s book, Making Sense of Church to task.
    The thing most interesting to me, is that Carson seems to be up…

  • D.A. Carson’s “Domesticating the Gospel,” part 1

    D.A. Carson’s essay “Domesticating the Gospel: A Review of Grenz’s Renewing the Center” is not the highlight of Reclaiming the Center, but it deserves some attention because of Carson’s highly regarded reputation within conservative evangelicalism. Gre…

  • Beware of D.A. Carson

    Everybody is a thought police to someone else. While D.A. Carson seems to think that Emergent folks are a danger, this fundamentalist group seems to think that Carson is a danger. What gives? And why can’t we all just be friends? — Also, speaking of b…

  • this is the beauty (?) of blogs…so many write as though they could take DA on exegetically–TRY HARD! Carson is one of the best exegetes who have ever graced the Church. I have my own opinions on the EC, the redem hermeneutic and younger evangelicals, (I see them all inter-related). But coming from a fundamentalist’s standpoint, I would have expected DA to come out highly favoring EC–based solely on the fact that he is a new-evangelical…to see he is examining EC at all means that he is doing so from a careful exegetical standpoint. That is his forte. That he is speaking out against EC in anyway should have all you EC’ers perking your ears up. Though not Jean Calvin or Lloyd-Jones, Carson is a theological, exegetical tour de force. But ultimately, the point is not his exegetical skills, it is in That which he reveals in his exegesis–God’s Truth (separate of experience, feelings, etc.–sorry doctrine trumps experience all day long).
    As far as responding to culture, Christ’s gospel already has done it–POMO’s in their “how dare you have truth?” attitude are really no different than those whom Jesus and the Apostles confronted–BTW they (Christ et. al) confronted them at their sin and need of Christ, and not asking the unsaved how they might want to worship God, or how the Church should engage the unsaved. Enough for now…heed Carson carefully–not all that is brought to the Lord in worship is acceptable to him (Uzzah, etc)
    Soli deo gloria
    Sam

  • hi sam
    well written comment. thanks for your vote of confidence for Carson. If you see him, please let him know that there are some emerging church bloggers out there who feel he has risen above mutual accountability by not responding to any of their questions and he would do well to show enough respect to answer one of them.
    and also tell him that he is well liked!
    its been 6 months since i wrote that post – you may want to track the story by clicking on the final link.
    As for the POMO’s and their “how dare you have truth” attitude, well . . . . we are still trying to find one that fits that description. Maybe if I offered a $100 reward then one might come out in the open. I have been racking my brain for 6 months in search of one in the emerging church but have been unsuccessful. Maybe if Carson would NAME the person he met (if indeed there was a person) then we could confront him or her and suggest a better way.
    Until then, I will continue to walk in the truth, live the truth, obey the truth, love the truth and be willing to die for the truth. I will also enable people to EXPERIENCE God and when they do, offer an EXPLANATION (doctrine) for what He is doing. I see no reason to seperate the two.
    And if people have problems with the fact that i am a missionary in a postmodern world and in an emerging culture, then i hope they will pray for me, believe the best about me until proven wrong (1 Cor. 13) and think of me as part of the same family of God – the one body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)

  • Some people want to know

    On the assumption that the Internet (the blogosphere anyways) can be a great place to get answers to elusive questions, here’s 2 questions that some people I know what to get answers to:
    [1] Is there a website (web app) that charts out who owns what…

  • Hi all – very interesting discussion. I’m new to the whole “Emergent” thing, just finished McLaren’s book “A New Kind of Christian”. I found it fascinating with some great insights and challenging, provocative perspectives. I’ve also read Carson’s “The Gagging of God”, and quite a lot of other stuff, so I knew the whole landscape of the debate before hitting McLaren’s stuff. Like Sam, my personal view on Carson as an academic is that he is an extraordinary talent, so you can probably guess where this is going.
    I hear what you say, Andrew, about a lack of response from Carson, but the truth (or otherwise) of his critique of the Emergent movement/conversation is independent of your opinion of his conduct in putting forward that critique. That is, it’s no response to the substantive points he makes simply to say “but you never responded to my blog”.
    Second, and more important, whilst the Emergent movement claims to be faithful to the “truth”, and you yourself claimed to seek to walk, live etc in the truth, this turns into no more than semantics – playing with words – unless it is possible to articulate what that truth is. Granted, we may well find more appropriate ways of expressing true statements about God as we move between cultures, but that does not mean that truth is a moving feast.
    I’m grateful for the insight and reminder that truth must be “lived” and “walked” in order to be effective, and if the appeal stopped at that point, I would be wholeheartedly on board. I don’t doubt that the western church needs a wake-up call in terms of commitment to true discipleship, and a reassessment of its reductionary view of salvation, but at the same time I cannot escape from the fact that God is both love and truth. It seems to me that in (rightly) asserting that God is Love, and the response that should produce in Christians, Emergents are neglecting or relativising the fact that God is also Truth; and not simply “my truth” or “your truth”, or “indigenous Indian truth”.
    It is this point that so concerns those of us who hear what Emergents say with a peculiar mixture of refreshment and alarm.
    To put this in “journey” language, I think what I’ll try to do with this is assess what positive impacts Emergent ideas can have on my own faith (and I think they can, without being exhaustive, in terms of the message as a story, rather than simply a set of propositions, the implications on what it means to “believe” on the the Lord Jesus Christ, approaches to worship, mission and “doing good deeds”), whilst at the same time maintaining that true truth is out there and it can be truly (if not exhaustively) known.
    Whatever, much love in Christ to you all – trust that everyone will think the issues through and deal with them before God.

  • Oh, and just a brief response to Dave on his comment:
    “Hi Andrew, people on both sides of the emerging church need to understand each other. This is how I see it: The emerging church is responding to chlture, the other side sees it pandering to the clture.”
    If all the emerging church was doing was responding to culture, I’d be 100% wholeheartedly behind it. It’s doing a lot more than that (whether consciously or otherwise). I have no doubt that the guys “leading” this movement/conversation (I know that these terms are problematic for Emergents) are sincere in what they are trying to do. I am not so sure if they realise logically where their ideas end up. For example, as I read it, it IS a distortion of the gospel/scripture to claim that there is “good” in other religions. Whilst understanding and applauding the motive that underpins this kind of claim I have to say, with all the Christian love I can muster, that I find the concept unsupportable from scripture.

  • thanks stephen
    please note that i never asked or expected D.A. Carson to respond to my blog posts (why should he?)
    this post is over a year old and the conversation has moved on from this initial thought on first hearing the tapes.
    you might want to jump in
    here at “Where Now”
    or a post about his book
    thanks for your thoughts. i would be interested to hear what you think “Emergents” are really saying about these things . . and which “Emergents” you are referring to.

  • Andrew
    Thanks for the prompt response. I see the dates on the posts, and for you this must seem like going over all ground, but for me I’ve seen them all concertina’d together (how postmodern of me!!). Forgive me for sliding into a little playfulness.
    The comment around Dr Carson’s failure to respond was derived from this comment you made in your open letter/blog:
    “By not responding to any of us, you seem to have risen above mutual accountability in the Body of Christ. We would consider this dangerous and would not tolerate such behavior if we encountered it among our own leaders. Such behavior could lead to heresy or worse. So . . . have you responded to anyone in the emerging church who, like me, have offered a defence and a reason for the hope within us, and can we read what you have written? This may be the single most important issue for some of us.”
    On the question of which “Emergents” I’ve read, as I said, I’m only just discovering the area (though I’m perhaps more aware of the philosophical debate that underpins it). I’ve just read McLaren so far, and briefly some of the comments by McKnight. I’d be interested to know what you’d recommend next.
    I’d be particularly interested to know how Emergents deal with truth claims. I’m aware that this isn’t the central message or the most important contribution that this viewpoint is giving, (I judge the most significant practical points to be the re-evaluation of the “salvation event” and the associated effects on Christian “good deeds”), however it is the issue on which you will part company with a good many evangelicals.
    I’m also interested that the truth-claim questions are the parts of my post that you haven’t tackled, instead preferring to answer with questions. If I might be permitted a little more playfulness, how postmodern of you!! I appreciate the point that there are many faces/views within the “EC”, but at least for yourself you must have a view on how this squares up. For me, the great insight of EC is to recover the LIFE in Jesus’ statement “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. My great fear is that in doing so, Emergents (whether consciously or otherwise – that is, as a result of deduction from the statements they make) are denying the TRUTH part and reducing the WAY part.
    I’m very interested to know your thoughts on this. Much respect to you in Christ.

  • thanks stephen
    i really appreciate your manner and i feel your respect flowing out
    and i appreciate your honesty
    as a missionary i deal with dozens of emerging church movements around the world and yet i dont like to be defined by any of them. you can respect that.
    i am guessing you want to talk about one of those groups -emergentvillage.com in USA – but even that group is very diverse . . probably too diverse to give a united answer.
    but if you were to ask me about truth, as a Bapist, you would find me as Baptist as any other Baptist in terms of theology.
    As a missionary, i ascribe to the major missiological covenants that are global and evangelical.
    a good place to start is when i wrote my response to aaron
    you may want to read that to start. the snippet you are looking for is probably here
    ” I believe in working in community on theological and missiological issues and have made use of many conferences, roundtables, and work groups to hammer out ideas. It makes sense to tap into the creeds and other statements of faith that represent a very large section of the Body of Christ. I was a participant and presenter at the Great Commission Roundtable where I and others involved in emerging culture formed some strategic alliances with folk from Lausanne Movement for World Evangelisation and the World Evangelical Alliance (“a network of churches in 121 nations that have each formed an evangelical alliance and over 100 international organizations joining together to give a worldwide identity, voice and platform to more than 335 million Christians”). I have maintained my relationship with these groups and respect them very much. For this reason, I make reference to and quote from a number of globally recognized evangelical statements that i agree with, although you may not, coming from a Reformed theological background.
    As an evangelical, I “affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” (Lausanne Covenant )
    I publicly affirm the statement of faith as given by the World Evangelical Alliance I also publicly affirm the Iguassu Afirmation from the Global Consulation on Evangelical Missiology, the Lausanne Covenant, the Manilla Manifesto and the Apostles Creed.”
    So Stephen, my question to you before we start talking is . . do you also ascribe to these coventants and creeds?
    I have asked some certain fundamentalists and they do not answer back.
    let me know, and then we can see if we are on the same page
    Must go . . its my birthday today and i am making a curry and about to enjoy a nice evening with family and friends
    hope i have not disappointed you by being an “Evangelical”

  • Would an appropriate answer to your question be “Yes”? I might have some minor issues in terms of emphasis in the Iguassu Affirmation, but nothing that I would disagree strongly with. Other than that, I’d say yes.
    How was the curry?

  • actually, the curry lacked enough coconut to give it that sweet climb into the third heaven, and the mint was lost among other herbs, but it was satifactory.
    anyway – now that we have chatted . . you were talking about truth . . .
    – do you think D.A. Carson’s tape series and book is truthful in what it affirms as true regarding the emerging church?
    and how does one arrive at truth?
    Should truth be tested by many witnesses to ensure its veracity, triangulated with Scripture and experience (Bereans) or is truth above scrutiny?
    i think a point of contention that the emerging church has with the fundamentalist corner (i make an artificial division for the sake of argument) is this:
    the fundamentalists believe they have a higher view of truth than the emergent church, and the ’emergents’ see themselves as more truthful than the fundamentalists.
    Do you see that also?

  • Let’s have a dabble at some of those. I’ll leave the Carson question alone, so as not to be perjorative.
    On the “test for truth” question, in a theological sense, the primary test as far as I see it is (as you put it) “triangulation with Scripture”. I wouldn’t even include experience at this point. I do think, though, that Modernism has distorted what this should mean in two important ways:
    1. “Modern” methods (as applied by evangelicals) lead to a position where not only is truth deduced from scripture, but that logic is also applied to that truth, such that logical deductions are made based on that truth. (eg If “eternal life” is “eternal”, by nature it cannot be “taken away” once “given”). Aside from what my view is on this specific point, I think the application purely of logic to the scriptural point is dangerous, unless again filtered through scripture.
    2. Modernism favours truth statements communicated as propositional truth. Truth limited only to propositional truth denudes the Truth of some of its important aspects; that is, in terms of recognition of the culture in which that truth was spoken, the style and form in which it was written, the elements of story, poetry etc which communicate that truth. I would want to say that truth about God is not merely propositional.
    However, it seems to me that McLaren is unsure whether propositional truth can be gained from scripture at all. This is my definite concern with the postmodern influences on Emergents. I believe (because the Bible witnesses to it) that truth is more than merely propositional, but I also believe (because the Bible also witnesses to this) that God is capable of communicating propositional truth to us, and we are capable (though fallibly) of understanding the propositional truth communicated by God to us. I am concerned that the postmodern influences on the Emergent movement will ultimately lead Emergents to deny that the Bible is capable of communicating propositional truth to us.
    On your next point, about fundamentalists and Emergents’ view of each other’s view of truth, I think they are talking about different things. Whereas the fundamentalist believes by “truth” a set of propositions that he must agree with, the Emergent critiques this and spots the hypocrisies and points of failure. For an Emergent, being “truthful” is then about actions – do their actions match their convictions? It seems to me that both perspectives are necessary, but that Emergents in the long run do not gain by releasing their moorings on propositional truth in order to be “truthful” to their cultures. I see this as getting dangerously close to “being true to yourself”, and ultimately constructing a set of values for your life based on what you would like the text to say to you. I don’t think this is a short-term danger, precisely because it seems to me that many Emergents have come out of fundamentalist-type backgrounds, where they already have as a ground base a whole set of moral givens which in reality form a check and balance to what might otherwise be a rejection of God’s morality. My concern is for the next generation, and the generation after who do not have those initial groundings.
    Hope that’s not too long and philosophical. At the same time I’ll tell you that these discussions are proving helpful to me, in that they keep the issue in front of me. My desire out of this is to ensure that my lifestyle is touched and changed as a result of God’s truth; and I fully intend to see where changes can be made, probably in a more dynamic way than I would have otherwise thought about.
    But you’ve had a lot of “answers” from me. I reckon I’m due a few now! Let me know. How does an Emergent deal with propositional truth about God? Is your answer to that question consistent with affirmation of the various creeds you mentioned? And is your answer to that question consistent with McLaren’s view on the subject?

  • Stephen, I dont know if McLaren would agree with me on this or not, and i dont presume to speak for him, or anyone else associated with the emergent church or emerging-missional church.
    In fact, the emerging church movement is very diverse, as i have said, since it is defined (at least in my understanding) of that element of God’s church that is being formed in the emerging culture – and that includes a variety of backgrounds, including fundamentalists.
    And I see the emerging church as transforming the postmodern culture as well as responding to it.
    i appreciate your thoughts on modernism and truth. A.C. Dixon said he was a Christian “because I am a Thinker, a Rationalist, a Scientist” (1920)
    As for proposional truth, I believe that “God is love” and “his word is truth”. These are propositions.
    I also see the backbone of my faith as being the birth, death, resurrection and assention of Jesus Christ – that Christ is risen – and that is a fact that is at once proposititional AND narrative/historical, and I dont see a good reason to slide down one side or the other.
    Are we dealing with yet another polarity that is causing unnecesary division?
    but back to the main subject. The issue is not Truth, or God’s truth, becuase truth is true and God is truth and God is true. No argument there.
    But is Carson’s statements about the emerging church true? What if they were not true? How does a person who says they have a high view of truth deal with untruth? What mechanisms are in place to prevent heresy?
    In the blogsophere, error is quickly detected and people repent visibly by changing what they have written. The element of self-correction enables a high standard of truthfulness. We are also called to asign an honest level of certainty to our blog posts.
    But what about old media that is harder to change when proven wrong, and speaks as an objective voice?
    Will the next generation trust new media and distrust old media for these reasons?
    These are important questions and relevant questions to the conversation.
    We both believe in truth and value it. Surely we need to work hard to guard what has been entrusted to us?
    I think you and I are a lot closer than you think. God rescue us from wrangling over words.

  • Gift Basket

    Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a…

  • With regard to the issue of absolutes.
    http://emergingthreat.blogspot.com/2008/10/quotes-from-emerging-church.html
    * I think that Postmoderns use the term ‘absolute’ meaning something different from the historic meaning. i.e. They mean “I will not do this” or “I do not believe that”. or they mean “Our sub-culture will not do this” or “Our subculture/group will not believe that”. But this stops short of the universal absolute of “Nobody of any culture at any time in history anywhere in the world may do this or believe that”. That is the absolute attitude the Christian faith is based on and which gives it authority to judge other cultures, religions, worldviews people etc. It is what gives strength to the pro-life movement both now and from the time of the Roman Empire to condemn governments which legalise abortion etc. It is the basis on which thousands of martyrs have happily died for their beliefs and profession. It is a ‘Jesus is Lord of everything and everyone’, who should obey and submit to him. Not ‘We want our place at the table’ of culture. It is a worldview which is highly intolerant and I would be surprised if you held to it.
    * Most Christians who have embraced postmodernism have not done so totally. So for example, some say they will still die for a few truths – but that list of what they are willing to suffer and die for is a lot shorter than it was with historic Christianity. So then they have not eliminated absolutes, but reduced their number.
    * There many postmodern Christians who hold to beliefs which are fundamentally inconsistent with eachother. Indeed postmodernism embraces inconsistency and a fragmented worldview. New Scientist commented on the crisis of postmodern sociology in that researchers of genocide and ancient practices such as child sacrifice of the Inca’s believed that such things were wrong, but there postmodern worldview gave them no basis to condemn the beliefs of another culture. And so generally they don’t, but occasionally, being inconsistent with the logical implications of their belief, they do condemn other cultures actions.
    I understand the distinction between postmodernism and modernist relativism. These are not the same, but both I class in the broader label of ‘liberalism’.

Leave a Reply