The Emerging Church Talk Down Under with Don Carson

I didnt blog it last month because i was blog-fasting, but i followed closely the conversation in Perth between Don Carson and two leaders of the emerging missional church – Andrew Hamilton (Hamo from Backyard Missionary) and Geoff Westlake. And since then, FORGE have posted the audio online. HT: Adonis Vidu

Don Carson  Critique of Emerging Church (50 mins)

Andrew Hamilton Response (15 mins)

Geoff Westlake Response (15 mins)

Don Carson Reponse (10 mins)

Forum (20 mins)

Ohhh great . . .  of all the possible candidates for emerging church leadership, Carson ends up in the Baptist Theological College with 2 YOBBOS!

I just had to say that about them because both guys have been my mates since our late teens. And we were all Baptist pastors in Perth in the early 90’s – so you see i am constrained to insult them as a token of affection. The other reason I feel compelled to give them a hard time is because both guys were very good looking IN THEIR DAY [he he he] and managed to have a constant stream of girlfriends while yours truly – blessed in areas other than stunning good looks and cursed with severe shyness and poor self-image – only on a blue moon managed to have female company. And the girls who did go out with me had somehow already gone out with either Andrew or Geoff.

But putting the past aside, and not holding anything against these playboys  . .  uh hum . . . pastors, I am honestly glad that they were picked to stand with Carson for their conversation about the emerging church. And despite the obvious handicaps and the tarnished reputations from their dating years (i can testify truthfully that before they were married, both guys went out with practically every eligible Christian girl in Perth and probably a few other cities also . . . i have witnesses . . really . .  ) they did a spectacular job and enjoyed a profitable conversation with Dr. D. A. Carson, author of Being Conversant with the Emerging Church.

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Hamo said some excellent things that i could have easily said myself:

“Am I part of the emerging church? If I define myself by the caricatures on Purgatorio then probably not…

I’m a tad old and boring and bland to be a funky hip post-modern church leader. And yet I am here today because I do find myself for better of worse aligned with the tag of ‘emerging church’. I don’t fit the descrip very well!

(Ned Flanders as the ‘evangelical’ rep!)

The thing is I don’t think I fit the description in Don’s book very well either. I don’t know many in the Aussie emerging missional church who do. In fact if I did I would be concerned. (If I did then I think some of you would have had some fierce arguments with me by now!)”

Hamo, who went out with a great looking girl named Julie back in 1981 who turned me down flat a few years later), diligently blogged the Carson Conversation [Part 1, 2 3 and 4 and the final reflections] while Geoff (who once dated one of my worship leaders) went out for a beer and didn’t say anything at all on his spasmodic log. Actually, Julie refused me because she already had a boyfriend at the time. So she said. . . I am sure it was true. She probably dropped Hamo like a ton of bricks . .  I must ask him about that.

Speaking of dating, I was hanging out a few months ago with one of my Church Mission Society colleagues named Carol Walker who not only went to Cambridge, but went to Cambridge at the same time as Don Carson who  – despite being a hard-core intellectual, managed to find it within himself to be deeply impressioned with Carol’s roommate. And through careful and somewhat sneaky planning, Carol was instrumental in helping the Bible-geek Don Carson to start dating the girl who would eventually become his wife.

Which shows that you don’t have to date a thousand girls before you marry one [Hamo?? Geoff??] At least both guys ended up happily married with great wives and were taken off the circuit.

But what about the conversation?  Carson spoke very well and offered some critiques of the emerging church to ponder. Read the summary of those critiques in the Final Reflections. They include;

“- understanding of modernism and post-modernism is limited

– avoidance of truth claims / inability to speak of knowing something certainly

– accomodation of pomo rather than critique

– sloppy about history / exegesis

– need to learn to listen more to what scripture actually says

– need to be more careful to avoid sectarianism”

As for the romance between Carson and the Emerging Church, it sounded like some relationships were mended and the way opened for a little flirting in the future. Hamo and Geoff are good at that . . . mending relationships i mean.


D.A. Carson and the Australians (2005) and on Backyard Missionary

The Carson Chronicles on TSK:

1. Carson and My Sleepless Night (Sept 1, 2004)

2. The Skinny on Carson’s Emerging Church Tapes (Sept 2, 2004)

3. The Skinny on Emergent Criticism (Dec 13, 2004)

4. Are We A Threat to the Gospel? (March 26, 2005)

5. Open Blog Post for Don Carson 1.1 (April 15, 2005)

6. The Carson Chronicles: Where Now? (April 16, 2005)

7. The Book of Dr. D.A. Carson

But wait . . . theres more

When it comes to defending missconceptions, I understand Andrew Hamilton’s frustration.  I just read John Mark Reynolds in Loving Your Emerging Church Neighbor where, according to his view of emerging church as “newly middle aged!” movement, the “ healthy goals of emerging churches are:

a desire for authentic community

a disposition to favor the intimate over the grand

a delight in blending the best of the old with the new

a disgust with the ”overly contrived“ like the four-d alliteration in this list.”

. . . all very nice goals but not at all the heart of the emerging church. He gives the example of Rock Harbor in California as an emerging church that “gets it”. As for me and my house, Rock Harbor is a great church but its the kind of platform-led, hierarchical attractional church model i left behind. And I am not knocking it – its a great improvement on the old model but its not really what i consider “emerging church”

Now John Mark Reynolds is a great guy, a huge blogger (hear him this weekend at Godblogcon) and his critique is gentle and gracious. But the emerging church he describes is NOT . . . I repeat NOT. . . [wait  . .  let me find the bold] . . . NOT the emerging church that i signed up for and NOT the emerging church that i sold the farm for.

And the description Don Carson gives does not fit either.

The emerging church movement my family has sacrificed career, money, fame and comfort for [ok . .  not fame] is a massive global movement of a reformed and purified body of Christ that is rapidly multiplying with power and impact, not because of recent innovations but simply because we have gone back to the pattern that Jesus taught and the early church employed and because we are starting with the mission of God rather than our great plans. This is the emerging-missional church movement that gets me up at 5 in the morning and gives me dreams at night.

Newly middle aged? I dont think so. There have been 300,000 house churches planted outside of China in the past 6 years and the movement shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Nothing middle aged about that. USA probably has between 10,000 and 30,000 house churches which is up from a few hundred in the late 90’s, when I was leading a house church in San Francisco, right before Geoff Westlake came to visit. And that is just the house churches.

btw – These figures are from a new book by Wolfgang Simson that i hope to review on Nov 10th here on TSK

So I understand the tension that Hamo experiences when he doesnt want to shy away from criticism but at the same time wants to be integral to this missional journey God has placed us on – a journey that often does not match what critics have seen.  So you went to find an emerging church? What did you go out to see? Probably what you expected to see – something younger and grungier that your church. But you may have missed what God was doing because His Kingdom growth is tiny and hidden and totally what you did not expect.

Nuff said. i will make like a tree and get out of here.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Ed C says:

    Great post Andrew. I was just thinking last night about what a bone-head I was before I met my wife. I am very, very grateful for her. I’m glad to see you’re purging the church of such mistakes as my own! 🙂
    Regarding the emerging church descriptions: I really like your use of “emerging-missional,” because I think that captures the two necessary facets of the movement (or whatever you call it).
    Where I’m at right now, I believe that we struggle with defining the emerging-missional churches because they are contextual by nature. There are some emerging-missional philosophical points that are similar, but in many ways, each gathering of believers is hearing the Spirit in their own context.
    I see the emerging banner as a statement about philosophy rather than denomination, doctrine, or practices. That, in my opinion, is why it’s so hard to pin down. Our current categories make a Spirit-centered, contextually sensitive gathering of Christians very hard to define as a broad, uniform movement.
    Thanks for being the one-stop-shop for all the latest on the emerging church. I wish you good luck in the absence of your wife!

  • hamo says:

    Guess who sounds like a man missing his wife! 🙂
    Good stuff mate, but I need to correct you – I didn’t go out with Shannon Randell – just went to high school with her. So she was all yours. (Better be careful what you say – Max her bro reads my blog and might finish up on here!)
    And just to show we truly did end up swapping/sharing – whatever you call it – Geoff was actually my wife’s first boyfriend back in the bad old days – before she got smart!
    Ahh… was this about a bloke called Carson?…
    Much more fun to reminisce on the naughty days

  • marcussplitt says:

    that is really a great post. And that is what i like about your Blog. It is humorous and sensitive aswell as passionate and deep. So, i think more and more, that it is not about any “form” of “Church” or something like that. Wether it is emerging or not. But it is about People following Jesus, and like yest, transforming the place where they live. So i ask myself. What kind of disciples does my place really need? Why not think and develop “church” from the prespektive of (for example) the City?

  • andrew jones says:

    Thanks Hamo for the correction. Its hard to keep track of who was who in your long and glorious history.
    Now i need Geoff to come and say his peace.

  • Bryan Riley says:

    Talk about a time when a man needs prayer! I think I remember someone once saying it isn’t good for a man to be alone. 🙂

  • andrew says:

    thanks bryan. i actually travel a third of my time but usually its me away and my wife is home. strange to swap around.
    and something i should have said in the post – hamo and geoff westlake are top blokes and the Baptist Theo College could not have chosen a better pair to represent the emerging church.
    Hamo is read and quoted all over the world and Geoff has done a few world trips to research what God is doing. He spent time with our family in California back in 1998 when he came through
    both guys are world class and fully qualified to speak about emerging church in a global context.

  • Well, o.k. I like your emerging church. I cannot think of one thing I don’t like about it. . . but isn’t it true that this term “emerging church” fits a great big number of things. . .some of which aren’t as wonderful as yours? I am trying to punt one thing while praising another.

  • andrew says:

    yes – and you do it well. I wish other critics had half the grace and foresight you do.
    and yes – the banner of emerging church has been getting bigger and bigger to cover a multitude of models including Rock Harbor.
    but i wish you could come out with me sometime and see the majority of emerging churches which are far more organic and flat structured.
    maybe i will send an invite you to sometime if such a gathering is in your area.
    or . . . get out of USA for a trip and see where the action is really going on. i would love to show you.

  • Could someone please explain to me the context and point of this paragraph from Becoming Conversant, because this didn’t put me in the best “let’s talk” mood:
    Yet, to put things in perspective, I have heard a fair number of African preachers handle narrative texts very ably, but can think of only three or four African preachers who can expound on Romans very well. The narrative culture of many Africans (though that is now changing somewhat) produced certain limitations; the heritage of Western epistemology and culture produced another set of limitations. (p. 67)

  • andrew says:

    maurice, are you suggesting that it sounds like Carson is saying . .
    “There are only three or four African preachers who can expound on Romans in a way that would make an older Western European male tap his foot and take copious notes in his planner?”
    Is that what you are hearing?

  • oddly enough, that’s exactly what i’m hearing.
    and i want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • James Church says:

    Cracking- absolutely brilliant. I wrote some thoughts about the good ole days the other day and found to my horror some friends dropped past my blog who I’d not spoken to for ten years… anyway, you do the emerging conversation a huge service through your even handed reports and generous analysis of peoples concerns and opinions.

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