D.A. Carson’s Becoming conversant with the emerging church is already a bit dated, since things are moving rapidly in that area. However, it remains a fair and thorough evaluation (unless you’re a big fan of emerging, in which case it’s obvious to you that Carson just doesn’t ‘get it’).
I remember listening to a recording of a presentation by Carson at the beginning of which he gave short shrift to the chairman who had just introduced him, and had praised him for ‘torpedoing’ the emerging movement in his book. Carson responded by ‘torpedoing’ the chairman’s remarks, and reminding those present of some of the positive aspects of the emerging movement.
Indeed, in chapter 2 of his book, Carson highlights five positives about the movement and the way it challenges the church of our day.
First, there is a commendable concern to ‘read the times’ and to understand our rapidly changing contemporary culture. Emergent rightly recognises that this is essential for ‘our witness, our grasp of theology, our churchmanship, even our self-understanding’ (p.45).
Second, there is a strong push for authenticity within the movement. Again Carson doesn’t dodge the fact that much of what goes on in many traditional, evangelical churches does feel ‘disturbingly inauthentic at times’ (p.49).
‘You know the kind of inauthenticity I have in mind. We may go through meeting after meeting, and all of it is reassuringly familiar, but we don’t come out saying, in effect, “Surely we have met with the living God!” … There is little intensity in confession, little joy in absolution, little delight in the gospel, little urgency in evangelism, little sense of privilege and gratitude in witness, little passion for the truth, little compassion for others, little humility in our evaluations, little love in our dealing with others’ (pp. 49-50).
Third, they have a right recognition that as we read the Bible, and evaluate our culture and ourselves, we do so in a ‘social location’ – a particular framework – which inevitably influences the conclusions we arrive at.
Fourth, Emergent churches seem to reach those with whom evangelical Christianity has traditionally failed to engage.
Fifth, there is a refreshing interest in historic Christian traditions and, at the same time, an unwillingness to be bound by tradition.
As summarised by Andrew Patterson, in an article in Evangelical Times.