Sunday, October 08, 2006

Book Review: Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church

The so-called Emerging Church is a controversial, loosely structured movement which claims to respond to the needs of post-modern people who don't appreciate the traditional approaches to Christianity and denominational structures. One of the most articulate authors/speakers of the movement is Brian McClaren who has published a number of books promoting the emergent approach to Christianity. I have previously reviewed his A Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian. A number of significant criticisms have been raised in relation to this movement. One of the most recent is D A Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Carson is a very careful thinker and his critique is rigorous and well-informed. Carson begins by presenting a profile of the Emerging Church -- a difficult task because of its diversity and resistance to any consolidation of belief. Carson is careful to point out the strengths of the movement, particulary in "reading the times" and its desire to respond to contemporary needs. The Emergent Church movement is particularly concerned to provide an analysis of contemporary culture, which it loosely defines as postmodern. Carson provides a telling critique of the Emergent Church's understanding of postmodernism, a term which, Carson argues, is outmoded and out of date. One of the biggest problems with the leaders of the Emergent Movement's approach is that their understanding of postmodernism is simplistic and reductionistic -- a problem they often criticise the traditional churches for being! Another problem is that the Emergent Church's criticisms of traditional Christianity are often reductionistic, overly-generalised, and distortions of the reality. Carson carefully provides the reader with an understanding of what is meant by postmodernism -- it's contributions and challenges -- and then explores and critiques the Emergent Church's critique of postmodernism. He then turns to two representative and significant books that have come out of the movement -- Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy (American) and Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus (British). When it is all boiled down, Carson's primary complaint about the movement is its handling of the concept of truth. The Emergent Church has a characteristically postmodern view of truth -- resistant to "meta-narrative"; truth as a product of consensus rather than the possibility of absolutes derived from revelation. Carson's critique is potent. He shows how the ideology underlying the movment actually turns back on itself and undermines its own position. The problems he points out in the fundamental thinking of the movement are significant and often difficult to appreciate because of the seductive language in which ideas are packaged and its sensitivity to real needs experienced by contemporary people. I have read McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy which was helpful as I read Carson's critique of the book. Carson clearly has a capacity to genuinely listen to views that oppose his (he is very fair in his descriptions -- and very hontest about his assessment) and his evaluation is an important one that should be carefully read by anyone considering the ideas and teachings of the Emergent Church movement. Related Links


  1. I'm sure Carson's book is good, I just wish his writing style wasn't so annoying, I tried to get through his book on pluralism, but couldn't. Too bad though, he is really smart.

  2. What don't you like about his writing?