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Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church Copyright © 2005 by D. A. Carson Requests for information should be addressed to: Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Carson, D. A. Becoming conversant with the emerging church : understanding a movement and its implications / D. A. Carson. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. ISBN-10: 0-310-25947-9 (pbk.) ISBN-13: 978-0-310-25947-3 (pbk.) 1. Postmodernism---Religious aspects---Christianity. 2. Non-institutional churches. I. Title. BR115.P74C37 2005 262---dc22 2005000360 CIP All Scripture quotations from the Old Testament, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations from the New Testament, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, Today's New International Version®. TNIV®. Copyright © 2002, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The website addresses recommended throughout this book are offered as a resource to you. These websites are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement on the part of Zondervan, nor do we vouch for their content for the life of this book. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means---electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other---except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. Interior design by Tracey Walker Printed in the United States of America 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 /?DCI/ 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 PREFACE A simplified form of the substance of this book was first delivered as three Staley Lectures at Cedarville University in February 2004. I would like to thank the president and faculty who welcomed me so warmly, and the numerous students who went out of their way to engage thoughtfully with what I was saying. As I attempt to make clear in the opening chapter, the 'emerging (or 'emergent') church' movement, though scarcely a dozen years old, exerts an astonishingly broad influence. An entire literature has sprung up, with those on the inside quoting and supporting one another in publications and conferences. In other words, a self-identity has already been established. Nevertheless, the diversity of the movement, as well as its porous borders, ensure that I have not found it easy to portray it fairly. I have tried to be accurate in description and evenhanded in evaluation. Even so, I must underscore the fact that when I am forced (for the sake of avoiding endless qualifications) to resort to generalization in order to move the discussion along, one can almost always find some people in the movement for whom the generalization is not true, and others who do not think of themselves as belonging to the emerging church movement who nevertheless share most of its values and priorities. (Also, let it be noted that some of the leaders feel that this has not yet reached the dimensions of a movement and prefer to call it a 'conversation.') I have tried to avoid too much technical discussion. The flavor of the lecture series has not been entirely removed. In reality that means this book will probably frustrate some readers in opposite ways: some will find the treatment of postmodernism to be too elementary, and perhaps others will find parts of it heavy going. The notes will help the former, and I hope that rereading will help the latter. But the book is several times longer than the manuscript of the lectures. The brevity of the latter meant that I could not indulge in detailed documentation or introduce a lot of nuances and exceptions. Owing not least to the fact that some emerging church leaders have criticized the lectures, in various blogs, for such omissions, I have tried in this book to fill that gap as much as possible. Whenever a Christian movement comes along that presents itself as reformist, it should not be summarily dismissed. Even if one ultimately decides that the movement embraces a number of worrying weaknesses, it may also have some important things to say that the rest of the Christian world needs to hear. So I have tried to listen respectfully and carefully; I hope and pray that the leaders of this 'movement' will similarly listen to what I have to say. I would like to thank Jonathan Davis and Michael Thate for compiling the indexes. Soli Deo gloria. D. A. CARSON Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 10 BECOMING CONVERSANT WITH THE EMERGING CHURCH Chapter 1 THE EMERGING CHURCH PROFILE What Are We Talking About? When I have mentioned to a few friends that I am writing a book on the emerging church, I get rather diverse reactions. 'What's that?' one of them asked, betraying that his field of expertise does not encourage him to keep up with contemporary movements. 'Are you going to focus primarily on Acts, or are you going to include the Pauline and other epistles?' queried another, presupposing that I am writing about the church as it 'emerged' in the first century---since, after all, I teach in a New Testament department at a seminary. Another colleague, known for his worldwide connections, asked, 'How did you become interested in the difficult and challenging questions surrounding the emergence of the church in the Two-Thirds World?' After all, the last hundred years have witnessed remarkable stories of 'emergence' in Korea, many parts of sub-Saharan black Africa, Latin America, certain countries of Eastern Europe (especially Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova), and elsewhere. The responses are sensible enough, since 'emerging' and related terms are words that have been applied to these and other circumstances,2 including some fairly esoteric discussions in the philosophy of science. But during the last dozen years, 'emerging' and 'emergent' have become strongly associated with an important movement that is sweeping across America, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Many in the movement use 'emerging' or 'emergent' (I will use the two words as equivalents) as the defining adjective for their movement. A dozen books talk about 'the emergent church' and 'stories of emergence' and the like.3 One website encourages its patrons in 'emergent friendship,' which turns out to refer, not to friendship that is emerging, but to the importance of friendship in the movement---thus confirming that 'emergent' is, for those in the movement, a sufficient label of self-identification, so that 'emergent friendship' is formally akin to, say, 'house church friendship' or 'Baptist friendship.' At the heart of the 'movement'---or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the 'conversation'---lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is 'emerging.' Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation. The National Pastors Convention and the Emergent Convention were held simultaneously in San Diego in 2003; of the three thousand pastors who attended, 1,900 chose the more traditional forum, the NPC, while 1,100 chose the other. Before attempting to outline its emphases, I should stress that not only is the movement amorphous, but its boundaries are ill-defined. Doubtless many (I have no idea how many) of the thousand pastors at the Emergent Convention did not (at that time, anyway) consider themselves part of the emerging church: they were exploring, aligning themselves perhaps with some aspects of the movement but not with others.