Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church : Understanding a Movement and Its Implications

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  • Copyright: 2005-05-01
  • Publisher: Harpercollins Christian Pub
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A careful and informed assessment of the "emerging church" by a respected author and scholarThe "emerging church" movement has generated a lot of excitement and exerts an astonishingly broad influence. Is it the wave of the future or a passing fancy? Who are the leaders and what are they saying?The time has come for a mature assessment. D. A. Carson not only gives those who may be unfamiliar with it a perceptive introduction to the emerging church movement, but also includes a skillful assessment of its theological views. Carson addresses some troubling weaknesses of the movement frankly and thoughtfully, while at the same time recognizing that it has important things to say to the rest of Christianity. The author strives to provide a perspective that is both honest and fair.Anyone interested in the future of the church in a rapidly changing world will find this an informative and stimulating read.D. A. Carson (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of over 45 books, including the Gold Medallion Award-winning book The Gagging of God, and is general editor of Telling the Truth and Worship by the Book. He has served as a pastor and is an active guest lecturer in church and academic settings around the world.

Table of Contents

Preface 9(2)
The Emerging Church Profile
Emerging Church Strengths in Reading the Times
Emerging Church Analysis of Contemporary Culture
Personal Reflections on Postmodernism's Contribution and Challenges
Emerging Church Critique of Postmodernism
Emerging Church Weakness Illustrated in Two Significant Books
Some Biblical Passages to Help Us in Our Evaluation
A Biblical Meditation on Truth and Experience
Scripture Index 237(4)
Index of Names 241(4)
Subject Index 245


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
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
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
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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.

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Chapter 1
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
At the heart of the “movement”—or as some of its leaders prefer to call

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