For the last few months I have been wondering if the emerging movement is still a conversation. Many in the movement have preferred to call it the emerging conversation, rather than the emerging church. This question has particularly stuck in my mind since I asked someone who is a leader in the emerging “conversation” if they knew of anyone who had offered a substantive response to D. A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its ImplicationsThe answer I received was, “Most of us believe that book is so bad it doesn’t deserve a response.”
I was surprised by this answer, because I did not find Carson’s book to be offensive or intentionally trying to distort the emerging message. It may be that I don’t get it, but I felt that Carson was really trying to understand and interact with his best understanding of this movement and then make a meaningful response to it. Obviously there are going to be areas where D. A. Carson disagrees with key voices in the emerging church. For my part, Carson’s book left me sincerely interested in how people like Brian McLaren (who was not the person I was corresponding with) would respond to Carson’s concerns.
To be fair, I am raising this question based on a very short response I received from one person. It would be unfair to make this representative of an entire group of people. Moreover, Peter Rollins was recently as SMU and I had the chance to visit with him for about thirty minutes after he spoke in a New Testament calss. He was very gracious and in the time I spent with him I felt that he wanted to be part of an ongoing conversation. (While I do not agree with everything he says, both of his books are worth reading: How (Not) to Speak of Godand The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond BeliefHow (Not) to Speak of God has particularly been praised by folks within Emergent.)
To push things a bit farther: From my perspective, there does not seem to be all that much critical reflection on what is coming out of the emerging church. I have sometimes detected a bit of a defensive posture from folks in the emerging church, such as the appendix in Tony Jones’ The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier titled “A Response to Our Critics.” Of course, this is also an effort to do exactly what I am asking for – conversing with those who disagree with them. So, I am sure that the emerging church has received more than its fair share of uncharitable criticism. I am also sure that they have often done their best to respond to their critics. However, lately I have felt that there is a bit of an attitude that “those people just don’t get it” and therefore they are not worth talking to.
I write this because there has always been something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the emerging church that has attracted me. I think that there are many things that they get powerfully right. I also think their ability to get their message out and sell books in places like Barnes and Noble shows that they are meeting a real need that people have, particularly younger people – a demographic my own denomination currently has a very hard time connecting with. So I am a fan of the emerging church. I buy the new books that come out (although enough are coming out now that I can’t say I buy all of them). However, I also have some questions. Occasionally I think they get things completely wrong. I don’t think this makes them different from any other group. But because they are raising such important issues and are connecting with popular culture so well, I hope that they will not insulate themselves from constructive criticism or change. It seems to me that these were in many ways the very motives which raised up the emerging church to begin with – a desire to move the church closer to faithfulness and relevance in a changing culture.
What are your thoughts? Am I missing key venues where the conversation continues? I am interested in your perception of the current state of the emerging conversation.