Well, I have pressed ahead through Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. It is a worthwhile read. I highly recommend it. Basically what Carson does is bring biblical considerations to bear, biblical themes, that don't fit in the framework of the major "hard postmodernists" books or articles. If we are to take Scripture as our authority, then there has to be a change, we need to go with what God has revealed rather than culture. Carson is right. He approaches two authors, one major US postmodern-emergent author and one from the United Kingdom. And then examines their beliefs so as to show that they don't match major biblical themes. He then has sections of Scripture where he lists things like knowing and certainty from the Bible, and shows how overwhelming these ideas are. Scripture portrays us with the ability to know for certain on doctrines of Christian truth. Whereas some (some, not all!) authors in the emerging church tend to abandon absolute truth or fully certain truth knowing.
Now in fairness, there are times that Carson uses and acknowledges the heard work of studying a text, by what preaching/hermeneutics professors call a hermeneutical spiral towards the text. He is using a qualification on our ability. That is to say, as we read the Bible more, and ask ourselves questions about what God is saying, and as we study that second, third, fourth time more, we get the intention more clearly from it. This means we may increase in our knowledge or certainty of things God has revealed. Carson gives the example of the deity of Christ as something that as he has studied it (rightly) he has come to certain knowledge on. And this qualification is good so as to avoid a trap he may fall into of claiming that he just knows without appeal to Scripture. We are all, admittedly, pursuing Christ daily, to know Him more fully. However, we can indeed know, certainly, things that have been revealed and we have been able to see these from Scripture. A doctrine of the Bible is that it is itself clear. Indeed, God's Word promises to us that the Spirit will illumine us so that we may know with certainty actual truth of God and the world. What we are not promised is that the Spirit will absolutize our experience. One of the emerging churches great insights is that many churches have adopted cultural (American, French, UK, etc, etc) traditions and claimed they were biblical; when in fact, they were nothing of the sort. Many local church traditions have nothing to do with the Bible, but with the social click that meets there. This is the healthy insight in my view from the emerging church movement. There are also as Carson points out, healthy emergent's, who in fact hold to absolute truth ability on Christian doctrine. This is good. So I can appreciate the heavy lifting Carson has done to show how the Bible and emergent tenets may or may not mesh up. It at least has given me a broader and deeper perspective on the whole picture. Carson is very careful and backs up his references very well. He also gets into some interesting side issues on church polity for a page or two at times. These actually just made me want to read some of his other articles more, however, and they were interesting.
I think the strength of the book is that it doesn't let a major contemporary church movement go uncritiqued. Carson aims to be faithful to good reading of the Scripture. The weakness of the book is that it is often modernistically limited. At times you sense that to take what he says as true you would have to go backwards and sort of agree with past modernistic theologians. It could be more powerful if it was more often said that there should be new theologians who will press ahead in the future, but will not become postmodern as far as truth claims on Christian doctrine. By that I mean, there are times that Carson sounds like a complaining modernist more than just a biblical Christian acknowledging the future will come. I would suspect that we all have our weaknesses though, and I was able to keep reading without much problem, as there ought to be good theologians from every age we appreciate and learn from in our lives as believers. One minor thing that just troubled me that he had some of his own 'tradition' church views against younger people (18-40 presumably) here and there. But they are lightly peppered and hardly affect much of the book at all. In these ways, I just wonder if Carson wants to hold on to old ways of doing the outward forms of church at the expense of an otherwise good critique work which he has written. But again, no one is perfect. And Carson has strength when it comes to talking about how missions has taught us to recognize that the gospel which never changes can take and use culture forms such as music so as to convey Truth, absolute truth. (He doesn't say it in exactly those words.)
I think Carson is very charitable towards the emerging church for the most part. I'll have to read more to know for sure, but he seemed even handed in a build up sort of way.
This book really pointed out to me Brian McLaren's pluralism (there are many ways to heaven). I was saddened to find out that McLaren is a pluralist. Ironically, I have met some people in various seminaries who think Brian McLaren is just great all around. That's a scary thought given he has already sold the whole house spiritually. I don't believe that Scripture allows for us to worship another god in any way, nor to reverence other gods. That is idolatry, and if a person never repents of idolatry they will be judged for it.
And I agree with Carson that there is a distinction between the idolatry involved in people's sins such as coveting versus idolatry straight up as defined in Scripture. Why mention this? Apparently some emergent persons (not by any means all) say if people in churches commit an attitude of coveting things, then that is just as bad. But the truth is, there is no grace (unmerited favor of God to salvation) apart from knowing Christ alone as Savior and Lord. It is impossible to also never repent of coveting, but celebrate it as correct, and be blessed of God. Sure. But here's the difference: God will -make sure- that those who truly believe on and trust Him, and aren't idolaters, will repent of things like coveting and even when they fall, repent and pursue the right God again. The Holy Spirit and the Word read or heard guarantee true believers will continue on believing. But if you start with the wrong God to begin with, then there is no way to get help to overcome coveting. This is true inside a visible church or in some foreign land. Coveting obviously is not right, but without the Right God First there is no hope of repenting of coveting. There are some differences. Now of course, there are professing Christian people to fall into all kinds of sins, including doubt which might rival idolatry. But they turn from it, because they have trusted a God who is jealous to see His Word bring changes in them. So this is the difference. I wonder if Carson could have brought this out more, but he choose not to for whatever reason.
In the end, the book is recommended. It does discuss epistemology which I wanted to delve into, but I don't plan on tackling that so much at this moment. That is for a graduate paper and in more depth, later. Perhaps I'll share some thoughts on that later in 2010.