Conversant with Carson on Emergent

Andrew Jones at TallSkinnyKiwi has offered an initial "Open Blog Post for Don Carson."

Having studied under D. A. Carson at Trinity, I've felt the need to wade into this debate as well. (I remember one professor [who shall remain unnamed] calling him "E.F. Hutton" because the old commercials for the E.F. Hutton company had this tagline: "When E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens.") I respect Carson's research capabilities; I own almost every book he's ever published.
But as I listened to his Cedarville lectures about Emergent, I kept thinking, "This is not like him...he is usually more thorough in his research…he is fighting against straw men, something that he is usually so good at avoiding…what’s up with this?”

I think that he really DOES need to become “conversant with emergent” in order for his preconceptions to be changed. Having interacted with him personally, I know what his mode of operation is—he interacts with what has been published in books or academic journals and does it through being published in books and academic journals. His title is “Research Professor.” That’s what he does. And, maybe the fact that what he needs to research is in blogdom, he is missing a major chunk of the research he needs to conduct. (Though I suspect that he is computer-savvy enough to read blogs—he was one of the initial researchers to use computers in Greek syntax research. The guy is extremely bright.)

I think that the problem lies in the fact that he assumes that the goal of emergent is to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity, and so he has taken a defensive posture. When we are defensive, our ability to hear what others are actually saying gets muddied. I noticed a few times in the Cedarville lectures that you could hear his frustration—this seems to me to be PERSONAL for Carson, not just academic (though it is mostly academic). Maybe Emergents need to be a little more gracious toward Calvinists and then he would be more willing to step closer to hear what we are saying.

Andrew Jones says to Carson, "I don’t want to argue your points or your criticism. I have done so briefly, half-heartedly, as have many others."

But somebody has to argue Carson’s points (and NOT half-heartedly)…
It is the language that Carson understands—a point-by-point refutation of his arguments.

Who will do this?


Vern Hyndman said...

Hey Bob.... I elect you!

Just wanted to thank you, some of your comments have inspired me to delve into areas forgein to me.

I really liked your comment regarding Newtonian and Descartian thinking relative to Quantum thinking, so I rolled up my sleeves and glossed over the topic. I've now got 3mm of depth I didn't used to have. I'm beating ignorance back with a stick.

Thanks for inspiration and encouragement.


Bob Robinson said...

Welcome to the vanguard!

Watch out, it's dangerous up here...

Scot McKnight said...

I've got a first instalment about Carson and the Emergent stuf on my website.

Bob Robinson said...

Hey Vern... I elect Scot McKnight!

Read his stuff at
Jesus Creed

Vern Hyndman said...

I will amble on over there... thanks, if he's your choice, he's gotta be good. I expanded on being the flock... more rhetorical for my bunch than moving forward, more rant than anything, but you may appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

hey Bob,
I have just read Carson's new book on the Emerging church. I have not heard the original Staley lectures. At no point whatsoever in the book did I read Carson saying/assuming that the emerging church is aiming to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity. I think Carson thinks emerging by and large ignores/misreads/misunderstands Reformation Christianity but you are putting words in his mouth saying he assumes emerging is trying to overthrow it. That's not fair!

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I should be clear that I'm just suggesting that in the BOOK Carson does not say emergent's goal is to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity. Maybe he does say this in the LECTURES - please tell me if he does and I'll gladly recant! I'd be surprised though.

Also, Justin Taylor's blog has put some good questions to Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) re. his open letter to Carson charging him with simply misrepresenting Carson's lectures and as far as I am aware Jones has not yet shown that Taylor is wrong (http://theologica.blogspot.com/2005/04/more-thoughts-on-andrew-jones-and.html.) I think Carson will not be able to win, on one level, as folks will just keep saying he has to do more research, emerging is so diverse and his criticisms don't apply in this particular area etc, etc. I think this all misses the point. Carson states repeatedly that he is not able to cover everything and simply seems prescient when folks accuse him of not representing their little corner of emerging! The fact is that he has taken one very definite example of emerging to task and secondly I think he's saying that when folks say 'what you criticise doesn't represent me' he nevertheless cannot see any/many examples of emerging avoiding the pitfalls he claims exisit!
For these objections to Carson to carry weight there need to be actual real examples of emerging churches adopting explicitly antithetical stances to those of McClaren on key issues.
When folks say Carson doesn't reprsent MY view of emerging then these same folks need to show why their view of emerging church does not fall into the pitfalls he outlines. I think his book shows that where this does happen he would give credit where credit is due.

Bob Robinson said...

thanks for your insights.
You say, "Carson states repeatedly that he is not able to cover everything and simply seems prescient when folks accuse him of not representing their little corner of emerging..."

That's an interesting point, in that the book is advertised as coming from one who is "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church." This, seems to me, means that he must become conversant with the overall conversation of the emerging church, not just the epistemology of Brian McLaren.
As Scot McKnight wrote, "There are other Emergents to deal with: Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, Andrew Jones and Dan Kimball. They deserved to be dealt with more adequately if one is to be 'conversant' with the emerging church. I think DA Carson’s book is really 'becoming conversant with the emergent epistemology of Brian McLaren.'"

I highly recommend reading through Scot McKnight's detailed analysis of Carson's book. McKnight is much more highly qualified to do so than most, having taught at the same institution as Carson (and even having an office next to him).

Concerning whether or not Carson assumes that the goal of emergent is to overthrow Reformation Calvinist Christianity, I hear your challenge and I think it's a good one. Carson deserves respect and not to have words placed in his mouth. I promise to write a blog on that today.

Anonymous said...

Cheers Bob,
Point taken, perhaps Carson's book does suggest a broader scope and then only deal with a narrow example. All the same, first, if Brian McClaren represents one example of the emerging church then I am not sure how massively unhelpful Carson's title is and second, while I think McKnight's point about how the book should really be called becoming conversant with McClaren's epistemology is catchy I am not sure it's totally fair. Afterall Carson certainly does refer to other emerging leaders, it's just that in his opinion McClaren is one of the major ones. There are whole chapters not explicitly on McClaren which should at least soften McKnight's charge somewhat. What do you think?
P.S. I'm about to post something in McKnight's 'Emergent is more than Epistemology' thread ...

Anonymous said...

You should have some of your crew call in on Friday night to the Open Line program on the MBN to get clarifications. Its on at 8pm Chicago time - Dr. Carson will be on discussing the book I think. Its a call-in show. They didn't update the schedule yet, but it said on a radio annoucement he would be on this Friday.

You can probably listen live on wmbi.org