DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 04

Carson’s second critique of the Emerging movement is that it does not handle modernism very well. Why? Because the Emerging Church engages in making false antitheses, that is, setting up as opposites that which are not truly in conflicting categories.

Carson told the pastors in attendance at this seminar that the Emerging Church “says that ‘modernism is bad and postmodernism is good.’” Carson says that this is a false antithesis which launches Christians into a violent pendulum swing which succeeds only to divide brothers and sisters in Christ.

Carson's critique is that since the Emerging Church has embraced postmodernism and has rejected modernism in such a radical way, they exclude anybody who is not postmodern into their ranks, often based on age. If you accept postmodernism, you’re in, if not, you’re out. The Emerging Church’s false antithesis that modernism is bad while postmodernism is good creates a division in the Church.

This is a critique that the Emerging Church’s main voices need to hear. I’ve raised the red flag myself about how we in the EC can be too defensive, too combative, too ready to make a clear distinction between a “new way of doing things” and those “old fuddy-duds of the modern evangelical church.” Sometimes the rhetoric sounds like an adolescent that is trying to stake out her new-found independence from her parents – mom and dad are fools and I’m going to do things differently.

I wish we all could learn to be more careful in the way we try to criticize others. In our efforts to argue for change, the Emerging Church’s critique of the evangelical church of the last 100 years can often cross the line into false anthesis.

I am very aware that it is extremely difficult to nuance all of our arguments in this way. It’s easier to make stark contrasts – like when we say that “the modern church trusted Reason to prove their faith, while the postmodern church will trust faith in God (which may or may not lead to Reason).” That’s a simple, straight-forward statement that clearly dilineates the difference. But in reality, not everyone in the modern church trusted Reason as blatantly or simply as that. So, how do we nuance our rhetoric so that we can make clear the changes that we feel need to be made (in general categories) without creating false antitheses?

Posts in this series:
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 01

DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 02
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 03
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 04
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 05
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 06



Becky Vartabedian said...

Hi Bob: Long time, no comment. I'm glad to see you're back on the blog horse.

I really appreciate this series because Carson's comments point out what I think to be the fatal flaw in the field of "emergent criticism," which seems lately to be fashionable among older evangelicals. It's too easy to label the emerging church as "postmodern" and the more mainstream evangelicalism (?) as "modern," but I think this commits a category mistake.

I've been taking a course on phenomenology right now (with its focus specifically on Merleau-Ponty) and the whole point of MP's work is at least to demonstrate how traditional epistemological categories of rationalism and empiricism aren't adequate. Instead, MP emphasizes that our experiences and our knowledge -- in order to be meaningful -- are situated and contextualized (the problem here, which I haven't quite got my finger on yet, is whether or not by accepting phenomenology we commit ourselves to a metaphysical anti-realism, which is unacceptable in light of Christian commitments, IMHO).

I'm still trying to work this out, but I'm interested in exploring the emerging church via philosophies of embodiment and in particular phenomenology, because from what I can tell so far these theories find a way to unite our experience and knowledge in a kind of middling category (although not a hybrid category) between modernism and postmodernism.

This is probably old news to some of your readers (nedric?), but it occurs to me that the best thing the emerging church can do is to consider its philosophical moorings in light of a different epistemological alternative. Will it satisfy the Carsons of the world? Probably not, but it might help shake off the unhelpful (and somewhat derogatory) label of "postmodernism."

Thanks again for posting this provocative series. I really appreciate this blog, Bob.

joeldaniel said...

i find this arguement by Carson hypocritical at best. not that it doesn't have some truth to it, as you were so gracious to point out, but that he does this exact disservice to the emerging conversation by refusing to engage with an open mind and an attitude of learning.

nonetheless, we do need to be wary of hapharzdly casting aside wisdom that we desperately need from our forefathers in the faith...something us young punks can do easily if we're not careful in our run to the future.

Bob Robinson said...

Good to hear from you here again. Your philosophical studies lend a very-much appreciated helping hand to the vanguard church conversation.

Your comment gets me thinking about post #3 in this series.

Tim Keller commented there, "those who publish in the name of Emerging/emergent mainly interact with hard postmodernists, as if this is the main new reality that the Christian church has to deal with. But the reality is that in both the Christian and non-Christian thought world, chastened foundationalists and 'soft' non-foundationalists are very, very numerous, and not all that unlike one another."

I think that we had better interact with and understand the "hard postmodernists" (that is, those who are questioning issues of epistemology), in order to (1) be sympathetic to that which we can embrace within the Christian worldview, and (2) for that which we can't embrace, we at least have an informed apologetic in favor of "soft" non-foundationalism or even chastened foundationalism.

Bob Robinson said...

Joel Daniel,

In the words of D.A. Carson (from his book), "Damn all false antitheses to hell."

In my opinion, the "false antithesis" that Carson consistently works under is this: "I am right, and if you disagree with me you are wrong." That is a false antithesis - the opposite of not agreeing with Carson is not necessarily being wrong. It could be that we are both right, or we are both wrong, or we are both somewhere in between. He cannot see these nuances as long as he lives under his false antithesis.

Becky Vartabedian said...


I agree (definitely) that interacting with hard postmodernism is a valuable enterprise, if only for the sake of "defining the boundaries" of the emergent conversation. I guess what I'm thinking is that the modernist-postmodernist dichotomy misses some of the central features of the emergent movement (as well as what little I understand about the "missional" movement). I'm never one to shy away from looking hard at philosophical movements! :)

It seems that opponents of emergent are so ready to cast the movement in postmodernist terms that these overlook the ways in which this generation of "doing" church wants to talk about experience. I'm not sure if that's clear. Tim Keller's comments reflect my thinking ... he probably is saying it better than I am. Ha.

In all honesty, reading your blog over the last year or so (plus some gentle guidance from a good friend have helped to change my tune on the emergent movement. Thanks.

LandonSandy said...

You do point to some truth here, and that is appriciated. But Carson has long labled the EC as "bad" and in fact has fowarded his career on it. So it's a tough pill to swallow comming from him, but it would help the EC if we kept our ears open to such critisism and I respect that you have done so.