As I stated in my last post, D.A. Carson’s “most important” point that he wished to make was this: He said that much in the Emerging Movement fails to listen very intently to what Scripture says.
Carson sees this sloppy reading of Scripture “without much theological reflection” in many ways: He says that the Emerging Church tends towards Semi-Pelagianism, has an affinity for Open Theism, and emphasizes non-hierarchical ecclesiology.
Now this is a telling sign of Carson’s modus operandi. It is not so much that he is against just the Emerging Church; it is that he is against anyone who does not fully embrace his Reformed theology – including the Arminians, the Open Theists, and non-hierarchical churches like Church of the Brethren.
But the key theological rub for Carson in contemporary debate has to do with the Atonement. As a staunch defender of a Reformed theology, Carson’s main theological work recently has been in the area of Atonement studies. Whereas many are exploring the different nuances of the Atonement (including the various “atonement theories”) and embracing these, Carson (while affirming that there are several ways to see the Atonement) is advocating that the main idea of the Atonement is found in Penal Substitution. Thus, the main reason (besides the issue of epistemology) that Carson feels that the Emerging Church needs to be called out as “heterodox” is that it fails to see the Atonement as he sees it.
He said that there is such an emphasis in the Emerging Church on the love of God that it has become detached from other things, like sin and the wrath of God.
He then explained that the wrath of God is a major theme throughout Scripture. And what makes God so angry? The answer, according to Carson, is idolatry. Carson is very concerned that if we lose the idea that the main problem is our individual or corporate idolatry, then we will lose the gospel.
I found it interesting and telling that Carson demeaned the Emerging Church’s emphasis on justice issues. The Emerging Church says that the divide in the Church over "social gospel" versus "personal salvation" is a false dichotomy, and the two must be reunited into one holistic gospel. The Emerging Church has advocated that we must do God’s will in righting "injustice". Carson said that this is not Scriptural enough for him, explaining that God’s wrath is not "just about injustice" but rather "more about idolatry." He feels that if we define the problem as "injustice," we will miss the real meaning of the gospel.
The key issue, then, is the Atonement. He mentioned some of the varying views of the Atonement: the “exemplary model” (where Christ’s sacrifice is a model for us in how to give our lives for others), “Christus Victor” (where Christ’s death is victory over evil and sin, freeing humanity from their oppression), and “penal substitution” (where Christ died to pay God’s wrath against sin as our substitute).
He said that Brian McLaren and others dismiss “Penal Substitution” as “cosmic child abuse,” which got quite a few heads shaking in indignation.
Carson said that as soon as you choose to dismiss Penal Substitution like this, “you have left the Bible behind.” Instead of doing this, he pleaded that we study the Atonement theories to see "which have biblical warrant and sanction." We need to study how they relate to other themes throughout the Bible. He exhorted us not to "just pick and choose," but to think through the atonement theories as they relate to biblical theology as a whole.
Carson didn’t come right out and say it, but it was evident that he felt that those who would study the Atonement theories in such a way would arrive to the correct conclusion as he has, that Penal Substitution is the primary way to understand it. It is the only Atonement theory that deals with his definition of the real issue - idolatry. He sees it as his calling to warn us that we should be very suspicous of anyone in the Emerging Church that are raising up other articulations of the Atonement as preferable over Penal Substitution in reaching postmoderns, for these people, according to Carson, are not being biblical.
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
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