Yesterday I found a series of three lectures on the emergent church given in February 2004 by Don Carson. I’ve only listened to the first one. It was quite informative. Dr. Carson was attempting to describe the emergent church. This is a pretty difficult task as you may imagine. Nevertheless he seemed to do a pretty good job.
In closing Dr. Carson listed five things that were good about the phenomenon. I thought it would be worth listing them here (they are my notes, not a transcription). We must not approach these issues as some kind of balancing act, as though if the good things outweigh the bad then we can give it the thumbs up, and vice versa. Both the good and the bad things must be addressed individually. Those outside the phenomenon must learn from the good. While those inside must sort out the bad. As an outsider, I am only to pleased to consider what must be learned from the good. So here they are:
- The Emergent Church is trying to read the times. The EC is often found where there is a diversity of culture where the church needs to understand the people around them.
- They push the value of authenticity. Dr. Carson notes that sometimes in our conservative churches there can be a kind of phoneyness. Often the efforts of the church to be ‘relevant’ (e.g. Willow Creek/Seeker Sensitive, Saddleback/Purpose Driven Church) can generate a market-style phoneyness.
- They recognise the effects of postmodernism. The times are changing. Twenty-five years ago atheists were ‘Christian’ atheists – the God they did not believe in was the Christian God. They thought in Christian categories. But not now – the questions people have are different. This affects how the gospel is introduced and explained.
- There is a deep concern to reach the ‘way-outs’ There is a whole class of people in society who have no contact with church, who have never heard the gospel and so have no idea what we are talking about. Who’s going after these people? The conservative churches are good at talking to their own kind. The EC seems to have developed the ability to talk with anyone. Dr. Carson believes one of the real needs of the church today is for evangelists and pastors who have the ability to talk to anyone.
- They display a willingness to question tradition. This means that all things are questioned. While this can unfortunately lead to questioning important doctrinal positions, it also points out traditions that have no basis in Scripture. For example, Dr. Carson asks the question about dress codes in church, both for the pastor and the congregation. EC asks, “What can we dispense with to reach the culture?”
These are important questions for conservative churches in our day.
No doubt the next lecture will not be quite so friendly!