The Carson Conversation I

Ok here goes… I’ll try and write up some reflections on how the day went.

As far as I know, no-one has been able to secure a similar meeting with Don, so it really was quite a unique affair – an opportunity to listen to one another and respond to the concerns we each have of one another.

I have to confess that up until a few days prior to the whole thing I gave the conversation very little thought. I attempted reading Carson’s book, but only got half way thru as I just didn’t enjoy it, I listened to the 2004 Staley Lecture Series at Cedarville University and read some reviews of Carson’s critiques.

I felt quite ok about it all, however as people kept asking me ‘are you ready?’ or ‘how do you think it will go?’ I actually began to get a bit more nervous. I saw it as a conversation, where we seek to understand each other, but obviously some had it pegged it as a showdown. If it were to be a battle of the minds I would readily admit to being rather under-gunned.

I re-read Carson’s book on the day before and as I did got quite angry at the criticisms he levelled which just are not true of most of those I know in the Australian scene. I found myself needing to stop and pray that we would listen to each other and not just fire a bunch of bullets, because I was not impressed.

It was arranged for us all to have breakfast before the event – so Don West & Brian Harris (the two college principals) along with Don, Geoff Westake and myself all met in Farrell’s cafe in Vic Park. This was a great idea as it allowed us all to meet as people first rather than proponents of different views of church and mission.

In his book Don comes across at times fair and reasoned and at times ‘spiky’ and harsh. He does not sound at all impressed with the emerging church crew. However in person (as is the case with many authors) he was personable and easy to speak to once we got past the small talk. I appreciated that he asked questions of Geoff and I that sought to understand who we felt we were, what we were doing and how we were using terms (“church/mission/pastor/missionary”) Without actually stating it, I think he was able to gauge from our conversations that the ’emerging church’ in Australia as we were speaking about it was a somewhat different beast to the one he was critiqueing in his book.

We share similar but also different theological positions, however the common ground would be a comitment to orthodoxy and the central tenets of the faith.

With breakfast over we headed back to the Baptist Theological College for the main event. Seats had sold out several days previously and many folks were turned away. It was obviously a topic that had some resonance with the local churches and no doubt Don Carson’s presentation was what attracted most of them. The college library was packed with conservative evangelicals, many of the ‘Sydney Anglican’ ilk as well as one or two renegade ’emerging churchies’ dotted around the place.

The format of the day was:

10:00 – 10:10am – Welcome (Brian Harris)

10:10 – 11:00am – Don Carson

11:00 – 11:20am – Morning Tea

11:20 – 11:35am – Response (Andrew Hamilton)

11:35 – 11:50am – Response (Geoff Westlake)

11:50 – 12:00pm – Response (Don Carson)

12:00 – 12:20pm – Open Q & A

Given we only had 15 minutes each to speak, Geoff and I both prepared quite specific and concise presentations based on what we imagined Don might say. My brief was to address the primary concerns and Geoff’s was to explain how an ’emerging church’ looked in practice.

I found it difficult to have only 15 minutes to speak. I would have really liked to address some of the issues surrounding Carson’s comments on Brian McClaren, as I don’t believe he has been entirely fair to him, but given the brevity of time we needed to let those issues drop and simply speak of how his criticisms looked in the land of Oz.

There was something of an austere vibe to the whole scene at the beginning. imagine a library full of male theologians, pastors and academics – with the odd woman and lay person scattered around. Brian Harris managed to lift that somewhat with his introduction and Don spent a few moments warming up the crowd as well. Smile and laughter. Nice…

Here is my summary of Don’s presentation. I took notes so that if he said anything surprising we could respond to it. There is nothing new here, but if you haven’t read the book or listened to the lectures then it will give you an overview.

1. The EC is a movement not a conversation (I would agree with this)

2. Source of EC

– missional concern

– separation of church and world

– defining against traditional church and mega-church

3. What DC appreciates about EC

– people trying to understand their own times

– a plea for authenticity

– missional concern for unreached

– willingness to question tradition

4. DC’s concerns

– understanding of modernism and post-modernism is limited

– avoidance of truth claims / inability to speak of knowing something certainly

– accomodation of pomo rather than critique

– sloppy about history / exegesis

– need to learn to listen more to what scripture actually says

– need to be more careful to avoid sectarianism

This is not a fair representation of all Don said and you would need to listen to him fill out each point for it to make more sense. So don’t make ranting critiques based on my scant notes!

One thing he did stress was that he felt the EC in Oz (at least as defined by Geoff and I) would not be considered EC in other parts of the world. Hmmm… And therein lies much of the problem.

Part II later…download matrix reloaded the

1 thought on “The Carson Conversation I

  1. Interesting that you didn’t want a confrontation with D.A. Carson. Have your read the AEF Call carefully? If that isn’t a confrontational attach, what is? So why would you question someone taking issue with you? Perhaps, the ones behind the call are not self-righteous; but, the “Call” certainly is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *