Why I Can’t Wait for the XSI

Since we’ve established that we should go to the Xenos Summer Institute after all, let’s get informed, too. The topic is being culturally relevant in an age when claiming the Bible’s authority seems the greatest sin of all. And D. A. Carson, who teaches theology at Trinity Evangelical School, should offer biblical, intellectual, and workable ideas on how we can be “True to the Word, True to our Mission.”

If you haven’t yet read Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, you should. Even if you’ve never heard of the emerging/emergent church movement, or you’ve never personally encountered it, this book is a worthwhile read for any thinking Christian. Carson articulates postmodernism’s strengths, weaknesses, and permutations with his usual impressive yet accessible prose, and also communicates the emerging church’s evaluation of and response to our culture.

In essence, the emerging church seeks to reach postmoderns by abandoning the institutional church, seeking authenticity through service and integrity, and questioning the Enlightenment’s tradition of epistemology (how we know things). None of that sounds too bad on the surface, which is why disenchanted fundies devour the clever writings of McLaren, Miller, et al like donuts in the fellowship hall. The danger lies between the lines of their manipulative language, where they effectually deny biblical truth, or at least our ability to know it, and question the exclusivity of the gospel’s promises.

From the title on, Carson shows a subtle and balanced understanding of both our culture and the emerging church, the leaders of which prefer to call their movement a “conversation.” For those of us who don’t have time to study the growing body of emerging literature ourselves (although I think I will read at least one of McLaren’s books), Carson offers a sampling of quotations and arguments from the emergents, along with his analysis. I don’t wish to outline his book here, but I want to share what is perhaps the most helpful point for dealing with postmodernism and the emerging church:

“So which shall we choose? Experience or truth? . . . Love or integrity? Study or service? Evangelism or discipleship? . . . Damn all false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate false idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Postmodernists rightly observes that we are inevitably products of our culture (a truism in itself), which means we have different perspectives and experiences that restrict our ability to know truth. The soft postmodernist may leave the discussion there, and I would agree. But the hard postmodernist presses further to argue that because our viewpoints are culturally determined and we are finite beings, we cannot know objective truth. Carson points out that while we cannot know perfectly, completely, i.e. omnisciently, we can know something of reality. We can asymptotically approximate knowledge of the truth in many matters. And this is the false antithesis hard postmodernism asserts and the emerging church tends to buy. It’s all or nothing when it comes to the truth, and since knowing all is obviously impossible, we are left with nothing.

I think this book is especially valuable for those entering college as they are about to confront postmodernism in a more philosophical and pervasive way than ever before, and will probably meet with all sorts of biblically shifty campus churches and ministries, too. It’s one of Carson’s shorter works at just over two hundred pages, and he is careful to explain theological and philosophical terms he uses. So check it out and join the conversation.