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May 26, 2005



thanks for the review. it prompted some thoughts about carson's methodology which I've blogged.

look forward to reading more from your blog in the future!!!


wow this is long, i think i'll need to revisit this post a few times to fully absorb what you're written here. thanks it's very stimulating~


good stuff written here ...
i find myself resonating with a lot of what is said here ... the interesting thing is ...
I'm Chinese, in Malaysia, and thus Asia.
I'm a pastor in a mainline denomination (Lutheran)
Contextual theology is a must for us .. even though it's an uphill and often confusing, paradoxical struggle but rewarding ...
Missiology is more in the forefront than philosophy for me ...I've been and still am rethinking about "church" for the last 5 years with more focus since "re-planting" the church I'm pastoring right now.
I enjoy reading Brian McLaren & the rest of the people with Emergent and I'm aware of the wider emerging church conversation and yet indeed .. while appreciating how they communicate to a more "popular" audience .. names like Bosch, Newbigin, my teacher Hwa Yung, and many others also occupy my bookshelf .. I found the work done by the Gospel and Culture Network especially helpful.

So, "space" definately is need to see what happens next! Thanks for your post ... hope to check out your book with Eddie Gibbs.


cheers for this post. I read Si Johnston's comments on your forthcoming book, and if this is a foretaste then you'll get at least one sale!


Ryan, Thanks for the time you put into this. I especially liked your last paragraph, and in particular this statement, "Insightful critiques are made by Christians within a culture who have formed a hermeneutical community around Scripture." I think it is a point that can, and should, be adopted by any culture.


great stuff, ryan. i need to go back to my own thoughts and make a link back here- anyone who wants to take an inteligent look at both sides simply MUST read this blog post.
thanks for writing it.
great to hear you talking about McGarvran and you know i am a big fan of Bosch and Roland Allen.
and thanks for picking me up at the LAX airport last month.


Thanks Ryan for your reflections on Carson's book, and especially for your comments that validates the significance of the new spiritualities and what they pose back to the church. They do represent the "unpaid bills of the church in praxis and theology", and are from being a fringe item for today's urbanised church.
It is a major contextual missions issue that I keep harping on about. I guess it takes a word from a well-known North America leader to grab people's attention.
Please keep blogging!

Bill Ekhardt

Ryan, thank you for a very thoughtful response. It is excellent having you in the blogosphere.

Doubtful you'd remember me, but we met at Fuller last year during Randy Rolland's class. I'm Tyler Watson's pastor friend who's married to an MD.



Great quote about evangelical culture being 1950's business combined with 16th c. theology. Totally descriptive. Perhaps the real weakness of an title like this is the subversive name given to it. Here conversant doesn't mean conversation. It means telling from a position of absolute truth. Carson can do it but all he will achieve is omission from being in a conversation that could well do with his modernist contribution.

Phil Groom

Appreciate your comments, Ryan. A more appropriate title for the book would have been Being Conservative about the Emerging Church because that, sadly, seems to be what it's about: Conservative Evangelical reservations about the emerging church movement and its leaders. More of my ramblings - for what they're worth - via my link.


I think it is unfair to depict Carson as trying to understand the Emerging Church "in its entirety." According to the book title, Carson's goal is "Becoming Conversant," not "Having Been Conversant." Furthermore, to say that "the right books were not selected" and that Carson should be responding to Caputo, Hauerwas, et. al. instead of McLaren et. al. is to miss the fact that McLaren et. al. are the ones popularizing the ideas of the more influential leaders. While thier ideas are responded to in books such as Reclaiming the Center, the way McLaren has framed the issues also needs a response. The proof of this is found in the comment by Andy, who either denies the existence of absolute truth or rejects the notion of absolute certainty (for an explanation of this distinction, click here). Either way, Andy has mischaracterized Carson's position, for saying that Carson's critique is "from a position of absolute truth," Andy either means there is no absolute truth, in which case he is a relativist, or that there is no absolute certainty, in which case he mischaracterizes Carson's position. These false dilemmas are being popularized by McLaren, and no one in the emerging church seems to speak out against this even though Carson has given a legitimate critique of this kind of practice.

Ryan Bolger

Timbo, thanks for the thoughtful post. True, obviously nobody can understand a movement in its entirety. Keep in mind, however, that the subtitle of the book is "understanding a movement and its implications". Can one really understand a movement without interviewing its participants? Without observing their rituals?

Granted, McLaren is highly significant in the Emerging Church scene, and his thoughts warrant engagement by advocates and critics alike. But understanding a key thought leader like McLaren does not equate to an understanding of a social movement such as the Emerging Church, even partially.

If you really want to know my theology, you must see how I live...


"If you really want to know my theology, you must see how I live..."

Sounds reductivist.

Ryan Bolger

I would say that any theology that is not embodied in some way is just wishful thinking. Our theology must be lived if it is to be understood by others. I would say that any theology that is not lived is more reductivist than one that is simply espoused but has no evidence in the observable world...
Just my thoughts,

stephen wilkins

for what it's worth, i'm with timbo on this. i have been more than a little disheartened by the "emergent" responses to carson's book and lectures. it seems as if anyone who tries any kind of critique of "emergent" is immediately dismissed for one reason or another. it's just an impression, mind, and not an accusation. anyway, i haven't finished carson's book yet, and i appreciate that you've blogged on it. i have some reading and some thinking to do...

J. Michael Matkin

I don't know that the responses to Carson's critique have been dismissive. Is it dismissive to say that the book is badly researched? Is it dismissive to tell Carson, "Hey, you aren't really talking about us. You've constructed a straw man out of a fragment of the emerging church conversation rather than taking the time and energy to find out what really makes us tick." Why is the emerging church obligated to take ownership of an inaccurate picture of itself just because that picture has been painted by a respected scholar?

Ryan Bolger

Stephen, I took Carson's critiques seriously and evaluated them on their own merit, with the tools I have been trained with as a missiologist.

To clarify, I am not an emergent guy, per se (I have never spoken at Emergent). I just hosted an event here at Fuller, a think-tank if you will, of many emerging church folks who, although many were emergent, just as many would not see themselves as emergent.

So, I did not evaluate the book with the mindset to defend emergent or any other entity. I simply read it and recorded my thoughts...

I welcome your posts and look forward to discussing this further with you...

Virgil Vaduva

I have yet to read Carson's book, but I can say right now, that from my personal interactions with people from Emergent, I found nothing close to what the critics claim. It seems to me that most criticism stems not from misunderstanding Emergent, but from misunderstanding Post-modernism alltogether, which is to be expected from those who bring a lot of modern baggage with them, both theological and cultural (no offense intended to anyone).

Jim Urbanovich

Is it just me who thinks this? It sounds to me like Carson is just resisting the inevitable. I believe the words of Carson reveal a soul that is grasping for the modern last straw....I fully anticipate Carson to become one of the more profound emergent thinkers in the near future. Come on DA... what are you scared of?


'becoming conversant' without ever speaking to a native, learning the language, visiting the country, or living in the culture. Now that's a 'day of pentacost' miracle. Cross-cultural understanding is a good thing, so as ambassadors, we show hospitality to the foreigner.


'becoming conversant' without ever speaking to a native, learning the language, visiting the country, or living in the culture. Now that's a 'day of pentacost' miracle. Cross-cultural understanding is a good thing. So as ambassadors, we show hospitality to the foreigner.


Listen carefully to critique, consider all feedback, and certainly do not be impervious to infomation. However (that always sounds better than 'but')...to spend time and energy debating other heaven-bound believers, is, to God, poor stewardship and to Satan, an adequate distraction.


I graduated from the same school as Dr. Carson (note: not Cambridge but his undergrad); he spoke at my graduation; I have heard him speak many times and have had his work referenced by professors often; so really, I came to fall in love Dr. Carson's works. I have read much of what he has written and his theological works in many ways became my theological resting place!

However, a couple of years ago I had a very good friend introduce me to this emergent thing, and I have to say that my theological world has been turned upside down and then flipped on its side and I think its still spinning?!

I was very much looking forward to Carson's critique as I felt that it would provide some type of balance between my 'old self' and my 'new self'. Coming from the conservative background that Carson reveals is the common heritage, there are still some beliefs that at times I tend to be apprehensive to give up. But to my surprise, I found myself disagreeing with much of what Carson was offering as critique of the Emerging church. I found a lot of it unfair. And I found my belief (if 'belief' is the right word?) in the emerging church growing stronger. In fact, much of my disappointment was summed up quite nicely and dare I say 'neatly' by your blog! And I am grateful to McLaren for referencing this on his website!

By the way, 15 minutes ago I finished McLaren's newest work 'The Last Word and the Word After That' and knowing what Carson would likely have to say about it, for me, it is probably my favorite thus far of all of the emergent literature that I have read!

Again, thanks for your comments!

David A. Noebel

Would someone please tell me which work or two would best describe what the emergent church means by postmodernism. I am reading the secular postmodernists--Rorty, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes etc. (as far as I can tell the secular postmodernists are atheists) and trying to get a handle on their whereabouts, but what do religious postmodernists either believe or live. Help. Thanks...

Ryan Bolger

I believe Nancey Murphy's works have been most influential in the US Emerging Church conversation on postmodernity. Check out Anglo-American Postmodernity as well as Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism.

Thanks for visiting...

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  • Hi, welcome to my former blog! My name is Ryan Bolger, and this is where I posted my thoughts on Jesus, culture, new forms of community, among other things. Come visit me at my new blog: http://www.ryanbolger.com. I still teach at Fuller Seminary in Southern California where I'm doing some writing as well. Feel free to bounce around the new or old website -- I hope it might stir your imagination -- feel free to stir mine as well by leaving some comments, preferably at the new site... Peace...


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