Seems the nice folks at Forge in Australia have released a position paper written on their behalf by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch of TSOTTC fame. The paper is a response to D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, which is substantially a criticism of Brian McLaren. Carson’s book was originally titled “Becoming Conversant with Emergent” which in fact better describes the book, since he really only addresses one or two authors and not the emerging church as a whole. But then we’re into the whole terminology thing again and of course this is all Bob Hyatt needs to have another go at an Emergent name change. The position paper is titled “Don Carson and the Australian Missional Church Movement: A Forge response to Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church” and is available (in pdf) from links in blog coverage by Hamo (Backyard Missionaries) and by Andrew (TallSkinnyKiwiw) Jones; I’ve [mirrored the .pdf document here] to provide a wee bit of bandwith sharing from a North American server. **(See comment below for this link.)
Now, with all that said, let’s note that there is some fallout from this you can review the comments in the posts just listed to get the gist of it. Newly-minted Emergent (EV) National Coordinator Tony Jones gives it the “thumbs-down”, saying, “When a group like Forge distances themselves from Emergent, I am quite sure that it does more harm than good, and I am afraid that they are letting Emergentâ€™s critics define who/what Emergent is rather than being involved with the conversation on its own terms.” and concludes with, “I continue to believe that position papers that draw lines within the emerging church, taking sides for and against organizations, and the like will be supremely unhelpful, and I ask people to please STOP IT.” (See comments in loc. cit.). Hamo responds to Tony Jones with “I have to disagree with you that the clarifying of positions is an inherently bad thing for us, or that we need to â€˜STOP ITâ€™. It does in fact force each of us to grapple with our identity and to engage more thoroughly with each other.” And for the record, the position paper explicity states that Forge’s purpose in writing is not to distance themselves from Emergent (EV)… so they’re certainly not drawing lines against Emergent (EV).
Well. Istm that Forge is trying to say that although they are missional and are a new form of church, and may even be called an emerging church, it should not be assumed that they hold the views criticized by DA Carson, as Carson is dealing with only a subset of the emerging church. With this I agree fully.
Forge might have taken the trouble to point out that DA Carson misrepresents Brian McLaren as well (as McLaren has stated in public interviews), but it’s not their job to do so, and they are under no obligation to do so. The matter of Carson’s criticism of McLaren has been addressed by others, and a collective response to criticisms has also been issued by McLaren and others on behalf of Emergent… so while it appears that Forge is distancing themselves, this perception is, I think, a little overstated. Whether it could have been clearer or not, perhaps they could have said, “Hey, we aren’t the kind of group that Carson is criticising… and by the way, neither is Emergent.” But if Emergent (EV) wishes to see a better response to Carson, they should commission and release one.
As Jordan Cooper opines, we’d do a lot better to just talk to one another. And listen. I still like Frost & Hirsch; they are an insightful pair, and I understand why Forge does not want to be dragged into a largely American battle over the emerging church… and they seem to be responding to a particular situation which they are facing. If this position paper truly comes out of the blue as it seems to, it’s somewhat unfortunate. On the other hand, Tony’s comments seem to me a bit hasty as well. Inasmuch as Forge might have spoken to Emergent about their forthcoming statement, Emergent might also do well to speak with Forge before responding publicly.
Darryl Dash has already posted an update on the discussion, unfolding at the slender vertical bird’s blog (already linked); he concludes his quoting from the discussion with the observation, “The real question seems to be what type of public debate is acceptable over issues (not personalities) within the emerging church – a seemingly important question for something that claims to be a conversation. After all, McLaren’s books are a “position paper” of sorts (position papers don’t have to be against someone or something).”
In the meantime, perhaps the best that can be, or could have been, said is this:
DA Carson has written an exhaustive critique, and he has some helpful things to say. Unfortunately, his critique focuses on a small number of individuals within one expression of the emerging church, and the views they hold have to some extent been misrepresented in his critique. As such, the various expressions of the emerging church around the globe should not be assumed to fall generally or specifically within the critiques that Carson levels. Instead, those seeking to understand particular expressions of the emerging church should query members of that expression directly for an accurate reflection of their beliefs and practises.
Update: As requested by Alan Hirsch, Hamo, and Forge (kinda), I have de-linked the original pdf of this paper while they resolve some questions and perhaps amend their statement or issue a clarification. On all of this I say Kudos to Forge, whose stock goes up over this in my view. Do be sure and read the link just provided, and stay tuned…