Wednesday, April 20, 2005

More Thoughts on Andrew Jones and Carson

Andrew Jones is frustrated that Don Carson hasn’t entered into a dialogue with him about Emergent. One of the reasons, I would suggest, is that Jones has thus far demonstrated either an inability or an unwillingness to listen and respond charitably and accurately.

Here is one of the things that Jones wrote on his blog—and repeated in recent days:

"Regarding the accusation that emerging church people do not believe in truth or moral absolutes and that they tolerate everything, my response is this . . .
1. That is not true.
2. That is not right.
3. I will not tolerate it.
4. Because of answers 1-3, either Carson's description of someone in the emerging church is not correct, or I am not a part of the emerging church."

There’s just one small problem—well, actually three small problems: (1) Carson didn’t say that emerging church people don’t believe in truth; (2) Carson didn’t say that emerging church people don’t believe in moral absolutes; and (3) Carson didn’t say that emerging church people believe in everything.

Am I wrong on this? If I am, bring forth quotes from Carson’s lectures to this effect. If I am right, I call upon Jones to issue a public apology to Carson.

Carson, in this section, is not talking about emergent beliefs. He is talking about secular postmodernism and describing its characteristics. This is couched in the broader category of his complaint that Emergent is not sufficiently critiquing these elements within postmodernism. He doesn’t say that Emergent abandons truth and morality and substitutes in its place total toleration.

Upshot: I regret to say, but can come to no other conclusion than that Andrew Jones has deeply misunderstood Carson and failed to listen charitably or to respond wisely.

Or let’s take another example:

I can’t comment on all these right now, but the one on slavery bugs me. Last weekend at the Roundtable for Global Emerging Church, we decided to collaborate together to end human trafficking (modern day slavery) and some of the people are already working on the web site. I should really go to sleep now . .

Again, this is just sloppy thinking. Carson is offering a reductio ad absurdum. He is showing that a result of the way McLaren downplays the categories of “right and wrong” makes it more difficult to say that slavery is wrong. The argument doesn’t suggest that Emergent folks think slavery is fine. Rather, the argument depends on the supposition that Emergent folks detest slavery. It’s an argument of logical consistency, not an observation. So for Jones to come back and say that this argument bugs him because Emergent is working to end human trafficking is to deeply misunderstand what Carson is saying.

A related matter: in his Open Blog Post to Carson, Jones asks Carson four questions. One of them has to do with whether Carson is willing to present a positive alternative—a model—for how church is to be done in a postmodern context.

In my blog post in response, I wrote:

It’s a legitimate question, but I find it surprising, given that Carson already answered this in his lectures. The church he held up as a model is Redeemer Presbyterian Church, pastored by Tim Keller, in the heart of Manhattan. They are ministering not mainly to disenfranchised evangelicals, but to secular postmodenists in the city. Their purpose: “Seeking to Renew the City Socially, Spiritually & Culturally.” Emergent folks might be interested in Keller’s articles on The Missional Church and Preaching in a Post-modern City; Part 2.

Jones responded in the comments section, but he ignored this point of mine. So far as I can tell, he hasn’t issued a correction or clarification on his site. If the point of his Open Blog Post to Carson was not just to embarrass Carson but was also a genuine desire to seek information, I suggest that he either withdraw the question or issue a correction.

Emergent folks continually ask for dialogue and conversation over these matters. I think such can often be good and wise. (Though I think that they are elevating “conversation” too highly, as if we would all agree if we just sat down and hashed things out. Again, I think it can often be wise and helpful, but I see quite a few examples in the NT of responding to critics—both in the church and outside the church—without first sitting down to have a cup of coffee with them.)

Jones makes it very explicit in his open post to Carson that Jones is a significant blogger, a significant consultant, and a significant leader within Emergent. He then bemoans Carson’s unwillingness to dialogue with him. But, frankly, I don’t blame Carson. Jones so misunderstands Carson’s words that I’m not sure a conversation would be all that fruitful.

Here’s one of the reasons I’m bothered by all of this. There are thousands of people who have never heard Carson’s lectures and yet are convinced that Carson deeply misrepresented and misunderstands Emergent. Perhaps this is the inevitable fruit of the blogosphere with its instant reactions and real-time analysis. But I don’t think it is very helpful or fair.

I know that it looks like I’m picking on Jones here. I have nothing against him personally. If I’m wrong in my analysis of him, I’m open to correction—and if I can be shown that I’m wrong, I’ll retract and apologize. I just hope that he’d be willing to do the same if he reads this post and concludes that I’m right.

One final note: some might conclude that I’m just picking on Jones because he disagrees with Carson. But that’s not true. Consider Scot McKnight, who is blogging on Carson’s book over at JesusCreed. Precisely because McKnight—who is a former colleague of Carson’s and yet sympathetic to Emergent—has listened thoughtfully and carefully to Carson’s arguments, I believe he has earned a right to be listened to in his critique and in the questions he is asking.

Update: Andrew Jones and I have had (what I regard to be) a helpful exchange in the comments section to this post. Please refer to it for further clarification, apologies, and explanation. Thanks. JT