by Rev. Eric Elnes
Since I started writing about Convergence Christianity on this blog (here and here), and speaking about on our program and at the Wild Goose Festival, there has been a surprising amount of interest from the Christian Community. In response to this interest, Darkwood Brew is holding a special 90-minute world-wide conversation on Convergence Christianity on Sunday, August 19th, 6pm EST/5pm CST. Brian McLaren will be our special guest, who posted an excellent article on Convergence Christianity at the Patheos.com blog this morning. Both Brian and I will describe developments we’re seeing and their implications for Christianity and the church. We’ll also be fielding questions and taking comments from our live internet audience as well as folks in the studio. I hope you can join us for what promises to be a watershed moment at Darkwood Brew!
A couple people have asked me if Convergence Christianity is part of something they’ve found on the internet called the “Convergence Movement.” In a word, No. As far as I can tell, the “Convergence Movement” was a term used a few years ago by a handful evangelical and charismatic Christian leaders as part of a call churches back to their roots in early Christianity that did not take hold. (If I’m wrong, please correct me.)
What people like myself, Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Phyllis Tickle are talking about when we use the term Convergence Christianity is a phenomenon primarily among post-evangelical and post-liberal Christians who have left their native traditions behind – or remain within them but have let go of what they consider to be the “baggage” of their traditions – and are now discovering each other out in the wilderness. They’re finding that each group has gifts to share that the other has been yearning for, and minus the baggage, these folks are great fun and inspiring to be with.
What follows is twelve characteristics of what I’m finding at the grassroots which I identify with Convergence Christianity. I’ve shared my list with Brian, as well as Phyllis Tickle, Frank Schaeffer, and Diana Butler Bass, and they tell me it accurately reflects what they are seeing as well. These characteristics fall under three general categories which some call The Three Great Loves: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Self. For each characteristic, I have identified something these communities generally are letting go of, and the new reality they generally are embracing. By saying “generally,” I mean that not all communities are exactly alike. Some share more of this common ground than others. I believe the time is coming when these twelve attributes will be part of what is considered the new “guiding source of attraction” by adherents of many communions.
What I find particularly intriguing about this new reality is that it is providing a substantial foundation of common ground not only between Christians who have previously been on opposite ends of the theological spectrum, but between adherents of many faiths. Certain Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other communities on the fringes of their traditions are discovering that they share more in common with each other than with the more resistant strands of their own traditions. Even though the framing beliefs of these communities remain distinct from one another, their core values are looking increasingly similar. While adherents claim to feel more Christian, or Buddhist, or Jewish than ever, they are finding more solidarity with one another than ever before. They seem to be moving toward a similar “sweet spot,” one that integrates similar core values within the differing beliefs that frame those values.
Love of God
(1) They are letting go of the notion that their particular faith is the only legitimate one on the planet. They are embracing an understanding that God is greater than our imagination can comprehend (or fence in), and thus they are open to the possibility that God may speak within and across all faith traditions.
(2) They are letting go of literal and inerrant interpretations of their sacred texts while celebrating the unique treasures that their texts contain. They are embracing a more ancient, prayerful, non-literal approach to these same texts, and finding new insights and resources as they do so.
(3) They are letting go of the notion that people of faith are called to dominate nature. They are embracing a more organic and reverent understanding of human relationship with the earth.
(4) They are letting go of empty worship conventions and an overemphasis on doctrines as tools of division and exclusion. They are embracing more diverse, creative, engaging approaches, often making strong use of the arts.
Love of Neighbor
(5) They are letting go of a narrow definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. They are embracing with increasing confidence an understanding that affirms the dignity and worth of all people.
(6) They are letting go of an understanding that people of faith should only interest themselves in the “spiritual” well-being of people. They are embracing a more holistic understanding that physical and spiritual well-being are related.
(7) They are letting go of the desire to impose their particular vision of faith on wider society. They are embracing the notion that their purpose is to make themselves more faithful adherents of their vision of faith.
(8) They are letting go of the old rivalries between “liberal, moderate, and conservative” branches of their faith. They are embracing a faith that transcends these very definitions.
Love of Self
(9) They are letting go of notions of the afterlife that are dominated by judgment of “unbelievers.” They are embracing an understanding that, as God’s creations, God is eternally faithful to us, and that all people are loved far more than we can comprehend.
(10) They are letting go of the notion that faith and science are incompatible. They are embracing the notion that faith and science can serve as allies in the pursuit of truth, and that God values our minds as well as our hearts.
(11) They are letting go of the notion that one’s work and one’s spiritual path are unrelated. They are embracing an understanding that rest and recreation, prayer and reflection, are as important as work, and that our work is a “calling” and expression of our “sweet spot.”
(12) They are letting go of old hierarchies that privilege religious leaders over laypeople. They are embracing an understanding that all people have a mission and purpose in life in response to the call of the Holy Spirit. It’s no longer about who wears the robes but who lives the life.
What are your feelings after reading this list? Does it describe your faith?