I’m becoming a big fan of Eric Elnes. Maybe it’s because I like lists, and he’s got some good lists. Mostly, it’s because I really resonate with his sense of where Christianity in North America is headed.
I briefly met Eric at the Wild Goose Festival this past summer, after hearing him share the stage with Frank Schaefer. I was intrigued because Eric spoke of being dissatisfied with the spiritual and theological depth (or lack thereof) of his liberal church experience and Frank spoke of his upbringing in a famous evangelical family and his eventual break from that tradition. Both of them are “posts”—a post-liberal (not the Yale School version) and a post-evangelical. Both of them are finding shared passions and commitments in the new forms of Christianity that are emerging in North America. (You can see a video of a talk that covers much of what I heard at Wild Goose here.)
Instead of gravitating toward “emergent” or “progressive” labels, Eric is calling this coming together of post-liberals and post-evangelicals Convergence Christianity. As a post-evangelical myself who has nagging problems with the liberal church as I’ve experienced it, I find this approach compelling and exciting.
At some point, you have to put a label on a phenomenon just to shift the conversation and get people seeing what’s happening in front of them with new eyes. I think the jury is still out on what term adequately describes the people who are now finding common ground together, but I do think we have arrived at the best term to describe the process that is bringing them together: Convergence.
Convergence is the coming together of these two groups of refugees from Christian liberalism and conservatism. It also describes the longer-term process that underlies what made them refugees to begin with: the convergence of faith and science, of faith and race and gender issues, of faith and human sexuality, of the Christian faith and other faiths, and so on. Really, convergence has been happening for about 150 years.
While I used to think that the term “progressive” could describe this grassroots movement, the label is, in essence, too large. It doesn’t take seriously the insurmountable tensions within progressivism between liberals and post-liberals, and this tension is a block to many post-evangelicals who would gladly jump in with the post-liberals.
Convergence is the meeting place out in the wilderness where God is inviting two groups of escaped slaves, so to speak, to share what they could not leave behind in order to build a tabernacle together that will take them on the next stage of their journey to the Promised Land.
I mentioned lists earlier, and Eric has some good ones. First, I’m fascinated by the Phoenix Affirmations as a summation of what is distinctive about progressive Christianity.
The Phoenix Affirmations (Version 3.8)
As people who are joyfully and unapologetically Christian, we pledge ourselves completely to the way of Love. We work to express our love, as Jesus teaches us, in three ways: by loving God, neighbor, and self.
(Matt 22:34-40 // Mk 12:28-31 // Lk 10:25-28; Cf. Deut 6:5; Lev. 19:18)
Christian love of God includes:
1. Walking fully in the path of Jesus, without denying the legitimacy of other paths that God may provide for humanity;
2. Listening for God’s Word which comes through daily prayer and meditation, studying the ancient testimonies which we call Scripture, and attending to God’s present activity in the world;
3. Celebrating the God whose Spirit pervades and whose glory is reflected in all of God’s Creation, including the earth and its ecosystems, the sacred and secular, the Christian and non-Christian, the human and non-human;
4. Expressing our love in worship that is as sincere, vibrant, and artful as it is scriptural.
Christian love of neighbor includes:
5. Engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God’s very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class;
6. Standing, as Jesus does, with the outcast and oppressed, the denigrated and afflicted, seeking peace and justice with or without the support of others;
7. Preserving religious freedom and the church’s ability to speak prophetically to government by resisting the commingling of church and state;
8. Walking humbly with God, acknowledging our own shortcomings while honestly seeking to understand and call forth the best in others, including those who consider us their enemies;
Christian love of self includes:
9. Basing our lives on the faith that in Christ all things are made new and that we, and all people, are loved beyond our wildest imagination – for eternity;
10. Claiming the sacredness of both our minds and our hearts, and recognizing that faith and science, doubt and belief serve the pursuit of truth;
11. Caring for our bodies and insisting on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship, and recreation in addition to work;
12. Acting on the faith that we are born with a meaning and purpose; a vocation and ministry that serve to strengthen and extend God’s realm of love.
He has also put together twelve characteristics of Convergence Christianity:
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.
So what do you think about Convergence Christianity? Does this describe where you are at? What do you find compelling? What do you find challenging?