This approach is best represented by Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy, in which he claims to be a "missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian". Here we see an example of what the late theologian, Stanley Grenz, referred to as "centered-set" Christianity, where we don't draw theological boundaries as to which Christian groups are "in" the box and which are "out", but instead we seek to focus on the center of our faith that we all hold in common and which binds us together as the family of Christ. When we do this, it becomes possible to appreciate and appropriate the richness of resources for worship, theology, ministry and spiritual formation that are available in the wide diversity of Christian traditions. Rather than defining ourselves according to what we are not, we can follow the example of Doug Pagitt and Solomon's Porch (as he explained it to us the other night at up/rooted), and define ourselves according to what we are like. (As Doug put it, Solomon's Porch is kinda like a liturgical church, and it's kinda like a Mennonite church, and it's kinda like a Bible church, etc... because they incorporate valuable elements from all of those traditions.)
Phyllis Tickle referred to this idea of convergence in a talk she gave at the 2005 Emergent Convention in Nashville, though she condensed McLaren's list into the four major traditions of Christianity in America today: the Liturgical, the Evangelical, the Mainline, and the Pentecostal. She sees in the emerging church a convergence of all these traditions, a new center, where the liberal and the converative, the high church and the low church, the charismatic and the contemplative, could find common ground and learn from each other.
I think she's on to something. The emerging church definitely evidences the passion for mission, the penchant for methodological innovation, and the respect for Scripture characteristic of evangelicalism. But there is also the intellectual depth and openness to theological innovation often found in mainline circles. Emergents are also very eager to learn from the depth of spiritual practices found in liturgical churches while combining these with the charismatic passion of the pentecostal movement.
Beyond these four streams that Tickle identifies, I have also noticed several other movements in the church that are informing the emerging church conversation. Taken separately they may not be readily identifiable as "emergent", but they are contributors to a larger whole.
Here are some of the distinct streams that I see as contributors to the overall emerging/converging conversation:
- Missional Church - this is a stream that has it's roots in the works of missiologists like David Bosch and Lesslie Newbigin. Key texts are The Missional Church and Transforming Mission. The basic idea is that the church does not merely have a mission, but rather, it is a missional community itself. Mission is the reason for the church's existence. This article gives further explanation of the characteristics of missional churches.
- Ancient-Future Faith - pioneered by Dr. Robert Webber, the ancient-future conversation has to do with reclaiming the rich worship resources of the historic Christian church (e.g. liturgy, contemplative practices, the sacraments, the church calendar, etc.), while still being willing to re-contextualize them for our current postmodern culture.
- Spiritual Formation - recognizing that following Christ is a way of life, not just a ticket to heaven, emerging church types have developed a keen interest in the conversation surrounding spiritual disciplines and practices of spiritual formation and transformation. Pioneers in this area have been Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, though others like Tony Jones and Gary Smalley, have made recent contributions to the field.
- Alt.Worship - one of the orginal and most common streams of the emerging conversation has to do with alternative forms of worship. There is a recognition that we need to contextualize our forms and styles of worship within our postmodern culture and there is a willingness to be experimental both with ancient and contemporary forms of worship. Emphasis often tends to be on the multi-sensory, techno-driven, and participatory. Dan Kimball has been influential, especially in the American evangelical church. alternativeworship.org is another great source for more information and resources.
- Social Justice - as the emerging church starts to rediscover the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a present reality that we are to work towards in this world, we find a natural affinity with the rediscovery of social justice issues recently occurring in the evangelical world. Such issues include poverty, peacemaking, Creation Care, racial reconciliation, economic justice, gender equality, liberation of the oppressed, etc. Progressive Christians (the so-called "Evangelical Left") like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo have been hugely influential among emergent folks.
- New Monasticism - in many ways connected to the social justice movement, there has arisen a new movement among radical younger evangelicals desiring a simpler way of life that is more communal, holistic, and focused on serving the poor and the oppressed around them. Taking many of their cues from the anabaptist traditions, little "intentional communities" have been springing up in inner-city areas around the nation. Shane Claiborne and his community, the simple way, are some of the more well-known faces of this movement. NewMonasticism.org also has a lot of good info.
- Post-Liberalism/Narrative Theology - Among mainline churches there is a promising theological trend away from the modernistic, individualistic tendencies of classical liberalism and towards a more narrative (rather than systematic) approach to scripture and to the faith. Post-liberalism tends to be communitarian and committed to the historic tradition of the church. Thus the post-liberals argue that the Christian faith be equated with neither religious feelings (classic liberalism) nor propositions (conservative evangelicalism), but refers to the whole shape of the Christian life as it is lived in communal worship over time. This movement has been heavily influenced by Karl Barth, and includes such scholars as George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.
- Radical Orthodoxy - in some ways this is a sub-category, or outgrowth of Narrative Theology. It is itself a theological trend that spans multiple church traditions and which seeks to meld postmodern philosophy with historic Christian theology. Highly academic, it is nonetheless a very interesting and potentially fruitful conversation. John Millbank, James K A Smith, and Catherine Pickstock are key theologians and the Ekklesia Project here in Chicago is a good example of Radical Orthodoxy in action.
- Post-Conservative Theology - a parallel movement to post-liberalism is also occuring within evangelical circles. While preserving some key evangelical commitments, post-conservatives seek to reformulate Christian faith away from its modernistic and foundationalist assumptions. In essence, it is an attempt to do evangelical theology through a postmodern lens. Theologians like Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson, John Franke, NT Wright, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and William Dyrness have been pioneers of this new approach and their work serves as much of the theological foundation for the emerging church. Key books include Renewing the Center by Grenz, and Beyond Foundationalism by Grenz and Franke. Olson also has an excellent article describing post-conservativism here.
- Post-Colonialism - despite popular misconception, the emerging conversation is occurring in more places than just North America, Europe and Down Under. There are networks and conversations taking shape in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. The difference is that over there they don't talk about "postmodernism", they talk about "post-colonialism". In these places the methods, values, ideas, strengths, and weaknesses of modern Western Christianity have dominated for centuries, since the age of European expansion and imperialism. But now new collaborative friendships are emerging that are reimagining what Christian faith can look like apart from the structures and theological assumptions of Western culture. Amahoro is the global equivalent of Emergent Village, and serves as a connection point for these friendships.
One excellent example of convergence is a church here in Chicago called Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler. Led by my friend Tripp Hudgins, Reconcilers is seeking to be a tri-denominational church: Anglican, American Baptist and Evangelical Covenant. They are living out, in the context of a local church community, the principles of convergence.
While some people might see all this convergence as an irresponsible and narcissistic "picking and choosing" of only the things we like from each tradtion while being naively blind to the rest of the baggage that often goes along with them; personally, I see it simply as a healthy way to appreciate the fact that there are good and valuable things in every part of the body of Christ, and that we all have something to learn from each other. In this sense the emerging church could just as well be called the converging church.
Labels: emerging church
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