Monday, October 09, 2006
The Converging Church
I recently posted an answer to the question "What is the emerging church?" In it, I mainly focused on the ways in which the emerging church is exploring new approaches to worship (the Relevants), church (the Reconstructionists), and theology (the Re-Envisionists). However, there is another way to describe what is happening in the emerging church movement, and that is as a convergence of many diverse streams of the Christian faith into a new center.

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. 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. 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.
Of course, all these streams overlap, and there are probably more trends in the contemporary church that would find varying degrees of resonance within the emerging church. The defining characteristic of the emerging church, then, is that they welcome the contributions of all these streams and are eager to listen and learn from people from every corner of the church. In a word, convergence.

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.


posted by Mike Clawson at 8:39 PM | Permalink |


At 10/11/2006 01:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

good post, mike. i aggree that the emerging church is a convergence of all of these streams.


At 10/11/2006 03:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


very well written and thought out! Thanks for the gleaning you've done here!

Like andrew, i do think this is very representative; however, I wonder if this season of convergence will (possibly already in motion) in the context of globalization lead to an increase in divergence. It feels as though while some of us are quite alright with allowing the tension to be held, others are becoming increasingly separatistic...and drawing new boundaries in places fair for them.

Then again, this might just lead to another convergence on down the line..

What thinks ye?


At 10/11/2006 11:58:00 AM, Blogger jason powell

I actually am working on a paper/ church manifesto called "convergent theology". I found your insights to be very helpful in the way I think about the sub-catagories. I blog about it occasionaly on myspace (myspace/convergence_church)

thanks again


At 10/11/2006 05:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Andrew, Joshua & Jason,

Thanks for reading my blog. I enjoy yours as well.

Andrew, are you writing from the Glorieta Gathering? If so, say hi to my wife, Julie. She's the tall one who is missing her left hand. Can't miss her?

Josh, good question. I think every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So yes, while some streams are converging, others are reacting to this by becoming increasingly divergent, by drawing their lines and boundaries all the sharper.

I'd like to say that their approach is losing steam and will die out soon, but I doubt it. I think both tendencies are likely to continue to co-exist for a long time to come. The more some groups choose to define themselves by what they have in common, the more others will prefer to define themselves by who they are not.



At 10/12/2006 06:32:00 PM, Blogger Tripp Hudgins

This is a great summation of what is at work right now for all of us. Within the Narrative fold I would include the Radical Hauerwas himself and The Ekklesia Project.

I'll link to this post and e-mail it around. Good stuff.


At 10/13/2006 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Tripp. I actually thought about including Radical Orthodoxy as another stream, but then I thought maybe it fit as a subcategory of Narrative Theology as you suggest.

Also, I should have referenced Reconcilers as a perfect example of convergence. Maybe I'll go back up edit the post to include you guys.

Thanks for linking!



At 10/14/2006 01:14:00 PM, Blogger Sivin Kit

I agree with Andrew Jones. I liked the way you crafted this post


At 10/18/2006 03:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Wow. This was really well done, Mike. Really super helpful. I'm going to steal it, somehow. And, of course, give you credit!



At 10/18/2006 10:15:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Troy and Sivin.

Feel free to make use of it however you like; and to spread it around. The more people that can read it and benefit by it, the better.



At 10/27/2006 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Steve Hayes

I've been trying to understand this "emerging church" thing for a while, ever since I discovered that a lot of people on Blogger who listed "missiology" among their interests also listed "emerging church".

Yours seems wider than most, so I'be blogged it for closer study later!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to see it from an Orthodox point of view.


At 3/05/2007 02:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous


I love the rigor and discipline you have applied to your journey into the emergent movement. I must admit that it has been a struggle (unserstatement of the year) to discern where emergent meets urban/inner-city. Where there is not visible and empowered indigenous Leadership at the highest levels of any movement, it loses credibility and candor - no matter how many books are written or how many blogs are published. I have always been very concerned with the perceived vacuum of people of color speaking into and framing the emergent dialog, theology, and movement. More specifically, I am wondering where the African-American emergent cohort is.? I have been looking...


At 3/07/2007 08:59:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Chris,

That's an excellent question, and one that I'm not really qualified to answer since I don't have much urban/ethnic ministry experience myself. I know that there is an openness to including these viewpoints within the emerging church conversation. However, what I have not found is very many people like yourself in an urban/inner-city and ethnic context who are interested in joining the conversation. Perhaps we simply have not been proactive enough at extending the invitation, or perhaps people in the African-American urban church simply aren't finding much that is relevant to them in the EC. I really don't know.

However, you'll be pleased to know that we have invited Alise Barrymore and James King from The Emmaus Community (an African-American emerging church in Chicago Heights) to be main stage speakers at our Midwest Emergent Gathering this summer. I'm excited to have them contribute to the conversation.



At 4/10/2007 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Connie


Thank you for a great site. How fun to see my library on your site. I'll consider anything I don't have as a reccomendation.

Prayers for a stranger? I am in the process of a church plant project in Utah based in the emergant church but first I have to explain it to those in my tribe.


At 9/24/2007 04:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Hi Mike trying to understand the emerging churches beliefs. I have read a lot of openions both for and against this movement,and yet I can't seem to come to any conclusion to what they believe. I have a few questions and yes as you will see from them, I am a Christian believer. I don't need a long drawn out answer just a simple yes or no.
1. Do they believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God
2.Do they believe in the Trinity
3.Do they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
4.Do they believe that man is sinful and that his only hope for redemption is through Jesus Christ the Son of God
5.Do they believe in the literal return of Jesus Christ to gather His people to Himself
Thank you


At 10/06/2007 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

You should check out the website of the Charismatic Episcopal Church


At 10/17/2007 06:17:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Jerry, those are all interesting questions. Unfortunately it is impossible to answer them because the "emerging church" is not an organization or a denomination that has a statement of faith. There is no monolithic "they" to which one could point and say "this is what they all believe". This is a conversation among friends. You can't ask what the "emerging church" thinks about these things. You can only ask individual emerging people what they think.

So the answer to pretty much all of your questions is "some do, some don't", and many would probably find the questions poorly framed and therefore would not be able to give you a simple 'yes' or 'no' without explaining what they mean by those ideas.


At 10/18/2007 04:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

This is a good and helpful summary. Thanks for linking it in one of your posts re. the Tim Keller discussion. You mention Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Another place I found the convergence idea was Foster's book Streams of Living Water, in which he identifies 5 classic "streams" or expressions, or emphases, of the faith, and speaks of his hope of them converging. Most expressions of the faith are strong in only one or two of the streams. I echo your desire for more. You'd probably like that book if you haven't read it.


At 2/05/2008 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Karl, I have read that book, and I had it in mind when I framed this in terms of converging "streams".


At 2/05/2008 02:09:00 PM, Blogger metanoia

I think there is some confusion between the "emerging/emergent church" and the "convergence church" movements. They definitely are different.

Convergence churches are similar to emergent churches except they don't have all of the weirdness. :)

Wish I had more time, but there definitely is a difference.


At 2/05/2008 04:07:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Metanoia, please explain if you get some time. Are you saying that there is a specific "Converging Church" movement? I've never heard of such a thing. My use of that term in this post was my own invention - a way of describing one quality of the emerging church. I wasn't referring to some distinct, pre-existing movement.

Anyhow, please elaborate on what you are referring to if you can.