Have the terms emerging church and emergent become so sullied and distorted they're no longer useful, Scot McKnight asks in a Sept. 24 blog at Jesus Creed?
Here's what Scot says:
"Full circle: like “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” the words “emerging” and “emergent” have become a liability; it has become a term that needs ten minutes of explanation before it can be used. Many are just confused about the meaning of the term. Then two fellas wrote a book that dramatized it all, contending that they were not emerging when by all accounts they should be. Well, I said to myself, this just proves that the term no longer makes sense.
So, for the last year and a half I have spent far too much time explaining the terms “emerging” and “emergent” and I’m tired of it. I don’t need either one to describe what is going on anyway."
Scot continues by describing a new movement he's starting with Dan Kimball as missional-evangelical-evangelism for a postmodern generation.
October, coming up fast, is "Convergent month." Convergent is a term that combines Conservative Friends (Christ-centered Friends doing silent worship) with emergent Christianity. The emergent or emerging church (Emergent is actually a subset of emerging, just to make things more confusing) is a big umbrella, but it includes people yearning for a deeper, more authentic and more lived faith, for relationship and community to be near the core of the faith and for a questioning of the pat answers often supplied to faith questions. Often, but not always, emerging means not having your faith defined by your politics and, as an extension of that, reaching out across denominational lines to embrace ecumenicalism.
Martin Kelly, certainly a prominent Convergent figure, thinks I'm Convergent because of the way I've woven together my Christ-centeredness with Quakerism and the emerging church. I don't know if I'm Convergent. I do know I am a Christ-centered Quaker.
In my brushes with Convergent, I've seen in Convergents a strong yearning for a deeper and more authentic faith experience and a yearning for deeper relationship with like-minded people. I've seen an attraction to a more robust Christianity than many liberal meetings provide and an impatience with the boxes that some Quakers try to keep Quakerism in. I've seen a desire to reach out and cross denominational chasms, and to cross ecumenical chasms as well. I haven't seen the same desire to cross political chasms, but I do sense an impatience with defining Quakerism in terms of political liberalism.
Emerging, because of the questions it asks, because it is seeker sensitive and because it challenges mainline evangelicalism, has been tainted with the "New Age" label. This, I believe, is unfair, in that all of the prominent emerging pastors I know of are devout Christians.
Convergent, however, does seem to attract people who are uncertain or even universalist. It doesn't, as far as I can tell, represent a wholly Christ-centered movement within Quakerism. A truly emergent (or emerging) Convergent would hunger to bring an authentic, early church Christianity back to the core of Quakerism. It would put Jesus at the center of Quakerism and show how the testimonies radiate out of his life, teachings and divinity. It wouldn't be afraid to embrace the crazy, improbable miracle of his resurrection.
A problem--perhaps THE problem--confronting both the emerging church and Christ-centered Quakerism--is how to be inclusive towards people who don't share the core beliefs without either alienating them or watering down the faith. I've certainly struggled with this because of the people I've met who are who are wonderfully caring, compassionate, humble and spiritual people but who are offended by the persecutions, misrepresentations, heavy-handedness, narrow-mindedness and judgmentalism of some Christians.
However, I fear that Quakerism is going to go away, as I fear many mainline Protestant denominations will and most non-demoninational churches, because they've elevated being conformed to the society over the faith. I believe that, unless all of these bodies start more firmly embracing their Christian core, they will die. What will be left standing are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. I think these churches have much to offer, but I also think the world would be poorer without Quakerism and the many varieties of Protestantism.
When the early Quakers did away with the creeds, I don't think they were doing away with BELIEF in the creeds. I believe Fox, Pennington and others completely believed in a virgin-born, resurrected Jesus who sits at the right hand of God the father in heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead. What they didn't believe in was what they saw: people asserting they were Christians because they went to church each week and recited a creed. They wanted to take away the creed as a crutch and then confront people with their need to LIVE the faith.
This won't make me popular, but I believe the starting place for Convergent would be in an embrace of the Richmond Declaration. That is a beautiful document that weaves together the cores beliefs of ancient church Christianity with core beliefs of Quakerism--the testimonies.
But if Convergent becomes just another flavor du jour of a shallow liberal Quakerism, it will fade like any fad.
Ghandi said there's no religion without sacrifice. Religion tells us we need to go beyond our own egos. Perhaps the chief sacrifice we need to make is to wildly embrace the core teachings of Christianity, even when they press the boundaries of our intellectual understanding. My experience is that by embracing the myseries at the core of Christianity and acting as if they were true, we open ourselves to miracle.