Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If Emergent is dead, what about Convergent?

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.


Martin Kelley said...

The only thing I'd say is that it's natural for there to be a divide between what "Convergent" is trying to be and who it attracts. It's healthy even: I've known plenty of Friends in liberal meetings who know that there's more to Quakerism than the universalist platitudes that make up the bulk of our statements and ministry. If Convergent Friends can be a gateway to a more explicitly-stated Christ-centered Quakerism then that's fine. I've written myself of my worries of how the term might become just the latest liberal Quaker buzzword and I've never been entirely comfortable with the label. When I went looking for a community site name I called it QuakerQuaker after a sentence in this article: "If we became a religious society of Finders, then we'd need to figure out what it means to be a Quaker-Quaker: someone who's theology and practice is Quaker."

The problem with naming this stuff is that people get too hung up on the name. It's not the word "Convergent" that's important, it's the phenomenon it describes: a number of Friends publicly talking about their understanding of what it means to be Quaker. A lot of Friends are very parochial and never mix outside their own kind of Quakerism. We need to be sharing the Good News wherever we can. If Convergent" means anything, I think it's describing Friends who are willing to reach out to other types of Quakers and to other types of Christians. You said it better than I: "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." That's it.

BTW, you mentioned Roman Catholicism. A few years ago my wife left liberal Quakerism for the Catholics and now our local diocese is being dismantled from within by mega-church liberals with dreams of cappuccino bars. The forces working against faith are chipping away everywhere, making it even more important that we all find ways of publicly sharing core beliefs.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your post, I found it engaging and timely.

I personally think McKnight's move is a bit drastic, he still considers himself an Evangelical (As far as I can tell), yet that term like he suggests is as flimsy as anything else. I don't think 'emergent/emerging' has lost it yet, I think people want it to be dead but I don't think it is. And if those terms do change, I think those communities that existed prior to, or a part from, the terms will continue to exist.

The same is true for convergent, it's only a good term insofar as people find it helpful to express something deeper, a longing, a hope, a dream, for a better Quakerism. I share your dream that a better Quakerism is a more thoroughly, authentically, Jesus-like Quakerism - miracles included! In fact, I've argued that a postmodern Quakerism is one that embraces this more easily than its modern-liberal cousin.

In terms of inclusion, I personally think it's a smoke-screen for something else. The problem with inclusion is that it's a real problem at the theoretical level, but on the personal and relationship level it seems far more muted, not THE problem of the day, just a challenge.

As long as things stay in the abstract, in the terminology 'convergent' etc, we can dispute whethere there is space for the Other within that term. And the debate will carry out into what it means to make it more or less inclusive. But if someone comes over to my house and is a pagan per se, and we share a meal and a drink together they won't be asking whether convergent is inclusive or not, they will see that I as a Christian believe that hospitality and friendship are core Christian virtues.

That may mean we don't worship together on Sunday evenings or read scripture together as a practice, but I doubt someone with a vastly different worldview with me would be interested in joining me for regular times of worship. But this doesn't close off the actual, day-to-day interactions, conversations, and relationships. And this day-to-day is where the Jesus movement sticks to.

My guess is that few people get hung up on whether Claiborne is inclusive or not, I think it goes with out saying that his particular belief in Christian is what leads him to a universal openness to others. Not the other way around.

So, we don't have to adhere to the terms of the debate if they are going to be locked into a question of inclusiveness. It's my contention that this question is one stemming from those still clinging to modern-liberalism, trying to rescue some kind of hegemony based in sameness rather than celebrating difference the way the postmodern does.

I think if Quakerism is going to survive it's Christianity will have to shed the philosophical and theological presuppositions of modern-liberalism and embrace a kingdom imagination.

Thanks again!

RichardM said...

I agree that the issue of inclusiveness is key to making convergent Quakerism work. I think that many people are looking for something they don't see but dimly feel must be out there. They dislike that vague platitudes of liberal Quakerism--and its general lack of fire for anything except politics. On the other hand they dislike the "I'm-right-and-everybody-else-is-wrong" attitude of the evangelicals. Is it possible to have the intensity that comes from believing something specific (avoiding vague liberal platitudes) without lapsing into closed-mindedness?

Yes, it is possible and that possibility remains a living tradition among conservative Friends and it is what a lot of people (not everyone by any means)in other branches of Quakerism are
hankering for.

To try to boil this down into just a small number of words, it is possible to believe in specific doctrines of Christianity like the need a new spiritual birth without having a closed mind. I can hang on to what I know to be true on the basis of my own experience without foolishly claiming to have the whole truth. If I claim to have the whole truth then I must reject as false everything that anyone else believes that is in any way new or different from my own understanding. People in liberal churches (not just Quaker liberals but those in many main stream Protestant and Catholic churches) firmly reject this kind of narrow-mindedness but find the vague platitudes of a lowest common denominator universalism too tepid.

Tom Smith said...

My concern is that emerging belief often seems to be tied to Biblical literalism which seems to emphasize the Old Testament literalism as much as, if not more than, Matthew 25 and the Sermon on the Mount. If the latter are not "social liberalism" I'm not sure what is. I also believe that the early Friends were less concerned with a historical Jesus or a future Kingdom as they were with the fact that "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Christ IS PRESENT and transforms lives. Early Friends confronted others but then relied on that of God to convince them. By trying to "judge not, that ye may not be judged" but living as Christ taught and lived, the Early Friends brought an inclusiveness. Jesus included everyone in his love. "Doing good to others" rather than condemning in an eye for an eye fashion requires sacrifice and possibly even "bearing a cross." However, I believe that is much more the example which Friends need rather than a belief in a set of words given in the past but in the Living Word which does transform lives that do not conform to this world.

Scots Ali said...

I don't know about "convergent" or "emerging" or whatever, but what I do miss sorely is a recounting of what exactly (here I will use "christian" language, which is not my custom) Jesus or God is currently or has recently done in your life. There seems to me to be too much philosophy/ speculation/theorizing and not enough real sharing about "God" and how God is shaping and changing our lives/my life. To show you what I mean I shall start to write about the profound "religious" experiences I have had - and which, although I might be tempted to describe in christian language, I have no difficulty expressing in my very own words. Watch my new blogsite "The Auld Alliance"!

Diane said...


I agree with you that the convergent label doesn't matter all that much. Although I sound critical, I actually like convergent very much as a way to spark conversation among Quakers and because of it's explicit connection to a wider Christian movement. And thanks for all you do.

Richard and Tom,

Yes, a Christ-centeredness without narrowmindedness and with an emphasis on living the faith in the present. Yes.


I will look for your blogsite. I agree that we need to tell our stories.


Bill Samuel said...

1. There is a problem that Dallas Willard refers to in terms of vessels and treasure ("we have this treasure in earthen vessels" - 2 Corinthians 4:7). As the scripture indicates, we need vessels. But what denominations (and often nondenominational churches too) tend to do is get hung up in their vessel as if it itself was treasure. You certainly can see this in Quakerism.

2. Convergent has been used in different, and contradictory, ways. So I don't know what it means. I'm inclined to think that it ties too much to the vessel of Quakerism, and that is the fundamental problem. Instead, it should focus on Jesus Christ, using some of the insights associated with Quakers and some with the emerging conversation/movement. There are mixed messages about identifying with Jesus Christ because of the fear of excluding liberal Quakers. But if its just going to be liberal Quaker, there is no point to the movement since liberal Quakers have quite a bit going in their own right.

3. I'm a little surprised by the commenter saying emerging folks were too literal with the Bible. Now those who are emerging vary, but there's a strong tendency to narrative theology which is quite a different approach than literalism and, I think, quite consistent with early Quaker understanding of the Bible. Emerging folks take the Bible very seriously, but not usually literally.

4. I wonder if other denominational attempts to draw from the emerging conversation face similar problems as the Quaker one?

5. The problem with avoiding the term emerging is that you pretty much have to use some term. Using a complex one like Scot suggests doesn't seem to me very helpful.

6. It may be a useful observation that Scot McKnight still identifies as evangelical. I consider him towards the fringes of emerging not towards the center because he is emerging in approach in some respects but not in others, IMHO. Probably the bulk of well known emerging types come out of evangelicalism. They have varied, and often self-conflicted, views of evangelicalism. I consider evangelicalism a modern phenomenon and emerging a post-modern one. Some are trying to redefine evangelicalism, but it has a long-defined meaning which is not fully consistent with a post-modern approach.

Anonymous said...

Bill - There are other denominations that would have a convergent equivalent, though typically with a more awkward name. ;)

Check this out -- -- as well as in the comments.

I agree with Bill's point about the problem with the vessel being Quakerism, and agree with focusing on Jesus as the main goal. I think my point has been to suggest that this is ultimately a Quaker move, along with the other radical reformation traditions we have throughout church history. That is to say, while the vessel of Quakerism may be broken those of use within the tradition can't ever have a clean break from it, there will always be leftovers and excesses. Rather by embracing the radical Christian witness of being faithful to Christ in the world is ultimately to renew and restore the Quaker tradition. In other words, those who are willing to lose their lives will save them, and vice versa...[to paraphrase].

Bill Samuel said...

Wess, I found your blog post interesting. I would have liked to comment on it, but clicking on Comment does nothing at all - it doesn't open a comment box. Maybe you have closed it to comments. It's probably not appropriate just to bring the comments I would have done there over here.

To your own comment here, I would say renewing and restoring the Quaker tradition is a vessel thing. It should not be the object. That may be a problem with Convergent Friends (and perhaps counterparts in other denominations, but I simply don't know enough about them to say). The temptation is to get in the business of renewing and restoring a tradition and lose focus on being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. To put it more starkly, you can wind up worshipping a tradition rather than the true God.

Now Quakers focusing on being faithful disciples may have a side effect of renewing the Quaker tradition, and that's fine, but that shouldn't be the purpose. Aren't we glad that Fox and company didn't focus on renewing a tradition?

Paul said...

Holy Spirit comes to us through certain rites and rituals of the church.
These rites and rituals are channels through which we
receive the saving
grace of God's love in our lives.
We Quakers do not have outward rites and rituals we have the
the inward rite of
Meeting for Worship.
The holy silence for us becomes the channel in which we receive
God’s saving grace.
How the holy silence becomes
a means of grace is a mystery.
In reading the many Quaker blogs for the past year,I feel there
is a thread of judgment on friends particularly non christian friends who experiences and outward appearance may be different
from our own.
For me being a Christian is not subjective personal experience
but God's objective Word that comes to us in worship.
We read in 1 Peter 1:23
"For you have been born again,
not of perishable seed, but of imperishable,through the living and enduring Word of God"
My plea to Friends is let God
do God’s work among her people.
Our role is that of a Montessori teacher to create an atmosphere
in our Meetings so God’s Word
may flourish.
Paul R

kevin roberts said...

"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."

I still love you, Diane, but I'll argue the point about the Richmond Declaration reflecting the core beliefs of Quakerism. It certainly does that--but only for those Quakers who accept it. For some of us it misses the most central core of all: accepting the Light of Jesus C. as the Teacher first, not second. The Richmond Declaration reads:

"...the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God; that, therefore, there can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever..."

This produces the very real risk of quenching the Spirit whenever the Scriptures are misunderstood, which is a fairly common event. If the Scriptures are immune from appeal, then we have elevated them above the ability of the Holy Spirit to correct, whenever we get them wrong.

So far, Christianity has never yet even agreed on what the Scriptures actually are.

Bill Samuel said...

Kevin, I'm not sure you're understanding that phrase in the Richmond Declaration rightly. This whole section is mostly from Barclay.

The early Friends held that God's revelation was consistent so God would never contradict the scriptures. I think the phrase is saying that therefore there is no authority that can override them.

It doesn't say the scriptures are the primary authority. Note the careful ordering of the sections - God, The Lord Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Holy Scriptures. Unlike many evangelical statements of faith, it does not start with the scriptures.

However, I don't think the Declaration is as clear as early Friends on primary and secondary authority.

But I'm not convinced that the Declaration should be the starting point for Convergent Friends. In fact, I don't think it's a very emerging view (or Quaker view) to have a statement of faith as the starting point.

I think the starting point should be Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, Teacher and Friend. Jesus Christ, not a Declaration of Faith or even the scriptures, is the Truth. This is the starting point for both Friends historically and the emerging church. There is no other foundation than Jesus Christ for any community based upon Truth.

kevin roberts said...

Hi Bill-

I very much agree with your last paragraph:

"I think the starting point should be Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, Teacher and Friend. Jesus Christ, not a Declaration of Faith or even the scriptures, is the Truth. This is the starting point for both Friends historically and the emerging church. There is no other foundation than Jesus Christ for any community based upon Truth."

But on Scripture, the Richmond Declaration is very clear:

"... there can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever ..."

One of the most obvious problems with the Richmond Declaration is that over the last century or so, it has sown discord and disunity among Friends, rather than uniting them. It continues to do so even today.

Within the FUM, it seems to be a useful statement. But nowhere else, I think. I would certainly not be able to unite with it as expressing what I believe, personally.