Rev. Eric Elnes Ph.D leads the Darkwood Brew a groundbreaking interactive web television program and spiritual gathering that explores progressive/emerging Christian faith and values.
Lately I have been speaking about something called “Convergence Christianity”. “Convergence” is a term that I coined a few months ago to describe the culmination of developments I have been quietly watching take shape both at Countryside Church and on the broader landscape of North American Christianity for several years. In a nutshell, what I’ve been seeing is people who used to be on one side or the other of the Great Theological Divide between Christian liberalism and conservatism leaving the baggage associated with their traditions behind and discovering one another in the context of a new common ground.
Convergence has been evident in every new group of people who have become members of Countryside in the last several years. We have attracted large numbers of former evangelicals who are seeking a more open, intellectually honest and inclusive form of faith, and mainliners who are seeking more robust engagement with their spiritual path, attention to the Bible, and an unapologetic embrace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (i.e., things associated with the evangelical side of the divide, but in a more open, intellectually honest, and inclusive expression).
These developments have become widespread enough in America—and verifiable enough—that I finally coined the term “Convergence Christianity” to describe what I am seeing, and began speaking and writing about Convergence both at Countryside and beyond. (If you missed the sermon I preached about Convergence at Countryside, you may find a written version at http://www.onfaithonline.tv/darkwoodbrew/the-great-convergence/ and the video at https:// vimeo.com/channels/countrysidesermons/45024795).
Much to my surprise, since I began using the term publically, it has taken off like wildfire around the country. It’s the first time in my life that something like this has ever happened! My head is spinning a bit as I endeavor to process what’s going on and discern the implications for Countryside and the role Countryside might be uniquely equipped to play in helping to bring post-evangelicals and post-liberals together in a new religious alignment, both in Omaha and beyond.
As I’ve been mulling over these issues, I have set down a few thoughts about what the emerging common ground looks like concretely. What follows are twelve characteristics that shouldn’t come as any surprise to you, as we’ve been in Convergence mode for some time. These will likely shape North American Christianity more and more in the coming years. They fall under three general categories known as The Three Great Loves: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Self. For each characteristic, I have identified something these communities generally are letting go of, and the new reality they generally are embracing. I say “generally,” because not all communities are exactly alike. Some share more of this common ground than others. The time is coming when these twelve attributes will be part of what is considered the new “guiding source of attraction” by adherents of many communions.
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.
I could not be happier to serve a church like Countryside, which embodies each of these twelve characteristics more and more each day. God’s Spirit is working powerfully among us! It may be that this vitality we experience may help revitalize and transform Christianity in America. Perhaps we will become part of the God’s response to the prayer we pray each week that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Grace and peace, Eric