A few writers, thinkers, pastors, and theologians (Brian McLaren and Eric Elnes, among others) note that a new convergence is happening within Christianity. McLaren notes:
“A new coalition is already happening, as existing organizations and emerging networks discover one another and realize they have independently reached common conclusions.”
While more conservative churches may well become even more strict with the changes afoot in the culture and in the church, McLaren notes that others are expanding outward, and this convergence will be comprised of people from four general streams:
That new coalition, I believe, will emerge from four main sources:
- Progressive Evangelicals who are squeezed out of constricting evangelical settings.
- Progressive Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) who are squeezed out of their constricting settings.
- Missional mainliners who are rediscovering their Christian faith more as a missional spiritual movement, and less as a revered and favored religious institution.
- Social justice-oriented Pentecostals and Evangelicals— from the minority churches in the West and from the majority churches of the global South, especially the second- and third-generation leaders who have the benefits of higher education.
Where and how will this coalition happen? It’s already happening through a variety of sources, as existing organizations and emerging networks discover one another, realize they have independently reached common conclusions, and begin developing both personal relationships and concrete plans for missional collaboration — especially on behalf of the poor, peace, and the planet.
But what other things mark those who might fit in with this shift?
Eric Elnes writes of twelve defining characteristics, which are evenly divided into three categories: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Self.
Love of God
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
What do you think? Do you resonate with any of these? Do you see these shifts in your own life or faith community? Do you find any of them particularly helpful or problematic?
There are indeed shifts happening within broader Christianity… whether one likes it or not. I think the above represent some healthy movements, even if one doesn’t want to get on board with all of them. And as noted, these sensibilities are present in multiple traditions, and many reflect ‘rediscoveries’ rather than genuinely new ideas or patterns.