A New Convergence


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.”

Hence, convergence.

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:

  1. Progressive Evangelicals who are squeezed out of constricting evangelical settings.
  2. Progressive Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) who are squeezed out of their constricting settings.
  3. Missional mainliners who are rediscovering their Christian faith more as a missional spiritual movement, and less as a revered and favored religious institution.
  4. 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

  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

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.


90 thoughts on “A New Convergence

  1. For several years I `m – Roman Catholic Christian – in search of a new, spiritual `home`, disappointed of a solidified into dogmas and dubious beliefs church.My path led me to the Bahaii, Old Catholics, Unitarians, Christian Unitarians among others, and I feel on the one hand a drift into materialism, on the other hand a deep longing for a global unity of religions without a solidified clergy, without all the medieval sermon …It`s like a combination out of Unitarian Universalists and the Bahaii faith.I`m not a Bahaii, but each day I get an e-mail with words from Bahaullah. His poetry is wonderfull and deep inspirating.


    1. I thing, the `old` churches with their creeds and dogmas and their intolerance are in decline and the `new` spiritualism is growing.


  2. I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this blog. I really hope to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal blog now 😉


  3. I love this post! Thanks for sharing it. I’ve been trying to start a discussion about new paradigms for convergence Christianity. This is not merely a modern response to “the changes afoot in the culture and in the church” but a rethinking of the original intent of Jesus. Most of Christianity (with some notable exceptions throughout history) has been barking up the wrong theological tree with a world view more in line with Latin/Greek/Roman thought (think Augustine, for one), focusing on things (the institutional and authoritative church, the Bible as inerrant Word, the end times mindset, a law-based approach to spirituality, doctrine over love, political religion, individual salvation, and retributive judgment in the afterlife, etc.) that widely miss the mark of Jesus’ and the early churches’ original message and movement.


    1. Michael, you have made a thoughtful response and one that contributes to the evolving understanding of Convergence. I look forward to your future posts!

      I don’t know how likely it is that your first principle will be more attractive to conservative Christianity (though I would love to think it would). Yet I agree with you entirely that some recognition of the BIble as being written within an historical context, shaped by social and cultural (and other) influences of the day, is essential in moving forward. We must move beyond both the conservative paradigm of the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God (or Fourth member of the Trinity), AND we must move beyond the modernist liberal paradigm that essentially throws out the Bible, assuming that we’ve moved beyond it.

      Regarding how the Bible functions as God’s Word, I think you’re moving in the right direction with your proposal that it is not “God’s Word” but CONTAINS “God’s Word” – though I’m not sure “contains” is really the right word, as if God’s Word could be contained in the Bible. I forget which 20th C theologian (Barth?) said that the Bible is not the Word of God, but is words that point us to the Word of God. Lately, I’ve been talking about how the words of scripture move us into both a confrontation and conversation with the Holy Spirit.

      Somehow, we must move beyond the simple (but valid), “I take the Bible seriously but not literally” into a formulation that hangs more meat on the bones.


      1. Hi< very interesting blog. I am always slightly amused when in our home group people say they are about to read from "The Word" – when Gospel of `John clearly tells us who the Word is ( In the beginning was the Word and The Word was with God and the Word was God etc). So don't we read words inspired by God?


  4. I love this post. I’ve been trying to start a discussion about new paradigms for convergence Christianity. Thanks for sharing it. I think this is so much more than modern responses to “the changes afoot in the culture and in the church” but an authentic rethinking of what the original intent of Jesus was. In my research, I conclude most of Christianity (with a few exceptions throughout history) has been barking up the wrong theological tree, focusing on things (institutional church, Bible as inerrant Word, end-times worldview, salvation as individual atonement, inevitable judgment in afterlife of unbelievers, a law-based approach to spirituality) that widely miss the mark of Jesus’ original message. It’s not modern revisionism it’s modern recapturing.


  5. Bryan, I like you, have witnessed these subtle shifts (and I emphasize subtle) in Christian theological paradigms. I grew up in a nominal Christian home, “got saved” as a touring musician at 17 into fairly fundamentalist environs and have since traversed the entire gamut of theological faith and reflection finding myself as a “progressive” Presbyterian with a small ‘c’ catholic spirit in a diverse Washington-state PCUSA church. All of that to say, yes and may this trend continue for many years to come. Thanks be to God!


  6. The conversations presented here are impressive, and I am happy so many of you have included links to authors I have never read.
    My journey into the Spiritual Realm has been a long one, and has at times been thwarted by many who see themselves as “do gooders” and me as one on my way to Hell. I felt the sting of that for so many years that I learned to keep my thoughts to myself.
    Through Pub Theology under Bryan’s leadership, I have been free enough to express my thoughts and feelings, and for that I am truly grateful….and yet…still….there are times when even these lovely liberal thinkers give me that “tsk tsk” look as if I simply have it all “wrong…” So…there you go.

    I think one has to know himself before he/she can know Christ, and I believe Christ is God’s Holy Spirit within the knowing/awakened soul. Therefore, while I can love and appreciate Jesus, it is the Christ who leads me to God. And I consider Christ alive and well and living in my heart/mind and soul…every minute of every day, but I do not consider myself as Christ/God. That Holy Spirit is just that…Holy…and Spirit. Not flesh and blood….Spirit…Alive and Well….and I am loved by that Spirit just as each of you are….Thank you so much for sharing so honestly.


  7. I found this site a few weeks ago and I am so glad. I was created and wired to be a thinker, doubter, questioner. I remember losing sleep for weeks when I was in my 20s when I was going through a tough time and needed prayer and needed it to be authentic. I find the Uu church to be the best fit but its far from me and I still remain attracted to the teachings and message if Christ. I don’t see Christ as the son of god.. I see him as a prophet and messenger if god. This upsets so many people that I often hide it. But when I told my parents, who raised us in catholocism with a heavy Vatican 2 leaning, they were proud of my desire for authentic spirituality. What a relief! It’s hard to let go of the need to have others agree with you… But I am more at peace. My husband was raised with no religious orientation and is a good humored agnostic.. He is at peace with ambiguity and mystery.


  8. Might there also be room in this convergence for a fifth stream: those with no religous affiliation (the ‘nones’) who still wish to make a difference but do not wish to associate with any particular faith.


    1. Hi Cynthia-
      Absolutely! Some have already commented on this post. 🙂

      I’m guessing that many comprising the ‘nones’ would see themselves in several streams, some of which find a place in this conversation, and some who would prefer to say, ‘there is no stream.’

      But I agree with you that there must be increasing consideration within the normal channels of faith to create space for those who are done with ‘church’, and perhaps almost done with faith.


  9. Great article! I agree that this contemporary convergence is a “return to something old” in that we’re embracing the values and teachings and ways that originally made Christianity such a gift to the world in the first place. So, to that extent, progressive Christianity could perhaps be called “conservative Christianity.” But, in typical paradoxical progressive Christian style, I view this as a both/and — it’s also an embracing of something new.

    What a blessing it is for us to know WE are all PART of this convergence! We are today’s reformation! : )


  10. Yes! This does indeed resonate with me. Let go of all of the things that roadblock change and get to work showing our love for humanity through action and our love for ourselves through personal growth and meditation.


  11. What a lot of great discussion here! Obviously, folks are coming from very different faith backgrounds, and don’t agree on every point of faith, yet the very tenor and tone of the discussion is redolent of the Convergence that’s happening right now. It’s not that we’re all agreeing to be “a little bit liberal and a little bit conservative” and sing Kumbaya around the campfire together. Rather, much of the discussion reflects a genuine moving beyond the strictures of both liberalism and conservatism into a new domain where the old certainties no longer seem so attractive. Yet rather than being drawn from certainty into relativism, people are discovering a faith that is more substantive and discerning even as it transcends strict definition or easy assumptions.

    Regarding the humanism discussion, some folks may be interested in a series that Darkwood Brew produced this fall called “Failing, Falling, and Flying: Genesis Stories of Original Grace.” The series featured some amazing voices, from OT scholar Terrence Fretheim to “Church of All Sinners and Saints” leader, Nadia Bolz-Weber. The series deals with each of the primary stories of Genesis 1-11, making the case that a distinctive pattern exists in each of them, showing that, yes, humanity is marked by Original Sin, and by Original Blessing, but it is DEFINED by neither of these. We are DEFINED by Original Grace. And if this is correct, it really changes the whole nature of the pro- and anti-humanism debate. You can find the whole series online, for free, right here: http://darkwoodbrew.org/by-this-way-of-life-waypoint-3/


  12. Good morning—resonate? Yes, and on so many levels.

    One thread that is really bothersome. I can NOT reconcile it from any perspective….the co-mingled agnostic humanism and “giving up/loosing or loss”. Borrowing from Terry Chapman, PhD, author of SABBATH PAUSE, it seems to me that what may well be happening is our personal and collective “containers” are getting bigger and in doing so, we are encompassing more…being more inclusive. This includes belief structures. Personally, I have found that my faith journey has taken on a new and more vibrant dimension. With wisdom allies the likes of Butler-Bass, Borg, Crossan, I am gaining so much, not losing. Don’t have to park my brains at the door and be forced to believe forty-‘leven fairy tales. Parabolic thinking, to use a concept Borg and Crossan employ in THE FIRST CHRISTMAS brings a carefully crafted European holy super-holy-man to a very real, very wise, very human rabbi whose precepts you and I and the masses (if you will allow the really huge expansion of the container) can follow…

    As to some deconstruction to agnosticism, don’t really follow the logic there either. Again, considering my allies’ take on things, the only entity that becomes more human is Christ—and in becoming more human, the easier it becomes to be authentic within my faith path and in concert with other similar sojourners…in an inclusionary posture.

    Again, from a personal standpoint (and from discussions, I am not alone) I no longer have to have some bizarre internal conversation involving logic so serpentine it makes a Gordian knot seem straight; now I can get on with the business of not just continuing my journey, there are the possibilities of application and communication. Butler-Bass, in CHRISTIANITY AFTER RELIGION, has two complete chapters devoted to AWAKENING…which is, in so many words, what is being discussed here—a new form coming out of the restrictive crystals of the prior incarnation. Been a long time since Harry Emerson Fosdick…for the critical mass to form..


    1. Bill, funny you should mention Terry Chapman’s SABBATH REST! Terry is a Darkwood Brew viewer and sent me his book a month or so ago. I enjoyed the metaphor of the inflated ball so much that I used it in the promo video for the series that starts this weekend at Darkwood Brew on the Bible and homosexuality! (This will NOT be your typical series that condemns LGBT persons but makes a case that you can be a lover of Jesus and love LGBT persons, or be one). Here’s the promo in case you’re interested: http://youtu.be/bLqbN-JeMPg
      And if you get really interested, join us live at 5p CST/6p EST at http://www.darkwoodbrew.org!


  13. My confidence in the love of God is unwavering. Unlike too many of the Christians I have rubbed elbows with over the past thirty years, I have experienced the love of God as a psychologically/spiritually tangible experience. This happened as I called out to Jesus, so for me God=Jesus. Naturally I wound up in a Christian church, as this experience left me wanting to dedicate the rest of my life to serving God. Disappointment after disappointment with the evangelical/fundamentalist church has not deterred my love for God at all, though it has destroyed any hope that I might find allies in organized Christianity to pursue the heart of God alongside me. The money to be made and the power to be gained are just too tempting, and I see only a greater exodus of true believers in God for the Christian religion in America. The powerful business sphere that is organized religion is incompatible with the cause of Christ, to love and care for the least of these and to live to serve, not be served. Who is the church in America serving if not the clergy who live off of their donations, the businesses that prosper from merchandising Christianity and the politicians who exploit their fears? Jesus has not been Lord of the American church for some time, though Lifeway bookstores, the “christian” music industry, political groups like AFA and FOF, and of course all clergy, receive generous donations of adoration and wealth from so-called “christians” each year. Count me in for Jesus, out for organized religion. Peace.


    1. Hmm. Interesting dialogue indeed. I have sensed “shifts” within the faith community, many of which I find affirming. For me it is best expressed with the words of “shadowspring” —“Count me in for Jesus, out for organized religion.” and echoing Christy, “actions speak louder than words”.


  14. Thanks for this post. Regarding the danger of slipping into “humanistic agnosticism” or “agnostic humanism” (is there a difference?), I’d offer the assertion that perhaps those characteristic of humanism that overlap with Christian/religious/spiritual belief and practice should not be eschewed due to the fear of falling into into the wrong box, but should be embraced as part of a deeply important underlying truth. Likewise, we should not fear doubt and uncertainty as states to be avoided and condemned, but rather as important aspects of what it means to engage in any meaningful quest. There are profound and significant examples of doubt and questioning and struggles with faith modeled for us throughout the Bible and while we shouldn’t necessarily “embrace” agnosticism, we must recognize that declarations of absolute certainty are more often the resulted of unrestrained hubris rather than thoughtful and humble engagement with true faith.


  15. It’s about time!!! It’s time we get back to actually WALKING in the footsteps of Jesus instead of just running our mouths about it and foisting our beliefs and faith on others. Actions speak way louder than words ever will. People can manifest God into the world without saying a word about it…and that is a good thing for EVERYONE.


  16. Growing up as a fundamentalist Lutheran and then falling away from faith because of the hurtful, judgmental, angry teaching that I was indoctrinated in left me to be able to look at my experience in Christianity from a new perspective. After about 10 years of being very angry with God, and my early teachers about what i was taught I started to look at the parts of having Jesus that I missed, and yet I became unafraid to question them as I had been screamed at to NEVER question the teachings and interpretations of my early religious leaders.

    The move to “agnostic humanism” does not seem as dramatic as everyone else is making it as I feel that we were taught to be agnostic about a lot of things. Whenever a question came up that our Pastor couldn’t answer the response was always “Some things are not for us to understand”. That idea can not only be used to quiet those who questioned but recognized for its power to make great change and push us on our journey. How is that so different from the ideas that this post speaks of. I don’t know what happens to people of other faiths, and is it my place to know? Is it my place to question God and other people’s journeys with him/her? Isn’t the need to say I need to understand everything about God slightly arrogant? Aren’t there new lessons to be learned on a journey and isn’t the journey of discovery more important than the destination? Isn’t it a journey and not a race?

    It makes me happy that new conversations and routes of faithful discovery are being created. If they were not, I would truly think that my walk with God had nowhere to go. There may be a place for me within Christianity yet!

    Believe me, I have many many questions about faith, Christianity and God. I have not truly been able to say I am a Christian again as i still deal with some fall out from my childhood. But also feel that I just need to start listening to God to hear the answers and I truly feel that God has been telling me to seek a new understanding and that those who taught me such cruel lessons as a child were simply humans who had good intentions but got it wrong. But, their walk with their Creator is not mine. And much like my God would, i need to forgive them and walk my own journey.


  17. Interesting, but I think you’re leaving out a segment. The Community of Aidan & Hilda, Northumbria Community & Iona Community have reached back to the Desert Fathers & Mothers to embrace Christianity before Constantine imposed the hierarchical model adopted by Rome, and then others in Christianity. Rome may have won at Whitby, but it didn’t erase the work of saints like Columba, Aidan, Hilda, etc.


  18. I found myself easily resonating with all twelve characteristics, but struggled with the categorizations actually; not sure how our relationship to the earth is a particularly ‘love of God’ thing, or how the faith/science point relates to love of self. And (you won’t be surprised by this next point Bryan) I’d want to add one phrase to the end of characteristic one – “…and through everything else!” Our unimaginable God is speaking through all things; not just parts of other faith traditions. I think the church is still way too deaf and blind to this truth. Sometimes I worry that a creeping ‘social justicolotry’ is the result. Too often we’re concerned about doing the right thing before worrying about knowing and experiencing God in all of the right ways. All of the working for the common good language I hear today is drowning out our first calling.


  19. There is much in this conversation that is mind – and spirit – provoking. On the issue of ‘agnosticism’, I was reminded of two items that I read/heard in quick succession.

    The first was a comment, on a church website, that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. The second was by Richard Holloway in a Radio series on doubt, when he made the parallel claim that the opposite of doubt was certainty.

    When we acknowledge a lack of certainty – or reliance on old certainties – we may be moving towards doubt or faith – or both. That is not necessarily to ditch our beliefs or traditions, but rather to approach (and constantly re-approach) them with all of our critical faculties as well as in reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

    To what extent this represents a convergence of disparate traditions, I am less sure. It seems to me that is represents an acknowledgement that the distinctions between traditions cannot be defined or measured against a single linear scale, but rather that there is a wide range of characteristics against which traditions (and emerging perspectives) might be measured.


  20. I just found your article this morning, Bryan, and have enjoyed reading these thoughtful responses, and yours to them. Each of your responses hit the nail on the head, I think, and drive it deeper. Regarding the concern that recognizing that God may be greater than our religious categories constituting a potential drift in to humanistic agnosticism, I see the exact opposite going on. And the fact that the opposite is happening really isn’t terribly surprising when one thinks about it. After all, drifting into humanistic agnosticism would more likely be the result of believing that God is SMALLER than our religious categories, not greater. It is amazing how many people will embrace the path of Jesus as THEIR path when they are not asked to condemn other faiths at the same time. Many people refuse to condemn other faiths (particularly the major world religions) not out of a desire to worship other gods, but out of a desire to be more humble about worshiping the One God they’re trying to follow. By refusing to play the role of judge and arbiter over other religions (which they feel they are unqualified to do in any case), they find themselves more enthusiastically and unapologetically affirming the Christian path.
    Incidentally, your readers may be interested in a series that was produced by Darkwood Brew earlier this year called “The Faith of Jesus in a Pluralistic World.” Over the course of six weeks, we looked deeply at the statement of Jesus in John 14:6 that “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” – which is the statement most people quote to back up their condemnation of other paths. The series featured top biblical scholars, theologians, and church leaders from around the world, all of whom affirmed that one can be perfectly true to that statement without denying that God may create other paths besides the one we’re on. The whole series can be found here: http://darkwoodbrew.org/by-this-way-of-life-waypoint-1/
    Your readers may also be interested in Darkwood Brew special episode on Convergence Christianity featuring Brian McLaren: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2s5NEkB5FM
    Keep up your good work! 🙂


    1. Eric — Thanks for posting this link. I’m eager to check it out. I recently wrote a book, encompassing much of the same thoughts. It’s entitled, “Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies that Bind Him.” You might be interested in giving it a read. That said, I’d be happy to send you a copy if you’d like. You can read a bit about it here:



      1. Christine, I feel terrible because I haven’t got to your book! Bryan sent me a PDF version. I’ve got it on my list and am looking forward to it. Congratulations and stay tuned… Cheers!


    2. Eric –

      I have to admit I don’t understand your use of the “God is greater/smaller” metaphor in the comments. When people say “God is greater than our imagination can comprehend”–I assumed Bryan was quoting you here–they are admitting that they don’t and *can’t* understand God. This is quite literally a move toward agnosticism. To admit to being agnostic about something (e.g., the nature of God) is to admit that one’s beliefs about the matter (if one has any) do not rise to the level of knowledge, presumably because the relevant epistemic justification is missing.

      If “God is bigger” means God is beyond our understanding, then “God is smaller” means God is more easily known/understood. If “smaller” means more easily known or understood, then I can’t make any sense of your claim that “drifting into humanistic agnosticism would more likely be the result of believing that God is SMALLER than our religious categories.” It looks contradictory to me, so could you explain what you mean by that?

      I suppose many took my original comment as a criticism, but it wasn’t intended as one. The move toward agnosticism is a good one. It’s a move toward honesty.



      1. It’s the term “humanism” that I think got people (including me) a little riled up when we first saw it. When I see “humanism”, I think of the belief that we as human beings are as good as it gets when it comes to spiritual authority or reason. It’s incompatible with theism, where we accept that we can at most be only a part of a creation, be it ongoing or complete. I think most humanists would say that they see beauty in humanity that they don’t see in God (or therefore they don’t need God), but Eric may mean that in coming to this conclusion their concept of God has been confined, directly or indirectly, by someone’s religious description. For instance, if I thought God were the “God” described by the Westboro Baptists, and I didn’t know any better, I would be inclined to simply reject God: “Humans are better than that”, also.

        I liked Bryan’s comment about how “agnosticism” can be a good thing; and as you mention a certain amount of scepticism is always helpful in maintaining honesty. And I don’t even quarrel with most humanist values, including those that we’re part of the wider world and that the dignity of all people should be affirmed. But the idea of universal respect for each other isn’t innate in human beings; if you look back at history, this concept comes straight from the Gospels–and is not really found in the prior recorded history. Although it was adopted in fits and starts and there have been even now many instances of Christians backsliding on it, human equality is a Christian value. “As ye do for the least of these.”


      2. John – I’m not going to speculate further about what Eric meant. He can clarify it for himself if he likes.

        I can see why some would reject the God of the Westboro baptists–or, even more horrifying, the God of the book of Joshua. But it’s the *agnostic* style of humanism that I was addressing, the kind that admits to not knowing the answers to various questions about God, not the kind that jumps to conclusions about who or what God is and then rejects that God.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “we as human beings are as good as it gets when it comes to spiritual authority or reason.” Isn’t one of the things that gets you to think the Westboro Baptists got something wrong your own reason, your own sense of right and wrong? Even if not, it’s worth noting that one doesn’t need any special beliefs or insights about God to see that what is being done by these folks (in the name of God) is wrong.

        Even if there is a God who is the epitome of reason, whose reason is far beyond ours, what good does it do us? We still have to do the hard work of discerning what is or isn’t something God would approve of–or what really is or isn’t right–amid competing claims by those allegedly speaking and acting on God’s behalf. (I include in this list the Biblical authors and “characters,” for lack of a better term, themselves. More on that below.)

        I’m glad you see the good in humanist values. My reference to humanism was to acknowledge an even broader convergence than one merely among Christians or even “people of faith.”

        Some fear the idea of sister denominations (e.g., the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America) working together. Some fear a convergence between Protestants and Catholics. Some, between Christians and Jews, or Muslims. Some draw the line between the religious and the non-religious, or between theists and non-theists.

        These fears are often rooted in the desire to feel special, to be the unique possessors of the truth, to be, dare I say, the chosen people? We too often define ourselves in terms of what we are not. Specifically, we are not “them.” (“God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”)

        We see this old debate within the Bible itself between those pushing for a more universal morality and those favoring the status quo perpetuated by the religious authorities. Jesus famously condemns the Pharisees for focusing on purity laws while ignoring “the more important matters of the law,” such as justice and mercy.

        We hear it in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible too. Speaking on God’s behalf, Amos tears into the religious establishment: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

        The idea of universal respect for others can be found in the gospels–in that sense it is a Christian value–but it certainly does not originate there; it doesn’t even originate in the Bible. It can be found in a wide variety of cultures throughout history. We see it in Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers. It’s found in the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), and in the Hindu dharmas that preceded him. It’s in the Golden Rule of Confucious and the Tao. We see hints of it even in the Lex Talionis of Hammurabi.

        These teachers are all trying to get us to realize that we are all equals, that to harm another is the moral equivalent of being harmed.

        I’m glad that despite all the opposition to it from religious, social and political centers of power, there remains a movement toward a more universal morality. It is, virtually by definition, good.


    3. Hi Eric-
      Thanks for stopping by, and for being a part of the broader shift. I’ll check out the shows you reference – sounds like some great stuff.

      And, yes, definitely check out Christy’s book! Perhaps you can double-book us for a future episode of the Brew. 🙂

      And Chris – I agree, agnosticism shouldn’t be seen as the end of the world. I meant to comment to that effect earlier. There could be far worse things than moving to something like agnostic humanism. I’ve said before that I think Christians ought to have a greater ‘agnosticism’ about things that for too long they’ve claimed dogmatic irrefutable knowledge. That doesn’t mean there is total darkness, but rather, as has already been noted, a certain circumspection and humility about things which require faith.



  21. Thank you for explaining this so well. I have heard the term but have not had time to investigate it yet because I am a seminary student in a mainline denomination. Since I began this journey about 4 years ago I have undergone a complete Spirit-led overhaul of my belief system and foundations. Much of what you listed I resonate with and have arrived where I am through my own spiritual journey via my education and life experiences. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring to see that I am not alone on this journey and that there is in fact a movement happening and that I am somehow a part of it. I feel validated in a way. I don’t know where I will fit in, or where God will lead me in this journey, but I do have a dream and I hope that is where I will find myself in a few years.


    1. Hi Becky-
      Glad to hear of the things that have been happening in your life – and I agree, it is encouraging when you find others on a similar journey!

      What are you thinking about after seminary?

      Stay in touch, and many blessings on your road ahead!



  22. My first reply was a bit hasty. So delighted I was to find Chris stating my view in two words that I was a bit knee jerk. (Not that I need prompting, mind you. Quite the opposite.) Hopefully the people who know me here will be able to forgive me, though I am wearisome.

    I would expand my comment in the following way.

    My conversation with the Emergents, it seems, has largely been about how much we can let go of and still retain the faith. Is there anything that we might jettison that would entirely unhinge us from the communion of the saints? Often, it seems, the answer to this challenge is that following Jesus is the common thread that binds us. That is the foundation to build our house upon, so to speak.

    But in the above, I sense the desire to go the final step and even dismiss Christ himself. In the reference to “their sacred texts” and “faith traditions” it seems the last restraints are hard pressed. Will we make the final move and declare Christ and the “text” that we know him an optional accessory? Perhaps the fact that we don’t say “other religions” speaks of a lingering reluctance to do that.

    If I am right, then Chris’s assessment that it is agnostic, seems undeniable. An unwillingness to claim any certainty is a decision to live purely in the shadow of doubt.


    1. Peter-
      Engagement with you is hardly wearisome! Glad for your voice keeping me honest. 🙂

      I’m not sure the approach is ‘how much can we let go of and still retain the faith,’ as much as a certain re-apprehension of things within the faith. I suppose to some it may look like a letting go, but it isn’t necessarily so, and it is definitely not a dismissal of Christ. Perhaps some of us are less interested in Jesus only as viewed through the substitutionary atonement lens, or Jesus simply as fire insurance, but that doesn’t mean we’re done with Jesus. Hardly! Some of us feel as if we are discovering Jesus anew each day, and with that discovery comes a new understanding on some things.

      It is not as simple as: total uncertainty and doubt, or total certainty and the absence of doubt. Some of us are interested in the middle ground, where we sometimes find ourselves in the sunshine, and other times in the shadows. We continue to press forward, guided by the Spirit, as we seek to discern what a faithful life of discipleship looks like.


      1. Bryan,

        I understand the desire to be done with total certainty because I share it. I breathed a collective sigh of relief with everyone else at Watershed to find a little room to stretch. I thank you for that. We proudly carry on that work.

        My point here is not to advocate one particular lens to see the faith through. (If people assume I am talking about the atonement at all times I am to blame since I seldom beat any other drum.) My point here is to ask if everything is up for grabs and to suggest that the temptation to embrace other faiths (might we say other gods?) represents an end game moment in the whole affair of loosening the yoke.

        I have not read as much history as I should but my understanding of the early church is that its zeal and persecution stemmed from its unwillingness to accommodate the idols around it. They could have kept their heads down and let Jesus be one god among the many Rome did assimilate. Everybody should pause and ask what is going on here if we are contemplating that course.



      2. I am not sure anyone is talking about ’embracing’ other faiths as much as acknowledging other faiths, being willing to learn what they have to offer, and having a circumspection about one’s ability to know absolutely that those faiths are invalid. Learning from them does not mean one is suddenly an adherent of that faith, nor does it mean one is suddenly worshiping ‘other gods.’ For me, Jesus is Lord, and I trust that that is true not just for me (subjectively), but is also true at a cosmic level (objectively). That said, how we articulate such things in today’s fragile world of religious and political hostilities is extremely important, where an adamance about being right can often cause more harm than good (even if one is right!). Are some of us too careful on this subject? Possibly, maybe even probably. Yet in a public forum I think one does well to model the one who, when asked by Pilate if he was the king of the Jews, replied: “It is as you say,” but refused to exert this authority, and rather entrusted himself to God.


      3. Bryan, Peter,
        I absolutely love this conversation. It’s exactly the conversation we should be having right now. I also would like to start having a conversation among the emerging progressive Christian movement about the harder sayings of Jesus–such as saying that the path to Heaven is narrow but the path to destruction is wide and many enter it. (Matthew 7:13) For if we’re going to continue to acknowledge the divinity and resurrection of Christ–which I hope remains a bedrock foundation–as well as stress His words which advocate love to all, social justice, not judging others, and an active and inclusive faith, we need to also find a way to address the harder things He said which are so beloved by fundamentalists. Simply saying, “of course he said the things we like, but I doubt he said the things we don’t like” is historically and intellectually untenable, not to mention it’s going down the same route as the fundamentalists–ignoring verses they don’t like while stressing those that they do. Of course, advanced research into the linguistics, semantics, and context will help out, like how it’s helped challenge the idea that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible: http://www.homosexualeunuchsandthebible.com

        In other words, we need to ask what those harder sayings of Jesus mean in His broader message of peace, love, social justice, and inclusion.



  23. In spite of what others might think, I resonate very much with each of the twelve characteristics. I do not think that by doing so, I or others, are deserting Christ or the gospel. This is the gospel: to love God, neighbor and self in these ways. I applaud this new convergence since I see it in many of the relationships I have with people from other denominations and even other faiths. We have all independently arrived at similar conclusions. Thanks, Bryan!


    1. I definitely hear you, Adrian. To me this is not a leap to agnosticism, per se, but perhaps an increasing humility about what we can truly know, or, one could say, agnosticism about specific issues that perhaps are beyond our purview. I think one can wholeheartedly embrace Christ and seek to follow him while resonating with the above, and increasing numbers of Christians feel very much the same way.


      1. “Agnosticism about specific issues.” Thank you Bryan. That speaks volumes to me, as someone who has struggled for so long (and still does) to reconcile my life-long Christian faith with my [arguably] life-long homosexuality; refusing to deny one, and unable to deny the other. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of research on the topic of sexuality as it relates to the Bible and its “Seven Passages.” And what I’ve come out of it with so far is a lot more ambiguity or uncertainty. As someone whose personality has always migrated toward absolutes, this has been difficult to wrap my head around. But I keep pressing on. And articles like this, along with all of the discussion that followed, gives me a lot of encouraging things to chew on.


      2. Long before I heard about emerging Christianity, I considered myself a Christian agnostic- following The Way of Christ and love without knowing which, if any, of the nitty details which were assumed to be true by my churches growing up were actually correct; and believing that some things could be true without being factual. It was very freeing.


      3. I’m feeling/thinking all these very things in my newly-revived Christian belief. I wouldn’t have come back had there not been a return to the basics: love, justice, grace, etc. Reading this was extremely affirming, and I will be referring back to this (and sharing!) often. I agree with John Spong that Christianity must change or die. Thanks!


    1. I said “nearly all,” “sounds like,” and “move toward” for a reason, Mark. Finding a couple of things things in the list not endorsed by agnosticism or humanism is no refutation of the claim that “*Nearly* all of it … sounds like a move toward agnostic humanism.”


  24. Agnostic humanism… Thanks Chris for saying quickly what I would have spilled many words trying to locate. Dawkins calls it the modern liberal consensus, I think.

    Looks like they’re letting go of Christ and the Gospel too.

    “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away.”


    1. There is no reason in my mind one must jump from saying ‘God is greater than our imagination,’ to assuming such folks are ‘letting go of Christ and the Gospel.’ That certainly could be the case, but there is no reason to assume it necessarily is the case.


      1. I have found that the more I let God out of the box I had created for him, that I actually find more Christ and more of the Gospel as I think it was intended to be and not as it has been created by some.


      2. Amen, Bryan. There’s too much fear in modern Christianity. And a little agnosticism may not be such a bad thing. It might even be called humility. Faith is the assurance of things unseen. If we put our trust in God, and wonder about it all, and love one another, I have to think that’s ok. Thank you for sharing this piece. It resonates with this old Christian, and I’m grateful. Very refreshing.


    1. I do not see it as humanistic, but I do see it as being consciously agnostic about any number of issues. I can affirm where this is headed because it recognizes and embraces the fundamental mystery of religious faith.


      1. David – I appreciate your acknowledgment and affirmation of the agnosticism.

        I have had lengthy and not terribly productive discussions with a humanist (Bryan can confirm this) in an attempt to figure out what humanism is exactly and why his particular brand of humanism insists on excluding theists–an arbitrary, if not prejudicial, exclusion, from what I could gather.

        I inferred that humanists were aligned more by a “family resemblance” of values (to invoke Wittgenstein) than by a strictly defined set of principles. Some of the values included, I’ll quote my humanist interlocutor, “the need to test beliefs, a commitment to reason, a search for truth, fostering creativity, the desire to better understand ourselves, our history, …[and] the outlooks of those who differ from us, judging ethical principles on their ability to enhance well-being, the belief that progress depends on an open exchange of ideas, good will and tolerance.”

        Do you see overlap between these values and Elnes’s list of characteristics above? I do.



      2. I also agree that the Convergence list is not capital-A Agnostic — but maybe a-certaintististic. Humanistic, yes, in the most generous Petrarchian roots of the term. And as for socially-progressive-leaning Orthodox and Catholics whom I’ve met they don’t seem to exist in the same crisis of self-belonging as Evangelicals. Maybe it’s my world exposure but there seems a more generous orthodoxy in Orthodoxy and more generous catholicism in Catholicism than Evangelical/Protestant takes on what the little-consonant version of how those words should play out.


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