Thursday, December 27, 2012

Convergence Christianity: three emergent postings and their problems

Bryan Berghoef, at the musings of a pub theologian has pulled together two older postings by two other emergent writers, Brian McLaren’s 2010, “A New Christian Convergence,” and Eric Elnes’ “12 Marks of Convergence Christianity” into one article, “A New Convergence.”  Using McLaren’s list of various spiritual groups that he believes will or do make up the new convergence and Elnes’ 12 marks of convergence Christianity, Berghoef asks “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?”

I have personal problems with both lists. And I see other glaring problems that I do not believe are personal problems, but are instead problems that contradict the faith of the ancient and ever present universal Church. 

The personal problem has to do with the tendencies to create caricatures of others when such lists are devised. For instance in McLaren’s list of various groups who will make up the new convergence is this:

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.

So, it is social justice issues, plus youth, plus education that places one outside the orthodox teachings and ministries of the Church? It was the idea that only “second and third-generation leaders who have the benefits of higher education” are open to the new convergence which truly baffled me. Why do Progressives and Emergents not understand that education is an ideal goal among the rising orthodox youth of this new generation? The implication is serious, that only the uneducated will disagree with those who are emergent and progressive. Let’s take that further, the implication is also that the orthodox have not benefited from higher education. This is serious slander.

Several items from Elnes’ list are also caricatures. For instance Elnes’ has as one of his characteristics of people of the new convergence that they care for the physical well being of people as well as the spiritual. This implies that those who are orthodox do not care for the physical well-being of people. I wonder what the Salvation Army would say about that. How about World Vision, or the multiple evangelical churches both in and out of the mainline denominations who pour their lives into helping the needy.

But the biggest problems are not my personal gripes. They are the seed beds of a modern paganism and a slouching toward a renewed heresy. The seed bed lies in the strange idea that our identity is tied to our sexuality. At least this seems to be the implication when Elnes writes:

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.

I will explain: the dignity and worth of all people is tied, not to their gender or sexual orientation, but rather to the fact that they are created in God’s image. When an orthodox Christian states that same gender sex is sin, they are not attacking the dignity and worth of a person—rather they affirm that person’s right to dignity and worth and wish to bring, through Christ, healing to the broken image which we all share. When I make fun of another person I need healing so that part of me that is broken can better reflect God’s image. No one discounts my right to dignity and worth when they address my sin; rather they uphold my well-being as one who is created in God’s image.

Going further if our identity and value is tied to our sexuality, as some essentialist insist, a case could be made for each of us being locked into predetermined roles. Instead, those of us who are Christians have a freedom that is only bounded by Christ who lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We can truly say that ‘for me to live is Christ and for me to die is gain. It is Christ who has made us free, not to sin, but to walk in a new life given by God.

Going even further if our identity is tied to our sexuality then it is possible for a theology to arise that insists our encounter with God should come through our sexuality. That is paganism. I have written about that in another place when I wrote, “Amendment 10-A and the monstrosity that is coming.”

Undoubtedly the most problematic statement on the lists is this statement by Elnes:

They [those people who will embrace the new convergence] 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.

This statement along with others is discussed in the comment section as one person suggests it sounds like agnostic humanism. It is certainly universalism with agnosticism used as its foundation. If we have no clear understanding of God’s intentions then how can we know if there is or isn’t salvation by some other means? How can we be certain that God isn’t speaking through Buddha, Mohammad, or the woman next door who builds her circle and calls down the goddess?

Yes, God is greater than our imagination can comprehend, but he has also, in his word, revealed to us all that we need to know of himself in his Son, through his word. “But we see Jesus” is the song of believers. God has spoken through his Son, a final word. “God after he spoke, long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also made the world.” (Heb 1:1-2) The author of a letter to a lady and her children at Babylon warns that “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God …” (3 John 9a)

The early Christians understood what it was like to live in a pluralistic age—an age when authorities demanded that they acknowledge not only Caesar as lord, but also acknowledge other gods. The Christians were called atheists because they believed in only one God. The beautiful story of Polycarp’s martyrdom is well known. He was asked not only to deny Christ but to say 'Away with those that deny the gods.' Polycarp’s words, “Away with the impious.” And as for denying Christ, his words were, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?”

Yes, how can we deny the One who has taken on our flesh and even now in his resurrected body forgives and nourishes his Church? Strengthen your Church with faithfulness and truth Lord Jesus.

Picture by Penny Juncker


Anonymous said...

Elnes, whatever his pretensions, a conventional UCC, and McLaren at this point might just as well be. That pretty much says it all.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Anonymous said...

I read these articles last night and was surprised by how pretentious and elitist these authors came off. I have also read many other articles similar to these by Progressive Christian writers. I see a common theme of social justice, politics, and sexual identity. In the articles I don't hear much about Jesus and quite frankly I find them boring. There is nothing transformative in their theology.

David Snyder.
Dalton, GA

Viola Larson said...

David F., But it isn't just UCC, I was led to the articles because a PCUSA friend posted them on Facebook. I think it is time to start looking a little closer at some of these ideas-which I don't agree with but which seem to be getting further away from Jesus and the word.

Viola Larson said...

David S.
Looking at the Emergent sites I sometimes see book lists and I want to write a comment about reading the old books too. All they seem to read are books on emergent or how the church is changing.

C.S. Lewis in his introduction to St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation writes of the importance of reading the old books. In matters of theological problems Lewis wrote:

"The only safety is to have a standard of plain central Christianity ('mere Christianity' as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books."

The whole introduction is worth reading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Viola, I will definitely check out the introduction to that book. I like what Lewis wrote in the introduction. As a culture we tend to be near sited and often ignore the wisdom of the past thinking that the present age has all the answers. Reading the epistles of Paul we see the theological problems of his day aren't that different than today and over the long arc of time those issues die out or take some new form.

By the way, I've enjoyed reading your blog over the past year. Keep up the good work!

David S

Viola Larson said...

Thank you David,

You will need to find the edition that is translated by Sister Penelope Lawson to get the introduction by C.S. Lewis.

Anonymous said...

I found the intro on a blog....

Patrick Watters said...

I believe in my heart what you've expressed here Viola, but my personal dilemma is always how to state my beliefs (verbally, in writing and generally in my life) without coming across as judgmental and arrogant (self-righteous) myself?! As I've said elsewhere, I seem to get bashed from both sides on this and other issues, and am beginning that maybe that's okay? I've been trying lately to simply see and love others with God's "eyes", and only "speak" when asked to, and then always with both salt and grace, easier said than done.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Patrick,

Yes, that is easier than said than done.
but one thing to remember is your relationship to Christ comes first of all, and loving others through him sometimes means telling the other the truth about Christ and his word. We would be absent much of the Bible if that was not so.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for the link David S.

Chas Jay said...

Viola, I've enjoyed your blog so much and can't thank you enough for what you have given me this past year.

I read through the articles and many comments and I shake my head at how blind they are in that they are exactly what they claim about the orthodox and fundamentalists. I Corinthians 5 is completely ignored in their discussions. We are given command to judge those that claim to be our brothers and sisters yet call sin good. Paul wrote that we are to be removed from those who continue in their prideful boasting of their sin, which in Corinth was the incestuous relationship of mother and son. Considering the latest inclusions expanded to LGBTQQ, the mother-son relationship in Corinth easily falls under both of the Q's - queer and questioning.

Viola Larson said...


Chas Jay said...

Hi Viola,
Yes, they are referring themselves more and more as the LGBTQQ with QQ standing for Queer and Questioning. Some have even gone to making adding IA to it, which stand for Intersex and Asexual Allies. Here's a link to The Free Dictionary that shows the former.