Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Quakers as the First Emergents

As I noted in a comment posted to my “Convergent, Emergent, Divergent” blog, I'm reading Tony Jones' The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.

One line from its early section really resonated with me and my feelings about convergence/emergence and Quakers. In telling a story about Lillian Daniel (a UCC pastor friend of mine), Tony writes, "Lillian thought she was joining a movement, but she was joining a bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy tends to quash the passion of the many Christ-centered and enthusiastic persons therein."

As I read farther into the book, I saw some things that made me wonder if Quakers weren’t the original Emergents. When Tony shares some things from Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian, Tony relates how the fictional Neo (a former Presbyterian pastor turned Episcopal layman) says:
  • About the Bible – “What if the real issue is not the authority of the text … but rather the authority of God.” This, of course, resonates with what Friends have long held – that we honor and cherish the written words of God in scripture, but God is our ultimate authority. As George Fox said, “’Oh! no; it is not the scriptures;’ and told them it was the Holy Spirit, by which … opinions, religions, and judgments were to be tried; for it [The Holy Spirit] led into all Truth.”

  • About Christianity as the exclusive spiritual truth, Neo says “Look, Dan, I believe Jesus is the Savior, not Christianity.” Again, to quote Fox, “O then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.”

  • And about evangelism – “Stop counting conversions… Instead count conversations, because conversation implies a real relationship, and if we make our goal to establish relationships … I know that conversions will happen.” Friend George Fox said, “Bring all into the worship of God... And this is the word of the Lord God to you all, and a charge to you all in the presence of the living God: be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”

There are many connection points – robust theological thinking, a missional approach, gender equality, social action – as well. Of course, where the similarities break down are that I’m thinking of the early Quakers, not us today. Today, I’m afraid, too many of our congregations (especially the pastoral ones) are too much like one Friend described them, saying we “behave for all the world other low-temperature Protestant churches.”

Now before it begins to sound like I am an unabashed apologist for convergence or emergence, let me say I’m not. After years of being a pastor and a congregational consultant, I’m a skeptic (not that I’m not naturally. Ha) – especially when it comes to congregational programming that is the latest and greatest. “Best practices” often aren’t. What works in one congregation cannot guarantee success in other. But still, this convergence/emergence thing feels much a movement in the same way the early Friends were a movement. And I hope that perhaps it can help break us out of that “that bureaucracy [that] tends to quash the passion of the many Christ-centered and enthusiastic persons therein."



wess daniels said...

Brent, I'm glad to see some other Quakers engaging Jone's book. I'd like to see you approach it on its own and offer a review if whether you liked it and thought it was helpful. In terms of the convergent connection I agree with the connections you pointed to, and also your underlying picture how things really are.

I'd like to posit just for sake of reminding all of us Quakers that historically speaking it really is the anabaptists that are more likely the first 'emergents.' I think Quakers need to join hands with our Anabaptist brothers and sisters because we really have a lot to share across the table. Further, there is a huge conversation among Anabaptists and emerging church online, not unlike our convergent conversation.

Also - I'd like to press your point a little further. You said, " Of course, where the similarities break down are that I’m thinking of the early Quakers, not us today. Today, I’m afraid, too many of our congregations" and I couldn't agree more. In fact, when I first learned about the emerging church a few years back I thought, "hey, they're being better Quakers than we are!" And I still stand by that point so far as it goes. What I mean is, our Quaker institutions (programmed or unprogrammed) are way to tied to the patterns, 'rituals' and ways of doing things to really find any benefit from the emerging conversation, that is unless we're really willing to begin deconstructing these approaches, laying them before the Lord and asking "where do we go now?" I think the power that the early Anabaptists had, as well as Quakers, and for that matter the apostles and early church, was that they saw themselves primarily as a missionary people, that is a exilic people always on the go -- where the 'way' we do things isn't as important as the how and the why. It's time for a newly contextualized form of the peace church to arise!

Brent Bill said...

Wess -- I'll do an extended review of Jones' book soon, but in the short-term let me say I liked it. Well written and filled with clear and careful and care-full thinking.

Of course, you're right about the Anabaptists. I was thinkng of us in light of Jones' book where he lumps us w/ mainstream Christianity.

I think, if the leading continues, that the subject of my next blog post would be some of my thinking on what's in your thrid paragraph -- what does it mean for Quakers to be the Friends of Jesus in this day? And I'd probably focus most on the programmed tradition since that's what I know best. I do believe it would involve a rethinking of our "order" of worship and a reorientation of our architecture. What should a Meetingroom look like? Could we -- would we -- dare ask such questions of ourselves? Would we -- could we -- change if called to?

wess said...

Brent - that sounds great. I look forward to your thoughts on the matter, and I agree that from our position of being 'programmed' friends looking at ourselves and daring to ask the impossible is the best place to start. I'll dare if you dare. ;)

forrest said...

I'm going to plug what I think is another sort of book... Sarah Miles, _Take This Bread_.

Miles was an atheist who got Zapped by a group of Episcopalians experimenting with the liturgy; that is, she was there seeking Something in the first place, and they were experimenting at the time--But God had to twang that Spark into the act. And then Miles spent the next many months trying to work out how "I am an atheist" fit into the same head with "That bread was full of Jesus!"--which she utterly Knew!

The Radical Truth In The Air when Quakers were getting our start was "You don't need no stinking clergy (or liturgy!) to get you up to airspeed!" What we've forgotten, as a group, many times over and over, is that you do need to get up to speed to get yourself airborn, or you'll end up with a bunch of Silent Unitarians just sitting there. (That's kind of a goof, because the woman who really got me seriously looking for God _was_ a Unitarian! But I was thinking of the pastor at Pendle Hill, who remarked that when she returned to her congregation she'd be led to use the G Word, and it was going to make them all itch!)

So it really isn't about What's the Right Liturgy? any more than it was ever about Thou Shall Not Use Liturgy! It's about Dancing Naked Before the Lord! Kind of hard to do at Meeting, and some folks might take it wrong... but I mean Naked in the sense of Adam suddenly realizing that there was only God and him there, and that no fig leaf, nor any number of fig leaves, was going to make him anything but who he was, where he was, apple juice on his face and all! Can we realize that together? (It takes a Spiritual Critical Mass of one, I think... and when you're not up to that, someone else in the group may well surprise you!)

Anonymous said...

Hey, can you please remove the link that got attached to "Spiritual Critical Mass"? That might be a perfectly fine book it's pointing toward, but I was just trying to use a straightforward metaphor, not have it highjacked by some rabid advertising software!

(Forrest again.)

& while I'm here... I'm still not entirely sure myself what my message was in that last post... but it may be like what William Stringfellow was saying about the Gift of Tongues, that the closest analogue to it we know in secular life would be a conversation between two young people in love. If we and God can do that...

Brent Bill said...

Forrest -- sorry about that. The "sales pitch" is gone...