C. Wess Daniels is pursuing a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California on issues related to contemporary culture, missiology and the Quaker tradition. He is a husband, father and has recently been called to be the pastor of Camas Friends Church in Washington. His blog is called gathering in light, he is a contributing editor for QuakerQuaker.org and he twitters as well.
The Convergent Church After A Fragmented World
Pluralism presents a problem with authority, but that’s not the whole picture. Even more than a pluralistic world we live in fragmented worlds. Like a hand-spun vase shattered into hundreds of pieces, some pieces are jagged and others smooth, some are big while others are simply shards. Our fragmented world is unequal, uneven, and potentially unsafe. Pluralism, what we might call “pluralism 1.0,” is a fairly domesticated concept. It is shaped by the undertones of capitalism and modern-liberalism, which assumes individual choice and a neutral space from which to judge truth claims. Jonathan R. Wilson writes:
Pluralism…describes a world of competing outlooks, traditions or claims to truth. It pictures a culture made up of coherent, integral communities, traditions, or positions that can be clearly differentiated from one another. Although they disagree and may often be in conflict, where these disagreements are located and why they arise are generally clear to everyone. (Wilson, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World, 1997:27).
Wilson goes on to argue, drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre, that this view of pluralism obscures the real situation which the church faces, in fact, pluralism paints a pretty picture to cover up the far more troubling reality beneath the surface. Our culture is not simply pluralistic, it is shattered into hundreds of pieces. Wilson says our lives “are lived piecemeal, not whole.” Whereas with pluralism there are competing coherent (and equal) authorities the more accurate picture is that even these authorities and traditions are broken and uneven.
But if this is the case then what are church traditions to do in such a culture?
There are a number of ways the church is responding to this fragmented world: first, there are those who either act as though the vase hasn’t shattered, or try to force all the pieces back together with lots of tape and superglue. A second way people respond is to guard the pieces and try, through whatever means possible, to avoid any positive attempts to restructure reality. A third option, what I’d like to put forward, are those who, sticking with the imagery of the hand-spun vase, gather up whatever pieces (of their traditions) they can find and use that material to create a new hand-spun work of bricolage (and what I’ve called Remix elsewhere).
More to the point, the church needs to engage culture by recreating spaces rooted in the wisdom of our own tradition(s) that form alternative ways of living in our world. The first two options do not succeed in this act of creativity. The first group wants to live in a world the way it was, the second group hopes to keep the world as it is, but it is this third group that seeks to live in the world as it should be.
This is why I am a big proponent of groups like the Anglican “Fresh Expressions,” Presbymergent and the Quaker equivalent, convergent Friends. These groups, along with at least some others in the emerging church, seek to create something new out of the remnants of their tradition, rather than give into the ideology of capitalism: pluralism is capitalist insofar as individual choice between equally valid entities remains our highest right. Instead, in convergent Friends parlance, the church needs to be “conservative” and emergent, or conserve whatever pieces of the tradition handed down to use we can gather up, all while producing new, contextual expressions of faith.