Saturday, May 06, 2006

Appendix One: Does Emergent/US Embrace Practicing Jews as Fellow Believers in the One True God?

An unsettling event took place this past month in New York City. Emergent-US leaders Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones were full participants in a Jewish Emergent Dialogue called Synagogue 3000.

From the website:

S3K – Synagogue 3000 is a catalyst for excellence, empowering congregations and communities to create synagogues that are sacred and vital centers of Jewish life.[1]

Promotional materials for the event copied off of the Emergent-US website read as follows:

S3K Senior Fellow Lawrence A. Hoffman... said... “It offers us an opportunity unique to all of human history: a chance for Jews and Christians to do God's work together, not just locally, but nationally, community by community, in shared witness to our two respective faiths."

According to Emergent-U.S. National Coordinator Tony Jones, this meeting has historic possibilities. "As emerging Christian leaders have been pushing through the polarities of left and right in an effort to find a new, third way, we've been desperate to find partners for that quest," he said. "It's with great joy and promise that we partner with the leaders of S3K to talk about the future and God's Kingdom."

Not only are many Jewish religious communities looking to the experiences of Christian innovators, especially in the context of worship that engages the unaffiliated, but they are seeing a similar paradigm shift from the Baby Boomer individualistic seeker mode to an emergent Generation X/post-GenX search for spirituality in community. S3K Director of Research Shawn Landres, himself a GenXer active in an emergent Jewish congregation, said, "We hope to learn from their experience and also to build bridges by engaging and challenging one another."[2]

The organization of this event was prompted by conversations initiated by Brian McLaren:

Prominent Emergent Christian theologian Brian McLaren (_A New Kind of Christian_) has met with Synagogue 3000's leadership three times in recent months to discuss shared concerns, particularly surrounding attempts by younger Christians and Jews to express their spiritual commitments through social justice. "We have so much common ground on so many levels," he notes. "We face similar problems in the present, we have common hopes for the future, and we draw from shared resources in our heritage. I'm thrilled with the possibility of developing friendship and collaboration in ways that help God's dreams come true for our synagogues, churches, and world."[3]

Reports by the 20-30 participants[4] in this event were, not surprisingly, quite positive.

From the Synagogue 3000 folks:

The Conversation Begins...

In January 2006, Synagogue 3000 first convened the S3K Working Group on Emergent Sacred Communities, a group of visionary Jewish leaders unbound by conventional expectations about what a synagogue is supposed to be. To enrich the conversation, S3K invited members of the Working Group to exchange ideas with leaders from Emergent-US (a network of forward-thinking Christian innovators), as well as three leading scholars of American religious life, Wade Clark Roof, Steven M. Cohen and Ryan Bolger.

This meeting of the Working Group on Emergent Sacred Communities also marked the first time ever that Emergent/U.S. had met with any religious group outside the Christian faith. It was exciting and inspiring, even historic. In addition, the members of the S3K Working Group on Spiritual Leadership - some of the most accomplished and creative Jewish rabbis, cantors, and artists in the country - were also in attendance.

What was learned during all this? A few things.

Not only are many Jewish religious communities looking to the experiences of Christian innovators, especially in the context of worship that engages the unaffiliated, but they are seeing a similar paradigm shift from an individual-oriented seeker mode to a relational conversation aimed at spirituality in intentional community.

The nebula of emergent Jewish communities is beginning to define itself and work out what kind of network they'll form. In many ways they are where the Emergent Christian group was in 1996-97, as it formed within The Leadership Network. The journey of Emergent-US up to this point in its existence was instructive and illuminating to the emergent Jewish leaders: time has helped the emerging Christian community become a relatively more tight-knit and well-defined group.

The conversation across traditions allows us to understand more clearly what the "Emergent" phenomenon is. Within each tradition, there are two broad streams: a congregational stream based in communities of practice, and an encounter-based stream based in individual spiritual expression.

The priorities of American spiritual communities are changing as Generation X comes of age and takes over leadership positions. The work of Wade Clark Roof, Steven M. Cohen and Ryan Bolger all points in a similar direction: younger people crave spirituality but they aren't interested in either rote rules or in lightweight, "easy" worship.

Instead, they are interested in a devotional experience that moves beyond congregational walls and buildings, that builds community and, perhaps most of all, gives them what they call an authentic connection to their traditions and to God. The emerging leaders at this conference, both Jewish and Christian, are actively attending to that desire.[5]

From an Emergent participant:

...with emergent synagogues and emerging churches moving to less institutional and more organic forms, new space is created for renewed dialogue. Our American form of faith community has largely been determined by modern culture with little critique from the respective traditions. Emerging synagogues and churches have deconstructed these forms, creating simple spiritual communities formed around texts (texts that share a good deal of common ground). Because of these similarities from one to another, I believe we will see much fruitful interaction between the two communities in the years to come.[6]

What is to be made of this?

If nothing else, it is clear that EC sees little difference between themselves and practicing Jews. Even if this is merely an effort to cooperate on social issues (what McKnight at least pleads for) then one has to seriously question the common sense of these men. Getting together to worship God with those who deny Jesus is God and do not look to Him for their salvation is foolish and misleading to those who follow you.

For example, look at how one EC observer runs with this:

What is Mitziut? Something positive and incredible is happening in East Rogers Park. Mitziut is a non-denominational Jewish spiritual community creating an amazing Jewish spiritual experience.

Pronounced "mit-see-oot," the name Mitziut comes from the Hebrew word for "reality." Comprised not only of people from the neighborhood, participants come from Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Oak Park, Lakeview, Edgewater, Ravenswood, Albany Park, and the Gold Coast as well as Hyde Park, Indiana and Dekalb. People from all Jewish backgrounds and friends from different spiritual paths are coming and finding a welcoming, participatory community.

The non-denominational services are inclusive, participatory, joyous, relaxed and feature wonderful music, sacred Hebrew chant, prayerful experience, meaningful Torah teachings and are infused with traditional kavanah ("intention") and ancient spirituality. Various activities such as a meditation drop-in group and a Jewish drum circle allow individuals to deepen their individual Jewish spiritual explorations within a group experience.[7]

Did Pagitt and all look around the room and weep at those who were lost without Christ? That is certainly not the impression one gets from reading the reports and looking at the pictures. Maybe he and his friends need to carefully read the New Testament book of Romans once more and remember what God says about those who trust in their own righteous deeds and not in Jesus Christ.

[1] accessed on April 1, 2006. S3K as it is called is kind of like “Rick Warren for Jews.” That is not meant to be offensive... WarrenSaddleback Church and the Emergent/US website are the only two “evangelical” websites linked to.

[4] From pictures accessed Ryan Bolger’s blog on it doesn’t appear that there were more than 30 people at this event. Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones and Ryan Bolger were there. I could not determine from my research if McLaren was present. I note the numbers, because it demonstrates how misleading the internet can be. By reading the press reports and blog posts, you would easily gain the impression there were hundreds and hundreds in attendance.

[5] accessed on April 2, 2006.

[6] accessed on April 3, 2006. What is rather surprising is the lack of much else on the web by way of reporting. A few brief searches yielded only Bolger’s comments. It could be that I just missed the reports, but I did scan the blogs of the rest of the major EC players and found nothing. Seeing that Bolger claims to not be EC, one wonders if there was a concerted effort to quiet down this event? That is pure speculation though. Scot McKnight sure seemed to be working hard to make little of the conference. See his blog posting here