Unitarianism and the emerging church?

Blogs are good places for controversy- I think.

But not controversy just for the sake of controversy. So forgive me if I open up the issue that appears to be the nightmare of any fundamentalist (and many liberal) Christian- the spectre of Univeralist belief systems.

I have a reason for doing this. The idea of univeralism has crossed my path a few times recently. There was Fred Hammond’s response to this blog post. Fred is a Unitarian Minister in the America’s deep south- and has an interesting blog here.

I am also back from my brother-in-laws wedding. He and Emma chose to get married in a Unitarian Chapel in their home town of Belper in Derbyshire. It was a wonderful wedding, created by Chris and Emma as a highly individual celebration of their decision to live and love together. I picked up some leaflets about the chapel, first established in 1680, and about Unitarianism itself, which left me thinking…

Then there is our local hymn-writing hero, George Matheson, the Blind Preacher of Innellan, Argyll. He is perhaps most famous for writing the wonderful hymn ‘O love that wilt not let me go’, but in his time, thousands flocked to hear his oratory power. I came across one of his other hymns recently when attending a lecture at his former church in Innellan. It gives a whole different perspective on the theological melting pot that was Victorian religion in Britain.

Gather us in, Thou Love that fillest all;
Gather our rival faiths within Thy fold;
Rend each man’s temple veil, and bid it fall,
That we may know that Thou hast been of old.

Gather us in—we worship only Thee;
In varied names we stretch a common hand;
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit land.

Each sees one color of Thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven;
Thou art the fullness of our partial sight;
We are not perfect till we find the seven.

Thine is the mystic life great India craves;
Thine is the Parsee’s sin-destroying beam;
Thine is the Buddhist’s rest from tossing waves;
Thine is the empire of vast China’s dream.

Thine is the Roman’s strength without his pride;
Thine is the Greek’s glad world without its graves;
Thine is Judea’s law with love beside,
The truth that censures and the grace that saves.

Some seek a Father in the heav’ns above;
Some ask a human image to adore;
Some crave a spirit vast as life and love;
Within Thy mansions we have all and more.

So- Unitarianism. What do they believe? The good old BBC has a summary (see here for more.) A couple of lines stood out…

everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves, using: their intellect; their conscience and their own experience of life

the best setting for finding religious truth and meaning is a community that welcomes each individual for themselves, complete with their beliefs, doubts and questions.

It occurs to me that many of the critics of the ’emerging church’ (whatever this is, or whatever we call it now!) categorise it’s followers as essentially liberal, and sliding towards a universalist position on faith and truth. That is to say, the suggestion is that we have bought into a post-modern way of thinking that sees everything as relative to your own individual perspective- and truth itself as multi-faceted and undefinable.

And, if I am honest, there seems to be much of the Unitarian tradition that I feel in sympathy with- the point above for example.

But I remain a follower of Jesus, and things that he said and is doing through us, his faulty followers. I have reminded myself that I am not universalist in my beliefs. I may be uninterested in labeling anyone else a heretic, but when it comes down to it, I do not believe that all routes lead to God, nor that all faiths bring equal but complimentary truth.

There may yet be a point at which the Emerging Church has emerged, into something with its own unifying doctrinal statements. I hope the two above will be there, more or less complete…

4 thoughts on “Unitarianism and the emerging church?

  1. I voiced similar concerns some time ago. Unfortunately the situation seems to be that too many Emergents are focussed too much on what they are running away from, and not looking out for what they are running in to. There are already UU’s participating in EC conversations, often without Emergents realizing it. More discernment is required. No, more, a commitment to orthodoxy (in the doxa = worship sense).

  2. Hey there Matt- thanks for the comment. Loving your site too- look forward to exploring it a bit more… some of the art looks great.

    Not quite sure what concerns you were tapping into above though?

    The hard boundaries of doctrinal correctness that would once have led me to fleeing from anything with a whiff of Unversalism are no longer part of my faith experience, and this feels great to me! More importantly, as far as I am able to discern- and I accept that my spiritual goggles are far from 20/20- I think that God is leading whole swathes of people in this direction too!

    Is this, as you seem to imply, sometimes reactive- a rejection of what was by disaffected Christians, rather than a real movement of God?

    I think there is definitely an element of this in the mix, you are right… but is this not always the case in any embryonic movement? It is perhaps a sign of immaturity, but it is also an engine for change- and we need change I think!

    However, I am not really sure who the ’emergents’ are… there are some key figures who are shaping thought, but it is likely that things will look very different in Scotland than they do where you are.

    As for ‘a commitment to orthodoxy’, I suppose this depends on who is defining what is ‘ortho’ I like McLaren’s phrase, ‘A Generous orthodoxy’.

    I also like Karen Ward’s distinction between ‘big theologies’ (the ones owned and defined by the religious power brokers) and the ‘little theologies’ (the ones owned by you and me, in the face of day to day life) These may be perfectly compatible- but my emphasis will always be on the later.

    And for my money- anyone is welcome to join the conversation- UU’s or whoever. If that exposes people to potential heresy, well so be it!

    Blessings to you down there

    Chris

  3. Pingback: Interfaith dialogue… « this fragile tent

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