Observations on the first Philadelphia Indie Allies Meetup. “Just about each of us at the table were coming from different theological starting points, but it’s safe to say we are all ‘post’ something or other. There was a shared sense that the stock answers our churches have been providing aren’t working for us. We are all trying to find new ways to relate to our faith, to Christ and to one another in our church communities.”
The informal network of younger Evangelical Christians centered around websites like theooze.com and JordanCooper.sk.ca has started sponsoring a monthly Indie Allies Meetup of “Independent Christian Thinkers.” Unlike previous months, there were enough people signed up for the October meeting in the Philadelphia area to hold a “meetup,” so two days ago Julie & I found ourselves in a Center City pizza shop with five other “Indie Allies.”
According to Robert E. Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals, I fall pretty squarely into the “Post Liberal” category, à la Stanley Hauerwas. While it’s always dangerous labeling others, I think at least some of the other participants would be comfortable enough with the “Post Evangelical” label (the one pastor among us said that if I read Webber’s book I’d know where he’s coming from). One participant was from the Circle church Julie & I attended last First Day.
Just about each of us at the table were coming from different theological starting points, but it’s safe to say we are all “post” something or other. There was a shared sense that the stock answers our churches have been providing aren’t working for us. We are all trying to find new ways to relate to our faith, to Christ and to one another in our church communities. There’s something about building relationships that are deeper, more down-to-earth and real. Perhaps it’s finding a way to be less dogmatic at the same time that we’re more disciplined. For Friends, that means questioning the contemporary cultural orthodoxy of liberal-think (getting beyond the cliched catch phrases borrowed from liberal Protestantism and sixties-style activism) while being less afraid of being pecularily Quaker.
The conversation was really interesting. After all my Quaker work, it’s always amazing to find other people my age who actually think hard about faith and who are willing to build their life around it. There were times where I think we needed to translate ourselves and times where we tried to map out shared connections (i.e., Richard Foster was the known famous Quaker, I should read him if only to be able to discuss his relationship to Conservative and Liberal Friends).
It was really good to get outside of Quakerism and to hear the language and issues of others. One important lesson is that some of the strong opinions I’ve developed in response to Quaker culture need to be unlearned. The best example was social action. As I’ve written before on the website, I think the Friends peace testimony has become largely secularized and that social action has become a substitute for expressed and lived communal faith. Yet my Meetup cohorts were excited to become involved in social action. Their Evangelical background had dismissed good works as unnecessary – faith being the be-all – and now they wanted to get involved in the world. But I very much suspect that their good works would be rooted in faith to a degree that a lot of contemporary Quaker activist projects aren’t. I need to remind myself that social witness (even my own) can be fine if truly spirit-led.
Committed religious people switching churches often bring with them the baggage of their frustrations with the first church and this unresolved anger often gets in the way of keeping true to God’s call. Even though I’m not leaving Quakerism I have to identify and name my own frustrations so that they don’t get in the way. Hanging out with other “Independent Christian Thinkers” is a way of keeping some perspective, of remembering that Post-Liberal is not exactly anti-Liberal.
Recommended I check out: N.T. Wright, at allelon.net. I just saw him referenced as a personal friend of some of the Republican party leadership in Congress, so this should be interesting.