Presenting on Convergent Friends at FAHE in June

 So much for a really creative title! It was the best I could think of at this hour. Anyways, Last year at this time I was living in Birmingham England, away from my pregnant wife, finishing up my first year of doctoral studies and working on Quaker theology with a guy named Pink (see my three posts here). Needless to say a lot has happened since that time, and a lot has happened because of that time. As a result of my project I did with “Ben” (Pink) this past summer, and because of his encouragement, I applied to present on convergent Friends for the Friends Association for Higher Education conference happening at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center this June. I was really excited to see that my proposal was accepted and am now in the midst of preparing for that presentation. I don’t have any fancy titles for the workshop I’ll be doing just yet, but a couple ideas are:

  • (Re)Inventing the Past With the Present 
  • Tradition as (only) grounds for innovation
  • Convergent Friendship: New Media and Quaker Renewal
None of these really jump out just yet, so I’ll keep tinkering. Anyways, I have 75 minutes for the presentation or workshop. I prefer workshop because it will be a more interactive session then one talking head the whole time. I plan on giving a 20-30 min (not sure which yet) talk that brings everyone up to speed on some basic history, terms, and introductions to the conversation and then I plan on opening up the group to some activities, queries, and who knows, maybe something a little crazy(?).
In order to prepare for the presentation, I’ve been reading through a number of Yoder’s essays on tradition, ecumenicism, mission, and the theology radical reformation church. I’m also reading through a number of Quaker texts (QRT essays, Dandelion, Gwyn, Muers, and possibly Jay Marshall’s recent study) and a couple of philosophy texts dealing with poststructuralism (Beasley), the Enlightenment (Foucault), and religious convictions amidst pluralism (McClendon). I will also be working through as many convergent Friends blog posts as possible in the coming weeks.
I also have enough material that I’ve put together over the last couple years to not do new research, but I feel like I need to have all my bases covered, and I’m hoping for a little extra inspiration and some new ideas on the subject. A good portion of my ideas will be coming from the paper I did with Ben this past summer with the very exciting title of, “Contemporary Quaker Tradition in Three Perspectives: A Dialogue With Alasdair MacIntyre.”  
I also wanted to post the workshop description I’ve written up here for anyone who is interested in reading further about what I hope to be doing with the group.

Convergent Friends Workshop FAHE June 2008: 

“To seek through meeting together and dialogue between the various strands of current Quakerdom new life and light under the leading of the Holy Spirit–something that might be called ‘convergent’ or ‘emergent’ Quakerism????

St. Louis 1970 ‘Future of Friends’

Description of Convergent Friends:

Convergent Friends is best thought of as a conversation among a variety of Friends from every branch, and more technically, it can be thought of as a hermeneutic from which Quaker theology and history is read in light of today’s cultural transitions and challenges. It rejects the idea of being called a movement, organization or something that indicates institutionalization.  It has no official ties and operates more as a meta-community for Quakers.  On one hand, convergent Friends appeal to the important role of tradition in shaping the spiritual and moral lives of the people within that particular historical community.  In this way it is a conservative sensibility because it takes seriously the primary texts, virtues and practices of those who started and profoundly shaped the Quaker tradition. This means that while not all convergent Friends are Christian, all are willing to wrestle with and acknowledge the importance of Quakerism as a part of the Christian narrative.  On the other hand, it sees faith (and the church) as always emerging, never a static entity. Thus, these Friends seek to engage the questions of contemporary culture for the purpose of bring the whole of life under the worship and mission of God. In this sense, these Friends have had a specific affinity to the emerging/emergent church conversation because their theologians have sought to disengage the church from the secularizing affects of modernity, while engaging the questions and issues that revolve around late-modernity, or post-modernity. 

Description of the workshop:

This workshop is a basic introduction to the convergent Friends conversation a brief history on the formation of this group, what they do to spread their message, what that message is (and why it is important) will be discussed. The workshop will consist of a short presentation, followed by interactive group discussion on this topic. You do not need to know anything about convergent Friends to participate.

Purpose of the workshop:

This workshop sets out to help people become acquainted with who the convergent Friends are, how they came about and what it is they do. The hope is that there will be some basic connections with concepts like emerging church, postmodernism, blogs, social networking, tradition and practice. An  excitement about the possibilities not only of the future of the Quaker church, but also of its present – that is what people are already doing to help reinvent the tradition – should be communicated. Finally, one should be able to walk away with some imaginative stirrings about new and old ways to connect their everyday life and worship.


  1. To be able to identify some of the key questions and issues convergent Friends are dealing with.
  2. To know a basic history of how this group came about, and understand their uniqueness within Quakerism.
  3. To recognize new ways in which the Quaker tradition is spreading.
  4. To discover ways in which we can become involved with convergent Friends.

The Four Converging Areas:

These four areas operate as the very broad categories of which convergent Friends have traversed. On the one hand, these should not be seen as wholly separate groupings, rather, they often operate together, informing one another and enriching the conversation. On the other hand, it is the fact that there is a plurality of gifts and interests within this group of Friends, no different than the rest of the church. Some Friends emphasize different aspects of these features, picking up on those parts they are most interested and gifted in. This allows for a diversity of voices and ministry among the convergent Friends. I would note, as far as I know, those who consider themselves convergent Friends, acknowledge the need for all four of these aspects, even if they don’t focus on particular ones.

  1. Emerging Church – Mission/Culture 
  2. Conservative – Tradition/Practice
  3. Friendship – Ecumenicism/Theology/Community (theology is the basis for our need to work together, it is also the (un)common language that we have).
  4. New Media (blogs, social networking, etc) – Community/Outreach
If you’re going to be at FAHE, my presentation is on Sunday at 9:30-10:45 in the Art Room (which I’m happy to have!). 


14 responses to “Presenting on Convergent Friends at FAHE in June”

  1. Hey Wess, this sounds great. I wish I could be there.

    Between your preparation for this, and my preparation for my workshop at the FGC gathering this summer, we should have a lot to offer at our Quaker Center workshop next February in California.

  2. Thanks for this, Wess – I am really starting to understand what is meant by ‘Convergent’ now (I’m still pretty new!). I wish I could come to Woodbrooke to hear you and participate, but my health prevents me. I hope it all goes well – it’s an important topic.

    I’m puting this blog on the blogroll of mine – I hope that’s OK.

  3. @Robin, thanks! I agree by next Feb we’ll have plenty to work off of. Maybe we should plan a trip to San Fran for planning and a little fun in the city…

    @Heather, Thanks for the comment. Welcome to the conversation and I hope you’ll join in! Of course you can add me to your blogroll – what’s your address?

  4. Wess, I wish I could be there.
    Please know I will be holding you in prayer in the Light of Christ.

  5. Wess

    I wont be at FAHE (though I’m just down the road from Woodbrooke), but I’d love to hear your thoughts on Quaker tradition and Alasdair MacIntyre. Do Quakers (still) have a viable tradition in the MacIntyrean sense?

    Grace & Peace


  6. @Jeremiah: Thanks for the comment. Are you interested in grabbing a pint or something with me while I’m in town? I’d love to chat MacIntyre, Quakers, etc.

    Let me know. You can contact me via the contact button up above, or catch me on IM: gatheringinlight

  7. Wess,

    Sorry I won’t be making it to FAHE this summer. I notice that when you say you read some philosophers you don’t mention anyone in the Analytic tradition. I noticed the same thing at FAHE last summer when any Quakers affiliated in any way with the theology school at Earlham. Theologians just don’t read what most philosophers consider mainstream philosophy. This came up in our discussions as to why that is. Anyway I’d recommend you read some more mainstream philosophers like John Hick or William Alston. MacIntyre is interesting in some ways but ultimately he doesn’t work any of his ideas out fully enough to make them clear.

  8. Hi Richard, I’m bummed that you won’t be there. In terms of the Analytic tradition, MacIntyre is definitely there, as is James Wm. McClendon, and one of my doctoral advisors Nancey Murphy – so we have at least some of those bases covered. I’m getting some speech-act theory through McClendon’s book “Convictions” who uses JL Austin, I’ve read a little Hicks, and just don’t really find his project helpful for my own tasks or standpoint. I am familiar with Plantinga, Paul Ricouer and others as well.

    You may be right about (most) Quaker theologians not engaging with “mainstream” philosophers – I’ve found that there can be a lot of inner-discourse without dealing with some of those thinkers outside the tradition.

    I find MacIntyre very helpful, so helpful in fact that at least some of my dissertation will deal with his work, so I’m not sure what you mean by him not being clear, but I assume we’re looking for, and using the text for different things.

    I do think that Foucault, Derrida, Zizek and Badiou, all philosopher’s who are not from the Analytic tradition, are nevertheless “mainstream” so far as it goes. And these are all thinkers I’ve also found helpful insights from.

    Are there others you think would be worth pursuing? And are there some texts you think are necessary to be covered? I’m certainly open to going further where I can.

  9. Even if I can’t be there we can talk here. And I think that in some ways the discussions that arise on QuakerQuaker can actually be more fruitful than face to face. (On the other hand in some ways face to face is irreplaceable. Just meeting “Contemplative Scholar” at FAHE last year was great and I am looking forward to meeting LizOp in person when she comes to see us at North Carolina Conservative YM next month.) Anyway here goes.

    I don’t know that I really count MacIntyre as an Analytic philosopher. He seems to be coming more out of the Aristotlean-Thomistic tradition. What I, and most other Analytic philosophers, find unclear about MacIntyre is rather the very central question of “what is the good?” He often sounds like a relativist–various communities and traditions define “good” for themselves and there is no good beyond the way these traditions define the term locally. But MacIntyre denies that he is a relativist. His insistence that he is not a relativist is bound up with his distinction between living and dead traditions. It’s a fine and useful distinction but I don’t see how to answers the question about relativism. Just because a tradition is living (i.e., still open to redefining itself) doesn’t mean that there are objective values. If MacIntyre does think that there are objective values (as I suspect he does) then he really ought to just come out and say so. Of course doing that would mean that a whole raft of other questions would have to be faced: what do we mean by objective value and how do we distinguish between objective values and mere human opinions about value. I don’t mean to pick on MacIntyre here. Lots of other philosophers get all fuzzy when it comes to these really deep questions. Still, I have a strong preference for clear over fuzzy.

    So why did you find John Hick not useful? Have you read his most recent stuff or only the earlier versions of it? I think he made a big mistake by trying to express his ideas in Kantian language. Since there are both realist and irrealist readings of Kant, doing this was an invitation to his critics to read him as an irrealist. I think his mature work makes very clear that he is a realist but the cheap criticism still pervades the literature unfortunately.

    Enough for now. If you are interested in continuing this somewhat esoteric discussion let’s see where it goes.