10 Core Characteristics of Emerging Integral Christianity

Emerging Christianity invites a fundamental shift in Christ consciousness itself and is receptive to the Holy Spirit’s action and presence within oneself and the culture. It is not happening in just one church structure. Rather it is arising within individuals and communities across denominational lines. There is a lively, animating energy coming from within and our invitation is to simply pay attention.

What are some significant characteristics of this movement?

1. The recovery of the contemplative tradition which invites nondual ways of seeing which take us beyond the opposition either/or categories of liberal or conservative, feminist or patriarchal, activist or contemplative, Eastern or Western practices, Catholic or Protestant or New Thought. The nondual heart is born in a state of conscious attunement to the Spirit and requires a regular practice of contemplative prayer, which is a non-negotiable in inviting this radical shift in consciousness. It invites deepening self-awareness of the ways in which our egoic, false self clings to habits that get in the way of clear seeing. It’s core practice is rooted in the psalmist’s song: “Be still and know that I am God.”

2. Critical biblical scholarship which challenges old ways of understanding the life of Jesus. This means that no one Truth is THE right Truth because every religion is shaped and informed by the culture of its time. The narratives change because we change with each encounter and our interpretation of sacred texts will change. There is no airtight system of faith for we will always be in conversation with the story of God as revealed through Christ made manifest through you and me and the cultures in which we live. Thus, it includes the Nag Hammadi texts found in the Egyptian desert in 1945 which have a greater nondual focus and also place Mary Magdalene in the center of the gospel story. It invites us into conversation with the wisdom of other sacred traditions.

3. It is global and recognizes that diversity in expressions is simply a part of our humanness. Whether we accept it or not, we are encountering other cultures every day in what we read, watch, and eat and in with whom we converse, love, pray, and play. In this movement, the historical battles around how someone else eats, looks, prays or loves are “either resolved, boring or inessential” to the larger conversation which recognizes the underlying unity of all things throughout history and culture. (R. Rohr)

4. A shift in our location of authority from the hierarchy of church to authority within ourselves and the communities in which we practice our faith. This very shift invites a growing ability to separate wheat from chaff: to be able to distinguish between what is essential (how we live and love) and inessential (how we walk and stand on the altar and how we genuflect and bow and hold our hands during Eucharist). Our growing spiritual maturity is respected and there is faith in the unfolding of Spirit made manifest. Thus, effective authorities invite us into a deepening of our own individual and communal interior discernment, compassion and wisdom.

5. It is praxis oriented in which we are identifying with the life of Jesus as one whose life offered a template for spiritual transformation. It less concerned with doctrines about what to believe and more concerned with how we live. Precious time and energy is not squandered on one singular, doctrinal perspective. Rather, it is channeled into living the gospel of Love which includes a life of non-violence, love of Creation, welcoming of the stranger, living simply, serving with generosity, peacemaking and offering a social critique to systems of domination and power.

6. It is experiential in its communal gatherings and invites creativity and sensory awareness: scents, art, music across cultures, chanting and bodily movement are sacramental. It is not wooden and rote and void of life. It opens us to deeper levels of mystical prayer and lived Trinitarian theology of Creator pouring its Love into the Creation and animated by the Spirit of Love.

7. A growing spirituality of non-violence and “third way” theology that takes us beyond dualisms of us/them, fight/flight, either/or. A deepening capacity for third way seeing is born in contemplative prayer which births compassionate action. (Much appreciation to Richard Rohr for fleshing out “third way” theology).

8. There are new structures of community beyond the parish and the church for it recognizes the typical parish/church cannot answer our great diversity of needs and gifts. These communities include contemplative prayer groups, recovery groups, Catholic Worker houses, spiritual direction groups, New Monasticism communities, online communities, Enneagram communities, yoga and meditation groups, lectio divina, mission groups, peace and justice communities most of which are lay led. It is not anti-church or local parish, but it understands the limits of these institutions.

9. It recognizes and appreciates the multiplicity of our gifts and does not concentrate its power on top tier levels of leadership which are often concerned about power and gender. Rather, it lives and breathes the recognition that we are Christ made manifest through our unique and precious incarnation. Our uniqueness is valued, nurtured, expressed and offered in service and love.

10. It is evolutionary and recognizes we develop through stages of faith and consciousness which means change is a constant. There is an honoring of the past even as we step into an evolving future so there is a recognition that we are constantly learning new things about the world which shape our understanding of our place within it. Insights about science, nature, gender and sex are included and not ignored simply because it isn’t congruent with literal interpretations of sacred texts which were written within the context of their tim. It transcends and includes: thus, it includes literalism as an important stage of faith while allowing a movement that transcends old ways of thinking. It conserves the past even as it progresses into the evolving future. It recognizes that evolution does not only have an order within in it, but also has chaos and change. (Grace loves chaos!).

The emerging spirituality movement must be nondual or it will fall apart in an evolving world. Christianity will not survive in coming centuries if it continues to divide and subdivide into old categories. It must recognize that what is required is a fundamental shift in consciousness which births a contemplative way of stepping into the joys and suffering of the world with profound gratitude for every moment which continually reveals the nature of the gift of Life itself.