What is the CANA Initiative? An Interview with McLaren, Spellers and Pagitt

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people within mainline Christian churches note that, though they don’t embrace all of the theological positions of their evangelical sisters and brothers, they are impressed by their aptitude for organizing and affecting change on a large scale. At the same time, I see thousands converge at festivals like the Wild Goose festival in North Carolina, feeling both fed by the invigorating sense of community, but also frustrated to be leaving with the still unanswered question:

What do we do now?

The CANA Initiative, which is a joint collaboration of Brian McLarenStephanie Spellers, and Doug Pagitt, seeks to help answer that nagging question. Cana seeks to be the connective tissue that helps hold together communities of faith that share common priorities in addressing the pressing socioeconomic issues of our time.

From their website, “The CANA Initiative brings together innovative leaders from all streams of the faith to collaborate in the development of new ways of being Christian … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings and practices of mission, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and spiritual formation, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.”

Following is an exclusive audio interview I conducted for Sojourners with these three key voices in the CANA conversation. We talked about why CANA is needed now, more than ever, and what sort of transformation they hope to affect within the greater Christian body.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Cana Sciscoe

    I find it oddly unsettling to have an organization using my first name as the title of this “initiative”. After reviewing the site details and their vague description of purpose.. I am even more concerned.

    • Christian Piatt

      it’s an acronym, not a tribute :-)

  • Yeoman

    They have to be vague and serpenty because if they were forthright, alarms would go off in Christian minds everywhere and would prevent them from attempting to coopt the Church.

  • Mike LeMay

    Just another tired progressive movement to discount the Bible as the truth of God and a human attempt “widen the gate to salvation” that Jesus told us would be very narrow. Quite frankly anyone who takes Mclaren seriously anymore is truly lost. Very sad.

  • guest

    What does CANA stand for? (The initials, I mean)

    • SFCDeano

      NewNet Convenes, Advocates, Networks and Acts (CANA)

      Convene – Provide the context for people and organizations to more publicly identify with the movement and collaborate within the United States.
      We aggregate and promote events and conversations for the the generation of friendship, shared thought, and collective action among organizations and leaders around the country.
      We provide online resources – to connect related organizations, affiliates, allies, resources
      We build and strengthen alliances between leaders, organizations, and networks who together build the movement
      We provide a means by which “NewNet” can relate to parallel regional networks around the world.

      Advocate – Speak on behalf of the movement to potential participants, the press, critics, and opponents.
      We produce key documents – to identify values, ethical standards, questions for conversation, and proposals for action.
      We develop a press office – to provide secular and religious media with trained, responsible spokespeople for this emerging Christian ethos.
      We disseminate movement news and provide an edited news/commentary aggregator
      We select and support a group of gifted, trained, committed, and diverse leaders to represent and advance the movement.
      Speakers’ Bureau – to provide growing numbers of spokespeople for Emergence Christianity.

      Network – Champion Ideas and help insure voices have what is needed to articulate bold and meaningful proposals for collective action
      Create transparent communication and decision-making structures
      Welcome and include new participants into the network
      Assist fundraising for participants by telling the larger story and inviting financial participation
      Help people find churches, organizations cohorts, staff, jobs, etc., to promote the larger goals of the movement.
      Identify issues and opportunities of participation among NewNet participants

      Act – Collectively collaborate more consciously and effectively in six areas that are essential to vital movements
      Understand opportunities and challenges
      Articulate our message
      Engage in strategic collective action
      Mobilize people and resources
      Build movement culture
      Enrich participant lives

  • Guest

    Thanks Philip. Great. as usual.
    Ah, wineskins, wineskins! Some keep saying ‘the old is better’. But better for who? Mission is always under suspicion when it enculturates afresh and is therefore different from ‘home’. If only a few more folks took time to read some old sages – like Roland Allen, or Lesslie Newbigin even. In a new culture (like post-1950′s) styles of belonging have changed, reasons for associating have changed. We do well to pay some attention to the changers, such as CANA. The ‘fad’ of an Anglophone churched culture is past perhaps. What will be built in its stead? How can we help? Certainly not by being critical spectators standing in the doorways or blocking the halls – as the old song goes.


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