Diana Butler Bass. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. HarperOne, 2012. (294 pages)
Part I: The End of Religion
Strange as it may seem in this time of cultural anxiety, economic near collapse, terrorist fear, political violence, environmental crisis, and partisan anger, I believe that the United States (and not only the United States) is caught up in the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of sustained religious and political transformation during which our ways of seeing the world, understanding ourselves, and expressing faith are being, to borrow a phrase, “born again.” (5)
Change is about endings and beginnings and the necessary interrelationship between the two. | Most people accept that technology, politics and social conditions change. But many also think that religion will shield them from the consequences of change in these secular arenas. … Religion rarely protects people from change. (6)
Religious expression is not immutable; it changes all the time. …Christianity is no exception to the historical transformation of our times, and to view faith as either irrelevant to or outside of the purview of global cultural change is foolish. | This book is concerned with religion and change — specifically how Christianity, especially Christianity in the United States, is changing and how people are questioning conventional patterns of faith and belief. (7)
1. The End of the Beginning
What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today… We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as “religious” do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by “religious.”
What does that mean for “Christianity”? If religion is only a garment of Christianity — and even this garment has looked very different at different times — when what is a religionless Christianity? – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and papers from Prison
“To the surprise of liberals who fear the advent of an evangelical theocracy and to the dismay of religious conservatives who long to see their faith more fully expressed in public life, Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population” – Jon Meacham
Rumblings. Despite such examples of vibrant faith, why is Christianity in the United States struggling to maintain its influence, institutions, and numerical strength? (15)
The evidence for a decades-long decline in American religiosity is now incontrovertible — like the evidence for global warming, it comes from multiple sources, shows up in several dimensions, and paints a consistent factual picture — the burden of proof has shifted to those who want to claim that American religiosity is not declining.” – Mark Chaves
On Sundays, other things are more interesting — the New York Times, sports, shopping, Facebook, family time, working in the garden, biking, hiking, sipping lattes at the local coffee shop, meeting up at the dog park, getting the kids to the soccer games. Or just working. (17)
In previous generations, scholars referred to eleven o’clock on Sunday morning as the most segregated hour in America, meaning that white people went to one church, black people to another. Now, the line of segregation is between those who go to church and those who do not. And, judging by the number of cars parked in driveways on Sunday morning in most American cities and suburbs, it is not hard to figure out which group is growing. (17-18)
Bear Market: The Great Religious Recession. …transformation is the air we breathe. But an end to, of all things, religion? (18)
Each church had failed to live out the love of God in practical, relevant, inclusive, and healing ways. (24) …where words and deeds matched and where the theology embodied a robust sense of God’s love. (25)
Revivals and Awakening. …endings are often beginnings. Recession is the gateway to renewal. Dressed in a secular guise, this is actually a core teaching of many faith traditions — notably the idea of resurrection in Christianity, but also reincarnation in some Eastern religions, death and birth in ancestor worship, and cycles of nature in tribal or pagan faiths. (28)
The old garment of faith is taken off — or falls to shreds — as something new emerges from beneath the worn cloth. | In North America, there is a name for such a religious process: awakening. (28)
Awakenings are movements of cultural revitalization that “eventuate in basic restructurings of our institutions and redefinitions of our social goals.” (29)
Revivals and awakening occur in all cultures. They are essentially folk movements, the means by which a people or a nation reshapes its identity, transforms its patterns of thought and action, and sustains a healthy relationship with environmental and social change.” – William McLoughlin
Awakenings begin when old systems break down, in “periods of cultural distortion and grave personal stress, when we lose faith in the legitimacy of our norms, the viability of our institutions, and the authority of our leaders in church and state.” A “critical disjunction” in how we perceive ourselves, God, and the world arises from the stress. The end of the old opens the way for the new. (29)
Whatever the exact chronological schema, the message is mostly the same: We live in a time of momentous historical change that is both exhilarating and frightening. Christianity itself is becoming something different from what it was. (31)
We do live in a time of change; this is a time of endings. Instead of arguing for a worldwide paradigm shift, I argue here for something less grandiose and more historically discrete. Ours is a time of awakening, even a Great Awakening, in line with other such periodic awakenings in North American history, a time of cultural revitalization and reorientation rather than a time of religious apocalypse. (31)
These are hard times, not the end of times. (32) [cf. also, Jon Stewart, and the Rally to Restore Sanity]
A Pattern of Awakening.
- During a crisis of legitimacy individuals cannot “honestly sustain the common set of religious understandings by which they believe they should act.”
- People then experience cultural distortion, during which they conclude that their problems are not the result of personal failings, but rather “institutional malfunction,” as they seek ways to change these structures or reject them.
- Significant individuals or communities then begin to articulate a new vision, new understandings of human nature, God, spiritual practices, ethical communities, and hope for the future.
- As a new vision unfolds, small groups of people who understand the necessity for change begin to follow a new path; they experiment, create, and innovate with religious, political, economic, and family structures in a search for a new way of life.
- Institutional transformation occurs when the innovators manage to “win over that large group of undecided folks” who finally “see the relevance” of the new path and embrace new practices.
In McLoughlin’s map, the first two stages are stages of breakdown and decline; the second two are stages of imagination and possibility; …changed minds and hearts — that is, what we think about ourselves, God, and the world — precede institutional change… (34)
Is this the end of Christian America? The end of Christianity? The end of religion? I think that the endings around us make us new beginnings — a beginning that the Ellens of this world await as the old institutions fail. Ellen’s story signals not the end, but an end, as she expresses her discontent by walking away from what was and asking new questions of religious traditions. Ellen is far from alone. (36)
But waking up is only the first step toward awakening. To awaken spiritually means that we develop a new awareness of God’s energy in the world in order to discern what is needed to open the possibilities for human flourishing. …Thus, awakening demands we act upon the new vision. Wake up, discern, imagine, and do. What will make a difference to the future is awakening to a faith that fully communicates God’s love — a love that transforms how we believe, what we do, and who we are in the world. (37)
2 Questioning the Old Gods
Americans, even those of modest means, exercise more choices in a single day than some of our ancestors did in a month or perhaps even a year. (41)
For most of Western history, the Christian religion did well as an obligatory religion. … In a world of choice, obligatory religions are not fairing well. (42)
When faced with such a wide array of ways to connect with God, to love one’s neighbor, and to practice faith, we all now have to decide for ourselves. Choice in religion is just what is. There is no escaping it. (47)
Three Big Questions. Sociologists refer to believing, behaving, and belonging as the three dimensions of religion: religious ideas, religious commitment, and religious affiliation. (47-48)
Although there appears to be no reliable survey data on the subject, a new phenomenon seems to be developing in the West — the possibility of multireligious identity. (59)
Changes in belief, behavior, and belonging point to a discomforting conclusion for those who remember what once was. religion has left normal. (62)
The plethora of new survey data does not indicate either apocalypse or secularization. instead, it points toward a different possibility: a turn away from the old gods in search of new ones. (63)
3 When Religion Fails
…the trend seems clear enough in a variety of polls across the post-Christian societies: the word “spiritual” is a far more appealing term than “religious.” (67)
The word spiritual gradually came to be associated with the private realm of thought and experience, while the word religious came to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal ritual, and adherence to official denominational doctrines. – Robert Fuller
Despite a certain linguistic fuzziness, the word “spiritual” is both a critique of institutional religion and a longing for meaningful connection. In a wide variety of guises and forms, spirituality represents an important stage of awakening: the search for new gods. (68)
Religion is the organized affiliation one identifies with; spirituality is the practicing, intimate relationship that resides within. – Wendy
The Business of Religion. Clearly articulated or not, even religious leaders know that the old church institutions are unsustainable and are failing. And that probably should not surprise anyone, since American churches were organized on the same principles and structures as were twentieth-century American corporations. (71)
Faith increasingly became a commodity and membership roles and money the measures of success. The business of the church replaced the mission of the church. (72)
If North Americans and Europeans perceive “religion” as “institutional religion,” it may be because the denominations did this to themselves. The perception is largely correct. Churches may have a more altruistic product line than General Motors, but the history of big business and the big business of faith are intertwined. (75)
…five major events revealed the ugly side of organized religion, challenging even the faithful to wonder if defending religion is worth the effort, and creating an environment that can rightly be called a religious recession. (77)
- 2011: The September 11 terrorist attacks. Everything went back to normal — until normal got worse.
2002: The Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal.
- 2003: Protestant conflict over homosexuality. The episcopal conflict over Gene Robinson’s vocation only underscore the new narrative — Christianity is mean, bigoted, and makes people behave badly.
- 2004: The religious Right wins the battle, but loses the war. …the real victory of the religious Right has been to alienate an entire generation of young people. (80) There was ample evidence that young adults — even evangelical ones — now understood “Christian” to be coterminous with “religious Right” and were leaving churches because of it. (81) …conservative evangelical politics may have been the worst marketing campaign for the word “Christian” since the Salem witch trials. (81)
- 2007: The Great Religious Recession. As the Great Depression of the early twentieth century paralleled a religious depression, so too the Great Recession has twinned with a great religious recession. (82)
Between business-as-usual church, internal stresses, external scandals, and rank hypocrisy, finally compounded by economic crisis, American Christianity is in a mess. (83)
Holy Discontent. Not many people think of discontent as a gift. As the prayer points out, however, discontent is the beginning of change. …Discontent is one short step from the longing for a better life, a better society, and a better world; and longing ins another short step from doing something about what is wrong. (84)
Outbursts. Institutions resist prophets. Prophets question. They push for things to be different. They push people to behave better toward one another. They want change. | The history of Christianity can be told as the story of the tension between order and prophecy. Jesus came as a prophet, one who challenged and transformed Judaism. A charismatic community grew up around his teachings and eventually formed into the church. The church organized, and then became an institution. The institution provided guidance and meaning for many millions. And then it became guarded, protective of the power and wealth it garnered, the influence it wielded, and salvation it alone provided. (89)
There is a sense in which the spiritual, experiential elements are always overflowing the bounds of the official religious channels…Much of religious history is about the institutions trying to catch up with and channel those outbursts. – Robert Jones
An awakening is holy geography. (95)
What the world needs is better religion, new forms of old faiths, religion reborn on the basis of deep spiritual connection — these things need to be explored instead of ditching religion completely. We need religion imbued with the spirit of shared humanity and hope, not religions that divide and further fracture the future. (96)
…the contemporary concept of “religion” was a relatively recent invention in European history. Christian writers began using the word “religion” more frequently during the seventeenth century to signify a system of ideas or beliefs about God. (97)
…in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true, something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible, is up for inspection before the speculative mind. – Christian Smith
Unlike religion as system of belief, religio meant faith — living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature …a “articular way of seeing and feeling the world.” (97)
When it comes to religion, the Great Turning is less of a turn toward something completely new and unknown; it is more of a Great Returning to an ancient understanding, of finding a forgotten path of wonder and awe through the wilderness of human chaos and change. (97)
Christianity of the Great Returning is the oldest-time religion — reclaiming a faith where belief is not quite the same thing as an answer, where behavior is not following a list of dos and don’ts, and where belonging to Christian community is less like joining an exclusive club and more of a relationship with God and others. Religio is never satisfied with old answers, codified dogmas, institutionalized practices, or invested power. Religio invites every generation to experience God — to return to the basic questions of believing, behaving, and belonging — and explore each anew with an open heart. (99)
Part II: A New Vision
The Belief Gap. Belief, especially Christian belief, has entered a critical stage in Western society. Masses of people now reject belief. For many centuries, Christians have equated faith with belief. Being faithful meant that one accepted certain ideas about God and Jesus, especially as articulated in creedal statements. (107-108)
With this accretion of beliefs, a corresponding incredulity spread throughout Western culture, leading to doctrinal boredom, skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism. As science, history, and psychology offered ever more sophisticated understandings of the universe and human experience, some Christians became increasingly hostile to secular knowledge, building museums to creationism, proclaiming that America is a Christian nation, and excommunicating those who would question the existence of hell. Put simply, as they reacted to unbelief, certain Christians asked for more belief about increasingly unbelievable things. | Meanwhile, other Christians began to wonder if belief was even the point. (108)
Fundamentalisms, with their insistence on obligatory belief systems, their nostalgia for a mythical uncorrupted past, their claims to an exclusive grasp on truth…are turning out to be rearguard attempts to stem a more sweeping tidal change – Harvey Cox
The Religious Question: What Do I Believe? Doctrine is seen as not only divisive, but as contrary to the message of Jesus himself taught. (111)
Jesus had no interest in orthodoxy, but rather offered his followers “a full and flourishing human life.” – Dwight Friesen
How Do I Believe? Belief is not going to disappear, and it will not become a relic of the religious past. Rather, as religion gives way to spirituality, the question of belief shifts from what to how. (113)
Who Do I Believe? “To whom do you turn when you have an ethical or spiritual concern?” (114) In the early twenty-first century, trustworthiness is not simply a matter of an expert who holds a degree or a certain role in an institution. Rather, authority springs from two sources: one, relationship, and two, authenticity. (115) In the emerging spiritual culture, what matters much less than who is sharing the news, and the messenger has become the message. (116)
[Wilfred Cantwell] Smith demonstrates how belief shifted away from “trusting the beloved” toward being a word that is “increasingly technocratic and thing-oriented,” outside the realm of personal relationships. The shift occurred gradually in the eighteenth century, mostly through the work of the influential philosopher David Hume. When people use the word “believe” today, it is often for factually erroneous opinions, disconnected from any aspect of interpersonal trust or love: “I believe that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as human beings,” or “I don’t believe in global warming.” No wonder people can no longer “believe” in Christianity. For masses of contemporary people, to believe in Christianity is like believing in aliens or that President Obama was born in Kenya, since “the word [belief] denotes doubt, and connotes falsehood.” Thus Smith claims, “The idea that believing is religiously important turns out to be a modern idea …[A] great modern heresy of the Church is the heresy of believing. Not of believing this or that, but of believing as such.” (119)
Why is it that the choice among churches always seems to be the choice between intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire?
Reason is part of human experience, often considered a reflection of God’s image in humankind. To be spiritual and religious is to call for a new wholeness of experience and reason, to restitch experience with human wisdom and to renew reason through an experience of awe. (128)
The Creed Revisited. Few, however, stop and ask what the real question might be. The question is not “What do you believe about the resurrection?” The question is simpler and more profound: “Do you trust in the resurrection?” (129)
Creeds are not unimportant; they are important only in the right order. (131)
The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people. (134)
In the post-World War II period, Western societies underwent what philosopher Charles Taylor calls “an expressivist revolution,” whereby obligatory group identity — whether of nation, family, or church — was replaced with a new sense of individual authenticity and the “right of choice” based in personal fulfillment. (141)
What Do I Do? The Art of Intention. “What is it that you do here in this congregation, in the last five to ten years, that has changed your life and the life of your church?” (145)
…early Christianity…was called “the Way,” and its followers were called “the People of the Way.” Members of the community were not held accountable for their opinions about God or Jesus; rather, the community measured faithfulness by how well its members practiced loving God and neighbor. Not offering hospitality was a much greater failure than not believing that Jesus was “truly God and truly human.” Early Christians judged ethical failings as the most serious breach of community, even as they accepted a significant amount of theological diversity in their midst. (149)
…the early Christians wove together their new way of life and the new stories of Jesus with practices they borrowed from other religions. In the process, they filled old practices with new meanings. Early churches were Christianized versions o ancient synagogues and built to resemble Roman basilicas; Easter borrowed elements from both Passover and pagan rites of spring; Christian theologians worked with Hebrew scripture and Greek philosophy. (150)
Faith mixing signals a decline of the old ways. It simultaneously signifies a renewal of spiritual imagination and creativity. Blending, borrowing, mixing, and adapting often signal religious reform, as new patterns of faith and practice emerge in relation to new cultural challenges. (150)
Why Do I Do It? The Art of Imitation. The primary why for any Christian practice is that the action, in some way, imitates Jesus. The meaning of Christian activity is found in being like Jesus and experiencing Jesus’ presence in all that we do. (154)
We are part of a great guild of human activity, apprentices to the art of being truly human. | But imitation must be linked to intentionality. (156)
Christian practices all contain within them the dimension of ethics — they all anticipate God’s reign, in which the world will be made right according to God’s love and justice. Practices are not merely spiritual activities we do to entertain ourselves. Practices enliven and awaken us to the work of God in the world. (160)
Spiritual practices are the bridge between doing something — such as engaging a hobby — and being someone shaped by master of an action. (163)
The two elements key to learning spiritual practices are finding a teacher and time. (164)
But churches should not be lecture halls. They should be more like a yoga class. (166)
The Identity Gap. Belonging is intimately related to being. To belong is to be. (171)
If grieving individuals turn toward questions of identity, how much more is that true for groups of people feeling the weight of loss, of not belonging anywhere? (172)
Where Am I? In this context of mobility, philosophers and theologians say that the most logical understanding of the self is that of a seeker, searcher, nomad, traveler, pilgrim, or tourist — identities of discovery and fluidity. Who am I? has become the question Where am I? I know that I am because that is where I was, this is where I am, and I am going somewhere else. (177)
Movement energizes most biblical tales. (179)
Whose Am I? This, I suspect, is the root of many people’s anxiety about church — that religion is the purveyor of a sort of salvation that does not address their lived struggles. (182)
Salvation is not being saved from ourselves…it is being saved to ourselves, finding what was lost and the joy of discovery in the hands of a loving Creator. (182) Although the word “salvation” has come to mean “eternal life” in most religious circles, it is helpful to return to the word’s Latin root salvus, meaning “whole,” “sound,” “healed,” “safe,” “well,” or “unharmed,” as a way to understand the spirituality of salvation. (183)
…what if the most important question is not Jesus’s identity per se? What if the most important question is the identity of the other people in the story? How do Jesus’s friends and acquaintances change or gain new insights when they find themselves in Jesus’s company? (185-186) [VIA: Questions, then, of Jesus’s identity, are not about theology, but about reflecting the heart of the inquirers.]
The Gospels are the “good news” that when we strive to answer Jesus’s question “Who do you say that I am?,” we plunge into the mysteries of ourselves, peeling away layers of self-delusion, deception, and deceit, to the unfathomable knowledge of who we really are when God is right there with us. (186)
Finding one’s self in God is also to find God in one’s self. (189)
Spiritual Insight: From Proposition to Preposition. With complete and certain assurance, I confess that I no longer hold propositional truths about Christianity; rather, I experience prepositional truths of being found in God through Christ with others toward the kingdom. (192)
Man cannot be man ‘by himself'; he can only be man in community. For love can only operate in community, and only in this operation of love is man human…Only if he is loving can he be truly human. – Emil Brunner
7 The Great Reversal
…decade after decade the notion was driven home that a religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or not true. A legacy of it is the tendency still today to ask, in explanation of ‘the religion’ of a people, What do they believe? — as though this were a basic, even the basic, question. – Wilfred Cantwell Smith
Thus, for several centuries, Western people have generally assumed that religious commitment begins when one assents to a body of organized doctrines. (202)
Relationships lead to craft, which leads to experiential belief. That is the path to becoming and being someone different. The path of transformation. | It is also the path found in the New Testament; the Way of Jesus that leads to God. Long ago, before the last half millennium, Christians understood that faith was a matter of community first, practices second, and belief as a result of the first two. our immediate ancestors reversed the order. now, it is up to us to restore the original order. (203)
Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’ – C.S. Lewis
Although once upon a time, people may have joined a church to make a business reputation or look respectable, it is hard to imagine either of those being a good enough reason for belonging to a faith community these days. people no longer join; instead, they join in. And when we join in, our hearts leads the way. (205)
Believing. An experiential reading of Holy Writ does not easily conform to contemporary categories of liberal and conservative. it is something else altogether — an attempt to find oneself in the biblical story, to follow Jesus as his first followers did, to practice faith empowered by the Spirit, to change the world. (213)
Part III: Awakening
8 Great Awakening
These global analyses are, no doubt, important. But there is a problem with them. they are so sweeping in scope that, if you happen to be a person of faith, it is hard to know what to do with them. Most of these books argue for such vast religious transformation that they leave people in the pews and pulpits with little to do other than watch the unfolding drama of a global paradigm shift. (220)
There almost always arises a nativist or traditionalist movement within the culture that is an attempt by those with rigid personalities or with much at stake in the older order (227)
The Fourth Great Awakening is not a quest to escape the world. Instead, it moves into the heart of the world, facing the challenges head-on to take what is old – failed institutions, scarred landscapes, wearied religions, a wounded planet — and make them workable and humane in the service of global community. No miracles here. God does not heal without human hands. The hard work is the possibility. (239)
Technology was always a means of awakening, a form of communication that carried information about new possibilities and ideas. …Today, however, technology is shaping us; we are in the process of internalizing and integrating technology in ways that make us different than we were — even to the point of enhancing human wisdom, opening us all to new dimensions of spiritual experience. technology is not only enabling an awakening; it is an important dimension of it. (242)
…coercion and fear are never compassionate. The only test of compassion is love-in-practice. (248)
This is the worst version of religious and political hatred in American history for at least one hundred and fifty years. – David
Anxiety is frequently the mark of personal transformation, for anxiety is a primary emotion when the heart feels disoriented and lost. (250)
In this situation, leaders and spiritual communities are not needed to comfort people feeling lost in times of change. Instead, spiritual leaders need to help transform these fears into urgency and courage. (251)
Awakening is not a miracle we receive; it is actually something we can do. (251)
9 Performing Awakening
In the First Great Awakening, Edwards’s Calvinist insistence that prayer alone could forward God’s work emerged as central to spreading the revival. (254)
During the Second Great Awakening, preaching was the primary practice to foster revival. (254)
The Third Great Awakening was a complex affair, involving two spiritual impulses interwoven into a cloth of experiential faith. …speaking in tongues and miraculous healings … a new emphasis on human progress, accepting and adapting to the insights of science, history, psychology, sociology, theology, and biblical criticism formed a pathway toward spiritual enlightenment and the kingdom of God. (255)
I wear my own kind of hat, but in doing so I am displaying my style to all of you, and in this I am responding to your self-display, even as you will respond to mine. The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have.
It matters to each of us as we act that the others are there as witnesses of what we are doing, and thus as co-determiners of the meaning of our action. – Charles Taylor
Performance has always been important to awakening. …American religious history is marked by theatricality, and religious leaders display the faith as much as they teach it. (257)
Every spiritual awakening to transform Christianity over the last two thousand years has been accompanied by radical, perspective-altering public performances by saints, theologians, preachers, and faithful folks enacting the life of God or teaching of Jesus in shared spaces to express their own spirituality, create a communal theater of faith, and invite others into a new way of life. (258)
What do you do to participate in awakening? To rouse others? To move to spread the good news of a new spiritual awakening? Perform faith. Display the kingdom in all that you do. Anticipate the reign of God in spiritual practices. Act up and act out for God’s love. (259)
- Prepare for awakening by reading and learning the holy texts of faith in new ways.
- Engage two new practices of faith. One should be an inner practice, such as prayer, yoga, or meditation, and the other, an outward practice, such as offering hospitality to the homeless or learning to be a storyteller.
- Have fun. Play.
- Participate in making change.
A “Rosa Parks decision” is “the moment a person acts on the decision to live an undivided life.” – Parker Palmer
You may wish to mourn the loss of what was, but there is no need to fear what will be, for the future is here only in part, and there is much work to be done. We can make a new way of faith. (268)
In a very real way, we are all religious immigrants now, faithful people who have — willingly or unwillingly — left the old world for a new one, a place that exists largely in the hopeful risk taking of those seeking a meaningful way of life that offers peace and prosperity for all. This is especially true when it comes to faith. The old religious world is failing, but the Spirit is stirring anew. (268)
— VIA –
Bass’s book is a fantastic journey through a variety of issues regarding faith, religion, and Christianity (in the United States) with several quotes and insights that are helpful for understanding. Her survey of religion is a helpful framework for understanding, but her historical objectivity is slightly compromised in a few of the areas of this book as she boldly states what she believes, even on a few controversial topics, especially under the “Belief” section. I appreciate greatly the commission and call to “perform” faith in new ways, and commend this to anyone who is willing to mature their faith into new eras.
I have a few slight quibbles with her use of Scripture. I have found it common for authors to buttress their own views by quoting Bible passages out of context, providing their interpretation without any substantive reasoning for their explanation. A clear example of that is on page 205, where the quote from Jesus is invoked, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Bass explains, “The truth was that the disposition of the heart was the ground of truth.” (205) The problem with this kind of hermeneutic is that it is just as imposed and imaginative as the kinds of religious ideas she is trying to augment in the rest of her writing. There is no justification for this kind of Biblical explanation, and it damages the credibility of the argument.
On page 208, she states, under the “Believing” heading, “Jesus did not tell them to have faith. He pushed them into the world to practice faith. The disciples did not hope the world would change. They changed it. And, in doing so, they themselves changed.” (208) While I understand (and perhaps agree) with the sentiment in this section, Jesus did tell them to have faith and pushed them into the world to practice it. The disciples did hope that the world would change, and they changed it. Again, irresponsible sweeping statements are not becoming of a work like this.
Regardless of my nitpicks, the book invigorated my faith, causing me to be courageous in moving forward, in speaking about this new journey of discipleship, and offering me a new set of vocabulary with which to communicate. For this, I am thankful.