A few posts ago I began to review a new book by Diana Butler Bass entitled Christianity after Religion: the End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. This book was a tough read for me, partly because Bass’s style in the first half of the book was off-putting to me. But she got better. She is at her best when she relates actual experiences she has had as a seminar and conference speaker and gives some insightful reflection.
Bass shares with me the conviction that much of American Christianity has become homogenized through the advent of the entrepreneurial church (and commercialized para-church ministries). She refers to this as “commercial Christianity.” Here is a good quote from her:
Sadly, much of contemporary church is the same. Successful churches have also become products–bigger-is-better buildings with slick programs that cater to an expanding religious market. Yet spiritual commercialization creates a culture of sameness across the country that subsumes local cultures in its wake, losing the quality of neighborly faith. Want your church to grow? Attend the latest pastors’ conference offered by a celebrity ministry. Offer an extensive array of programming. Put on a dazzling Christmas spectacular. Buy Vacation Bible School in a can.
Ouch!. I recognize myself in some of those critical comments.But they speak truth and help us understand the dilution of the power of American Christianity.
Bass’s pen is not as acidic as some recent critics, but she takes plenty of shots. Another example:
All three of America’s great Christian traditions–Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical have bungled the faith pretty badly in the last decade at a time when religions were swimming across a historic tide of doubt.
Bass is convinced that the “institutional” or “institutionalized” church is a relic of the past, and will have no constituency in the future. She analyzes this as a historic shift.
Christianity itself is changing–shifting away from being a belief-centered religion toward an experiential faith.
Elsewhere, she describes this as a reversing of the move of faith “from the heart and hands to the head,” thereby bucking the trend of systematizing the faith that took place during the Protestant Reformation and accelerated during the Enlightenment and resulting modernity.
I think this move may not be as dramatic as Bass thinks, and is the result of the abandoning of modernity for postmodernity more than anything. People today do not think systematically. There is no rigorous expectation that all the things they believe or hold dear are compatible and fit together in a coherent way. I see this in the current political campaigns where truth is long-abandoned and reasonable, logical ideology has disappeared. We can be told outrageous lies, things that could not possibly be true, and find there are folks who believe them.
But there is a move in the church that I find very healthy. The millennials who are now coming into positions of influence are demanding that the church make a difference in their world. They experience a world where things are very wrong. Injustice and apathy seem to reign as twin tyrants. They have no time for a church that is a worship club or live entertainment. They want a church that can coordinate them into opportunities to serve, and if it refuses, they will move on. More power to them.
Nebraska Christian College