|My reflections on Easter this year resurrected in me a deep gratitude for myriad ways the Spirit seems to be moving progressive believers and the larger culture to embrace a new paradigm for spirituality. One that has potential to have a huge impact on spiritual resurgence and making a real difference in the world.My ruminations were predicated by several voices in the media. First, Andrew Sullivan, in his excellent Newsweek piece, “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus,” calls attention to the fact that traditional Christianity is in crisis. This is good. A crisis cries for the need for reform. In this case, reforming what we call|
“church.” Second, is the first of two Time articles called “The Rise of the Nones,” which tells of the movement of believers gathering in “not church,” grassroots communities outside traditional church institutions.
Similar to this, Diana Butler Bass, in a rejoinder to Sullivan’s piece, affirms his indictment and adds more examples of how this renewal is already started among emergents and progressives. New questioners, she calls them, “are working toward a spiritually renewed and intellectually credible Christianity.” She makes a strong case for this in her new book, Christianity After Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. In Part II, I’ll explain why this “not church” phenomenon and Sullivan’s admonition to “forget the church” is vital to any new spiritual awakening.
In Part III, I’ll argue the other side of the coin of reimagining church is rethinking the Bible and how the traditional “Biblicist” way of handling the Bible is detrimental to spiritual renewal. Christian Smith, in The Bible Made Impossible, is spot on. The way of Jesus will continue to stagnate in legalism at best, and spiritual abuse at worst, unless believers embrace a fresh, radical perspective on Scripture that rejects the infallible, self-evident, internally consistent, and universally applicable rulebook mindset, while still taking divine inspiration seriously.
In Part IV, I’ll develop the point that it’s not only emergent types who are engaged in renewal (and why it’s important that it’s not them exclusively), but also spiritual-but-not-religious seekers, liberal Christians, and, I daresay, secularists who paradoxically affirm Jesus’ love ethic.
One such example is Bart Ehrman and his new book, Did Jesus Exist? In it, Ehrman, who is routinely demonized by religious conservatives because he bailed on following Christ, actually strengthens the case for a credible Christianity by refuting radical historians, who argue Jesus was a myth. This is not an inconsistency on Ehrman’s part, as some have suggested. But, as I argue below, a believers’ stance toward such secular personalities (and spiritual-not-religious ones), who are intellectually honest like Ehrman, must be one of acceptance in order for genuine spiritual renewal to thrive. This is what I call the Universalist spirit, whether one is a Universalist or not.
Finally, the other Time article that struck me was Jon Meacham’s “Rethinking Heaven,” which borrowed heavily from N.T. Wright’s much-needed correction to the traditional view of the hereafter and the so-called end times: Heaven isn’t a reward for enduring a sinful, evil world that will ultimately be destroyed, but is when God’s space finally integrates with and renews our earth as a redeemed creation. What we do to bring love, economic equity, and environmental care to the earth and its people will remain. This concept is also vital to any movement of contemporary spiritual awakening and spread of social justice, as I’ll further unpack in Part V.
This vision is not a prophetic prediction, but rather a dream based on my personal journey and examination portrayed in my new book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith. Stay tuned!