Christianity after Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening – by Diana Butler-Bass – reviewed by Bill Dahl
I received this review from Bill on 4th April. I was not familiar with the writing of Diana but what I have read and listened to since rings many bells!
An Open Letter to Bill and Diana:
I am a 76 year old Brit (very familiar with the American religious scene) who has been outside the walls of ‘traditional’ Christianity for some 40 years after having been treasurer of an Anglican parish for 8 years in the 1960’s. I had been a member of the Worldwide Church of God for some 17 years when the church went through some traumatic changes in 1995 – and I was forced for the second time to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. I left school at 17 and have no significant academic qualifications. I think of myself as a self educated Christian who has never been in leadership. I have not had a full time job since 1990 when I was made redundant for the fourth time after programming computers since 1967. It was about 4 years ago that I discovered that I have lived with Aspergers Syndrome all my life. That was an exciting discovery because it helped me to realise why I think and study the way I do, and why I tend to be a bit of a hermit despite having two children and seven grandchildren.
I have been using the Internet since 1997 (and developed my first web site in 2000) and it was in 1998 that I had suddenly had this feeling of freedom and liberation from the slavery of legalism, but it was another 5 years before I really became aware of ‘the out of church Christians‘ and the writings of people like Wayne Jacobsen and Brian McLaren and subsequently ‘The Ooze’. I had known about ‘The Shack‘ before it was published and had one of the original 11,000 copies when Wayne spent a weekend in the UK in 2007. When the book was subsequently published I had the time to read many of the reviews (maybe as many as 500) and learned so much from the critical ones. Later I began to realise how much I had learned of why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive, denominational theology.
It was the final paragraph of the interview with Diana that really caught my attention:
Seminaries can’t change until denominational policies do; denominational policies can’t change until seminaries nurture new vision; and nothing can change until grassroots churches demand change. And for churches to demand change, they must change themselves.
I found myself thinking that that is never going to happen – the ‘old school’ understandably will not respond to change – and the ‘churches’ as we have known them will fade and die – just like empires that have risen and fallen over the centuries.
At the same time I was reminded of an old quip, “Why is the church the only university from which it’s students never graduate – and never learn to think for themselves?”
Maybe I can give you an idea of where I’m coming by highlighting a few of Bill’s and Diana’s comments. Bill suggested that Diana has been observing, questioning, probing the history and mystery of the practice of the human pursuit of the divine by those who diversely believe, belong and behave rather passionately. A story that at times makes us angry, confused, perplexed, disgusted and embarrassed. The story of where institutional religion came from and a look ahead to the current challenge.
So many are asleep and may be unaware that they are trapped in the wrong space. How do people discover what they don’t even realise that they don’t know? People are uncomfortable when what they thought they knew is challenged! Surely the institutional approach to facilitating true faith is seriously misguided!
More and more people are willing to express their anger towards religion in general and Christianity (or churchianity?) in particular – understandably! A suggestion that maybe Christianity was never meant to be a structured belief system. How many are captive to creeds, dogma and traditions? Some are still trying to build walls while others are trying to build bridges.
Who am I and who do I belong to? Are we willing to move beyond our own comfort zone – a pilgrimage and/or exile? Are we ready to take a counter intuitive approach and allow new doors to be opened to us – that give us the chance of making a difference (which might simply be to encourage others to question their own thinking)?
I have now read ‘The Beginning‘ from her latest book together with ‘A Resurrected Christianity?‘ and ‘The End of Church‘ by Diana as well as ‘Christianity in Crisis‘ by Andrew Sullivan. I sense that Diana has hit the nail on the head with her comments about the “3B’s”.
I’m no scholar but as my friend Grant (who died a few years ago) said, “you are encouraging thought – you are putting out a challenge – maybe asking the right questions that others haven’t formulated“.
Do we know what we believe? Are we sure that we are right? What do we really think of God? Have we shared these thoughts with others?
Do we really know what we think until we hear what we say, or read what we have written?
Do we allow others to question these thoughts?
Have we really reconsidered the foundation of our own faith? See ‘Stages of Faith‘.
In a note I wrote about ten years ago entitled “The Hare and the Tortoise” I referred to the dawdlers who let their subconscious minds do the thinking, and the hare brain that likes to have things neat and tidy, feels in control and does not like to feel helpless, confused or blocked. I would suggest that far too many church leaders with their academic qualifications fit the latter description.
In a short video entitled ‘A People’s History of Faith‘ Diana suggests that we look at Christian history from the starting point of the Great Commandment (“Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”) rather than the Great Commission (“Go into all the world”) for a new perspective on that history. This, together with the earlier comments about seminaries being unable to change, was another one of those ‘light bulb’ moments – starting with the Great Commandments is not enough – something is missing!
More and more of us are being drawn beyond the ‘conformist stage‘ and that started for me some 45 years ago when as a member of an Anglican men’s discussion group I asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?” and was told immediately by the Vicar, “Peter, you can’t ask that, it is the 64,000 dollar question” (a lot of money in those days). Surely we need to have some understanding of the foundations of the Christian FAITH rather than the Christian RELIGION if we are going to effectively love God and our neighbours? When I wrote ‘Stages of Faith‘ about seven years ago I think I sensed that I was well on the way to becoming an ‘integrated way finder‘. Little did I realise then how much I was still being held back by the religion that I had still not let go of!
If we move beyond the ‘conformist stage‘ and share our thoughts with others, we recognise that we have some unique perspectives as a result of very different journeys that sometimes result in cognitive dissonance – that uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.
A major influence on my thinking several years ago was an article entitled “The Rise and Fall of Christendom” by a member of the Anabaptist Network that paints a very controversial picture. With hindsight I sense it contains more than a grain of truth.
I subsequently wrote ‘Why Christianity?‘, ‘Why Suffering?‘, and ‘Another Perspective‘ a few years ago (see side panel) , when as I have said, there was still a lot of emphasis on head knowledge rather than heart awareness.
I have only recently rewritten my blog (that is still a work in progress) – Dave and I, despite our very different journeys, have a vision of reaching out to those who have been negatively affected, or even manipulated by religion.
Food for thought from a very late developer?