Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion. (HarperOne, 2012)

This book was a good follow-up to last week’s lecture at our college by Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion: The Subversive Spirituality of Jesus as well as the last book I posted about, Emergence Christianity by Phyllis Tickle. I will divide this post up into two like I did with that book. Bass, a historian, describes the first three awakenings in North America and proposes that we are in a fourth one at present. This history was intriguing in itself, but one of the other interesting things she does is in-depth word studies of some common terms Christians use. By looking at a few of these words I think you will come to see the point she is attempting to make.

In popular usage—“I’m spiritual but not religious”—much has been made to differentiate between spirituality [personal and positive] and religion [institutional and negative], but Bass does a bit of etymological work on the word religion. It comes from LIGARE which means to bind or connect and thus RE-LIGARE means to “reconnect.” Religion is about the human desire to bind ourselves to God, which is what we often refer to as spirituality or faith!

Belief is often defined as the intellectual content of faith, as in what I believe. But as we move from institutional religion to experiential religion [which is how she describes the present awakening] belief shifts from what to how. “From what to how is a shift from information about to experience of.” Unfortunately “to believe” has often preferred the Latin OPINARI meaning “opinion,” not a religious word at all, but instead Bass prefers the Latin CREDO meaning “I set my heart upon” or “I give my loyalty to,” which is a more religious word. She goes on to trace the medieval English “believe” from the German BELIEBEN, “to prize, treasure, or to hold dear” which comes from the root word LIEBE, which means love. Thus, in early English, to believe was to “belove” something or someone as an act of trust or loyalty. Belief was not an intellectual opinion or mental ascent to a statement about God, it was more like a marriage vow of committed love of God—which is closer to the biblical Greek PISTEO, meaning to trust. “A great modern heresy of the Church is the heresy of believing. Christianity was never intended to be a system or structure of belief in the modern sense; it originated as a disposition of the heart.”

A creed then is not a statement of information about God. “Creeds are essentially prayers of devotion that express a community’s experience of encountering God.”

The word doctrine has also fallen on hard times, but it comes from the French word for “doctor” and refers to a healing teaching. “Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.”

Do you see where this is going? What do you think?

Judging by her subtitle, “The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening,” I presumed there would be some major church-bashing going on in this book, but I actually found this book to be surprisingly hopeful about church—more about that in the next post.