This post continues with quotes from Diana Butler Bass’ latest book, Christianity After Religion.
“In earlier American awakenings, preachers extolled “old time religion” as the answer to questions about God, morality, and existence. This awakening is different. Yes, religio is “old-time religion,” but it is not about sawdust trails, mortification of sin, and being washed in the blood of the Lamb. The awakening going on around us is not an evangelical revival; it is not returning to the faith of our fathers or re-creating our grandparents’ church. Instead, it is a Great Returning to ancient understandings of the human quest for the divine. 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.”
Bass goes on to explain how traditionally [for many centuries] belief came first, then a change in behavior, and finally the invitation to join the community. She recommends a “Great Reversal” of that order, as Stuart Murray did in his 2004 book, Church After Christendom, i.e. beginning with a sense of identity in God [belonging], engaging in Christian practices [behavior], then a life of trust and loyalty to Jesus [belief]. The idea may not be new, but for churches to actually practice this would be revolutionary. She actually has a few pages where she uses the Anabaptists and the Amish—a somewhat romantic view of both—as examples of this reversal, but I agree with her point, and it is one reason I hang my hat on the Anabaptist hook.
She concludes by summarizing the ingredients of previous awakenings. “Prayer [first awakening], preaching [second awakening], Pentecostal gifts, and progressive theology and politics [unlikely partners in the third awakening]—these were the pathways of past awakenings. What is the way today?”
I like her concluding picture of the church, continuing her “p” alliteration. “At best, the church is holy performance. Churches must be more like holy flash mobs. They must grasp—in a profound and authentic way—that they are sacred communities of performance where the faithful learn the script of God’s story, rehearse the reign of God, experience delight, surprise, and wonder, and participate fully in the play.” Church as a holy flash mob—it’s an analogy worth contemplating.