I finished Diana Butler Bass's Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, (Harper One, 2012) last night. I'll be writing a review later, but I wanted to raise a question that emerges from reading her book, and that of others -- from Harvey Cox to Doug Pagitt.
Are we entering some kind of new era of spiritual/religious life? Whether we call it a Great Emergence or the Age of the Spirit or or the Inventive Age or a new Global Spiritual Awakening, are there signs that something is different? If so, what are these signs?
The historian in me is cautious about making such bold claims. It's difficult to know whether you are in a revolutionary moment while you're in the midst of it. It's difficult to know if you're at the beginning or the end. For instance, we usually think of the Reformation being something that happened over a period of thirty or forty years, during the lifetimes of Luther and Calvin. But you could make a good case that the Reformation took most of the 16th and the 17th centuries to work itself out. Diana is a historian, so she understands these dynamics better than most, but the need for caution should be noted!
According to Diana's analysis, this reformation is marked by a movement from religion to spirituality. Instead of the focus being on moving from belief to behavior to belonging, this is now reversed. We start with belonging move to behavior (practices) and then to belief. The focus is on experience rather than on authority or reason. Now these are points that are up for debate, but it's an important debate, as the church moves forward into an increasingly global and pluralist context.
So, are we in the midst of a spiritual awakening? If so, what signs do you see that this is happening? And, what will this do to and for religious institutions?
As the pastor of a long-standing congregation, I have great interest in this last question.