Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Christianity After Religion

Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book Christianity After Religion is probably worth the time to read but I’m not sure worth the money you might spend, maybe if you get a good deal in whatever e-version you read. She is an Episcopalian so as a fellow Catholic-lite church member I do appreciate her work and am thankful she is offering some hope for the mainline church. My struggle with this book is it seems she does not understand the constraints imposed on the local Episcopal clergy in designing worship. She grew up a Methodist where the congregational pastor has a fair amount of freedom in preparing the weekly Sunday worship service. Evidently, she thinks the priest of her Episcopal parish has the same latitude in constructing the Sunday liturgy. Unless the Episcopal bishop of her diocese is very liberated on what happens during the Sunday main service it is hard to imagine that her bishop would be comfortable with some of her suggestions. Not that I disagree with her, because I do not, I like and appreciate her progressive theology—however, she seems to suggest the local priest can replace the Nicene Creed with the Masai Creed or something else less orthodox. I have used the Masai Creed, written by an African community to reflect their local understanding of Jesus, for non-Sunday worship—however, most bishops would not be permissive of using such a radical non-orthodox creedal statement for Sunday morning’s regular fare. (The use of the Masai Creed is just one example.) Christianity After Religion would get a lot of traction as a book study in most moderately centralist theological Episcopal churches. I also imagine many mainline churches would find her ideas palatable. The emergent folks have probably already incorporated some of her thoughts into their weekly offering. Her incarnational theology reflective of the Celtic influence is refreshing from someone respected by the mainline market. While she never mentions, J. Phillip Newell and Pelagius, her earthy understanding of how to interpret scripture is replete throughout the book. She is courageous to speak to those churches practicing the “same old thing” but supposedly begging for new ways to attract the “spiritual but not religious” into Sunday attendance. How she tolerates their questions at conferences (she is an excellent story teller), well, I respect her patience. Diana Butler Bass writes for the mainline church desiring to survive at least another forty years. She looks to the past for encouragement while casting a realistic sociological light for those desiring any hope for the liturgical church of tomorrow. Okay, I take back my opening line—her book is worth the price of admission.

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