Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass, (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) 321 pages, $31
The Emerging Christian Way, Michael Schwartzentruber, editor (CopperHouse, 2006) 256 pp., $22.95
There is a revival underway in the Christian Church – in Anglicanism and in other denominations - which brings new life, arising in individual congregations and groups. It is sometimes called the “emerging church,” but it is almost impossible to define exactly.
As a father of young adult children I am aware they and many of their friends have a deep spirituality and strong ethics. But often the practice of the Church no longer speaks to many of their generation.
The challenge of the church is not only with the youth, but with many who have found our worship and community life sometimes less than satisfying. Can we see this as a wake up call and turn it into Good News. Marcus Borg in the title chapter of The Emerging Christian Way speaks of the new movement in the Church as emergent, in that it is issuing forth from that which conceals, arising as a natural consequence, and requiring urgent action.
It is Christian in that it seeks to be faithful to the tradition of the gospel received from generation to generation, translated and applied to today.
It is the Way in that it seeks to recover the earliest understanding of the followers of Jesus, who named and saw themselves as followers of the Way, seeking to pattern their lives in the journey of discipleship.
The emergent church is a genuine attempt to recover and open the radical nature of discipleship. It is neither a watering down of the Gospel of Christ, nor a capitulation to secular culture, as some critics have charged.
This movement genuinely seeks to recover the integrity and wholeness of the Christian experience. It is intentional return to the basics of the faith in a form that is meaningful and relevant to people where they are. It engages people body, mind, and soul: individually and in community.
How do parishes actually begin such a journey?
To help us begin, Diana Butler Bass has written Christianity for the Rest of Us. It is based on a research program with growing mainline congregations in the United States. She describes the disappearance of the “village church” in which she grew up, and discovered that it is being replaced by the “new village church”–communities not formed by geography but by a common search or experience. These are congregations formed by “tradition, not traditionalism; practice, not purity; and wisdom, not certainty.”In her research she discovered that these churches had common elements which she describes as ‘Signposts of Renewal’. In her book they form chapter headings. They are Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty.
What is exciting is that these communities are very diverse. They are Episcopalian (Anglican), Lutheran, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian. They are also from a variety of socio-economic and theological realities.
Her wonderful phrase “From Tourist to Pilgrim”, also a chapter heading, invites people to see life within a pilgrimage–both a journey of personal transformation, as well as congregational journey, in which we might participate in God’s mission of transformation for the world.
I strongly encourage all congregational leaders of the diocese–clergy, wardens, program leaders–to read this book. It just may be the start of something new! These books are available at Vine and Fig Tree Books, 4109 Macdonald Street, Vancouver.