Book Review –
Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and a Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
by Diana Butler Bass
Note: The page and section numbers refer to the Kindle book version
I have mixed feelings about Christianity after Religion. There are many great things here, it is just a tad long for me. I felt that it droned on a bit from time to time. Still, there is some great stuff here as Diana talks about spirituality inside and outside of our churches. Her main point is that people are increasingly feeling that they would consider themselves spiritual, but not religious—how that has shaped and impacted our churches.
Diana talks about how, for quite some time now, there has been a spiritual awakening happening in our world. As we know though, it really hasn’t helped our churches much. People still aren’t going to church. People are giving up church, to be the Church. She says:
All sorts of people—even mature, faithful Christians—are finding conventional religion increasingly less satisfying, are attending church less regularly, and are longing for new expressions of spiritual community.
p. 14 loc. 218
Diana definitely confirms what we all have been thinking. People increasingly have a negative view of church.
In a 2004 survey, the Barna organization found that young adults who are outside of church hold intensely negative views of Christianity: 91 percent think that Christianity is “antihomosexual,” 87 percent say Christians are “judgmental,” 85 percent accuse churchgoers of being “hypocritical,” and 72 percent say Christianity is “out of touch with reality.” Only 41 percent think that Christianity seems “genuine or real” or “makes sense,” while only 30 percent think that it is “relevant to your life.”
p. 86 loc. 1347
The problem is that people see the Church as being irrelevant and hypocritical. It doesn’t often speak to their day-to-day lives. Many churches have sought to fill this void by providing relevant programs for their members. Although this seemed to help with numbers and getting people into the church, it still seems to fail in making a difference in people’s lives.
One of the more successful churches in North America—Willow Creek in Chicago, is one of them. Willow Creek is a bit like our Springs Church here in Winnipeg. They are churches that are centered around providing many programs for their members.
The ultimate model for programmatic church was Willow Creek Community Church, located north of Chicago. For three decades, the twenty-thousand-member congregation was structured around the idea that multiple programs would attract people to church and that frequent participation in church activities would “produce disciples of Christ.” However successful Willow Creek seemed to outsiders, church leaders sensed that something was amiss. They embarked on an intensive self-study to try to determine if attending church was making a difference in people’s lives. The study revealed that church programs had little to do with spiritual depth, maturity, or character.
p. 161 loc. 2519
The good news is that Diana did find a few shining examples of successful, relevant, spirit filled churches. They are churches that embrace this new spirituality—seeking to make a difference with a serious, vibrant faith.
Although these old churches are often ignored or dismissed, I discovered that there exists an unnoticed spiritual vibrancy in some mainline congregations, based around a serious engagement with faith practices such as prayer, hospitality, and enacting justice.
p. 14. loc. 221
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Diana talks about a banking experience she had.
As the end of Lent neared in 2011, I went to my local bank to deposit some checks. Three tellers were working that morning, all women. One woman wore a pale ivory hijab as a head covering; the second woman’s forehead bore the dark red mark known as a bindi; the third woman had a small crucifix hanging around her neck. I walked up and laughed. “You all look like the United Nations of banking!” They exchanged glances and smiled. “You are so right,” said the Hindu woman. “You should meet our customers! But we cover a lot of languages between the three of us.” It was a quiet morning. They wanted to talk. I said something about being a vegetarian for Lent. The Hindu woman wanted to give me some family recipes; the Muslim woman wanted to know more about Christian fasting practices (the Catholic woman was, by now, on the phone in another office). I shared how we had dedicated Lent that year to eating simply and exploring vegetarian foods from different parts of the world. “When we eat Indian food,” I explained, “we try to talk about the church in India or pray for people in India. The same for African and Asian and Latin American countries.” “What a wonderful idea!” the Muslim woman said. “We need to love our traditions and be faithful to our God; but we teach the beauty and goodness of the other religions too.” Her Hindu colleague chimed in, “That is the only way to peace—to be ourselves and to create understanding between all people.” For the next few minutes, they shared how much they appreciated living in Virginia, where they had found religious freedom. “Here, it is like Thomas Jefferson promised,” the Muslim woman said. “Very good. People here are very tolerant, curious about different religions. Much better than other places. Here there is real respect. I can be a good Muslim here.” I glanced at my watch. I needed to get to an appointment. I thanked them for their insights. “I would wish you a Happy Easter,” I said hoping they would hear the sincerity in my voice, “but, instead, I wish you both peace.”
I started to walk away when the Muslim teller said to me, “Peace of Jesus the Prophet. And a very happy Easter to you.” And the Hindu woman called out, “Happy Easter!” When I reached my car, I realized that I was crying. I had only rarely felt the power of the resurrected Jesus so completely in my soul.
p. 234 loc 3745
I hope that gives you a little flavour of Christianity After Religion, and that you might consider reading it.