Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, has three parts: description of the collapse of mainline liberalism and the renewal of the “village church” in America, a sketch of ten signposts of renewal, and then a section about the shift from pilgrims to tourists in which she focuses on the transformations occurring in the renewal she is finding in mainline churches — churches that are neither old-fashioned Protestant liberalism nor Protestant evangelicalism.
Are you seeing the rise of these disciplines in your community of faith? in the mainline churches of your community? Are these cross-denominational (both evangelical and liberal) or are these more the focus of the mainline?
She studies in depth 10 churches, and she finds the renewal of these churches can be found in ten disciplines — and for each she has ample evidence with clear description — and not a little jabbing by these “rest of us” Christians of conservative evangelicals. Tournabout, one must admit, is fair play: if evangelicals routinely jab liberals, the mainlines are entitled to jab back — unless of course one wants to pave another way.
I can’t possibly detail each one, but a few comments are in order for each, and I must emphasize that the chps are highly readable, knitted together with nice vignettes and stories, and gentle to the reader:
1. Hospitality: it is about welcoming strangers — not just tea and cakes — into the heart of God’s transformative love.
2. Discernment: this begins by asking “God-questions” and not “I-questions.”
3. Healing: no kidding. Prayers for healing.
4. Contemplation: all the stuff that has been developing throughout the church — centering prayer, etc.
5. Testimony: getting mainliners to tell their spiritual autobiography is not easy, but the practice is growing. These are stories, not of arrival, but of pilgrimage.
6. Diversity: “A church full of difference but not a lot of division” (146). This is not secular relativism but a sense of diversity inherent to the transformative power of the gospel. Leading to God’s shalom.
7. Justice: though I’d have liked a robust theological definition of justice, this chp clearly worked away from the secular rights-for-all-of-us sense of justice. She says “fairness, equality and human rights … are primarily secular ideals” (159). “Justice is spirituality.”
8. Worship: creative stuff here; but her focus is on practices that lead to encountering God.
9. Reflection: a good chp on the rise of theological education among mainliners congregants and not just the clergy. Clearly a statement of generous orthodoxy.
10. Beauty: to be expected of mainliners, but the chp showed innovation as well as the importance of beauty in the theology of “the rest of us.”
I don’t agree with plenty of stuff that comes up in these chps, but I know of no better way to see the innovative developments among mainliners when it comes to what might be called a “renewal of spirituality.”