I’m reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us (HarperSF, 2006), and want to devote a few posts to her ideas. Essentially, the point of this book is to show that mainline, liberal, progressive churches are showing signs of life.
That is, this is a study of renewal among mainline churches. Diana examined a variety of churches across the USA and tells the story of “real people in real churches” (6). In my assessment, this book — so far as I have read it — taps into some major themes for progressive dimension of the emerging movement. Do you see in what follows the themes of the emerging movement? what is similar and what different? Is her proposal of the new village church realistic and practicable and common? The title of the book generates another question: Do the evangelical churches garner so much of the attention that mainline, progressive churches are simply eclipsed? Is there another story to be told?
Part one is about what happened to the neighborhood church, and Diana proposes the renewal of the “village church.” How does she get there? Four steps.
1. The village of yesteryear has vanished. She tells the story of her Methodist church in Baltimore as a kid — that world, that neighborhood, no longer exists. The Christian faith changes along with these villages changing.
2. Christianity itself needs a different memory: far too many think of the history of the Church in the USA as a monolithic, evangelical story. The Church’s story is America’s story — that sort of thing. She pushes back against a David Barton especially but takes a shot at Mark Noll’s version of American church history. Her contention is that American church history has always been diverse, and America’s religious history is also diverse — what we need is to tap into the root of the middle ground. Between the secular skepticism of mainline liberals and American fundamentalism. She longs to see the church as a comprehensive space that is a hospital for sinners — between exclusivism and secularized inclusivism.
Once upon a time, she claims, the American churches were “village churches that offered weary immigrants a new home in a new world” (38).
3. We need to renew churches as the new village church. But, it can’t capitulate to the charity and social concerns of secularism: they need to be both religious and spiritual. “The primary job of a church is to be a spiritual community that forms people in faith” (42). These new village churches are noted by three things:
Tradition, not traditionalism: remembering in preaching, teaching, and sacraments.
Practice, not purity: some of her churches saw themselves as more faithful to Jesus than the conservative churches. They are to live the way of Jesus.
Wisdom, not certainty: they are comfortable with ambiguity. Community that leads us to God together. Wisdom is found through a life of knowing God.
4. More and more Americans are finding their way home in these new village churches. This chp tells the story of discovering faith and conversion in those who are in the churches Diana studied. Some are exiles, others immigrants, yet others converts, and some simply villagers — who have been on a journey while staying put.