Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Notes from “Thoughts on the Future of Christianity”

by John Shelby Spong

The concept of “original sin” is largely regarded as nonsense today. Yet the fall from which Jesus has rescued us is the way we continue to tell the Jesus story. Our churches and clergy still parrot that incredibly negative Christian idea that we have been “saved by the blood of Christ.” Protestants still shout their guilt-producing mantra “Jesus died for my sins,” and Catholics still refer to “the sacrifice of the Mass” as reenacting the moment when salvation was procured. These concepts fill our hymns, our liturgies and our sermons despite the fact that they make no sense outside the parameters of the pre-suppositions that are culturally no longer believed. How can one be saved if one has not fallen? How can one be restored to a status that one has never possessed? How can God be worshiped if this God requires the death of the divine son in order to have our sins forgiven? If there is no payoff, no benefit to be gained from faithful worship and righteous living, then many ask today “why bother?” These are the things the Christian Church is up against today in this post-Christian age. None of them will be solved by inviting people to listen once again to the “old, old story” or by joining in the singing of “The Old Rugged Cross.”

The problems facing institutional Christianity today in the Western world cannot be addressed by tinkering around the edges of our theological formularies or structures. As important as they have been making good parish profiles will not do it nor will even making wise choices in the selection of our clergy. We are not today in a temporary status of watching the tide go out with confidence that in time the tide will come back in. We are rather living through a cataclysmic transition from the presuppositions by which we once lived and having no idea how to tell our faith story in terms of the emerging world view for which our religion of yesterday has no relevance. So churches are dying, vast anger, rising out of cultural depression at the loss of yesterday’s meaning and unstoppable changes, are now our daily bread.

The consensus of the past is breaking up. The consensus of the future has not yet been formed. We live in interesting times and dangerous times also. Political shell games and pious rhetoric will no longer suffice.

Before we can move to address these issues we must understand them. I see little present indication that either church leaders or political leaders understand the depth of the problem we face. Time alone will tell, but in the meantime doing church business as usual or practicing politics as usual is a prescription not only for disaster, but for extinction.

1 comment:

  1. There is still a longing for spirituality and people are finding it outside the organized churches. Conservative churches could help by meeting such people where they are with Christian meditation, etc. before hitting them with Bible doctrines. Gain their trust that we care. It hasn't been tried in the SDA church, and probably won't be with the aversion to everything "postmodern" or "new age."
    The postmodern intellectual mind needs truth in principle before facing it literally. These people are in urban areas, while the nominal believers that are featured in surveys are probably not.
    Just an observation.