Christianity after Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening

Article excerpt

Christianity After Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. By Diana Buder Bass. (New York: HarperOne, 2012, Pp. 287. $25.00.)

I fear diat many of die persons that would be most interested in this book will be put off by its misleading tide. Given current economic realities, we cannot blame publishers for wishing to reach die broadest possible reading public, and as Diana Butler Bass knows, many persons today are deeply suspicious of the church. The author, however, neither predicts nor wishes for the end of the church. Instead, her lively, accessible prose is interested in ecclesial reform. I commend this book to all ministers, lay and ordained, who wish to engage in serious consideration of the vast shifts in the mission fields of the United States. Those primarily interested in church history should consider how she uses narratives of the Christian past to argue that we find ourselves in the midst of the Fourth Great Awakening.

Though Bass has taught and published in the field of church history, her focus is on contemporary practical realities. To cite Michel Foucault, we might say that she is writing a "history of the present," with all the difficulties and uncertainties that fluid and incomplete data pose. I am no expert on the previous three Great Awakenings (according to Bass, ca. 1730-60, ca. 1800-30, and ca. 1890-1920). I am suspicious of the way typologies promote over-generalizations, fitting the messinese and uniqueness of historical moments into pre-conceived conceptual boxes. My studies in the sixteenth century made me cringe when she claims that "Teresa [of Avila] concluded that the self was basically good and [John] Calvin that it was basically bad" (174). Still, I am hesitant to pass judgment on the general accuracy of her citations of historical precedents. In any case, dwelling on that matter would distort the author's main intent. This faithful Episcopalian seeks to provide hopeful future orientation in a time when Christian churches are in crisis. …