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Five Beliefs I Continue to Hold About Jesus

2 February 2017: 29 Comments »

By Eric Alexander As we continue our exciting journey in charting the new reformation, there are many questions we all must grapple with. So I want to begin 2017 with a step back to the basics, as a place on which to build throughout the year. Before diving into the reconstruction however, I want to …

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Question & Answer

Chuck from Northfield, Minnesota, writes:

Question:

Why is Christianity growing in its fundamentalist forms and dying where it tries to engage the thought of the present world?

Answer:

Mark Sandlin By Mark Sandlin

Dear Chuck,

The lazy answer here would be to say that fundamentalism is concrete and easy in comparison to the constant questioning and the embracing of mystery that comes along with progressive Christianity. Keep in mind, saying the answer is lazy isn't saying that it is incorrect, just incomplete.

For me, a big part of this question, possibly the core of this question, boils down to the concepts of “religion” and “spirituality.” Most of the worship that we do in churches, even in “contemporary” churches, is rooted in what I see as “religion.” It's somewhat dogmatic, tied to tradition, and hurls praises outwardly toward a divine being (typically a masculine divine being). Its value to its practitioners is in its stability, familiarity, and ultimately in the assurance of God and God's mandates which offer those gathering the comfort and security that they are fortunate to be amongst the subjects of, and under the protection of, God. Not infrequently a religion like that encourages its adherents to distance themselves from the world lest they become, well, less special. Not surprisingly, those types of churches are growing, even if at a slower rate than they once did. Who wouldn't find some appreciation for being singled out by a god as a specially chosen people? After all, that's at the heart of all religions across history.

As I see it, the places where Christian churches are on the decline are in the very places where emphases have started moving from dogmatic religion to a more open and questioning spirituality. Typically, this spirituality has as one of its core elements the connectedness of all of Creation. It suggests a certain equality where no one is more chosen than another. That theological perspective encourages us to engage with the world in an active and intimate way, frequently to the extent of personal sacrifice. Not surprisingly, that has less appeal to many people than a religion that elevates them to a place of specialness.

I don't see this as pointing to less of a need for spiritual community. Rather, I see it clearly telling us that our spiritual communities and their century old, and even millennially old, perspectives are in need of massive, thoughtfully-done overhauls if they wish to both have relevance with the spiritual paths so many are now on, and to provide them with a nurturing environment that doesn't expect them to hold their beliefs and actions in tension with each other.

~Mark Sandlin

About the Author

Mark Sandlin is an ordained PC (USA) minister serving at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. Mark is a co-founder of The Christian Left and blogs at The God Article. He has been featured on NPR's The Story with Dick Gordon, PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, and the upcoming documentary film Amendment One. Currently, he is seeking a new call. Follow Mark on Facebook

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