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The Future of Christianity

February 8, 2011

Original Post of Feb., 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where Christian faith, Christian churches and Christian education may be headed.  So have many others, as it is an important topic.  With the Big Tent Christianity conference in Phoenix just three days away, my own thoughts are ramping up, as I suspect they are for a number of leaders and lay people who will be there and many who won’t.

I’ve been mostly an “outsider” for a number of years, but keeping in touch as I can, reading on related subjects (especially Christian origins), etc. I thought today I’d review a few of the issues, the initiatives and developments that I’ve been encountering.

First, the Big Tent conference and the loose, seemingly small organization behind it is pretty new (their first formal conference was just last fall) .  I know of no similar coalition or intentional group dialogue in that it represents people from traditionally widely diverse branches of  Christianity.  Of course, one could ask how “traditional” these folks could be, given they are willing and eager to meet, talk, and perhaps action-plan across some substantial differences.  These are not just in style or minor aspects of theology, but include theology and practices at the core of being Christian.

To provide a sort of “program” for game-watchers who may not be fully up on this all, two named groups with loosely defined memberships are involved: Emerging (or Emergent) Christians and groups, and Progressive Christians.  The former are mainly from within Evangelical tradition (not truly “fundamentalist” however) and the latter from “mainline” churches (often more liberal-leaning or comfortable with the term liberal).  And there are no doubt a number of mavericks, independent of either grouping or without a church home.

Some other players or influencers should also be mentioned.  Harvey Cox, the venerable seminary professor and author of the incredibly popular The Secular City decades ago, is still contributing, as in a recent book: The Future of Faith. I found it a very interesting and informative read.  Of course there is retired Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong.  Then there are contributions from former Evangelical scholars who still are fascinated by Christian history and theology, perhaps most notably Bart Ehrman.

There are a number of scientists of faith and popularizers of the issues of science and religion.  Some are from Evangelical backgrounds and continue to align there, and others are other types of Christians or merely theists or believers in God in some manner.  There are too many to name, except I will refer again to Michael Dowd, as a minister, and his Evolutionary Christianity work that involves many of these kinds of people in interviews, panels, etc.

Then I must include a theology that is developed in some detail, but is not on the radar screen of most Christians, other than perhaps its name, Process Theology, or Process Thought.  I say “must” because I was significantly exposed to it while attending Claremont School of Theology in the early ’90s.  But also because it has had significant influence despite it being sophisticated or challenging enough that it is not much “followed,” at least by name or in detail.  In a general way, I think it could be called part of “Progressive Christianity,” and is certainly not Evangelical.

There are many more threads I could pull into this tapestry, but maybe this is enough to be helpful or stimulating to some readers.  I may have to come back and seriously revise it after this week, anyway… and probably won’t be able to stop writing about all this.

May, 2012 Update: Seeking Your Story

I am writing a short book about personal struggles and growth on one’s spiritual path.  I have plenty to say on my own, but know that people’s stories tend to be most interesting (relative to lengthy explanations and such).  So I want to include stories from readers who would like to share here or with me privately (looking me up on Facebook is one way, and I’ll soon be setting up a group there).  Then, if you give permission, I may include yours in the book at a relevant point.  But even if I don’t, I may share from it elsewhere, or link to yourblog, etc.  And just for contributing, I will send you the book (it will be an ebook) free as a thank you!

As to other updates, there are many on my other posts in recent months.  I can summarize here to say that I see things still rapidly evolving for Christianity and among individual Christians… it has Church and institutional leaders scrambling!  I am excited about how especially younger Christians and spiritual seekers are looking deeper and more boldly than prior generations have.  But many of us in “mature years” are doing the same as well.

People are certainly “talking” more than ever, across age/theological/geographic and other divides, thanks to the Internet and blogs in particular.  They also seem to be acting — among other things, meeting in new and less formal formats for “church,” for social interaction, exploration, etc.  With this, many are creating joint projects to care for others, lobby for causes, etc.

Unfortunately, there has been no follow-up in terms of another gathering similar to the two Big Tent Christianity conferences of fall, 2010, and winter, 2011.  I think that has been mostly circumstantial in terms of the schedules of the organizers, rather than an indication of lack of interest or that serious problems were encountered…. I heard nothing of the latter, but rather many positive responses to the Feb., 2011 one I attended.  Perhaps we over-rate the benefits of conferences, but I do think further ones like that one would be very worthwhile to those attending and important for the institutions they are a part of.  Meanwhile, the kinds of movement and deeper reflection on faith and its out-workings that were seen in Big Tent Christianity seems to continue at a similar pace.

What are your observations? Do you see changes in any direction in the last year or just over? And don’t forget to share about your own pilgrimage here or at a more recent post.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 4:39 pm

    Process theology is not evangelical, but open theism, which is influenced by process theology, is.

  2. Howard Pepper permalink*
    February 8, 2011 6:24 pm

    Thanks for this addition, Alex. I have followed the Open Theism discussions only lightly, but I gather that it IS of importance in where Christianity is going, especially within the Evangelical camp, as you rightly place it. And as Big Tent Christianity may represent some nexus between traditional and progressive, broadly, Open Theism may represent a nexus between Process and Evangelical “camps” (or “orthodoxy” more broadly). Readers who know that Clark Pinnock has been the main developer and serious proponent of Open Theism may or may not know that he passed on this past summer.

    If you could post a brief summary of your understanding of Open Theism and how it advances our understanding of God and the Bible (if you think it does), I know I’d appreciate it, and probably many of the readers would.

    • February 9, 2011 1:35 pm

      Hi Howard! Actually, I’m not into open theism myself. I’m a liberal Episcopalian and a full fledged process philosophy panentheist.

      • Howard Pepper permalink*
        February 9, 2011 5:55 pm

        Hi again Alex,

        Cool… nice to have a fellow panentheist and process person “in my acquaintance.” Can’t say I have formally affiliated with process people but I identify there more than anywhere, as to Christian expressions. To me, all theologies that assume and build around a natural/supernatural split get things off on the wrong foot, and it is nearly impossible to later try to make things fit, and to stay wide open in terms of examining things like “parapsychology” or the “paranormal.” And these are crucially important.

        Your blog (which I couldn’t read much of, being in Portugese) suggests you live in Brazil. Is that right? What is the Episcopal Church like there? Do you have things written in English on the Internet?

      • April 5, 2011 6:14 pm

        Yes Howard, I live in Brazil and attend the Episcopal/Anglican church here. There is a wide scope of theological views in the Episcopal Church of Brazil. Some conservatives in the northeastern states are leaving the church an forming their own, over the issue of homossexual ordination and marriage. Episcopalians in my area are more liberal and mostly have no problem with those issues.

  3. April 5, 2011 5:43 pm

    Re-reading this post now almost two months after the Big Tent Christianity conference of February, I realized I should perhaps follow up on my own statement that I might need to revise my comments after attending the conference. Well no, I don’t. As some of my posts since then reflect, the players were basically as I described them. The conference was absolutely “full house” for the facility, and was positively energetic. Despite the wide differences on certain issues, and the engagement of controversial ones, I heard nothing but reasoned, polite exchanges and respectful challenges… how refreshing! (Indeed it seemed these people have been indulging in much less political and “culture wars” TV and radio than most, and probably more time with their own spiritual disciplines and seeking love…. This goes for both “sides,” although there was not much obvious “our side” vs. “your side” — part of the miracle of what seems to be happening.)

  4. October 29, 2011 6:48 pm

    Hey, if anybody knows of interesting events (or developments that are not major news items already) that I may have missed, or other readers might like to know of, feel free to post them as a comment to any thread, especially any recent one (of which there are few lately, I sadly report). Don’t worry if the news or comment doesn’t really fit the topic… just post.

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  1. 2012 in review « Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth

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