Book | Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass

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Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. 1st ed. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

diana-butler-bassI heard Diana Butler Bass speak at the Festival of Homiletics a couple years ago, and she was fantastic. These are the notes I took from that presentation. It changed the way I look at the Creed, and has impacted how I teach Catechism.

Part One of Dorothy Butler Bass' presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part One of Diana Butler Bass’ presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part Two of Dorothy Butler Bass' presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part Two of Diana Butler Bass’ presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.

I believe these notes essentially express the thrust of the above mentioned book. Another big take-away for me is the reversal of belonging. It used to be that–in order to belong to a church–a person went through this sequence:

Believe ==> Behave ==> Belong.

In other words, one must first believe and ascribe to the correct doctrines, and demonstrate this to the existing congregation. Then one must pledge to follow certain moral behavioral codes, and be characterized by said holy lifestyle. Then, when one “makes the cut” one would be admitted into the fellowship of the saints.

Butler-Bass, among others, suggests that this flow should be reversed if the church is to a) survive, and b) (more importantly) actually reflect the pattern that Jesus established. The reversed flow would look like this:

Belong ==> Behave ==> Believe.

In other words, the church should be an open, welcoming community where anyone can instantly be welcomed to participate and feel a sense of belonging. Once a person belongs and feels safe, they will notice that the behavior of the community moves to a different rhythm. It is God-centered, and other-oriented, working for justice and peace and reconciliation in the World. Finally, when the person finds this to be a redemptive rhythm, they will begin to believe that this rhythm is the reality of the Triune God, reveled and centered on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is a way of being the church–a missional imagination–that will inspire hope in the world.

Prepare, Practice, Play, Participate

“Performing faith involves four important actions: prepare, practice, play, and participate.” (259)

“You must prepare by learning the overall religious story of our time.” (259)

“In order to embody the story and help others experience it, we need to practice our faith intentionally in ways that anticipate compassion and justice….God’s reign does not fall from heaven to those who wait. The people of god must live the kingdom by purposefully doing actions that rehearse love, charity, kindness, goodness, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and justice.” (260)

“Performance involves the hard work of practice, but it also entails play….Awakening cannot occur without laughter and lightness. Mirth is essential to vibrant spirituality….performance is ‘entertainment’ in its original sense, which meant ‘to hold together, stick together, or support.’ The purpose of entertainment was to create a community focused on the story at hand.” (260)

“Performance requires that we participate….Ideally, there is no such thing as a passive audience. Instead, audiences conspire with actors to create unique performances. To perform awaking means we all must participate–sometimes as actors, sometimes as audience, as directors, writers, stagehands, set designers, ushers–rather like a community theater, all with interchangeable roles.” (261)

“Churches cannot be clubs for the righteous, institutions that maintain religious conformity in the face of change, or businesses that manage orthodoxy and personal piety. Churches must be more like Rolling Thunder or holy flash mobs. They must grasp–in a profound and authentic way–that they are sacred communities of performance where the faithful learn the script of God’s story, rehearse the reign of God, experience delight, surprise, and wonder, and participate fully in the play.” (261)

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