Turns out that a friend of mine is reading the same book I’m reading: Harvey Cox’s The Future of Faith. We thought we do a little “fishing” for other folks who have read or are reading this book, to see if we could get an online book study going.
So here’s the first stab at this: I’m four chapters into the book, and so far I’m finding it to be a book that is stimulating a lot of thought. It’s a little early to say, but I’m feeling some tinges of hope as well.
His opening paragraph gets right to the point: “What does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular?” He then describes three qualities that “mark the world’s spiritual profile” — the unanticipated resurgence of religion, the decline of fundamentalism (really?), and, he says, the most important: “a profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness.” After drawing a distinction between faith and belief, he goes on to describe three major ages of Christianity: the first (pre-Constantine) was the age of faith, the second (from Constantine to our time) the age of belief, and what is now emerging, the age of the Spirit.
I couldn’t help but think of Tickle’s The Great Emergence as I read the early part of this book. Both Cox and Tickle do good work in helping us understand where we have come from and what has brought about Christianity as we know it. I’d use either (or both) if I needed to help people understand our history. But at the same time, I felt the same frustration in both books: It’s terribly hard to describe a “rising new age” when you’re smack dab in the middle of it.
As something of a side note, I found his treatment of the “spiritual but not religious” trend to be helpful. Rather than dismissing it as foolish or naïve, he illuminates the genesis of this sentiment, and he gives some pointers in how to respond to people who express it.
The second chapter is a helpful exploration of “the literalization of the symbolic” and poses that looking at poetic (or symbolic) texts like the creation stories as scientific fact creates an “immense obstacle to faith for many thoughtful people.” It’s all part of his argument that the age of belief (holding to doctrines and creeds about faith, rather than living the faith) has led us astray.
Chapter 3 was interesting, but I’m still trying to find the significance of it. Hmm.
Chapter 4, though, made getting through Chapter 3 worthwhile. While he’s been at this longer than I have, his review of how our understanding of the history of Christianity has changed has some powerful implications. Looking past the history of Christianity as it was written by the “winners” (hierarchy, power, and institutional control) is making me anxious to read on. I’m sensing some powerful implications for the future of faith (gee, that might make a good book title!) and the Christian church in particular. Perhaps it’s because what he’s saying about the particular path that western Christianity wound up following (instead of the other possible paths that were still in use in the early church) may free us up—I hope it frees us up!—to imagine some new possibilities for faith in our day.
So, how about it fellow readers? What are you seeing in this book? Should I keep on reading?
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