Bass, Christianity After Religion


Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. Harper One, 2012.

Referenced in: Church Leadership Philosophical Foundations, Missional Summary

In this fascinating look at the religious landscape of American culture, Bass draws on research and visits with hundreds of Christian groups, arguing that we now face the end of Christianity as we know it.

  • Since 1960, the number of Americans claiming belief in God went from a “most emphatic” 97 percent to 71 percent — a 26 point drop. (45)
  • Only 20 percent of the population attend church each weekend. (62)
  • Roughly 44 percent of Americans have left their childhood faith in favor of another denomination or religion or by dropping any religious affiliation at all. (59)
  • By 2010, in a stunning change, America’s third largest religious group — and one of its youngest — is “unaffiliated,” an independently minded group, with no single issue, theology, or view of God. (46)
  • In 2008 a survey of generational views of Scripture found that 86 percent of younger Americans think the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon “offer the same spiritual truths” as compared to only 33 percent of adults over 64. (58)

Certainly for most Christians these developments are anxiety producing, causing some to “shake their heads, warning against the devil appearing as an angel of light, decrying how easy it is to fall into heresy, and how the evil one roams about tempting God’s children.” (4) But Bass believes this anxiety may also portend a significant progression of Christian faith.

Strange as it may seem in this time of cultural anxiety, economic near collapse, terrorist fear, political violence, environmental crisis, and partisan anger, I believe that the United States (and not only the United States) is caught up in the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of sustained religious and political transformation during which our ways of seeing the world, understanding ourselves, and expressing faith are being, to borrow a phrase, “born again.” Indeed, the shifts around religion contribute to the anxiety, even as anxiety gives rise to new sorts of understandings of God and the spiritual life. Fear and confusion signal change. This transformation is what some hope will be a “Great Turning” toward a global community based on shared human connection, dedicated to the care of our planet, committed to justice and equality, that seeks to raise hundreds of millions from poverty, violence, and oppression. (6)

In short, “the “rejection of religion is also hope for the future of faith communities.” (26) Bass goes so far as to call this the Fourth Great Awakening, with the same magnitude of the First, Second, and Third that preceded it. Churches that wish to live into this awakening, she says, must rekindle three spiritual practices:

  1. Belonging, Relational Community
  2. Behaving, Intentional Practice
  3. Believing, Experiential Belief

In this section, many will find echoes of Bass’s three earlier works that offer suggestions for revitalizing mainline Protestant congregations.

The chief value of Bass may not be her prescriptions and suggestions, which for those other than progressive Protestants may not go far enough, but her insightful analysis, and refreshing hopefulness.

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From the Publisher

The data is clear: religious affiliation is plummeting across the breadth of Christian denominations. And yet interest in “spirituality” is on the rise. So what is behind the sea of change in American religion? With the same comprehensive research and insider reporting that made Christianity for the Rest of Us an indispensable guide to cultivating thriving churches, Diana Butler Bass offers a fresh interpretation of the “spiritual but not religious” trend.

Bass—who has spent her career teaching the history, culture, and politics of religion, and engaging church communities across the nation—brings forth her deep knowledge of the latest national studies and polls, along with her own groundbreaking analysis, as she seeks to fully comprehend the decline in Christian attendance and affiliation that started decades ago—and has increased exponentially in recent years.

Some contend that we’re undergoing yet another evangelical revival; others suggest that Christian belief and practice is eroding entirely as traditional forms of faith are replaced by new ethical, and religious, choices. But Bass argues compellingly that we are, instead, at a critical stage in a completely new spiritual awakening, a vast interreligious progression toward individual and cultural transformation, and a wholly new kind of postreligious faith.

Offering direction and hope to individuals and churches, Christianity After Religion is Bass’s call to approach faith with a newfound freedom that is both life-giving and service driven. And it is a hope-filled plea to see and participate in creating a fresh, vital, contemporary way of faith that stays true to the real message of Jesus.

About the Author

Diana Butler Bass is a blogger for The Huffington Post and a regular commentator on religion, politics, and culture for such media as USA Today, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX, PBS, and NPR. Her previous books include A People’s History of Christianity and Christianity for the Rest of Us. Bass holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University and has served on the faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Rhodes College, and is a fellow at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. She speaks regularly at churches, retreats, and workshops across the country and lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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