In the series of sermons I preached at St. Paul’s last week, I talked about how the world and the church are changing. Today I read John Buchanan’s review of The Future of Faith, by Harvey Cox, and found myself nodding in agreement with some of his assertions on the same topic. This one, for example:
Today people come to church or join a church not because the church is Presbyterian, Methodist or Lutheran, and not because of the theological nuances that those names represent, but because they want to be identified with a particular community of people who are trying, individually and together, to follow Jesus.
An example: the church I serve has a tutoring program that pairs a volunteer tutor with an inner-city youngster for an hour and a half once a week. Half of the volunteer tutors are nonmembers and many of them are refugees from the church of their childhood. Many have no church background at all. In the course of coming to church on a weeknight to meet their students, something happens. They begin to see a connection between the students, their relationship, Jesus and the church. These people often show up in a new member class. They are new, or renewed, Christians because they have seen what it means to follow Jesus.
While Buchanan didn’t agree with everything Cox had to say about the future of faith, he ended his review positively, saying:
But Cox’s description of the “emergent” movement in all world religions, of a movement “less hierarchical, dogmatic, patriarchal” and more practical, of a movement that is more interested in a dynamic life to be lived than a set of beliefs to be affirmed—that description reflects the energy I have seen emerging in the church. People are attracted to a kingdom of peace, kindness and justice already present in the world, and they respond to an invitation to be part of that kingdom by following Jesus.
“A movement that is more interested in a dynamic life to be lived that a set of beliefs to be affirmed.” Hmm. That sounds more like the church of the first century than the church of the last century, and it makes me hopeful about what the church might become in this century.
John Buchanan is pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and editor and publisher of The Christian Century.