The Future of Christianity

Diana Butler-Bass has just posted on Huffington Post a post-Easter response to Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek story “Forget the Church, Folow Jesus.” Rather than go into the details of what he said/she said, you can read it following the links on her post here.

Part of her article sketches out the difference between what used to be taken for granted as the definitive way of being a Christian. She takes three key words–believing, behaving, and belonging–and looks at the way these have been approached, and then at how they are now being seen by the new generation of Christians:

Religion always entails the “3B’s” of believing, behaving, and belonging. Over the centuries, Christianity has engaged the 3B’s in different ways, with different interrogators and emphases. For the last 300 years or so, the questions were asked as follows:

1) What do I believe? (What does my church say I should think about God?)
2) How should I behave? (What are the rules my church asks me to follow?)
3) Who am I? (What does it mean to be a faithful church member?)

But the questions have changed. Contemporary people care less about what to believe than how they might believe; less about rules for behavior than in what they should do with their lives; and less about church membership than in whose company they find themselves. The questions have become:

1) How do I believe? (How do I understand faith that seems to conflict with science and pluralism?)
2) What should I do? (How do my actions make a difference in the world?)
3) Whose am I? (How do my relationships shape my self-understanding?)

Do we need a Church to effectively be a Christian (or follower of Jesus)? No. But a healthy, vibrant–and open-minded–community will go miles to encourage the outcast, the displaced, the seeker, and even the religious to embrace a faith that is truly relevant and sensitive to today’s world and its needs. Perhaps our churches could benefit greatly by reframing their communities around the three new questions and, in turn, reap the rewards of spiritually alive and growing congregations.