Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, two prominent voices in the Emergent conversation, have edited a new book called An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker, 2007). The dictionary defines the word manifesto as, "a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions." That should encourage people who see Emergent as being too ambiguous, but the book will undoubtedly give additional ammunition to its critics. In the coming weeks Out of Ur will feature excerpts from the book. The first comes from a chapter titled "Converting Christianity: The End and Beginning of Faith" by Barry Taylor.
What it means exactly when a person declares himself or herself to be "spiritual but not religious" is a matter of some debate. Some people find spiritual an irritating term that means nothing of any real substance, a marker for a sort of "wishy-washy" sentimentalism that passes itself off as real faith. Others have embraced it wholeheartedly, and the rise of spiritual language in sermons and discussions, as well as a growing interest in spiritual directors in many churches, point to an embrace of the term on some levels even amongst the "religious."
I don't think there is one definition for the term or for its usage. Spirituality is an umbrella word, a catchall concept used to characterize a commitment to the sacred elements of life. It defies a singular definition, hence the fluidity of the usage of the word; it is also an evolving term rather than one of fixed determination.
One thing that it does signify, almost universally, is the rejection of traditional faiths as a primary source of connection to the divine. I would argue that traditional faiths are no longer the first resource that people go to in order to develop and nurture their spiritual lives, but instead function more as secondary archives with which new spiritual permutations are created. Those who do choose to explore their spiritual quests within traditional faith environments do so with very different eyes and intentions than previous generations of seekers have. For me spirituality is the religion of the twenty-first century.
This is a dramatic shift, and one that some might contest, but the momentum seems to be toward this perspective. It should come as no surprise to us that our understanding of religion is undergoing a transformation. In times of significant cultural change, all the ways in which we order ourselves socially are usually affected. For instance, religion as it was experienced in the post-Reformation period was quite unlike its pre-Reformation incarnation. That faith in the postmodern world is showing itself to be markedly different from faith in modernity only serves to underscore the significance of the cultural changes we are presently experiencing.
If then we truly find ourselves in a new situation, one in which the old ways simply no longer suffice, what then of the future for Christian faith? I have already raised the notion that there may not be a future for "Christianity," the religion of Christian faith. I mean no disrespect to historic Christianity when I make this comment, nor do I seek to simply dismiss centuries of faithful service, worship, and theology.
I think that the Christian faith has been held captive to a "pseudoorthodoxy" for much of the late twentieth century. Christianity's love affair with modernity and its universalizing tendencies created a climate in which the general assumption has been that what constitutes Christian faith has been "settled," and therefore any challenge to the status quo is often rejected as unbiblical or unorthodox. The assumption is a singular understanding of the faith. The easiest way to undermine different perspectives on issues like faith and practice during my lifetime has been to call someone's commitment to orthodoxy into question. But Christian faith is open to discussion. Historically it always has been. It can be questioned and reinterpreted. In fact, I would argue that it is meant to be questioned and reinterpreted.