Barry Taylor is back with another excerpt from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker, 2007), edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. As our culture abandons any sense of certainty, how should Christians respond? Taylor invites us to consider a less dogmatic and "muscular" view of our faith in favor of one that is comfortable in the ever-shifting currents of our world.
The times in which we live are intense on any number of levels. The threat of terror haunts the world like a specter; issues of global poverty and disease are constant reminders of economic disparity
and human despair. Our world has also recently been rocked by a series of natural disasters, the sheer force of which has raised renewed concerns about environmental issues and the ramifications
of our commitment to fossil fuels, chemicals, and other resources on the planet. The impact of globalization and its many discontents on various parts of the world is a continuing part of our daily lives. Along with this, we in the West find ourselves drowning in choices, trying to balance our rampant materialism with a renewed desire for meaning and purpose.
These are certainly not the times to be seeking self-preservation, but that seems to be the general focus of the church today. Everywhere we turn we see books, conferences, workshops, and a host of other
resources that focus on what can be done to preserve the church, and we are willing, it seems, to employ any marketing device to make it happen. Trend watchers and marketing strategists offer ways in which churches can connect with the culture. We brand and market Christianity in attempts to make it viable again.
But what if we let go of our need for a branded and marketable entity and turn instead toward a new way of living and being in the world? This is not an entirely new idea. Dietrich Bonhoeffer posited a "religionless Christianity" in the 1940s, but what if it is an idea whose time has finally come? What if "religion," and by this I mean the institutional and organizational form around faith, is no longer necessary for the future of faith?
Religions exist in certainty and sanctity; faith lives in inquiry and fluidity. The reason traditional faiths are having a hard time of things is that the present situation is one in which certainty is suspect and sanctity is being redefined.
We should consider letting go of our obsession with certainty; we do, after all, "see through a glass darkly," as the apostle Paul reminds us. It is hard to claim clarity when shadows linger over what is revealed. The future of faith does not lie in the declaration of certainties but in the living out of uncertainty. "Believing that one believes" is how philosopher Gianni Vattimo puts it: "To believe means having faith, conviction, or certainty in something, but also to opine - that is, to think with a certain degree of uncertainty." Our declarations about matters of faith are always fragmentary and provisional.
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