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Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening [Hardcover]

Diana Butler Bass
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 6 2012

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 change in American religion? With the same comprehensive research and insider reporting that madeChristianity for the Rest of Usan 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 areligious, 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 Religionis 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.


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Review

“Bass has done it again! She’s spot on-prophetic, compelling, and most importantly, hopeful.” (Rob Bell, author of Love Wins)

“Refreshing, evocative, well informed and original.” (Harvey Cox, author of The Future of Faith)

“Bass explains how experience, connection, and service are replacing theology as keys to the next Great Awakening. It’s a fascinating story.” (Bill McKibben, author of Earth and founder of 360.org)

“Interesting, insightful, impressive and important.” (Marcus Borg, author of Speaking Christian)

“…an important and life-giving book, written by … one of our finest religious writers.” (Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak)

“Join Bass in rebuilding religion from the bottom up!” (Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation and author of Falling Upward)

“It is one blockbuster of an analysis that is also a delight to read.” (Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence)

“Diana reminds us here that, before every great awakening, folks say it is impossible... and after every great awakening, folks say it was inevitable.” (Shane Claiborne, author and activist)

“Of Bass’s many excellent books, this is the most substantive, provocative, and inspiring yet. . . . it leads to a powerful finale of sage guidance for the future.” (Brian D. McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity)

“Bass ably analyzes the struggle for awareness and change that defines spiritual awakening.” (Publishers Weekly Religion Bookline (starred review))

From the Back Cover

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 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 areligious, 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.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Much Needed Book in the Church Jan. 10 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Diana Butler Bass is right on in her perceptive overview of where the church is failing today. As I read some of the first chapters I found myself laughing out loud, not something I do often when reading anymore, because she described so well what is turning many people off going to church i.e. it simply doesn't connect with their real lives at all!

She says we have got the order of belief, behaving and belonging wrong. Butler Bass claims that in the early church it was the other way around, first you joined, then you learned how this group behaved, liturgically, socially, morally and in community. Then you decided if what they believed was what you believed too. But being there and showing love to both the community and the world outside was far more important than belief.

Yes it does matter what we believe but today what we believe simply has to make sense with what we know about the world through science and our own personal experience. The middle part of the book I found deeply moving as she challenged us to "know ourselves" and to seek a personal experience of God not just a "theological" one.

I hope to use this next Fall with a study group that I lead that hopefully will lead us into both a spiritual and religious renewal of our Christian faith.
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By R^5
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very knowledgable woman and one with an ability to fit the details to the wide scope categories in terms of which visions can be framed. While the context of the book is very American, including a variety of things that are reasonably unique to that great and yet frustrating nation and its people, the core of the analysis runs well to faith oriented people most anywhere - including Canada even though our context is distinctly different. If we could successfully get people to creatively participate in community informed by care and passion the way she suggests, the apparent erosion of religious affiliations and things like church attendance would surely get stopped in its tracks. Would add a lot to life for a lot of people if it could be made to happen.
My residual big question is whether she would invite atheists and agnostics to come to her participatory celebrations of life an community - generally recognizing that they are just people with a belief system like the rest of us. Seems to me that one could easily recognize that the Gods of the religious groups are hardly going to be threatened by the limited type of belief system to which these folks subscribe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Eddie Chu TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Borrowed it from the library and bought one for myself.

This is the first book from Diana Bass that I read. I was oo-ing and ahh-ing through most of it. I had to mark it up and put post-it flags on many pages. That's why I had to buy my own.

Diana takes a social look at what has happened to Christianity in the past decades. What she writes explains many observations that I have made, having trusted Christ for my life in 1978. I watched the church losing her relevancy to many people fifty and under and was saddened by it. Diana takes us through the trend of change in spirituality in the Christian context and explains to me why being "religious" is no longer a term appreciated by many. We need to be "spiritual" and she goes on to explain what it means to the late-twentieth and twenty-first century.

On the one hand, Diana makes me feel sad how so many feels out of touch with church--the body of Christ. On the other hand, she gives me hope that people are not rejecting Christ; they are finding the projection of Christ by religious Christian irrelevant to their lives. People are still spiritual and the expression of the ageless gospel of Christ has to align with the changes in perception and expectation of the society.

Diana feels that there is a great awakening to spirituality. People want and seek more spirituality but it may not be the way the traditional churchgoers used to perceive and express it. This awakening is not limited to Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, or other major religions. Christians need to be aware of this spiritual awakening and respond positively to it.

There are negative responses ("backlashes") to spiritual awakening and some are disheartened by the backlashes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartening Feb. 9 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Butler-Bass musters a solid case for understanding the current situation of the institution of the church, mainline or conservative. She provides a new and thoughtful perspective on the "spiritual but not religious" segment of the population. I found this to be a helpful book for understanding our predicament.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  161 reviews
172 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a unique opportunity to meet religion as it really is & is becoming Feb. 28 2012
By Greg Smith (aka sowhatfaith) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most Americans are aware that recent decades have been a time of change in religious belief, behaving, and belonging. Most who read this blog have some knowledge of varying aspects of these shifts. Few people understand how the many trends are linked and fewer still grasp how this looks within the context of church history. Diana Butler Bass draws on her rich experiences as a researcher, consultant, subject matter expert, and perpetual student of the topic to craft a book that is sure to become the starting point for conversation in the academy, the church, and even in the many communities that together comprise our culture.

Christianity After Religion is a three part story that is designed to be read sequentially:

*Part 1, "The End of Religion," considers the changes within the framework of decline of traditional measures, primarily focusing on the last decade. Rather than simply recounting polls and popular opinion, Diana Butler Bass explores the deeper issues they suggest. (Readers will identify with their own life experiences while simultaneously better understanding the religious world in which they live.)

*Part 2, "A New Vision," captures the many and varied efforts to reshape Christianity for the future. These efforts have been underway for decades yet clarity, much less unity, remains elusive. Butler Bass proposes that new visions must end the centuries old approach of believing, behaving, and belonging in favor of the more ancient order: belonging, behaving, and believing.

*Part 3, "Awakening," moves from possibility to practice by arguing that the current experiences are a Fourth Great Awakening. By way of comparison with the first three Great Awakenings, the fourth seems enough like the previous to warrant the label yet dissimilar enough to warrant being considered the Fourth Great Awakenings (plural) or the Great Global Awakening to note its spiritual emphasis and impact on multiple religions.

Recommendation
While I regularly recommend books to specific people, I rarely recommend a book to everyone. As one who often writes and speaks about the decline of the mainline and the larger issue of religious change, I know that this topic is of incredible importance to those within the church (and those within the traditional structures of their religious traditions) and of incredible interest to those who are spiritual yet exist primarily or exclusively apart from the dominant religious structures from previous generations. Wherever you are on your spiritual and/or religious journey, I encourage you to read this text. If you engage it fully then discuss it with others, you will find many benefits including an enriched perspective on your experiences, a better understanding of the experiences of others, and an increased willingness to live your faith fully in the present while making time to glance at the past and look into the future.

So What?
The change is not just past or future; it is now. It is being performed today and every day. Diana Butler Bass explains:
The new global Great Awakening is not contained by the stage of the local Congregational church, in small groups, at camp meetings or tents, or at Pentecostal tabernacles or progressive political meetings. The awakening is being performed in the networked world, where the border between sacred and secular has eroded and where the love of God and neighbor - and the new vision of belonging, behaving, and believing - is being staged far beyond conventional religious communities. Although churches seem the most natural space to perform spiritual awakening, the disconcerting reality is that many people in Western society see churches more as museums of religion that sagred stage that dramatize the movement of God's spirit (p. 258)
88 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and practical! Feb. 17 2012
By Jeff Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If I didn't have a sermon to write I would have finished this one in one sitting. I've liked all of Diana's book, but this one takes her to new territory and explores issues that are at the heart of what I'm about in ministry. The historical framework about awakenings she uses provides a helpful perspective on what is going on in the world today. It presents an incredible challenge to those of us, like myself, who have spent their lives in the church, but see the need now for something far different from what we have been and been about. It's in no way a "how-to" book, but it is ultimately an extremely practical book - one that will provide the insight and perspective needed to work on the how-to's in whatever setting we find ourselves.
64 of 81 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Same coin, opposite side Jan. 17 2013
By yoshieslunchbox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This author makes several interesting points about the recent shifts in American religious affiliation, but quickly devolves into a hypocritical tirade against conservative Christians, and conservatives in general. I'm neither politically or religiously conservative (I'm not even Christian), but I expect a little intellectual integrity from an author of Mrs. Bass' standing.

On several occasions she lampoons the religious right for their mixing of religious and political beliefs, but then goes on to do the same with her own beliefs and holds the result up as something completely different. Apparently we are supposed to accept that Christ identifies with modern, elitist liberalism while being offended that conservative evangelicals claim Christ's blessing upon their narrow dogmatism.

It's strange that so much of the book revolves around politics. The author seems incapable of separating them from the religious sphere - so much so that she calls the Tea Party a religious movement. Again, I'm not a conservative. I don't like the Tea Party's brand of social conservatism. At the same time, I'm willing to state my differences of opinion with their policy choices without blatantly inventing nonsense about them. What shocked me most was where on page 251 Mrs. Bass equates the Tea Party (who have never, as far as I know, committed violence) with terrorists, African religious fundamentalists who kill homosexuals and torture children, and religious dictators, among others. You can disagree with somebody as much as you want, but such accusations are truly absurd.

She also goes on to quote a friend as saying that "This is the worst version of religious and political hatred in American history for at least one hundred and fifty years." Tell that to the African Americans who suffered under the disenfranchisement Jim Crow and terror of lynching campaigns. A comment like that can only come from somebody completely out of touch with reality. That Mrs. Bass could repeat it in good faith is beyond me.

This isn't to say that the book doesn't have any merit. It does, but all of its finer points come toward the beginning. The rest is a sad exercise in the pot calling the kettle black.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worthwhile read May 15 2012
By James C. Schultz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I gave this book a 5 star rating even though I would recommend skipping the Eight Chapter if you are not of a liberal persuasion. The information presented in the book and the author's presentation of it is excellent. My problems with Chapter 8 are strictly personal in that I would have preferred a deeper analysis of the tanking of the spiritual revival of the 60 & 70's than the superficial political treatment it received and I believe that the Author is too optimistic about the current spiritual state of the Country. Again this is strictly my opinion based on my own understanding of the world we live in and in no way is meant to detract from the wonderful job the author does in explaining the situation the modern church finds itself in. I am amazed that she is welcome in mainline denominational churches considering her message.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone trying to attract people to their church with the one caveat that they should probably skip Chapter 8. This is a must read for anyone in Church leadership and differences in theology should be put aside to obtain the benefit of hearing what God is saying to us through Mrs. Bass.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Message to Mainline Americans: Don't Be Afraid of Spiritual Change April 1 2012
By David Crumm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Don't be afraid. Religious life in America is changing dramatically, but for millions of Americans who are searching for faith, inspiration and hope on a daily basis--the underlying spiritual strength of our American culture is alive and well. In a couple of sentences, that's the wise and helpful message of Diana Butler Bass's new book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

As a longtime journalist covering religion in America, I have been reading Diana Butler Bass's work for about a decade now and we have been doing interviews through those years, as well. If you are drawn to her books, I also highly recommend A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story and Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith.

In preparing to cover her new book as a journalist, I asked Diana the very question that millions of Americans are having trouble answering for pollsters: "How do you identify yourself religiously these days?" She laughed, because religious transformation in our culture is the central point of this new book. We're all changing--like it or not. Finally she said, "Can we just say: She responded with a big silence?"

When I pressed her, though, she said, "I understand myself as a Christian who is leaning toward an unknown future and I am feeling a sense of loss. I know we have to leave some things behind in terms of ritual practices and traditions of the Church, but I am also full of a sense of wonder and imagination. What is Christianity going to look like for my daughter? For my unborn grandchildren? I am hopeful. I see the possibility of a Christianity that can be open and fluid and that will no longer be guarded by huge boundaries and barriers set up by human beings to close out so many people. I see a Christianity emerging that will embrace people around the world in love. I hope for a future of healing for our planet."

That's not a bad response on the fly in an interview! And, if that summary sounds like you, then you already can see why you should get a copy of this book and read it, then share it with friends in your congregation. That uplifting voice from Diana Butler Bass comes through, loud and clear, in these nearly 300 pages of solid research data, analysis and advice to church leaders about ways to adapt to our current transformation in American religion.

Here's what this is not: This is not another "inspirational" book by a spiritual writer sharing a personal vision of change. There are many fine books in that genre from individual teachers, but Diana Butler Bass is not merely writing a personal manifesto here. She is a highly respected historian of American religious life and a scholar of contemporary religious culture and is regularly invited to lecture to conferences, colleges and gatherings of church leaders. By the time you reach the back cover of her book, you will understand the breadth of current research by Diana herself and by a wide array of other top scholars as well.

And this is not another guilt trip from a "church-growth expert," designed to whack congregational leaders over the head with 10 Things You're Doing Wrong in Marketing Your Church. That's neither Diana Butler Bass's profession nor her intention. This new book is a stirring (and, to be honest, a troubling) look at change in America's religious life. But we are in the hands of a scholar whose vocation is driven by the hopeful promise that smart and well-informed church leaders can take positive steps.

Why is it so important that she covers the waterfront in current research?
Because we're not simply relying on Diana's own conclusions, leaving the reader to guess whether we should trust her. Instead, she fills in the other voices in a kind of panel discussion of top scholars, including as one example the widely known Harvard scholar Robert Putnam (famous for his work on Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community) and his colleague from Notre Dame David E. Campbell. Together, their latest book is American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which I also recommend.

Ultimately, this is a terrific book for small-group discussion. Not only will it spark lively conversations, but there's an even more important reason to work this book into your congregation's small-group schedule this year. It's this: Rather than simply arguing about various opinions concerning change, reading Diana's new book will give everyone in your community a firm footing on the latest research into these questions. Oh, people still will disagree, debate and question each other. That's the fun of small-group discussion. But, at least everyone will know the wide array of solid findings that now are available to help us chart the future.
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