Brian McLaren’s latest book The Great Spiritual Migration (2016, Crown) is a wonderful exploration of how followers of Jesus can move into new modes of being a Christian in the 21st Century. I highly recommend it. McLaren’s book somewhat reminds me of the late Phyllis Tickle’s brilliant book The Great Emergence from 2012 (Baker Books).
The main point that both Tickle and McLaren are making is that many Christians are discovering that the old constructs of their faith, theology, and church are simply not sufficient going forward. Now, these contemporary authors, and many others like them, are not the first to call for a major reformation of the Christian faith and practice. We could go back to Martin Luther, of course, who was the author of what might be called the Great Reformation (even though there were many church reformers before Luther).
As hopeful as I am about a new great reformation, nevertheless, I am a little disturbed by a problematic thread which runs through Luther, Tickle, McLaren and many other reformers. In most of these writer-theologian’s expressions there seems to me to be a desire to remain respected by the groups/people they are critiquing and seemingly distancing themselves from. Now, you might be thinking that I am confusing their civility (or even sobriety) with an inauthentic desire for respectability. But this desire for respectability is seen, in Luther, for example, through his leaving in the Lutheran Church much of the damaging hierarchical practices and organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
Worse, though, is that, though Luther paid a significant personal cost for his reformation work, today’s modern reformers do so from the seat of bourgeois comfortability. This is the difference between civility and respectability—that there is no prophets “reward” for contemporary Western reformers (see Mt 5:10-12). Tickle, McLaren, and others (I could name a whole bunch) are great writer/communicators, but they are not calling a fig a fig and trough a trough. It’s all too neat and tidy. They don’t risk their reputations, and certainly not their lives, in following Jesus and leading others to Christ’s un-kingdom.
Additionally, the ecumenical movement, with its humble-hearted proponents and actors, is still wrapped up in this bourgeois mentality—a respectability that comes before and overshadows any real attempt or possibility to bring about real change.
It should be clear to most that the domination systems that we call organized Christian religion today are fundamentally flawed. And without sounding too much like a nihilist, what is needed to move the church forward is not a Great Reformation, or Emergence, or Spiritual Migration. What is needed is a Great Deformation of the institutional church. We need, as the Old Testament saints said, to “cut down the idols” (Deut 12:3), or as Jesus said, “tear down this temple” (Jn 2:19). For the evolution of the church to be effected in this new era of enlightenment requires a revolution, not a reform, of hearts and minds—and institutions.
And a revolution is coming. The new, and necessary, revolution that is brewing against capitalism in West will only ferment, I believe, with a concomitant revolution against religio institutio or religionism.
Why is a religious revolution needed? Similar to the way capitalism is killing our earth and the human race, religionism is killing our souls. Reforms are not working; they will not work. The domination systems are increasingly repressing and oppressing our societies, and this includes religious domination systems. Again, as I have said elsewhere, there is no religion without politics; there is no spirituality without social justice. There is no repentance (change) without struggle. Thus, we must struggle in our calling the capitalists to repentance, and the religionists as well.
Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” People with great power, secular or spiritual, will not give up the power they have stolen from the people. The people must take it back. This is the nature of the revolution that Jesus instituted on the cross. He disarmed the powers! (Col 2:15).
Now, I am not calling for the death of the church or religion. Far be it. I have a great hope of a resurrected, born-again church, a church on mission with Jesus to transform the whole world to the glory of the Father! What this new glorious re-born church will actually look like is still unclear. One thing is sure, though, it won’t be a hierarchical institution distinct from society. But it will be the soul of the world!
© Paul Dordal, 2016