Before telling you about this thrilling and important new book by Diana Butler Bass, I should take this opportunity to publically thank my friends and hosts at Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, PA for offering such hospitality and interest during my lectures there this past weekend. As you may have seen from the previous blog posting, I gave a series of talks on contemporary culture, the art of Christian discernment, and how our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition can fund the project of a uniquely Christian discernment of the ethos of modern culture. This was me speaking in the broadest of terms about a wholistic, Biblical worldview, the call to think in ways which honor Christ’s Lordship, the dangers of dualism and gnosticism and cultural accomodation, the excitement of church ministry that equips lay folk to live out their faith in robust and coherent ways in the various social spheres and aspects of their lives. I told stories about those who are transforming the culture; some frustrating ones of those who are not. From worldviewish books like Transforming Vision and Heaven Is Not My Home to daily spirituality like Practicing the Presence of God; from books on vocation like Os Guinness’s The Call to guides to civility in the public square like Rich Mouw’s wonderful Uncommon Decency; from books on work to books on the arts, books on urban & suburban ways of being to books on the spirituality of the ordinary, we recommended resources all weekend long to the gathered community of learners and at their Sunday morning Book Fair. Thanks to all that came (including old friends) and to those who helped with food and books and details. At least one participant blogged a bit about my teaching, and it is more generous than I deserve. Still, you can check it out, and see the other very good stuff there, too, penned by Brian Rice, a local pastor, good friend, long-time H&M customer and leader in mentoring young pastors in missional settings.
Derry seemed to take well my passionate call to be more intentionally Reformed and more seriously engaged in cultural criticism. Of course they were open because, well, they are involved in just this interface of reading the Word and reading the world. They are a theologically rich, if moderate, mainline church with tons of energy and class. With the good weekend with these folks in my heart, it is a perfect time to celebrate this long-awaited, well-written and thoughtful book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, a book that, like some at Derry (it seems) articulates an experience of the faith that is something other than the typical one in recent press reports. That it, it is neither politically conservative nor mega-church evangelical, yet is commited to serious thinking, mature theology, caring community, and devout discipleship. This tells the tale that many of us know to be true–the one that the typical media report rarely gets right, namely, that not all mainline churches are sloppy or dying.
Bass’s description of the best practices of vibrant mainline congregations is fantastic and fascinating; Derry could even be one of the congregations that Ms Bass talks about here. I will blog and review this more later, but for now, know that her research has taken her to churches all over the theological and geographic spectrum and she is happy to announce that the much-reported death of the mainline church is, like Mark Twain’s death, seriously exxagerated. In …For the Rest of Us she describes those kind of things that she sees bringing renewal to fairly ordinary, often somewhat left-of-center, deeply spiritual mainline parishes. She does her “sociology of congregations” work in ways that are memoiristic and delightfully explained. It makes for a wonderfully engaging read.
You may know that I loved Diana’s award-winning memoir, Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community and raved about her powerful little book about undue patriotism in church in her Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith & Citizenship. Her more academic report of robust progressive churches, published by the Alban Institute, is called Practicing Congregations: Imagining a New Old Church. She then quickly edited a fabulous collection of stories about these churches called From Nomads to Pilgrims: Stories of Practicing Congregations. All of these are splendid, and this new one is no exception.
Please mention this offer by emailing or calling
Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith
Diana Butler Bass (Harper Collins) $23.95.