Christianity for the Rest of Us
Author: Diana Butler Bass
Published by: HarperCollins
In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass tries to answer that question. But she isn’t asking that question of just any church, she is asking that question of a select group of mainline churches: Methodist, Lutheran, United, and Anglican.
Despite the declining attendance in mainline churches, there are pockets that are not only surviving, but growing. Bass identifies several of these churches and eventually narrows it down to ten that she visits over a period of three years, interviewing the leadership and lay people. In the end she comes up with ten defining characteristics of these churches. (By the way, it used to be that conservative Protestant churches were immune to this declining trend, but she shows in her other book, Christianity After Religion, that this is no longer true)
Contrary to their conservative cousins, these churches do not put on glitzy seeker services with fog machines and techno-pop music. Rather they focus on deep spiritual practices, connection with others, open and accepting attitudes, an outward vision, and a reconnection with the ancient practices of their particular tradition: i.e. saint benedict’s table. Most of these churches had at one point become stagnant, and on the verge closing their doors. They were facing a crisis. Then, in a variety of ways, they asked themselves two questions: “Who are we?” and “What is God calling us to do?”
When I first started reading the book, I must confess that I was a little concerned about whether or not there would be anything of relevance for me. But, as someone who has left the conservative Protestant tradition in search of something else, I found the stories of the lay people to be especially encouraging. Some people who came to call these churches home were from un-churched backgrounds; some used to go to church with their parents, but had since abandoned the church as irrelevant; but many were just like me—they came looking for something else. These stories are often touching in their humanity—people searching for something meaningful, or trying to find a way to connect with a spirituality that they weren’t even sure existed. This spoke to me. It showed me that I wasn’t alone, or crazy. A lot of times these journey stories helped me to see why I found some aspect of this new tradition appealing.
I think this book has something for three distinct groups of people. For church leadership, it offers a clue to what people are searching for, and how others have met that need. For the un-churched, or those looking for something else, it shows that the more vocal segment of Christianity is not the only way of being Christian. And for those of us that have left that vocal segment, it is encouragement and affirmation that there is a Christianity for the rest of us.