Friday, October 14, 2011

A New Spiritual Age

I recently read Harvey Cox's latest book, The Future of Faith, and took away a few nuggets of truth that are very encouraging. First, Cox divides the history of Christianity into three periods: the Age of Faith, the Age of Belief, and the Age of the Spirit. The Age of Faith was the two centuries after Christ, when followers embraced the Spirit and emulated Jesus in community. "Faith" is more accurately translated "trust," as this period was not about doctrine but trusting a new way of relating to God through Jesus.

The Age of Belief--which includes the dark ages--is from the time of Constantine to the 20th century. During this period the focus was on what one believed--either orthodox dogma and creeds or heresies--rather than trust in Christ. Some of this period is still going on within fundamentalism and literalist evangelicals as they dig in their heels around various traditional views. For example, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll told his flock not to read The Shack because it promoted unbiblical ideas. I'm not sure why he didn't encourage people to read it and decide for themselves. This "Age of Belief" mindset puts more emphasis on what one believes rather than on how one acts in terms of loving others and living like Jesus did. Notice how a conservative blog portrays and endorses Driscoll and how many times "heretical" and "false teaching" are mentioned. "Age of Belief" people will find it difficult to admit that The Shack might have some redeeming value, even if they disagree with some of it.

The Age of the Spirit, Cox argues, has begun and will continue to emerge as new paradigms replace fundamentalist and literalist thinking and as the number of non-Western Christians grow. This Age is also a renewal of the initial Age of Faith (Trust), as focus isn't on the details of what one believes, but how one is led by the Spirit of love (Not that what one believes is irrelevant, but it is secondary to love). I have seen this trend, especially in the last ten years, and trust Cox is correct. The Age of the Spirit is here to stay.

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