There's something happening here. The words of that old song reverberate within me when I think of the events happening in our world and in the Church. Harvey Cox, recently retired from the faculty at Harvard, has delivered a seminal work on his take on where Faith Is, Has Been, and Is Going. The Future of Faith is incredibly approachable by the lay reader, yet Cox's theory on the future of faith is hard-hitting, hopeful, and ground-shaking. I highly recommend this book for the individual reader as well as a group study. Pastors, church leaders, academics, and interested non-Christians will all find places to engage Cox's discussion.
I appreciated this book because of Cox's grasp on history combined with his widespread travels and involvement in inter-faith dialogues across the spectrum. This guy has truly seen it all and his sharp mind and grasp of current events has helped him place this book not within the ivory tower but in the reality of everyday existence.
Something is changing in the sphere of faith. Cox rightly places our current location in between a second and third age of faith. The first age was the Age of the Spirit beginning with Jesus all the way through the persecutions and explosive growth of this underground movement.
The second age was the Age of Belief. This was the period following the Constantinian conversion and the melding of Church and Empire. Catechisms began to appear outlining specific "beliefs" one must hold to be considered a Christian and, upon Constantine's converting the Empire to Christianity, these beliefs also carried with them power and, soon, an elite class of leadership. The clerical class. Now, instead of living in the Faith, one must hold to teachings *about* that faith. Differing theologies were mashed together into one orthodox view and those who missed the cut were labeled heretics... some at the pain of death.
The coming age is Cox's hope and read on the future. This he is calling the Age of the Spirit. He points to many things, to numerous to lay out here, but essentially the role of women in the church has moved away from the male-centered images of Christ and even God to explore further the ways of the Spirit. Also the large numbers of people who have started to identify themselves as spiritual but not religious signals a lack of trust or concern for the institution of the Church. People are realizing that they can have fellowship with each other and God without a mediating influence such as clergy or rote belief systems.
But by and far the most interesting part of Cox's thesis for this reader was his harkening us back to a time when faith did not require one set of beliefs over another. Creeds, statements of beliefs, etc. etc. serve only to divide Christians one from the other he believes. They serve to build walls within the house and each denomination or church or community sits walled off from their brothers and sisters not because they lack a faith in Christ but because they hold different *beliefs about* that faith. Cox sees these belief systems, and their current use in hot button topics in culture, as the rear guard in a system that is fading away.
Just the other night, at a Bible study we hold in a bar in downtown Minneapolis, a young woman told me that she doesn't like going to church because she gets tired of people telling her what to *believe*. Having just read this book I was primed for the ensuing conversation. I think it was mutually edifying and it gives hope to those who are tired of the intra-mural fighting that church can be about more than fighting about whatever the moral issue of the day might be.
I cannot speak more highly of this book. Cox has placed it right in the milieu of contemporary faith issues with a simple, yet shattering, idea. What if we could set aside the arguments over *beliefs* and walk with each other in the *faith*? This is a question that invites a journey. It requires a suspension of what those of us inside the church believe are the *requirements* for membership. Above all, it calls us to be curious about what God is up to in God's world. Can we do it? In the end, it doesn't matter, these changes are coming. My prayer is that we can do this journey with grace and without inflicting more wounds on the other.