Item description for Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass...
Overview A detailed survey of progressive church growth in recent decades reveals how non-evangelical, neighborhood churches are flourishing without emulating the tactics of mega-churches, in an analysis that counsels Protestant readers on how to remain authentic to denominational traditions while promoting one's spiritual community. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
For decades the accepted wisdom has been that America's mainline Protestant churches are in decline, eclipsed by evangelical mega-churches. Church and religion expert Diana Butler Bass wondered if this was true, and this book is the result of her extensive, three-year study of centrist and progressive churches across the country. Her surprising findings reveal just the opposite--that many of the churches are flourishing, and they are doing so without resorting to mimicking the mega-church, evangelical style.
Christianity for the Rest of Us describes this phenomenon and offers a how-to approach for Protestants eager to remain faithful to their tradition while becoming a vital spiritual community. As Butler Bass delved into the rich spiritual life of various Episcopal, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Lutheran churches, certain consistent practices--such as hospitality, contemplation, diversity, justice, discernment, and worship--emerged as core expressions of congregations seeking to rediscover authentic Christian faith and witness today.
This hopeful book, which includes a study guide for groups and individuals, reveals the practical steps that leaders and laypeople alike are taking to proclaim an alternative message about an emerging Christianity that strives for greater spiritual depth and proactively engages the needs of the world.
Citations And Professional Reviews Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Christian Century - 10/16/2007 page 38
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8" Width: 5.44" Height: 0.82" Weight: 0.55 lbs.
Release Date Nov 14, 2014
Publisher Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN 0060859490 ISBN13 9780060859497
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Reviews - What do customers think about Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith?
Who is "The Rest Of Us"? Mar 11, 2010
As a former mainliner I was part of a church group that was seeking to discern God's will for the church and partially by extension in our denomination. One of the books presented to our group as required reading was "Christianity For The Rest Of Us".
If you have a church, as ours was that is theologically divided and seeking God's will so as to find its way, this is the book that you might want to skip. If you have a church that is OK with preaching to the choir, liberally speaking, then you will love this book. The reason? The thrust of the book is that mainline churches can be vital too and it seeks to explore certain spiritual practices that are common amongst thriving mainline congregations. Not necessarily a bad premise, but throughout the book it set up endless false dichotomies of the bad, mean, scary, exclusive, evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist (mega) churches, and the good, thoughtful, inclusive, mainline/liberal (and emerging) churches. The heavy use of pejorative characterizations made, in my mind any good points the author may have had circumspect. While trying to make the case that, yes, there actually are mainline/liberal churches out there that are growing and thriving, and here's why, it sets about its mission by promoting and perpetuating very unkindly stereotypes of anything that remotely smacks of a more traditional/conservative theological understanding. Again, if you're more theologically conservative, most of these statements will grate and stand out. If you're theologically liberal, they'll just skate right over your head and you'll be wondering what the fuss is all about. I truly believe that if the words "African-American" had been transposed with the terms she uses in the book such as conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist, all of which are not the same thing and all of which were cast negatively, there would be more of an outcry from those that have reviewed the book here favorably. Fundamentalist is a term nowadays that basically has zero positive connotation attached to it. In the authors case if you want to get people to agree with you, the best way is to play on people's fears and/or negative experiences and perceptions and make the other look like the bad guy. All the while I was reading I kept wondering, who was she so mad at. Someone must have hurt her very badly to cause her to create such broad, sweeping caricatures all the while ostensibly positing a positive solution to the alarming mainline decline. Given that my former denomination as a whole is suffering from an exodus of more theologically conservative individuals and churches, and given that our group was in part meant to address this very issue, I believe that the use of this book was very much an opportunity squandered and only served to further divide. To say that we encourage diversity and welcome those that are different, and then to say that there is some kind of Christianity for "the rest of us" makes the call for inclusiveness, to my ears, ring hollow to say the least. My first question after seeing the title of the book was to ask: Who are the rest of us? Am I part of the rest of us? Maybe not. Maybe I belong out there. As it turned out, I did belong out there, and the promoting of this book for purposes of spiritual discernment only served to clarify the point. From a personal standpoint my Christian friends run the gambit along the theological spectrum. I don't think any of them belong to a megachurch. But they do belong to good, smallish, solid, conservative churches. And none of them has a TV evangelist for a pastor. A stereotype that was frequently perpetuated in Ms. Bass's book. I don't think a book like this will ever do anything to promote unity in a church. It may promote unity in a liberal Church, but not in one where people all along the spectrum of theology within one church may be found. If there are any of that type left.
Very thought provoking Feb 9, 2010
Dr. Bass has written a work that is a clear and concise way for churches to strengthen their spirituality as well as increase their membership. She poses thought-provoking questions and 8 different areas in which churches can grow in an authentic spirituality. She advocates a return to a "neighborhood" spirituality and working together in smaller, more intimate groups to increase learning and deepen faith. The book is also helpful, as she visits and discusses several Mainstream Protestant Churches (Episcopal, Methodist, UCC, etc.) and does not limit her scope to one denomination or faith tradition. I have used this book to help improve my own faith community and expect other readers to have that opportunity as well.
transformation and tradition Jan 1, 2010
This subject is close to my heart and central to the needs of most of us in the protestant mainline. The study included ten core study congregations plus forty correlated validation churches spread across the continental United States, all of them what used to be generically referred to as mainline protestant, though these days that old once predictably socially, theologically and politically mainline has become sideline or spurline. The project combined participant observation, personal reflections from the book's author, from pastoral and lay church leaders and from rank and file members along with relatively hard data collection and crunching. Study churches "...were solid, healthy churches that exhibited Christian authenticity, expressed a coherent faith, and offered members ways of living with passion and purpose. They exuded a renewed sense of mission and identity, often having emerged from dire circumstances...they were their own best selves--creative and traditional, risktaking and grounded, confidence and humble, open and orthodox..." explains the introduction to the book. The Rest of Us means protestant - but definitely could include many Roman Catholics, too - Christians who don't affiliate or consider themselves fundamentalist or evangelical in the recently popular sense of "evangelical." The book jacket features a black and white sketch of a high-steepled, white wood frame church that's probably not the big downtown First or Central Church, but the drawing is similar to enough small town, suburban and small city meetinghouses that a lot of readers probably can identify.
Apparently there truly are such places as hospitable, creative and faithful churches where a person truly can belong, can grow, change and be transformed in every aspect of being in Jesus Christ.
The Galatian Church was the first of what we'd call an distinctively ethnic congregation, one gathered on the basis of genetic and cultural inheritance. As the author points out, in the U.S.A. the kind of village where everyone knew everyone and local church or denomination constituted on a basis of ethnic or cultural identity (think Scandinavian or German Lutherans, Scots Presbyterians, Italian, Irish or Polish Catholics who routinely intermixed and frequently confused symbols of culture and Christianity) went away just as nation and church have become ethnically, linguistically, racially and culturally diverse beyond anyone's anticipation, with many of us claiming more than one of each category.
I love the idea of people and groups being politically neither Blue nor Red but Purple, along with implications of early Christians adopting the royal color purple for radical, subversive usage and intent in seeking to follow The Way. In Acts 16:13-15 we hear about on the sabbath, expecting to "find a place of prayer" at the river, they also found a place for baptism, where people formally could separate from former allegiances and lords, and officially be baptized into the reign of heaven on earth under the Lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ--a Lord at once both royal and subversive! Lydia, the first European Christian was a woman, and one who "dealt in" clothing for kings but dared publicly sign onto the subversive lifestyle of the followers of Jesus Christ. In that era of the original emerging church, Christianity provided a radically alternative perspective: politically to the point of sedition and socially to the extent of welcoming and actually including all comers. Lydia, newly-baptized and a merchant who routinely interacted with high and mighty royalty, knew God called her to hospitality and community. Let us consider what God is calling us to, wherever our social and cultural locations--assumptions, preferences and traditions?!
Them VS Us: The author promotes the sterotypes she criticizes Nov 28, 2009
A good title can sell a book. I remember buying one, a study in Exodus, which had the intriguing title, "Here Am I, Send Aaron." It had all the promise of how we respond to God's call and our frequent habit of telling others that we know what God wants them to do, and offering unsought for advice (frequently ignoring what God wants us to do). I was not disappointed.
I came to "Christianity For The Rest Of Us" expecting a book that would pit "us" against "them" - whoever "us" and "them" were. I was not disappointed. Actually, I was very disappointed, but the book did what I expected it to do. The title suggested, and the book proved, that the author had an agenda. Her frequent attacks on "them" left me wondering whether she had solid research or a carefully crafted agenda.
On the second page, Diana Butler Bass, shows her disdain for "the rest of us" as she proclaims her three years of research did not find her stepping inside "suburban megachurches or revivalist congregations" ignoring their growth for "brand-name Christians" - and with that statement dismissed the phenomenal growth of Church of the Resurrection and the work of Adam Hamilton. DBB is obviously displeased that "evangelical voices have grown louder." Argumentatively, she suggests that evangelicals are not "open and generous, intellectual and emotive, beautiful and just." Well, to be fair, she doesn't actually say that - shame on me - but she does identify those quantities as belonging exclusively to the group she declares to be "the rest of us." She graciously included Methodists among those who "trace their lineage back to colonial America".
DBB announces that she does "have the appropriate academic credentials to conduct [this] study." But if there is a methodology here, I could not see it. Instead the whole discussion in what seems to be the core of the book - the ten signposts of renewal (hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversify, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty) - are based only on anecdotal reporting. If there were any negative aspects to these ten, they did not seem to be included in the book. The churches she cataloged were all full of Christianity for the rest of us. I would like to have seen her research include stories where one of her core churches was unsuccessful in one of the signpost areas and how they worked to overcome it. The churches DBB surveys certainly exhibit these areas, but did anybody - the rest of Christianity which falls outside of those she favors - turn around a dying church by following the ten sign posts. We will never know because the churches DBB profiles fit her criteria and her prejudices (we all have them - that is not a blanket criticism), and she therefore deems them successful, transforming the faith.
I did find a rose here and there among the thorns. The only chapter I came close to applauding was on "Contemplation," but a much better job was done by Kathleen Norris in her 1998 book "Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith," or her book of the previous year, "The Cloister Walk."
Another rose was the recovery of the ancient church's healing ministry at Calvin Presbyterian Church PCUSA in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Moving to it slowly, DBB writes that the ministry of healing is today central to the life of Calvin: "Prayer ministers visit and anoint the sick with oil; prayer groups meet weekly for intercessory prayer; healing prayer is offered after every Sunday service. A small anteroom off the sanctuary serves as a prayer chapel where candles can be lit for the sick ... Many of the prayer ministers knit prayer shawls, praying for those who will receive the shawls as a tangible sign of God's embrace."
DBB reports that Calvin "models the vision of the church as a hospital for sinners" - which model I heartily applaud - and "they understand the link between healing and salvation." But she says, the people of Calvin Church: "Do not focus on the idea of `personal salvation' in the way their evangelical neighbors do. Instead, for them God's salvation is a processing healing whereby they are transformed - and, in turn, they open themselves to transforming the world."
DBB, it would seem, identifies us as "evangelical neighbors." In the United Methodist service of healing, this point is made clear - the root of the word healing in the New Testament is the same as that of salvation and wholeness. However, in our Service of Healing, we participate in a liturgy of confession and pardon, wherein we acknowledge that "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners," and "In the name of Jesus Christ" we are forgiven. Glory to God! Amen!
DBB touts the healing ministries of Cornerstone UMC, Church of the Epiphany, Church of the Holy Communion, Goleta Presbyterian, Saint Mark Lutheran, and Redeemer United Church of Christ, but she cannot escape her prejudice and denominational (or maybe it is non-denominational) snobbery. She says, "I heard quite a few stories from smart, well-educated - and clearly not Pentecostal - church goers about supernatural healings" (emphasis mine). Her disdain is not reserved for Pentecostals alone. There is plenty to go around. She describes the communities of faithful evangelicals as "narrow and inhospitable." Almost any southern religion deserves her ire: "Southern religion is all heat and fire, the blinding light of Jesus converting sinners to saints in a flash. This is what more reasonable Christians used to ridicule as "enthusiasm" (emphasis mine)."
Literal truth from Scripture does not fit with DBB's mold of "Christianity for the rest of us." She criticizes Tamara, a Sunday school teacher who "takes the Bible fairly literally," and supports an unnamed parent who admonishes, "These are stories. Like a metaphor. Not literal truth." If it is not the purpose of a metaphor to proclaim literal truth, what is its purpose? Jesus seemed to believe that the story of Jonah and the great fish communicated a literal truth. For that matter, Jesus seems to believe that the story was not a metaphor, but an event which literally occurred, and uses it to communicate the truth of his future, but literal, resurrection.
She remarks, clearly believing that it is wrong for "evangelical churches" - or anyone else, I would suppose - to support the belief that "doctrinal uniformity ... [is] non-negotiable." What part of doctrine would she argue away: the virgin birth, the resurrection, shoot, why not the death of Christ on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins?
While praising Church of the Redeemer and their approach of being "deeply schooled in scripture," DBB continues to belittle people for whom scripture is not "pitting the mind against the heart": "Redeemer's practice of scripture is "not [emphasis and quotes in original] a Holy-Roller" sort of thing. Unlike conservative evangelicals who read the Bible literally, seeking out proof-texts for narrow moral or ethical readings of scripture, the Episcopalians at Redeemer approach the Bible "seriously, but not literally" [quotes in original]."
It is my guess that DBB and the good folks at Redeemer read the morning newspaper literally. I am amazed at folks who require less for the Word of God! Do I believe that John the Revelator was talking about a literal creature with seven heads, ten crowns, ten horns, etc? No, but I do believe there was a literally meaning there - not merely something spiritual to look at and say, "Oh, that's nice," and then go on without it affecting the way we live. That was the religion of the Romans - light a candle, drop a few drachmas in the box in front of Nero's statue, and then continue to live like hell. The literal message of the Bible demands a change of life. If it isn't literal, it can't demand a change. Metaphors are nice to reflect on, but nothing to base your life on when facing lions, or a firing squad, or a gas chamber.
Well, I could go on. DBB rips "Forty Days of Purpose," which, while not my favorite book or course of study, has benefitted many, many churches. She takes low shots at Billy Graham. "Them" Christians "fear cultural change, opting instead to make pronouncements about a God who is `the same yesterday, today and forever." "Them" Christians are "loud," "aggressive," narrow and inhospitable." "Us" Christians are "well-educated and articulate." They have "a faith that is open and generous, intellectual and emotive, beautiful and just." And all the while she decries stereotypes. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
DBB summed up my reaction to this book perfectly when she wrote, "If you like the kind of Christianity that offers certainty and order in a world of change ... this book is not for you." It certainly is not, because I certainly do!
Something other than Christian? Nov 20, 2009
I have been thinking about this book for awhile and my heart really goes out to the author and those she researched. They seem to have changed God's plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to their own liking. I was disturbed by the repeated bitterness and resentment toward the mainline church and evangelicals in particular. I see Christians individually and in churches reaching out to all kinds of people in a loving, kind, and gentle way. I don't think we have the right to rearrange the Bible to our own liking and reinvent what it says, which is easy to do if you just ignore parts of what it says. It was meant to lead us into a relationship with Jesus Christ that is intimate and personal and that transforms how we live, thus becoming more like him.