Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Diocese of Calgary Clergy Conference with Diana Butler Bass

Here I am at the Lethbridge Lodge for the annual Clergy Conference. This year's speaker is Diana Butler Bass, champion of "mainstream and progressive Christianity." A woman who, when asked what she does by seatmates on airplanes, doesn't spend her flying time
trying to convince him to accept Jesus in his heart, join an evangelical megachurch, vote for a local religious right candidate, or that the world was created in six 24-hour days.

...because, she goes on to say, she does not write about or promote
that sort of religion. I don’t write about narrow, right-wing religion.

When Diana mentions "evangelicalism," it is usually to be associated with the words "fundamentalist," "conservative" and/or "narrow." She was pretty critical of these kinds of Christians and ridiculed (not too strong a word, I think) them frequently. As a conservative Christian who actual believes in the five fundamental doctrines of the faith from which the term "fundamentalist" originally came (see the Widipedia entry here) before it was tarnished with all the bigotry and violence that has been attached to it since, I felt as if I was taking some lumps.

On the other hand, Bass had some good and interesting things to say about growing mainline churches and post-modernism.

She described three axes in our present world: liberal—conservative, established—intentional and modern—post-modern.

The liberal—conservative axis is self-explanatory.

The established—intentional axis is about the cultural styles (world views) in congregations. For example, at one time it was thought that the church is the building. Now it is more often thought of as the people. A generational change started in the 60s which resulted in what Bass calls an “intentional” style…a place in which new cultural wine can be poured and kept.

She suggested that we are now in a major “sea change” or paradigm shift that seems to take place every 500 years. In 1000BC it was the Davidic kingdom, 500BC was the Babylonian exile, 0 was Jesus, 500AD was the fall of Rome, around 1000AD, The Great Schism (the split between the Eastern and Western Christian Church), 1500AD was the Reformation. Around 2000 we’re dealing with the painful and confusing move from a modernist worldview to a post-modern one.

This has resulted in the Emerging (or Emergent) Church movement.

If St Barnabas and parishes like us are to "emerge" from behind ways that "hide" us from the people around us, we must, with the LORD's help, read our local post-modern setting and then engage it in new ways using the time-honoured spiritual practices and traditions of our Church.