Dwight Zscheile describes them as "none zones" in chapter 2 of People of the Way. Areas where people, when asked of their religious affiliation, check "none." He describes the building tide of secularism, in which the number of younger adults who describe themselves as NONE has doubled in thirty years. It is a rather chilling statistic. Mainline Protestantism has now been functionally sidelined, with only twenty percent of the population (page 33). More and more people are cherry-picking spiritual practices, and are doing so independent from a religious community. He cites a study in which the emerging religious sensibility can be described as moralistic therapeutic deism (page 34).
We can lament all of this – or we can live into a "new apostolic age," as Dwight calls it. We can look back and learn much from the early church, which launched the first apostolic age – and which experienced parallel social dynamics to the situation we find ourselves in today. In ancient days, there was a "sense of uncertainty and spiritual hunger, especially for deep and ancient spiritual traditions" (page 39).
We have a similar uncertainty and hunger today. People are looking for a lived faith. Not just a theology, or a belief system, but a faith people can put to work in the world. That is the invitation available to us. The disestablishment of the church pushes us out into the world, “on the arms of God, to serve and embrace the stranger wherever she or he is” (page 41).
It’s a new apostolic age – and an incredible opportunity.
Dwight Zscheile includes Bishop Spong (as well as Rudolph Bultmann and Harvey Cox) among those who have contributed to the "secularization of Christianity" (footnote 26, p. 135). I think of those figures as people who have brought Christianity into the real world, who have made Christianity intelligible to those with a 20th or 21st century world-view. "Demythologizing" means understanding myth as symbol and metaphor appropriate to its time. If we want to address the "nones," many of whom are secular humanists, we have to talk about spirituality in a way that makes sense.
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