UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Future of Faith

New book tolls the death knell for Christianity, without lamenting

By Trisha Elliott

The Future of Faith
By Harvey Cox
(HarperOne) $17.99


In his latest work, Harvey Cox tolls the death knell for dogma — but he isn’t lamenting. Retired from the Harvard Divinity School, the well-known professor and author is optimistic. “Christianity understood as a system of beliefs guarded and transmitted through a privileged religious institution by a clerical class is dying. Instead, today Christianity as a way of life, shared in a vast variety of ways by a global network of fellowships is arising.”

Although the book is titled The Future of Faith, much of it is spent plodding — albeit ambitiously — through church history. Cox surveys two millennia of Christian history, summarizing it  into three ages. The first three centuries, he says, represent the Age of Faith, in which diverse groups of Christians focused on community rather than creeds and assumed a strongly anti-imperial stance.

When Christianity became a state religion under Constantine, the tables turned. Christendom merged with the Roman Empire, and dogmatic religion marked by creeds and clerical hierarchy was born. “From an energetic movement of faith,” he writes, “[Christianity] coagulated into a phalanx of required beliefs, thereby laying the foundation for every succeeding Christian fundamentalism for centuries to come.” According to Cox, Christians have cradled the belief brand of Christianity for about 1,500 years.

But the world isn’t buying it anymore. In the West, the “spiritual but not religious” set are thumbing their noses at belief-oriented Christianity. In the East, new forms of charismatic Christianity unencumbered with “right belief” are flourishing. We are entering what Cox calls an “Age of the Spirit.”

“The recent rapid growth of charismatic congregations and the appeal of Asian spiritual practices demonstrate that, as in the past once again today, large numbers of people are drawn more to the experiential than to the doctrinal elements of religion. Once again, this often worries religious leaders who have always fretted about mysticism,” Cox writes. In the end, he calls the future of faith “open, expansive and hopeful.”

While Cox’s picture of the early church seems too romantic at times, and his view of creeds and beliefs too cynical, the framework he provides offers a fresh place to launch into conversation about where Christianity has been and where it’s going. The gift of The Future of Faith is that it gives us something challenging to talk about.

Rev. Trisha Elliott lives in Orleans, Ont.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image
Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Promotional Image