The article "Where is Christianity Headed?" has been making the rounds on the internet. It is by W. Granberg-Michelson whose book Future Faith was released last fall. I've been recommending this article to our congregation councils.
For me the most significant sentence is here following a section describing the influences of non-western Christianity:
These new influences are raising new questions about the relationship of the individual to the community, rational versus nonrational pathways to perceiving truth and the interplay of the spiritual and material realms.
I think this touches on something that goes to the heart of our ELCA decline. As I entered this office of Bishop, I became aware that the culture of the ELCA is centered around carefully worded rationales for the way we operate. We are a church whose essence is defined by words, and often linear rational approaches to ALL aspects of our life, faith, and governance.
Hear me out: I am NOT opposed to logic or rational thinking. I sometimes engage in it myself. 😊 I do think that we have more to learn from our non-western non-white brothers and sisters than we realize. I'd be very interested in having some "developing world" theologians engage us in this topic. For me, the crux of the matter falls around our western dualistic thinking where we divide “sacred and secular”, as one example.
As Lutherans, I think the origin of the divide for us is between Luther and Melanchthon. How's that for bringing up a sensitive topic?. Luther had a love relationship with the divine. Melanchthon got the theology but didn't seem to have the same spirituality. Then again, Luther was rooted in the Old Testament, he had a Hebrew approach to faith, as opposed to the Greek dualism that dominated theological thinking.
Today, we wonder why our people seek out their spirituality outside of the church. Is it possible they are connecting to something we are missing? Our recent visit to the outdoor church in Texas as part of the 2019 Bishop’s Academy struck me when the Pastor said, "We talk with our neighbors who are not enthusiastic about the church. They say ‘we worship when we are in nature’. Her response was, ‘well we do too, come check us out’ - outside." There is something more profound in that than simply a church that decided not to build a building.
I'm working my way through Larry Rassmussen's book Earth Honoring Faith. What a treasure trove of integration of science, theology and the arts. Larry is touching on something that is similar to the quote from Granberg's article above. He sees a theology that is integrated with all aspects of life, and some of it mystical and non-rational.
How can we lift this up? How can we get our clergy to preach and teach around this? How can we shift our ELCA culture toward where the broader culture is going, while connecting it to the best of Luther?
Perhaps our struggle is not in our ecclesiology, perhaps it is in the DNA of how we live, move and have our being in the Spirit.
Just a thought or two