Last month, I began Lent by sharing that a recent set of talks had opened my eyes to the cultural trends impacting the state of the church. This week, I complete this series by discussing the third of three shifts from a conventional institution to experiential faith: a change from what we believe to how we believe.

When we discuss what we believe, we’re talking about dogma: ideas and opinions about God. Over the centuries, the church has developed a lot of dogma. Those dogmatic statements have also led to a lot of dissention, division, and splits in the church over the course of Christian history. I would say they’ve also led us far away from Jesus, who never told us what to believe, but rather how to live.

Many dogmatic statements sound both unbelievable and immaterial to many modern Americans. (For example, “Why does it matter that Jesus’ mother was a virgin?”) The emphasis on dogma also leads us to focus on asking questions like, “How can an all-powerful and loving God allow so many children to die in Ukraine and Gaza?” rather than asking, “What would Jesus do, and what is mine to do, in addressing the violence taking place around me?”

As a result, many young people avoid churches because they don’t want to be told what to believe (see my post from two weeks ago about that), and/or they don’t see how dogma helps with the issues they face and the way they seek to live their lives.

That doesn’t mean they don’t take faith seriously. Modern Americans have a lot of questions, and many struggle to frame the questions or have substantive conversations about what really matters. Since social media is where so many conversations are happening these days, we discover that people are asking their spiritual questions there (rather than in church), in what Diana Butler Bass calls “messy but authentic” conversations.

What does this mean for the church? It means we need to practice (see my post from last week) welcoming and talking about the hard how questions (“How do we live authentic and loving lives?”) rather than just spouting dogma that tells us what to believe. We need be willing to learn together, in community, how to understand God through encountering God through others in the midst of our life experiences.

Last week, I noted that I concur with those who think the church is in the midst of a five-hundred-year revolution. I think that’s happening because of these three shifts in believing, behaving, and belonging. I think the future of the Christian church can be found in openly sharing both questions and leadership and in supporting the development of a web of authentic relationships.

All those are things that Jesus welcomed and encouraged too, by the way.

What do you think?

Share This