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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Future of Faith

Harvey Cox has just bowed out from academia with a popular survey of the future of Christianity which focuses a good deal on its past.

And because it is written in a popular style it is going to get up the noses of some scholars with its broad sweeping summaries and Cox's willingness to give an account of what he sees going on that is informed by serious scholarship and personal vulnerability in reflection on some significant moments in his own journey of faith.

This is a book that should be read by journalists and media commentators venturing into commentary on the Christian faith because he makes clear why pentecostals and evangelicals should not be automatically characterised as fundamentalists.

Anabaptists are going to be encouraged to go back and reflect on their heritage of discipleship in the light of Cox's emphasis on Christianity  as people of the Way. Such theologians might or might want to rethink the arguments of some of their theologians for greater focus on the creeds and systematising their theology. Cox provides some sweeping grounds for an internal Anabaptist argument around the possibility that the two are in profound conflict and that the DNA of anabaptism points us towards a focus on faith as active following, rather than the construction of intellectual systems of belief.

Cox it might be said is in many ways an Anabaptist fellow traveller in his dislike of the choices the church made in engaging with the Roman empire during the fourth century. His critique of Constantinianism is so sweeping it leaves John Howard Yoder's account of that process looking relatively nuanced.

Cox has always liked big picture theology - but despite its sweeping character it has always been informed by some serious scholarship that has taken it beyond the genre of fad. This is certainly true of The Future of Faith.

It is the sort of book that you could hand to a vaguely interested but critical inquirer into the Christian faith as providing a historically informed, self critical account of the history of the faith that does not demand a conformity without remainder to modernity, a la Bishop Spong.

Cox displays a willingness to engage in conversation with fundamentalists rather than angrily dismissing them from any consideration and acknowledges his own engagement with this form of Christianity without rancour while being clear about his deep  differences with, and fundamental criticisms of, this tradition.

Fundamental to Cox's assessment of future trajectories of religion is:
  • the movement from an age of belief to an age of faith
  • the gradual dying of fundamentalism
  • the changing form of religion to the rediscovery of the sacred within the secular.

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