This is a bit of a stretch, but the following seems to me to be at least somewhat aligned with the opinions of Thomas L. Brodie as expressed in his book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Brodie suggests that, in light of his discovery that Jesus is purely a literary figure, the concept of Jesus ought to be reframed as an icon God’s presence in the world and in human history.
Churches Should Have the Courage to Recognize New Revelations
by Ken Briggs
from National Catholic Reporter online blog on Dec. 18, 2017
The churches of America are turning inward as their leaders struggle to recapture spiritual vitality and growth in parishes that are dwindling, many to the point of extinction. Success in rekindling spiritual vitality that draws new members is more elusive than ever in the view of a growing consensus.
That analysis stems from signs and samples rather than formal studies. Limited evidence arises from surveys, but, understandably perhaps, denominations aren’t eager to highlight a scary trend for which they have no ready answers. It is not their fault; the shifting winds of Western culture have confronted them with a mounting dilemma that has stifled their ability to preach a pre-modern religion of supernatural wonders to this-worldly moderns. The sky isn’t falling at the same rate everywhere, of course, but the rumbling is pervasive.
Here is one example of the astonishing shrinkage. A long-time Episcopal rector who’s been a leading source of inspiration for his diocese reports that of the 59 parishes in the diocese only four now have full-time rectors.
How does Advent’s promise that something remarkable is about to happen beyond the normal scope of human experience to those who presumably don’t believe angels deliver messages to maidens and divine astronomers move stars into the right place at the right time? Even if those epiphanies are interpreted as metaphors and meaningful myths, the root of the narrative is that supernatural events took place. That has become a stumbling block, not because rationalism and science are enemies but that centuries of secular conditioning has conditioned contemporary people to be far less receptive to otherworldliness.
The big question is how to preach that non-rational message of miracles to an age that likes the idea of them but can’t quite think they are grounded in historical fact. For some, the response is to attempt a two-room mind that separates “truths” without trying to reconcile them. One side operates by the rule of logical, everyday life; the other seals off otherworldly beliefs from logical scrutiny. Since the mind interacts so ferociously, however, it’s hard to imagine the two side wouldn’t challenge each other. Advantage, secular thought, I’d guess.
My reading of such marks of decline isn’t to spell disaster for Christianity but to echo the small but louder chorus of voices that see it as a possible turning point of epochal dimensions. No, the traditional elements of evangelism aren’t working, they say, but that vacuum caused by the negation of that form could be the ground of revelation. The Enlightenment and the scientific, human-focused traditions it spawned can be the soil on which Christianity can be preached in a yet-to-be discovered way. This would mean abandoning the disciple-building approaches of the past and being open to a way that augments the Enlightenment rather than fights it. After all, the Enlightenment helped rid the world of superstition (a process yet to be finished of course), boosted the scope of human dignity and rights and provided the medical advances that save our lives.
The only way that the church’s Gospel of life can be transmitted is by meeting such a new terrain where the consciousness of humanity is based on a set of suppositions about the way the world works that didn’t exist even 200 years ago.