We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Reading the Tea Leaves of American Christianity...


Phyllis Tickle, Evangelist of the Future for
the Church and Common Good


The Future of Faith

September 22, 2022


September 22 marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Phyllis Tickle (1934 –2015), remembered for her contributions to religious publishing and as an author in her own right.

I think of her as a prophet.

In the last years of her life, Phyllis wrote the most influential book of her career: The Great Emergence. She invited Christians to think about the future of their traditions, theology, congregations, and spiritual practices. She was honest about what was ending and celebrated what was being newly birthed among us. That was her genius and joy — her unrelenting optimism about the future of faith. It was glorious to see her, in her mid-70s, speak about church and the future in a roomful of younger people with hope and confidence. Her exuberance for what could be coming earned her the nickname, “Evangelist of the Future.”

It was a privilege and honor to be one of her thought partners on that journey. We first met in 1998, when I was 39 and she was 64, and we worked together for the next seventeen years. She was a formative influence on my writing career and a trusted friend. I can’t remember how many times we shared a stage or followed one another in a pulpit. Most of it has melded into an embracing, expansive memory of “Adventures with Phyllis.”

But this week, one particular event came to mind. In 2010, she and I were invited to speak to the entire house of bishops of the Episcopal Church about the “emerging church.” (Aside for my Episcopal friends: the Rev. Stephanie Spellers led worship for this gathering.) It was a remarkable event that generated some of the most insightful and hopeful conversations I’ve ever had with denominational leaders. I felt energized — and believed that genuine institutional change would result from the work we’d done.

After the event, Phyllis and I drove back to the Houston airport together — and what happened in the car surprised me. I remarked on how well it had gone. And Phyllis replied, “It seemed to.” She paused, “I hope they listened. I’m not sure they realize how little time they have left.”

“What?” I asked, more than a little shocked.

“If you really look at the numbers, mainline churches don’t have much more than twelve to fifteen years left. The Episcopal Church is doing some things well. Maybe they’ve got a little longer.” The sentence hung in the air. “There’s not much time to change the future.”

I didn’t know what to say.

And I didn’t know how long she’d been thinking that the future was closer than most people imagined. Her predications for evangelical churches weren’t much brighter. In the decade we’d known one another, that airport drive revealed the most worried and least optimistic Phyllis I’d ever heard.

And, in the next five years, I’d hear her say it out loud. At clergy conferences, seminary gatherings, and publishing conferences. With wit and a smile, she’d warn her friends and critics alike: time is short.

* * * * * *

This week — the same week in which Phyllis died seven years ago — Pew Research released a report modeling the potential future of Christianity in the United States. While Phyllis worked on intuition and experience to think about the future (less data was available even a decade ago on these trends), Pew developed a model to draw four possible futures for American Christianity and released the report a few days ago.

Pew’s conclusion? By 2070, Christianity in the United States (the whole thing — all forms of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, all racial and ethnic Christian communities in a single category) will be a minority faith in a nation with a majority of “nones.”

The study states:

While the scenarios in this report vary in the extent of religious disaffiliation they project, they all show Christians continuing to shrink as a share of the U.S. population, even under the counterfactual assumption that all switching came to a complete stop in 2020. At the same time, the unaffiliated are projected to grow under all four scenarios.

The Pew research team insists that they aren’t prophets, and that their formal demographic models are not set in stone — “These are not the only possibilities, and they are not meant as predictions of what will happen. Rather, this study presents formal demographic projections of what could happen.”

Yet they are also convinced that all their probable futures result in a far more religiously diverse America with a minority Christian population. “Of course, it is possible that events outside the study’s model – such as war, economic depression, climate crisis, changing immigration patterns or religious innovations – could reverse current religious switching trends, leading to a revival of Christianity in the United States. But there are no current switching patterns in the U.S. that can be factored into the mathematical models to project such a result.”


The Pew Report Research summarized in three charts





Perhaps 2070 seems a long way off — anything could happen between now and then. But, when you are trying to re-imagine and re-structure large religious institutions with complex histories and traditions, fifty years isn’t much time to prepare and retool them for a future of being a minority in a largely secular nation. Indeed, most churches probably should have started this process with honesty and courage at least a decade ago.

In short, Phyllis was right. The Pew study shows that probability has finally caught up with the prophet.

I hope people will listen

Demographics are not destiny; trends are not predestination. Although Christianity probably will be a minority faith in a much more pluralistic nation in the next few decades, those of us who are Christians still have much work to do in advance of that huge, historic shift. Denial is a terrible strategy. Nostalgia is a dangerous choice. Letting the future take its own course is a kind of surrender of responsibility.

What will be the shape of the Christianity in that future America? Will we welcome how different it will be or fight it? Will Christianity be part of the problem of our political future or contribute to a flourishing pluralistic democracy? How Christians respond to both prophets and probabilities of the future is a big deal — not only for our children and grandchildren, but for American Christianity right now. The choices that this generation makes impress themselves on those who will follow us.

Because the future is right around the corner.