What’s needed to save the dwindling Church is a new paradigm: the embrace of atheism as the true religion and religion as the true atheism. Like box stores, the trend in churches is a few get huge while the rest slowly fade away. Progressive Christians and fundamentalists seem to agree when they look for causes of church attendance decline. They parse the details of how church is “done” related to both theology and method. To rock out or not? To affirm a literal gospel, or not?
These questions are meaningless today. Both sides miss the point. Belief in Jesus is getting harder to “do” when deep down we all know that the Bible is fading away into pre-science irrelevance.
What matters is not method or theology. What matters is honest relationships.
To build honest relationships with people who want to meet in churches (whether in a pub over a beer or in a church building), what we need is a new level of honesty. And that honesty has to start with pastors admitting that they don’t find belief any easier than anyone else these days.
The “problem” of churches closing, attendance dropping and the “none” category growing is not going to be addressed by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of faith.
Science is the iceberg the Church strikes again and again. Deal with it!
Science can’t be addressed by opening another food pantry or thumping the Bible a little harder and screaming words like inerrancy. Science can only be addressed by all sides in the religion debate admitting that religion is a neurological disorder and that faith is the only cure.
It’s not about more or less entertainment, rock bands or cool hip young leaders. This is all window dressing. So are justice issues. Churches that are really just NGOs will empty too.
What’s needed is a new generation of leaders who embrace the paradox of faith while dwelling comfortably with un-faith. As I put it in WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace: “I can’t objectively describe reality because I’m trapped in the moving target we call time. That’s what the word ‘evolution’ means. The very fabric of the universe is unknowable and stranger than we can imagine and has a message for us: climb down off that high atheist, religious or agnostic pedestal!”
Until more people leading churches describe themselves honestly as atheists who also believe in God, fewer and fewer younger people will take the church leaders’ faith claims seriously.
Young men and women being raised now know that the truth claims of both social/justice progressives and fundamentalists are bogus. They know this because we’re entering the age of quantum uncertainty.
Until more people leading churches describe themselves honestly as atheists who also sometimes believe in God, fewer and fewer younger people will take the church leaders’ faith claims seriously. Young men and women being raised now know that the truth claims of both social/justice progressives and fundamentalists are bogus. They know this because we’re entering the age of quantum uncertainty.
We are in the era of the multiverse (meta-universe) a hypothetical set of infinite or finite possible universes. If we’re in a multiverse reality, then our laws of physics only apply in our particular bubble, not everywhere. This is bad news for physicists, not to mention for theologians. On the other hand, if we are in a multiverse, this is bad news for rationalists too. It means that in a multiverse of infinite possibilities, anything can happen, including God manifesting itself in Christ.
The concept of other universes has been proposed to explain how our Universe appears to be fine-tuned for conscious life. If there are an infinite number of universes, each with different physical laws some of these universes would have the combination of laws that are suitable for the development of matter, stars, and planets that can exist long enough for life to emerge and evolve.
While the probability might be small that any particular universe would have our conditions for life to evolve, this does not require intelligent design as the only explanation for the conditions in the Universe that promote our existence in it.
On the other hand, while the probability might be small that any particular universe would have a virgin birth and resurrected deity, if there are an infinite number of universes some of these universes would have the combination of laws where a Jesus might walk out of a tomb.
From time to time, something like the Hillsong Church phenomenon (a Pentecostal megachurch affiliated with Australian Christian Churches, started by Brian and Bobbie Houston), will break out. This sort of success simply obscures the fact of inevitable church decline. A few more hit songs or one or more famous people (à la Scientology) classing up the joint will change nothing long term.
It’s not about “answering doubt,” it’s about admitting that doubt and faith not only can but must coexist because it turns out anything is possible. That is the only way we can speak to the new multiverse generation.
It’s about climbing down off that high atheist, religious or agnostic pedestal. That climbing down needs to happen no matter what your church calls itself. Rock sermons or another hot new leader isn’t the answer, honesty is.
So here is a self-serving (yes, even writers should be able to earn a living!) but nonetheless good suggestion: Buy my book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace, pass it to everyone who wants your church to grow rather than to disappear, and talk among yourselves.
I’m getting so many emails from young men and women who have fled the Church telling me that this is the first book that’s helped them embrace faith and doubt as good things in themselves that I think the book might help to redefine what it means to be church rather than to merely go to church. Some of these young people (and a few older ones too) tell me they’d go back to church if they could ever find a place that would not judge them for embracing paradox or answering honestly “I don’t know”when asked who they think Jesus is or if God exists.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Available now on Amazon