Diana Butler Bass is a perceptive religious scholar and a good writer. Her newest book is “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” (2012), and it is an interesting read.
Dr. Bass (b. 1959) was a college professor for a number of years before becoming an independent scholar and author. Her earlier books include these highly regarded works: “A People's History of Christianity” (2009), “Christianity for the Rest of Us” (2006), and “Strength for the Journey” (2002).
On June 6-8, Bass will be the leader of a church-wide adult retreat at Second Baptist Church here in Liberty, and will preach there on Sunday morning. She will also be speaking (dialoguing) at Central Baptist Theological Seminary at a gathering that begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 7.
I finished reading Bass’s “Christianity After Religion” in January and am looking forward to meeting her and hearing her speak next month. I will also be leading a discussion of this book at Rainbow Mennonite Church on the five Sundays in June.
There are clear indications that the Christian religion is in a state of decline in the United States—and in the Western world in general. (The situation is much different in Asia and especially in Africa.)
This decline is depicted by Bass, who is a religious historian and an astute observer of American Christianity. Happily, she is also hopeful for the future. In fact she writes about a fourth “awakening” in her new book.
“The Great Awakening” is the name historians of American Christianity generally use to describe a period in the 18th century, between 1730 and 1760. New England clergyman Jonathan Edwards (about whom I wrote last October) and Englishman George Whitfield were the main leaders of that significant movement.
A similar movement began around the turn of the nineteenth century and lasted for about 30 years. It came to be called the Second Great Awakening. Revivalist Charles G. Finney was one of the most prominent leaders of that movement.
While not as widely talked about, sometimes mention is made of a Third Great Awakening from about 1890 to 1920. William McLoughlin writes about that in his book “Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform” (1978). The Social Gospel movement, led by Walter Rauschenbusch, was prominent in that “awakening.”
Bass also cites McLoughlin: “Since 1960, Americans have been in the midst of their Fourth Great Awakening” (p. 223). The third, and last, part of her book is titled simply “Awakening,” and she makes much out of the new movement of God’s Spirit.
“The 1960s and 1970s were a spiritual hothouse, a veritable garden of awakening, as people planted seeds of new forms of Christian belief and practice,” she writes.
Although McLoughlin, writing in 1978, speculated that the Fourth Great Awakening would perhaps end around 1990, Bass sees its influence as prominently impacting the present time.
So in 2012 she avers, “I believe that the United States (and not only the United States) is caught up in the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of sustained religious and political transformation.”
“This transformation,” Bass goes on to say, “is what some hope will be a ‘Great Turning’ toward a global community based on shared human connection, dedicated to the care of our planet, committed to justice and equality, that seeks to raise hundreds of millions from poverty, violence, and oppression” (pp. 5-6).
If this is, indeed, the Fourth Great Awakening, it is quite different from especially the first two, for it is not particularly good news for organized religion.