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Continuing Conversion

From the Bottom Up: Summary

Continuing Conversion
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

My friend Brian McLaren expertly maps the process of rebuilding Christianity in his book The Great Spiritual Migration. In the introduction, Brian explains how humans are people in motion, as evidenced by anthropology, the biblical Exodus, and Jesus’ disciples who were to “go into all the world” [Mark 16:15]. Brian’s own story moved from fundamentalist Christianity to Evangelicalism and now is more of a pilgrimage than a static place:

I’ve come to see that what matters most is not our status but our trajectory, not where we are but where we’re going, not where we stand but where we’re headed. . . . [Religion] is at its best when it leads us forward, when it guides us on our spiritual growth as individuals and in our cultural evolution as a species. Unfortunately, religion often becomes more of a cage than a guide, holding us back rather than summoning us onward, a buffer to constructive change rather than a catalyst for it.

In times of rapid and ambiguous change, such a regressive turn in religion may be understandable, but it is even more tragic: when a culture needs wise spiritual guidance the most, all it gets from religious leaders is anxious condemnation and critique, along with a big dose of nostalgia for the lost golden age of the good old days. We see this regressive pull in many sectors of Christianity, along with sectors of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religions too.

In that light, it’s no surprise that people by the millions are moving away from traditional religions entirely, often into secularism, often into experimental forms of spirituality that are not yet supported by religious traditions. But at this pivotal moment, something else is happening. Within each tradition, unsettling but needed voices are arising—prophetic voices, we might call them, voices of change, hope, imagination, and new beginnings. They say there’s an alternative to static or rigid religion on the one hand and religion-free secularism on the other. They claim that the Spirit is calling us, not to dig in our heels, but rather to pack up our tents and get moving again.

Brian doesn’t try to whitewash Christianity’s history of oppression; the church has often led or supported war, colonization, segregation, slavery, sexism, and many other abuses. But, he says:

Thank God that Christianity has a rich tradition of changing course! The Catholic theologian Gustavo Gutierrez agreed: “Conversion is a permanent process,” he said, “in which very often the obstacles we meet make us lose all we had gained and start anew.” [1] Or as Martin Luther said in the first of his oft-mentioned but seldom-read ninety-five theses, repentance, rethinking, and yes, experiencing ongoing migration and conversion are absolute necessities, not just at the beginning of one’s faith journey but at every step of the way. Without continuing conversion, our traditions grow proud and corrupt, self-seeking and ingrown, rigid and constricting. Without continuing conversion, we can be faithful neither to Christ nor to ourselves and the world around us.

Gateway to Silence:
You make all things new.

References:
[1] Gustavo Gutierrez, Gustavo Gutierrez: Spiritual Writings, ed. Daniel G. Groody (Orbis: 2011), 48.

Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), xi-xii, 12-13.

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