A few thoughts in response.
1. There’s no question in my mind that there is a cultural disillusionment with Christianity currently underway. Popular culture and Christianity are in some significant areas (morality, worldview) moving in different directions. We also shouldn’t dismiss that for many the short-term therapeutic is motivating many to look for comfort, consolation, and “a better life” in places other than traditional Christianity.
2. The focus of the demographic surveys tend to be institutional participation. The direction of his 5 points are also not new. I think if he were correct we’d see a bump in institutional participation in churches that currently align with his 5 points, we’re not. We’re seeing non-affiliation and non-institutional participation. This of course further aligns with other non-participation trends we see in society (Bowling Alone for example.)
3. I also suspect that for many in a path of leaving affiliation and more traditional Christian profession they are on an outward swing towards loosening some ideas and commitments. Not one religious system, open to many. Not one set of moral precepts, open to many. Not following the path of your parents or youth, exploring a new path and blazing your own trail. Not sticking to institutions and practices you were raised with but exploring new ones.
Many who leave attempt to find home once again. (See the NYT piece on Boomers coming back to church.) The heady path away from home, when the future seems full of possibility is exhilarating, and people call upon their friends to join them. Actually building a sustainable life away from home, camping if you will, can get wearisome and laborious.
Leaving a community that had ideas and notions that seemed to imprison you feels liberating. Building a new community, however is real work, and one can discover that your former group didn’t have a monopoly on bad relational habits, selfishness and immaturity.
In other words when there is a “breaking away” expect a response from those “having broken away” that doesn’t simply follow the trajectory outwards.
4. Some have noted in this piece that it’s hard to condemn the “your wrong” attitude and message without embracing it yourself even if you’re not honest about doing it or even aware of it. The purpose of this piece is that it says to traditional Christianity “your wrong”. Oh, I thought we were beyond all that. Reality can be notoriously specific.
5. There’s a lot of linking spiritual enlightenment with saving the planet and being good to the poor. Mark Hilbelink wrote a post on Counter the Cost of the Underserved. Much of the lighting out for the spiritual territories is reactive seeking spiritual comfort and consoling experiences.
There is little fun loving the hard to love in the long term. There can be little fun doing right in hard times, with hard people, and living sacrificially for the hoped for benefit of others. Christianity’s dual emphasis on cruciform living with a hope in the resurrection has equipped generations of people to do right by other who didn’t deserve it.
Ultimately this new lighting out for the spiritual territories will be judged by its children. Did the new spirituality help mom and dad stay together and do right by the kids? Did it feed the poor and clothe the naked? Did it subdue natural human selfishness and equip not only individuals but communities to do generous and costly things for those who couldn’t do for themselves or were too broken or selfish to know better? These are ways the value of “spirituality” will be recognized even according to this guy’s standard.
Little of it has demonstrated a capacity for developing the kind of cohesive, generational and institutional community that the church has developed in the past. There has to be a seriousness about this that is rooted in something deep. A pick-up effort at food distribution down by the river can give you a spiritual buzz and reinforce your self-image that you are a good person. Building enduring community requires ongoing and enduring stability, stability that is usually a result of a broad, well developed, reasoned and seasoned worldview and community.
6. Any religion that doesn’t take the age of decay into account isn’t paying attention. There’s a lot of dismissive talk about “pie in the sky” but aging, loss and death are serious business which require potent attention. A lot of contemporary spirituality is fairly escapist and much activity that is designed to yield immediate “spiritual” experiential payoffs require time, health and money. What does it look like when you’re in a nursing home?
Sometimes that which has been around a long time has been around along time for a reason. Sometimes that which has produced fruit in the past produced fruit for a reason.
I won’t say that Christians today don’t have the burden of doing theology and church just like every generation has, but I expect that even as we change some things, other things will not and that it’s not always easy to know the shape of things to come. pvk