Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
The Integral Leadership Review has a feature on a new book on Integral Christianity -- Reverent Irreverence, Integral Church for the 21st Century, by Tom Thresher.
“A fabulous introduction to Integral thinking for Christians and an excellent contribution to the emerging field of Evolutionary Christianity. May this book be read and discussed for decades!”
~ Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution
Reverent Irreverence Foreword
by Rev. Bruce Sanguin
Whether you come from the right, left or centre of the church, there seems to be general agreement that the church must change. Some are downright apocalyptic about the potential consequences of maintaining the status quo. A colleague of mine projected current trends into the future, looking at membership, baptisms and adult professions of faith. The numbers gradually, inexorably, work their way to zero by the year 2050. Barring divine intervention of biblical proportions it is clear that mainline denominations, to say the least, are in some trouble. Too often, however, the prescription for change is second and third order—the ecclesiastical equivalent of shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. What is being called for is a shift of first order proportions. Einstein is reported to have said that it’s impossible to get out of a problem with the same mind that got you into it. Tom Thresher aims for change at the level of consciousness: first, seek the heart and mind of Christ consciousness, then see what forms, structures and activities emerge in support.
While there is agreement about the need for change, there is no consensus about how to change or what a new church might look like. Evangelical Christians are increasingly flirting with postmodernist theology and philosophy, attempting to take context and perspective seriously. Many mainline Christians, steeped in the rationalism of modernism and the pluralistic impulse of postmodernism, are getting on board with the “progressive” movement. But I’ve had some difficulty understanding what exactly is meant by the former so-called “emergent” church and the “progressive” church. In the case of the latter, it is often associated with the shift away from biblical literalism, homophobia, and toward theological and political inclusiveness. Rarely, however, does this inclusiveness encompass our more theologically conservative friends. The emergent church movement is also deeply suspicious that the “progressives” end up denying the Lordship of Jesus Christ. One is left with the feeling that both movements too often are defined by what they are not, namely, those other guys.
This book offers a clear vision of a model for change and what that future church could look like. It doesn’t involve trashing those other guys, but rather positively embraces the contribution that each can make to the revitalization of church. Tom’s vision of an Integral Church is bold, no less than creating the space for the emergence of Christ consciousness—what St. Paul called the heart and mind of Christ. In doing so, he is tapping into the deep yearning of the growing demographic that identifies itself as “spiritual but not religious”.
The bioregion that geographically and culturally defines both my congregation in British Columbia, Canada, as well as the congregation Tom serves in Washington State is known as Cascadia. We enjoy the highest percentage of people in North America (45%) who claim no religious affiliation, yet who regard themselves as spiritual. While these people are certainly interested in talking about God, and in living moral and ethical lives, their primary interest revolves around spiritual practices that help them to experience the divine. Tom has courageously laid out a vision for the church that is about creating the space, programs and processes to help people connect with God as the deepest expression of Self. Of course, there is precedent for this in our mystical tradition. But where have all the mystics gone? As far as I am aware, Tom is the first to present this goal of helping people realize Christ consciousness as the primary purpose of the church.
This book conveys a sacred wisdom that is born of the wedding between the enlightenment spirituality of the Eastern traditions and the Western world’s discovery of the evolutionary trajectory of the cosmos—God as both Formless, Fecund Emptiness beyond time and space, and as Evolving Form immanent within creation. It forges new ground in applying this wisdom to the Judeo-Christian narrative. As a result, new vistas of biblical interpretation and theological reflection open up to the reader.
For many, this book will be an introduction to the Integral map of reality. This is a map that has changed my life and my leadership as a minister by providing me with the equivalent of a new operating system. Once this operating system is “loaded” the universe opens up into a cornucopia of perspectives. We begin to appreciate that the one we call “Christ”, and what we mean by the heart and mind of Christ, arises necessarily in, through, and as, the worldviews or big stories that we inhabit. And we grow in hope as we discover that we are able to consciously evolve into bigger, more comprehensive stories that transcend, yet include, our previous stories. This book provides a succinct and clear presentation of the Integral Map. More than this, it offers a series of practices to help those who are ready, willing and able to evolve deeper into Christ consciousness.
I am looking forward to entrusting this book to the people of the congregation I serve. This is saying something. As a minister, I am always on the look out for books that have real depth and yet are not intimidating. This book bears the lightness of simplicity on the other side of complexity. Tom writes with a playfulness characteristic of all mystics who have learned not to take themselves too seriously. The vision of an Integral Church is, I’m persuaded, a gift of Spirit for the 21st century. Nothing less than a vision with this kind of scope will be able to address the complexity of the life conditions we are facing as a species.
In the next decade we will see a profusion of books coming on to the market, written by authors who have been opened up by the power and perspective of Integral thought. This book is a portal that opens into and co-creates the “new thing” God is doing in our world.
Here's a link to Tom Thresher's website: Reverent Irreverence.