Christianity in “The Age of the Spirit””

Cox book

Theologian Harvey Cox in his 2009 book, The Future of Faith, asserted that Christianity in the West since the middle of the last century has been living in “the Age of the Spirit..”[1]

This assertion recently was embraced by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, the Senior Minister at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“For those of us following Jesus,” Hart-Andersen said, “there is today a sense of needing to return to the roots of our faith, when we were a minority religious movement. In its first centuries the Church emphasized creating communities around shared commitment to worship and serve others. There was little concern for uniform creeds or authority. That came later, with the power of Christian empire.”

“Church leaders today who seek to renew Christian faith decrease emphasis on orthodoxy, or correct doctrine, and increase focus on orthopraxis – correct practice, living in ways that move the world toward justice. Pope Francis has breathed life into the Roman Catholic Church not by defending the historic teaching of the curia or by working to change it, but, instead, merely by offering a witness to Christian faith as simple living and loving others without judging them.”

As a result, the real question is “Can worshipping communities adjust to the changing landscapes of religious experience in America?”

“These days many people – especially younger adults – describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Perhaps this means they have not ‘left anything behind’ as much as set off in a new direction. Maybe we should think of these good folk as ‘people of faith without a faith community.’ The church should pay attention to their voices; sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of being ‘religious but not spiritual,’ sitting in our edifices waiting for people to join a movement that does not address their hunger for meaningful experiences of something holy, however unnamable that something may be.”

“American culture, with its deep infatuation with all things individual, works against the formation and nurture of religious community – or any kind of community, for that matter. Robert Putnam and others have documented the loss of social capital in America. Nowhere is that more evident than in the houses of worship.”

“We fool ourselves if we think everything can be privatized. We cannot buy our way out of despair or solve injustice working individually or address the world’s great needs by ourselves. We cannot adequately face the unanswerable questions of life and death on our own. The notion that we are self-made and that we stand alone against the world will not sustain us. A community of faith requires that individuals relinquish a solely private religious experience.”

“Hope resides in communities. Justice results when neighbors work together. Love cannot be experienced without someone to share it with. Hope, justice, and love are necessary features of fully human lives, and they are – or at least can be – hallmarks of authentic communities of faith, even in our time.”

And the fundamental human need to face the mystery that is life itself is – or at least can be – the animating central question at the heart of any lasting faith community, making it a place that offers meaning and purpose, so no one has to ‘leave faith behind.’”


Hart-Andersen made these remarks at a June 9th Minneapolis Multi-Faith Network Event on the topic “Why Are Millions of Americans Leaving Faith Behind?” The Network was started by Minneapolis clergy of various faiths–six Protestant pastors, two Roman Catholic priests, two imams and one rabbi–to open dialogue among our religious communities, and at this event Hart-Andersen was joined by a rabbi and an imam. The event was hosted by Breck School, an Episcopal Church-related institution in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Prior to this event, Hart-Andersen said  in the midst of these changes and challenges, “Westminster is experiencing growth and vitality.” Our “place in the city and the influence of this congregation … today … [comes] from our partnership with other communities of faith and people of good will—and from church members acting out their faith in the public arena. . . . Westminster continues to be a telling presence in the city.”


[1] Harvey Cox is the Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, where he began teaching in 1965, both at the School and in the University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. According to Cox in The Future of Faith, the Age of the Spirit was preceded by the Age of Belief, which dominated Western Christianity from the 4th to the middle of the 20th century. Said Hart-Andersen, the Age of Belief “was characterized by concern for orthodoxy – correct belief. Getting the words right. Creed. Doctrine. Church authority.”