Cox, Harvey. The Future Of Faith. The rise and fall of belief and the coming age of the Spirit. Harper One. 2009.
H.C.- professor of divinity emeritus, Harvard Divinity School. Past faculty of Arts and Science, Harvard.
Cox divides church history (Christianity) into three periods. The first three centuries, the early Christianity, he calls the Age of Faith. From the fourth to the twentieth century he uses the term, the Age of Belief to describe church history. About fifty years ago there began what he calls the Age of the Spirit.
He is a very strong opponent of ‘fundamentalism’ of any kind, especially in Christianity. This probably impacts the legitimacy of his message in evangelical circles. He makes an interesting distinction between faith and belief that becomes the foundation for his thesis.
There is much food for thought in this resource as we seek to understand what is happening in our global religious communities.
The global interactions of religions are bringing about profound changes in ‘religiousness’ and what it means to be religious. The debate about God (gods) is all about beliefs not about faith. “Faith is about deep-seated confidence. Belief is more about opinion. Beliefs are more propositional than existential.” (3)
Christianity began with Jesus and the early church. This was “the age of faith”. (4) It was not long before there developed a group of leaders who felt that beliefs needed to be to be organized and recorded in manuals. It was Constantine who brought in major changes to Christianity when he made it a state religion. These changes focused on control of what people believed and this marked the beginning of the “age of belief”. (5) Christians, worldwide, are now into a transition into the “age of the Spirit”. (8)
Experiencing the mysterious is awesome. “Faith starts with awe”, (22) giving meaning to mystery, which is never solved just discovered. “Faith is a basic posture toward the mystery, and it comes in an infinite variety of forms.” (35)
All religions are not the same. A Christian atheist is not the same as a Buddhist atheist. The Judean-Christian explanation of mystery (faith) includes the “Hebrew Cycle, the Christmas Cycle, and the Easter Cycle” (39-50) note: Cox suggests that the term Kingdom of God would be more accurately translated, ‘Reign of God’.
During the first three centuries Christianity changed “from a movement generated by faith and hope into a religious empire demarcated by prescribed doctrines and ruled by a priestly elite”. (55) (That sounds a lot like Judaism.) Christianity has gone global in our age and we have the opportunity to leave the ‘Age of Belief’ and transition into the ‘Age of the Spirit’. To understand this change requires some deconstruction of early Christianity, i.e. apostolic authority was not part of early Christianity. The ‘Age of the Spirit’ is akin to not similar to the ‘Age of Faith’, of the early church.
There were no theologies, creeds, or doctrines in early Christianity. Christians were followers of ‘The Way’ not followers of dogmas. When hierarchies were erected and creeds were fabricated the foundation was laid for fundamentalism.
The Council of Nicaea called by Constantine in 325 has been called ‘Constantine’s Last Supper’. “A change in how we understand the past can generate a change in how we view the future.” (113) When we understand the ‘age of Faith’ we begin to understand how the Christianity of our age is changing. Some changes in the Roman Catholic Church are examples of that change.
The greatest threats to needed interfaith conversations come from fundamentalists from every religious persuasion. In spite of this, there are encouraging signs of increasing dialogue. Cox’s invitation to Jerry Falwell to be a part of a Harvard dialogue is such an example. He goes on to explain his personal experience with the fundamentalist movement of which he once was a part. He explains his attitude as one of sadness (critics might call it arrogance) for the fundamentalists. Closely related to this ‘conflict’ are the attitudes about the various Bibles and their differing translations of the most original manuscripts.
Liberation theology marks the beginning of the ‘age of the Spirit’ in Catholicism. Pentecostals are seen as another group that show evidences of ‘the age of the Spirit’. It is being suggested that there is indeed a return to matters of faith (at the expense of belief) in many of the world religions.