This book has attempted to profile some of the main types and characteristics of Christianity, and to indicate how they have contributed to its growth and decline at different times and in different places.
The main thrust of its argument has been that Christianity developed an early preference for power from on high, particularly the power of 'fathers', which was strengthened through alliance with political regimes and social orders that shared this preference. This orientation served the religion well, not only by fostering strong and unifying forms of internal organization, but by helping secure the support of secular power. Not that this preference was simply pragmatic: it was based on attraction to the unique figure of the God-man, Jesus Christ, interpreted as the only Son of a loving Father God who dwells in the heavens and creates and controls all things. By acknowledging the power of this God, and offering Him praise and reverence, the believer could be assured of His protection and fatherly care, and be inspired by His Spirit of love.
Thus the dominant trend in Christianity became one that submits itself to higher power, and which strives to bring life into conformity with a transcendent standard that both inspires and judges. For Church Christianity such power is chiefly displayed in the sacramental life of the church; for Biblical Christianity in the teachings of holy scripture. This orientation tends to denigrate the human, with its 'sinful' impulses and desires, and to exalt the divine. Salvation consists in allowing the latter to overrule the former. By contrast, Mystical Christianity identifies sacred power not only with power from above, but with a power that comes from within. Here God is not just Father and Son but Holy Spirit - the animating principle of life. As such, the divine enters directly into the hearts of men and women, diminishing or even closing the distance between the human and the godly in the process. We have also noted, however, that in practice the three 'ideal types' can overlap, most notably when Church or Biblical Christianity incorporate elements of Mystical Christianity.
Whereas the appeal of Church and Biblical Christianity lies in their ability to provide the believer with an objective, external source of meaning, protection, and power, the appeal of a fully inward form
> of Mystical Christianity lies in its ability to enhance, empower, and validate one's own unique subjective-life. In practice, however, a
J mysticism which closes the gap between the divine and the human -
u and brings power wholly within - has been rare and marginal within Christianity. Although we have noted instances when the mystical tendency has floated free in Christianity, we have seen that it is more common for it to shelter within the embrace of Church Christianity or Biblical Christianity. With regard to the former, we noted the rise of a sacramental mysticism in which the individual must destroy their own inner life in order to make way for Christ (taken within by way of the Eucharistic sacrament); and with regard to the latter, we have traced the rise of Charismatic and Charismatic-Evangelical forms of Christianity in which God's (external) Word remains authoritative, but is supplemented by the (inner) gift of the Holy Spirit.
The latter combination of Biblical and Mystical Christianity has been the most successful of all forms of Christianity in the late 20th century, and the success of Charismatic Christianity worldwide has just about compensated for serious decline in other varieties of
Christianity. The greatest decline has been experienced by Church
Christianity in the West, particularly since the 1960s. The liberalization of the latter helped it survive the challenges of 'first modernity' and make a major contribution to Western society and culture, but proved insufficient to help it cope with the threat posed by 'second modernity'. Whereas Liberal Church Christianity was able to lend its support to first modernity's celebration of human reason and human dignity (both external, objective values that can be 'preached'), it has found second modernity's emphasis on the importance of individuals (men and women) pursuing their own unique life-paths on the basis of their own deepest convictions, experiences, and intuitions far less agreeable. By contrast,
Biblical Christianity has managed to accommodate the turn to subjective-life by emphasizing the experiential satisfactions of being 'born again' in the Holy Spirit. But even such Charismatic subjectivism has failed to appeal widely in the West, where its insistence upon the external authority of the Word of God has n o proved uncongenial to those who prefer to seek the sacred in their l own ways and on their own terms. The latter may turn to new forms ° of 'holistic' spirituality which promise to enhance subjective-life, or may abandon the sacred altogether.
Elsewhere in the world, we see a rather different picture. In Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and some former Communist lands, Christianity has experienced significant growth in recent decades, with Charismatic forms of Christianity generally faring best. The combination of Biblical and Mystical themes seems to offer 'the best of both worlds' to individuals and societies who are able to gaze on the affluence of the West and work within the global capitalist economy, but who are unable to participate fully in their rewards. On the one hand, such Christianity continues to offer power and authority from on high: the power of a God who will protect and save in this life and the next, the authority of a Biblical teaching that provides clear meaning, support, and guidance. On the other hand, it does not simply call for submission to external authority, but offers individual empowerment from within by way of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Looking to the future, we are likely to see a continuing decline in support for Christianity in the West, so long as a majority continue to embrace the turn to subjective-life. For those who do not, particularly those who value 'traditional' forms of community and family life, Christianity may continue to serve as a cultural alternative. In less affluent parts of the world, by contrast, Christianity is likely to enjoy continuing success - unless such countries begin to develop their own versions of a turn to subjective-life. In the meantime, Christianity does best where it is able to combine its longstanding support for higher power with the offer of sacred power flowing in and through one's own life and experience.
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