It was ten years ago that I read Harvey Cox’s book “The Future of Faith,” where he attempts to capture what he calls three different ages of Christendom. I remember when I read it and felt like little lights started going off in my brain. He describes what he believes are three epochal ages of the Church from the Age of Faith, a 400-year period right after the time of Jesus, the Age of Belief, a 1500-year period extending into the 20th century and now what he loosely calls the Age of Spirit.
He writes that this third age is still in formation and seeking definition, but that there are distinct features that are emerging that mark this as a separate and new age. Of primary importance is the lessening of the import of what people believe in in favor of three emerging trends—how people live, how they treat one another, and how they experience the divine through spiritual practices and ritual.
This is really important.
This was especially on display in 2020 as many Christians felt that they had more in common with their secular sisters and brothers than they did with fellow Christians. Christians on the right and the left didn’t recognize each other while people at various protests both right and left felt an affinity for each other even if they didn’t share the belief in the same God.
Pentecost is this Sunday when we celebrate the narrative of the Holy Spirit sweeping the early Christians off their feet and into a movement to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the whole world. While not everyone may recognize this high holy day in the Christian calendar, the experience of Pentecost seems to be taking root in our time.
This seems to be Holy Spirit time. People are learning to partner with each other not because they share a common language or a similar belief, but because they, as Harvey Cox might say it, share common values about “how we live, treat one another and experience the divine.”
I firmly believe that the God presence is alive and well in our communities. I believe that Jesus is still stirring up people for extravagant love, radical peace and divine justice. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is showing up in non-profits, civic organizations, and community networks.
I think Harvey Cox might be right that this is the Age of the Spirit. Pentecost is our daily reality.
Just don’t be surprised if Pentecost doesn’t come with a Christian label.
The Holy Spirit can be sneaky that way.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades