October 29, 2004

God On Their Side?

In a fascinating, if somewhat unbalanced article for AlterNet's Rights and Liberties section entitled "God On Their Side", Jeannette Batz Cooperman, a regular contributor to National Catholic Review, examines the growth of Evangelicalism and the decline of "mainline" Protestantism in the U.S. Driving that shift, at least according to the sociologists and historians Cooperman interviewed:
"Different birth rates account for 70 percent of that growth: Evangelicals have had an extra child per family for about 35 years. The other 30 percent comes from a process few sociologists of religion anticipated. Upwardly mobile Evangelicals used to mark their arrival in the local establishment by joining the Episcopalian or Presbyterian Church. No more. Now they stay evangelical and start a power brokers' prayer breakfast."
But question the provocative title implies--what if God really is on the Evangelical side, what if their growth is evidence of God's favor--is the one question she never asks, and in fact can't even seem to imagine might be a valid question to ask. The closest she comes is this tantalizing bit of truth-telling, tacked on at the end of a litany of sociological and political excuses for the decline of mainline Protestantism:
[Mainline] Protestant young people haven't heard much conviction or urgency in their churches; there's been little to engage their emotions or spark their idealism. The formal elegance of the liturgy feels out of step and hollow to them, because so many of its precepts have been thrown into question. Above all, there's no base motive, because nobody's convinced there's a hellfire in which sinners burn, and nobody wants to say that mainline Protestantism is the only way to heaven. "Without a robust sense of sinfulness," observes Michael McClymond, a theologian at St. Louis University, "the appeal for salvation through Jesus Christ is less than compelling."
Hmm. So what you're saying is that abandoning the traditional Christian doctrine of total depravity inevitably leads to the collapse of the church because people who don't need redemption don't need church?

I think I just found the "ministry plan" for the next church I serve...


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Dan Edelen said...

My own experience is that just as many people fled the mainline denominations, the same is beginning to occur with evangelical congregations. I do not support the idea that evangelicalism is growing.

The vibrant evangelicalism of the first half of the 20th century has largely given way to a sentimental Christianity without teeth. Evangelicalism has become the faith of felt needs, pop-psychology, feel-good messages, and Spiritless pseudo-Christianity.

Mainline Protestantism made no bones about going liberal. Evangelicalism, though, is working harder to syncretize our corrupted culture and all its baggage with the Christian faith. But it is doing this in a more subtle and more palatable way so as not to go down the mainline path.

But many Christians are seeing through this facade and are rejecting what is current being offered up as "evangelicalism" because it bears no resemblance to the vital evangelicalism of yore.

I tend to believe that even though some who have fled to alternatives (like house churches and such) are not truly evangelicals anymore, though they may still call themselves that. We've been around the block on terms like "emergent" and the like, but I have to believe that the refugees from today's evangelicalism are indeed a new breed of Christian altogether and cannot be lumped in with evangelicals anymore.

That's my take, at least.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger DesertPastor said...

Evangelicalism is growing, growing radically -- just not in the U.S. (do we have the courage to investigate "why", without condenscending?)

What about the Generation 'O' (Orthodox) phenomenon, especially among Millennials and Xr's? Doesn't this stand in stark contrast to the "hollowness" they assume everyone interprets all-things-liturgical as being?

At 6:13 PM, Blogger The Faceless Preacher said...

With the same arguement does that mean if we destroy all the insurgents in iraq that their god doesn't exist? Since they all do share the same religion. Or if they keep us at bay, does that mean our gods don't work?

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous marian coe said...

What about the politicals in power claiming and using the evagelicals?
Sad, serious situation for the truth
political and personal faith.


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