Progressive Christianity Is As Broken As Evangelicalism: Here’s How to Fix It

I don’t think there will be some new age of religion dawning in America anytime soon unless a lot of people change their minds about worship. The dream of progressive Christians whether they call themselves “emergent” or something else will fizzle along with the slowly collapsing evangelical/fundamentalist juggernaut unless the basic mistakes of North American Christianity are addressed.

We can talk about inclusiveness, diversity and making ourselves vulnerable until the cows come home but that doesn’t make religion more interesting or Christianity stronger it simply changes the labels and the shorthand jargon we talk to ourselves in.

The problem with North American Christianity is not the window-dressing– it’s the whole package.

The great weakness of Protestant American Christianity across the board is that by and large it dispensed with liturgy. Having dispensed with liturgy it dispensed with the signposts that point people toward an identity that binds communities together. American Christians have just never admitted it to themselves but the issue is not truth or salvation. For most people who go to church the issue is about community. And community doesn’t work any better than team sports work unless everyone’s wearing the same uniform on your team.

In terms of the practice of Christianity this “uniform” has always been faithfulness to the ancient Eucharistic tradition of Christianity far more than it’s been about creeds of correct belief. Showing up was the deal, not sincerity. The point is there had to be something to show up for that was diferent than the rest of your life, special, set apart. Otherwise why bother?

In the past Christians were bound together and had a center-point to concentrate on not so much by signing on to belief but by the doing of Christianity. And this “doing” was recognizable and passed down through the ages from grandmother to granddaughter in a form that was as familiar as the shape of the mountains are to someone who grows up in an Alpine village.

People knew what church was not what they were supposed to believe.

The unity came through shared practice and tradition. A funeral always looked like a funeral. A wedding always looked like a wedding. Communion, not sermons ruled the day. It was a matter of heart, not head, practice not content. Sure the priest mumbled stuff but the point was you showed up and it was always reassuringly the same. It was to worship what the Manhattan skyline is to born and bred New Yorkers: home.

Generations of Christians through millennia would have been flabbergasted at the make-it-up-as-you-go-along aspect of modern Christianity that cuts across both fundamentalist and progressive denominations. It would have been as if they had returned from the grave to find all the names of towns, rivers and mountains had been changed and in fact more than that, the landscape itself was bulldozed into an unrecognizable flat desert. It would be like pointing to the Las Vegas “New York” and trying to get someone who grew up on the Upper West Side to believe that this fake stage set was the real deal.

It’s no wonder then that a generation of evangelicals and disgruntled fundamentalists wandering away from evangelical communities have zero idea about what to actually “do” in terms of worship and practice when they start up their own churches as a counterpoint to the bad experiences they suffered through in times past. They may think that they are rebelling against the straitjacket of right wing fundamentalist “culture war” Christianity, but in fact they’re just simply continuing it by other means. The sign posts are still gone. They are still in a head game of ideas about God, not in the world of worship of God. Until forward thinking Christians are willing to look back at what’s been lost no one is going to be able to get anywhere past just being another fad.

What’s been lost is the doing of Christianity.

When progressive Christians, whatever they call themselves, return to the Eucharistic path, the traditional calendar of the Christian year, a sense that a church is not a temple of what’s-happening-now with all the latest attachments but something that was passed down to them, they’ll then be able to pick up where their Puritan forebears went wrong.

The problem is not so much theological as it is practical. While evangelicals argue about the “inerrancy of Scripture” their churches look like everything else in the culture, be it in the music or “nontraditional” spaces. And they get what they pay for: about the same loyalty to their brand as people have to box stores.

All the markers and familiar signposts have been removed so who cares what the preacher is saying or what some half-assed band is playing?

When progressive Christians invent “new” forms of worship they simply dodge one bullet to take another one square between the eyes.

Here’s what’s actually needed:

  • Mystery and open-mindedness when it comes to theological content: uncertainty is good
  • Rediscovery of Eucharistic sacramental tradition when it comes to forms of worship
  • Seeking out the old, the mystical and the monastic as a path to inner stillness
  • Abandoning trying to be “modern” in favor of tapping back into the root and branch of worship
  • Upholding the expanded ever-growing New Testament principle of freedom and a non-retributive gospel of inclusion by welcoming gays, women and minorities to leadership positions
  • Rediscovering and holding firmly to forms of traditional worship that gave Christian bodies our “team uniform” around which to coalesce and build the identity of lasting safe community.

In other words we need to rediscover and return to what never was broken but was stupidly abandoned by “freethinking” evangelical denominations, the Puritans rebelling against kings and bishops, and reclaim the forms of worship where the rough edges have been worn smooth by millennia of usage. We need to use them again not because they will save us or are the “only” way (they aren’t) but because they work!

Two thousand years of history just said “Amen!”

We need to do this at the same time as we lay aside the hatred, culture wars, homophobia, misogyny and all the rest of the conservative judgmental package that comes hotfoot from the hell of the twisted theology of retribution “atonement” and sacrifice.

If we believe in the Jesus who did not come to “die for us” but rather to liberate us to find our true selves in others and yet — at the same time — build communities around ancient worship practices that would be recognizable to any other Christian in history, we’ll be on to something.

To book Frank Schaeffer to speak at your college, church or group contact him at

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • Kevin Miller

    Love this piece, Frank. I think you’ve really nailed the problem. The transition from “doing Christianity” to “believing correctly” is a key component in the culture wars, because if faith is about believing vs. being, everything is external, and our focus shifts from transformation (of self) to conversion (of others). Not to mention scapegoating those who disagree with us. It doesn’t matter if someone is an Evangelical or a Progressive Christian. They’ve still fallen for the us/them dichotomy as a way of forming their identity. They’ve just chosen a different label. That’s why I say the biggest danger you face after pulling yourself out of one ditch is falling into the ditch on the other side of the road.

  • Hilary

    That’s intersting what you say about liturgy. Have you ever been to a Jewish shabbat service? Because even the liberal Reform Judaism (like, me) have the same set of prayers and melodies. Even when the English translations get a little too ‘inspiratonal’ the Hebrew stays the same. I can go through the prayer cycle with the prayerbook on my head and my eyes closed from sheer rote repetition in Hebrew, even though I can’t directly translate it. You should check out what Jews are doing – we’ve got ‘doing’ over ‘believeing’ down cold. I’m not saying this to mean you should become Jewish – you don’t have to in order to be a good person – but have you ever considered learning from us?


  • Karen

    YES! I think that’s why there is a small but noticeable movement of evangelicals to Eastern Orthodoxy or why people leave free-form varieties of church and become Episcopalians or even Roman Catholics.

    In a misguided attempt to evangelize youth, some suburban church services have become almost indistinguishable from a rock concert. That may be superficially appealing to a very young person, but after that person grows older and no longer knows or cares what’s playing on college radio, what then?

    Even so, liturgy can be deadly if the celebrant just rushes through it as if it’s random syllables instead of the embodiment of 2000 years of tradition. Any church that practices liturgical worship needs to instruct its people in the meaning of the rituals and supplement its worship with Biblical and theological study and practical training in meditation and prayer.

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    this is fascinating, and i resonate because my husband and i found a home in the episcopal church that neither of us grew up in. even though there is no one there our age (and we’re in a much different tax bracket), it is a real community, and the liturgy and the liturgical calendar are definitely unifying.

    but TEC is schisming, fracturing, and not really growing. i can tell anecdotally that more people are being drawn to the daily office/liturgical year, but i don’t necessarily see that interest translate into the pews of liturgical churches. how can progressive churches take best practices from TEC, and what do you think they need to do differently?

  • Tracy

    I guess I question the end-goal. Is it to have a Christian “fortress” of some sort — that won’t go away because its people have been so enculturated into its forms? (Can you hear Kierkegaard spitting out his tea?) Why are we interested in a second wave “Christendom”?

    Japan was once 30 percent Christian, I’ve read, now its 2 percent. Europe, well, you know. Most European churches didn’t die because they fell away from an enduring liturgy, right? Maybe there is something inherently vulnerable in the establishment of any Christianity, and its simply not meant to be “assumed” by the next generation. Phil Jenkins (“Lost Christianity”) lays out the history of what happened in the first 1000 years, how formerly Christian areas became something else. Maybe that simply is what it is, a reflection of the vulnerability of Christianity. Maybe the dynastic model is simply wrong.

    I embrace much of what you are saying here, (The centrality of the Eucharist, the problem with head-games.) But these questions remain.

    • Agnikan

      I doubt that Japan was once 30% Christian, but I’d like to see any evidence for that, if you can recall it.

  • Glen Rickerd

    I’ve always found Frank to have a talent for pointing out uncomfortable realities that very few others are indelicate enough to mention in polite company. I very much agree with him about what is wrong. I’m not so sure that a return to liturgy is going to work, or that it is even very likely. IMO.

    My own experience coming out of a fundamentalist religious cult and embracing the Orthodox tradition has been mixed. Some parts have been incredibly comforting and growth-inducing. Other parts are startlingly tribalistic and contentious… perhaps I have something yet to learn about the stink of humanity in close contact. Is that real community? Maybe it is.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    Interesting and challenging. I will be praying and meditating on it for a while, me thinks. Thank you.

  • John

    Lord have mercy, you can’t be serious! Enthrone tradition, and you can be dern sure oppression will be its byproduct. I’ll take the proverbial bullet any day.

  • Bob Faser

    Brilliant! This is as relevant to my “liberal Protestant” heritage as it is to your “evangelical” heritage. For years, I’ve found that, when I want to have a strong “God experience”, I’ll be disappointed in a (teaching-oriented) Protestant context, either liberal or evangelical. In sacramental contexts (Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox), God is easy to find. In my own “native” context, God is often very hard to find. I’m glad I’m not as wierd as I sometimes think.

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  • Tom Kushman

    Frank… IMHO about 1 in 500 of your rants you get it right (which is a pretty good average really). You hit it out of the park this time. It was probably due to the approaching Blizzard in your part of Planet Earth… so lets pray for more snow.

  • David Crump

    I agree completely with Frank’s emphasis on the importance of re-claiming the ancient liturgical and sacramental traditions.

    The other piece I bring to this personally is the approach to scripture. I find modern writers like Marcus Borg and Bishop Spong to be very helpful. This is where I need to be modern – to have a modern way to understand scripture. However, this modern approach also opens the door to accessing the ancient approach to scripture which was much more about metaphor and mystery as well. Thank you Frank!

  • Russell

    Usually, I love Frank’s stuff. This one is so wrong it feels like he’s pranking us.

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  • Jordan Stratford

    I think this is valuable insight – but this is hardly an innovation. Independent Catholic Churches have been doing this for centuries, as have other branches of what’s been known as the Independent Sacramental Movement. Using ancient, proven forms of celebration and stillness to navigate modernity in a way that’s compassionate, considered, rational and inclusive. My own church, the Apostolic Johannite Church and its antecedents, have been doing *exactly* the above since 1804.

  • Tami M

    I’ve been struggling with my small church which once was full of grandparents, is now helmed by a young man. He wants a young, hip church. A big one. Our worship is now full of stuff young people listen to on the radio and our sermons are unfettered by anything such as scripture or accuracy.

    I’ve struggled to find my place. If I’m a mature believer, I should be able to feed myself. I’m not an infant needing pure spiritual milk. I’m not a youth who needs it prepared for me. So why should I go? Is there something I can’t do for myself that I need that body for?

    Worship. Community. The word of testimony.

    This post took me some time to read and digest but I am with you every step. Thanks for being unafraid to say the hard things, Frank.

  • John. F. DeFelice

    Good call Frank. As harsh as this sounds I recall something Roland Bainton wrote years ago in his book “Behold the Christ.” After going through chapters full of religious art, he makes this observation that I’ll paraphrase. In the end, Jesus is a mannequin that each generation of Christians dresses up to reflect their culture, values and current issues. Ouch. And whether the right dresses him up as a gun toting, gay and condom hating, young earth libertarian or the left dresses him up as a pro-socialist, new age, all inclusive guru, its still window dressing to support someone’s ideology. The church has had this habit for at least 1600 years and it not likely to change. But your solution seems like a way out. A start anyway. Especially mystery. The God of the Jesus was a mystery. No statue to dress up. Pompey broke into the Holy of Holies of the Temple and was frustrated to find nothing there. We need a faith of mysteries that frustrates such bad habits. In actual living, it gets more complicated. But push ahead. We have to resist re-dressing Christ again. And the moment you say the entire mystery is completely revealed in a book that is shorter than a freshman’s World Civ textbook or a driver’s manual for a Mercury Sable, well, you’re missing a whole lot and dressing the statue again.

  • Ben

    This is powerfully worded; evangelicals are often myopic when it comes to the breadth, depth, and richness of Christian history and tradition. People are often afraid of including too much tradition, as if it makes them look outdated; but far from it, tradition’s ‘alien’ nature creates a sacred space, because it allows us to experience God as holy and other, and not God as the cosmic teddy bear or God as the heavenly rock star as is often the case in megachurch-style worship.

    But I also sense that your feelings are spoken out of the subjectivity of experience; here we have a Christian steeped in Eastern Orthodoxy proclaiming that the way forward is tradition and liturgy. I’m thinking to myself, “Of course he would say that; no one does liturgy like the Orthodox!” That’s not to discredit your points, but to point out that your perspective can be seen as limiting as well as liberating.

    I basically agreed with all of your points though. My prayer life has been enriched with the Book of Common Prayer and gaining perspective on God’s otherness through the Cloud of Unknowing. It has been a gift, and far from “going through the motions,” as I was once warned about tradition, I am learning how to run the heavenly race of Paul and so many others.

  • Bob Danforth

    There is indeed a need for the community, but Christianity lost its local focus in Roman times and only maintained it’s universality by genocide of any competing “teams” even when those teams were Christian as well. I do believe that unless a “secular” community can be built that brings people in instead of isolating them. As you point out the best things that a church can bring to its people are almost all quite secular, and even the Liturgy becomes a drone that is quite divided from the words. I have watched folk mouth the words with no awareness of the meaning, or that they would choke rather than say them in normal conversation.

    I believe what you seek needs to be found, but positive building of something that would attract people from all parts rather than dividing them further.

  • Rwahrens

    I think you’re whistling past the graveyard. People are drifting, indeed in some cases running away from your religion because they don’t believe. Period, end of story. Europe didn’t get away from Christianity because they lost the liturgy, but because the churches showed their complicity with the bad guys in WWII. People lost faith because of those bad acts. Now, today, the far right wing and the Republicans are busily alienating as many moderates as they can with their extremist bull in this country. Religion is losing its attraction, as an organized thing. People are drifting into a loose spiritualism, taking their cues from many different beliefs, even Eastern stuff.

    Going back to an old comfortable liturgy may help some people, but it is a stopgap that won’t save the religious world as you know it. Unbelievers are the fastest growing group worldwide, and that is due to a growing awareness of other religions and the commonality of their harmfulness to society, as seen on the Internet. Religion will only change in response to this growing unbelief, and there is no going back to how it used to be.

    • Charles

      Rwahrens, why do you read these posts? You seem to be anti-religious. Why are you here?

      • Lausten North

        If you had asked me that question I would have said I am here, or any other blog, to widen the conversation. The problems that were caused by the church in Europe were due it being isolated, it was able to keep anyone out of the conversation it wanted. With regards to this post, Protestants don’t need old liturgy, they need to quit avoiding the new conversations, ironically, the ones they started, about who Jesus really was and who really wrote the Bible and what is really true.

      • Will

        Patheos hosts “the conversation on faith,” Charles. Antitheism is part of that conversation. In fact, it’s an important and growing part of the conversation. The original author is correct; progressive Christianity is “broken” in that fewer people take it seriously every year. As someone who would like to see the end of religion sooner rather than later, I am very interested in taking part in a conversation about how this religion in particular is falling apart, and what they plan to do to try to stay relevant. This topic is critically important to the future of the human race; there’s no point in trying to encourage others to stay out of the discussion because what they have to say upsets you.

  • D’Alta

    “Generations of Christians through millennia would have been flabbergasted at the make-it-up-as-you-go-along aspect of modern Christianity that cuts across both fundamentalist and progressive denominations.”

    Hmmm…make it up as you go along… If I’m not mistaken, I believe that was what the Early Church that met in the catacombs was doing…making it up into something meaningful as they went along. Yes, the meal, the eucharist was at the heart of their gathering, but their prayers and songs must have been done quietly so as to not disturb others visiting deceased family… And team colors…yes, there were hidden signs, symbols, words so they would recognize one another but really sporting uniforms and team colors would have gotten them killed. So to what “traditions” in worship do we return?! If not for odors of dampness and must and dust, I’d be happy to worship in catacombs, small, standing close together, where I could see two thousand years of candle smoke smudging the low ceiling, run my fingertips through ancient signs and symbols carved into the walls, singing and praying softly, looking at the love light of those gathered.

  • Charles

    I think there might be something to meaningful, well done liturgy. We do the Holden Lenten services during Lent in our Lutheran church. It is a gorgeous hymn service with responsive parts sung by opposite sides of the church. You can feel the presence of God in that musical community.

    However, I think the biggest missing piece that brings Christianity alive to people is being involved in mission. I think that is where Christians come alive, is being involved in loving others in need. I think that is where we are challenged and also where God meets us.

    I’m grateful for all of the freedom that progressive Christianity has opened to me. It has allowed me to reconnect with the church. A more humane and reasonable and loving interpretation of the Bible and Christ has made it possible to be in Christian community.

    But the part that feels most life giving now is being involved in social justice and efforts to meet the needs of the suffering and disadvantaged.

  • Adele Henderson

    Wise words. As a Baptist minister, as I grew up Southern Baptist I was slowly introduced to the liturgical calendar through the advent wreath. It was not until I got to college and learned of Ash Wednesday and lent and started visiting Lutheran and Episcopal church and fell in love with the liturgy. Once a month I make my regular visit to the local Episcopal church and truly connect with God. I can’t explain how repeating the same words service after service brings me closer to God but is it holy and magical, something I feel is lacking in my Baptist heritage and current church.

  • Pyotr Zumwalt

    There as hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of human beings that call themselves Christian while carrying out the most diabolical perversion of the gospels imaginable. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of other human beings that call themselves Christians explain this as mere confusion, while wringing their hands. Everyone wants a personal Jesus to coddle them; few seem willing to suppose there is any kind of adversary–an adversary that seems to be winning on every front.

    • Nick Gotts

      I suppose you mean Satan. Well, God is supposed to be omnipotent. If Satan’s “winning on every front”, why doesn’t God just zap him with his superpowers?

  • Stephen Lewis

    Progressive Christianity is as broken as Evangelicalism but there’s no fixing it any more than Evangelical fundamentalist Pauline Christianity can be fixed. The theology is wrong from the get-go as all the astro-theological symbolism of the Bible and New Testament has never been revealed as such to Pauline Christians, so they’re stuck with the Bible traditions as written as if true Hebrew history believed as such by Paul and Pauline Christians. The work of Israeli archeology at Megiddo has proven the Bible stories are just Jewish myths of origin so they can’t be used as literal history of the Jews–only for their symbolic content which without understanding astrological symbolism, e.g. the symbolism of the Merkabah for instance, or Jesus’ references to “Living Waters”, Christians just do not know the hidden Message within the outward Word of God words which have been highly used and abused by men’s doctrines replacing God’s instructions.

    The New Testament cannot be used as foundation for a New Christianity because the New Testament follows the Old Testament which is now revealed as a series of Jewish fables by Israeli archeology. This means the writers of the Bible lied and there is no spiritual authority to be derived from liars and their lies. None. Oh yes, the Bible is filled with spiritual wisdom but it’s embedded within gross matrix that really has to be discarded from the pearl of great value, from the Golden Thread of goodness that does run through the Bible. But now the Bible itself cannot be used for spiritual authority. God has given us something better, something that can never be altered by man: Celestial Torah Christianity, the oldest form of Christ theology in the world at least 4000 years old and recovered again for our times as we enter the New Age of Aquarius and Christ Aquarius, while the Age of Pisces and Piscean Christianity recedes into the past. Celestial Torah Christianity at: Progressive Christians and their theologians make the mistake that spiritual authority can be made by man-made intellectual effort but it cannot as Jesus wisdom is true: without Signs and wonders no one will really believe. Celestial Torah Christianity arrives with Signs and wonders, two great new spiritual visions happening besides the C.T.C. revelations, one in the Holy Land, the Story of Paxcalibur, Sword of Peace that was honored by over 500 Nazarean Christians at Easter in 2003 and is the Holy Land’s newest and most powerful spiritual icon revealing God’s new Word that needs no language to communicate exactly what God wants of humanity now. The second great revelation is the Vision of Christ Josephine that unites Old World spiritual tradition and prophesy directly with New World spiritual prophesy for the first time in history. These are coupled to the Celestial Torah/Christ Aquarius revelation and are proof of Divine intervention in our times. You can’t get spiritual authority from intellection effort as Progressive Christians and theologians erroneously believe. Spiritual authority can only be given by God.

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  • Rob Davis

    Frank, I totally understand the criticism of much of what happens under the banner of being “new.” But, just like you say at the end of your post, the “old” ways of “doing Christianity” aren’t “the only” ways. Many “progressive Christians” are trying to find new ways that WILL work, outside of the institution. The rhetoric here might be helpful to a few, but I don’t think it’s going to bring about a tectonic shift for all the people (like myself) who have walked away from “the church” with no plans of returning. Mostly what this kind of combative post does for me is actually reinforce the problems associating with “worshiping” through the institution (or, one could interpret this as worshiping the institution). Many of us are discovering that we can find unity in our common humanity, without the shackles of what many perceive as ridiculous repetition. Do we need a funeral to remember someone’s passing? Do we need a wedding for two people to make a commitment? No, of course not. These things can be helpful for some, but not everyone. While you are putting on your Sunday best for “God” and driving across town and sitting, then standing, then sitting on a pew, I’ll be spending time with my family, finding and creating new ways to love each other. I’ll be getting coffee with a friend, or getting together with a few people at a bar. Neither of us are “right” or “wrong.” But, many of us agree, the traditional ways aren’t the “only” ways, and they don’t “work” for us. If there is a God to be found, I really hope he/she/it cannot only be found through an archaic and repetitive institution.

  • Rev Sharon Powell

    Your article has some interesting ideas. I always wonder though at why it is necessary to be so concerned with how others worship. It is very common on a life journey to move from one church to another. Our beliefs and ideas change and so do our needs. I don’t believe for at minute that going back to old liturgies is going to fill the sometimes empty painful place within them. It may help some for a while but is clinging to forms and rigid structures and dogmas that is going to keep them from spiritual growth. As i see it liturgies are designed to bring down the presence of Christ into the Host so that all can partake. This in itself is wonderful however to experience the mystical Presence much more is needed than just community and liturgy. Community should provide for our human needs for each other and help in times of trouble. It provides many with an opportunity to be of service to the Light in everyone and that is where the rubber hits the road.

  • Michael Camp

    Frank, leave it to you to stir the religious pot! Good points all. I’d like to add a few to your “what is needed:”

    * Make the “uniform” based on embracing Love as the fulfillment of God’s heart, not doctrines and religious behavior
    * Doing “Christianity” must include fighting poverty and injustice
    * Forming Christian community is not dependent on institutional Christianity

  • Lisa

    There are churches that preach a black and white message. All of the answers are straight forward in these times of uncertainty. There are also churches that tolerate a wide range in variation in scripture interpretation – but some people don’t want to get along with people who don’t agree, others just plain like straight answers, and more might want something that fits with their current worldview versus themselves fitting with the Bible’s teachings. I think it’s possible for clergy to juggle these sorts of things as hey, we’re all different, but it would be tough and requires a willingness from the congregation to play nice in the sandbox.

    That’s my take, anyway.

  • jason greene

    Great post. I am a United Methodist. We are both sacramental and evangelical. Yet our church seems to be rushing head long into “contemporary praise and worship” yuk!!! I need the liturgy. I need holy communion. I need the Creed. I need the peace of Christ.
    contemporary praise songs make me feel like Jesus is my “boyfriend”. He is not. He is the son of the living God.

    • Lisa

      I don’t think contemporary music is incompatible with a liturgical order. why do people talk like they’re mutually exclusive? That’s just snobbish.

  • Gregory Peterson

    I dunno… I’d rather go to the flea market on Sunday Morning than church. Fresh air, exercise, meet friends, bring home a treasure, and then maybe take it back later and sell it to someone else to appreciate for awhile, or for the rest of their life… or to someone else for a little profit.

    Then there is what Frederick Douglass said about the denomination that ordained him. “… it consented to the same spirit which held my brethren in chains.” (There is an obvious typo on this link… )

    Ritual is as you write, but it’s also a painful reminder that it is contains the same spirit which held my brethren in chains.

  • Craig

    I’m not a part of the church, and I think evangelicalism and religious fundamentalism are repulsive, but this “vision” for what Christianity could be is, to me, depressing. I’d have no desire to participate in such a club.

    Or how would this be any better than building a community around a local sports team? Shouldn’t one be able to point to superior values, ideas, goals, or experiences? But what would those be?

    • John Daniel Gore

      Well said.

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  • John Daniel Gore

    Air-ball: why are we still trying to base our Faith life on a church experience? The Faith preached by Christ was based on outreach. Liturgies survive for their own sake, giving the illusion of substance. With or without steady liturgy, Church is a dying institution without a missional component. This is a classic example of an author missing the mark — but not his audience! Look at all the love in this comment feed! People love their liturgies… and their liturgies will die with them. In this case, an article looks like a funeral.
    Write a book, count the royalty checks, fade into posterity.

  • Frank Schaeffer

    Hi all, thanks for the notes on my article. I’ve read all the commnets with interest. I only fault my article for perhaps striking too much of a “I know” note, when of course I don’t know, just think about these things. Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I also should have tried harder to define my terms, re the word “liturgy.” I’m glad most of you here today seem to get the point though. Best, Frank

  • Tom Gordon

    Excellent piece, Frank!

  • Tom Gordon

    Great discussion on the Book of Revelation. I remember as a boy reading through the entire New Testament for the first time. When I finished, I thought, “That ‘Revelations’ is certainly a weird, disturbing way to end the Bible. Even back then, it just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the writings that came before it. “John” seemed like a strange psychopath to me.

  • Stephen

    Frank, to a certain extent your description is this article has echoes of the emerging church (ancient/future tradition) & Mennonite stream are attempting to balance…”Mystery and open-mindedness when it comes to theological content: uncertainty is good ” & “Abandoning trying to be “modern” in favor of tapping back into the root and branch of worship” As for the emerging church (not necessarily “Progressive) are attempting to reach back as well – where modern liturgy sometimes is sterile.

    thanks for this article. (-;

  • rvs

    The argument that everything is broken and going to crap is itself becoming a tired cliche of American crisis rhetoric. It is a technique perfected via the ridiculousness of Dispensationalism and fundamentalism.

  • Bromartin

    I really appreciate your thoughtful and “progressive” piece, although I’m sure many will find it oppressive and/or reactionary (not to mention outrageous) in it’s theses. It’s only near the end that I believe you go a bit over the top. Your references to our social, cultural, and preferred sexual differences have no place in what is otherwise a sound and provocative message. I do believe that these issues must be addressed, but within the confines of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in union with Our Lord, His teaching, and the Christian Tradition of two thousand years.

    • Nick Gotts

      Oh, you mean the world’s largest pedophile ring.

  • Will

    I thought your article was very interesting. I don’t agree with your suggestions, though, particularly the “mystery” aspect.

    I’m not a Christian, but I used to be when I was younger. I left for the same reason that most of my friends left: we didn’t see a reason to believe it was true. Mysteries, monasticism, the “root and branch of worship,” these are not concepts that attract people looking for well-substantiated, clear, useful ideas about the world. They’re tools to obfuscate the basic premise, i.e. that an ancient book from a tribe in the far-off desert contains the eternal truths of the universe which were handed down to these goat-herders by a supreme being. THAT is the message you’re going to have to find a way to sell if you want people to keep coming to your church and putting money in the offering plate.

    Yes, opening your communities more fully to gay people and women will help slow the tide for a while. Certainly not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is closer to what Jesus would have probably wanted than the evangelical approach. Gay people and women aren’t any different than straight men, though, in that a great many of them nowadays see no reason to turn to a silent God when crisis looms. Progressive Christianity, like Evangelicalism, is broken because it relies on ideas that people do not need to take seriously anymore, like miracles and demons and magic. Good luck in shoring up your religion, but I doubt the solutions you listed will have much impact.

  • Nick Gotts

    Actually, what began my trajectory out of Christianity (as a child, I should perhaps add) was the brain-blistering tedium of liturgy. The realization that it was all a load of ridiculous tosh anyway came a little later.

  • John Haggerty

    A searching essay. Many astute comments. I have to ask the question (borrowing someone else’s words): Little man, what now? I am serious. Where do you go from here? Alan Watts asked questions like yours, Mr Schaeffer. He packed up his Anglican inheritance, unnecessary baggage, and got with the Zen beat. Oh, he was seeking wisdom, sure. And he managed to get laid a lot. His books were required reading for our generation. He ended up as the resident guru at Hollywood parties. He admitted at the end of his life that he had the gift of the gab. After Watts I found it hard to take the Spongs and the Cupitts quite so seriously. Never glad bright morning again. But go to an essay by CS Lewis, De Descriptione Temporum, which you will find in ‘They Asked for a Paper’ (Geoffrey Bles, London, 1962). The text is from an inaugral lecture at Cambridge in 1954. Without false modesty Lewis dares to call himself a representative of old Western man. He speaks of the ‘christening’ of the West which seemed to be irreversible. Now we see the tide turn, he says. ‘Of course, the un-christening of Europe in our time is not quite complete; neither was her christening in the Dark Ages,’ he writes. Hilaire Belloc made the point more assertively. ‘Europe is the faith, the faith is Europe.’ And I believe Os Guinness picked up that theme again in his book ‘The Dust of Death’. Guinness is as relevant now as he was in the early 197Os. If you Americans succumb to the postmodernist virus then the West will be pagan for generations to come. This is about the fight of faith as Martyn Lloyd-Jones called it. In Scotland we occasionally pay someone a handsome tribute. She or he is a Bonny Fighter, we will say. I only need to look at any child to know the fight is worth it. We have a world to win.

  • John Haggerty

    May I be allowed to add a coda to my comment of yesterday? As someone living in faraway Scotland, I am quite aware of the complexity of the situation in the United States. I try to keep in touch through books and the internet. I have read with interest websites such as Bible Bashing Liberal and Can Conservative Christianity Be Saved? As a student of postwar American Literature, I am steeped in the writings of James Baldwin, Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Vidal, Mailer, Susan Sontag etc. The social protest of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Father Daniel Berrigan always filled me with admiration. After 11 September 2001 I read everything I could from Chomsky to Rudolph Giuliani. I was glad to see President Obama reelected. I admire Oprah but feel sad to hear her distance herself from her Southern Baptist background. And here is the heart of the dilemma. One can be liberal in a great many things and conservative in theology. Karl Barth is a case in point. His student Thomas F Torrance (formerly Moderator of the Church of Scotland) is another example that this is a feasible position. It is a mystery to me why first class minds turn from the Gospel of Grace to Post Evangelicalism (in your case, Mr Schaeffer) or complete apostasy (in Spong’s case). Great Britain once had a tradition of Christian socialism. The men and women who espoused this had as real a faith in supernatural Christianity as they had in social democracy. And it is possible to maintain that liberal Christianity is aberrant (as did Martyn Lloyd-Jones) without being a reactionary. Last week I read Non Conformist Theology in the Twentieth Century by Alan Sell, a book I would pay people to read. Someone who had difficulties with Calvinist theology said this. He knew of no other body of men, meaning Calvinists, more capable of converting England. For England read the world.

  • john haggerty

    Dear Mr Schaeffer, Following on from my comment of March 5, may I be allowed to recommend some startlingly good books which I am dipping into? The first is ‘Evangelical Concerns: Rediscovering the Christian mind on issues facing the Church today’ by Melvin Tinker, an Anglican minister in Hull, England. He opens with a quotation from Harry Blamires, friend of CS Lewis: ‘There is no longer a Christian mind. The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history.’ The next two are by men of the Free Church of Scotland (which as you know produced a galaxy of brilliant Reformed theologians in the 19th Century). These are ‘The Doctrine of Sin’ by Iain D Campbell (pastor of the Free Church on the Isle of Lewis) and ‘A Faith to Live By’ by Donald MacLeod, recently retired as Professor of Systematic Theology at Free Church College, Edinburgh. (MacLeod has been called the people’s theologian.) Next, ‘Such A Great Salvation’ the collected essay of the late Alan Stibbs, described as one of the best theological minds serving British evangelicals, and a former missionary in China. And a collection of essays by Nicholas Lash (formerly of Cambridge University) called ‘Theology for Pilgrims’. Finally ‘Christ and the Judgement of God: The Limits of Divine Retribution in New Testament Thought’ by Stephen H Travis, formerly lecturer in New Testament at St John’s College, Birmingham. I would be most interested to read your reflections, at some time in the future, on at least some of these books. Thank you again for a most stimulating essay. Yours aye, John Haggerty, Glasgow, Scotland.

    • Nick Gotts

      MacLeod has been called the people’s theologian.

      How many of “the people” have even heard of him, let alone read him?

  • John Haggerty

    To Nick Gotts regarding Donald Macleod. Alex Macdonald, the minister of Buccleugh and Greyfriars Free Church, Edinburgh (one of the oldest Reformed churches in the world) said: ‘Donald Macleod is the people’s theologian, or at least he would be in a sane world. He never loses sight for a moment that he is addressing people who are hurting or confused or ill-informed or tempted.’ I am sure you would agree, Nick, that millions worldwide have heard of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. But Lloyd-Jones closely followed the ‘written ministry’ of Arthur W Pink (1886-1952) whose monthly magazine ‘Studies in Scripture’ was never subscribed to by much more than one thousand people. Pink’s writing sustained Lloyd-Jones through a period of personal crisis during which he had thought of leaving the ministry. Today, millions listen to Pink’s sermons via the internet. The man who lived and died in obscurity has been ‘discovered’ largely by Americans. You might want to listen to Pink’s sermons including THE NATURE OF APOSTASY, WHAT IS MOST NEEDED TODAY, ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, THE CHRISTIAN ARMOUR, REPENTANCE: WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURES, GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION, SAVING FAITH, ATTRIBUTES OF GOD and IS CHRIST YOUR LORD? My conversion occurred at the age of 57, just a few years ago, from reading Reformed theologians such as Macleod, Pink, Jim Packer, Francis Schaeffer, Iain Murray, Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, RC Sproul, Robert L Reymond, John M Frame, Richard D Phillips, Paul C McGlasson, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Robert A Peterson, Joel Beeke and many others. With the exception of Francis Schaeffer, I had never heard of any of these great men during my long years in the secular wilderness. The obscurity of a Macleod or a Pink tells us that the Lord works according to His Own timescale and pleasure.

  • John Haggerty

    I have taken up far too much space on your important site. Before signing off, may I recommend one last book to Frank Schaeffer and the many readers, myself included, who find his writings address seemingly intractable problems? The book is THE IMPACT OF GOD – SOUNDINGS FROM ST JOHN OF THE CROSS (Hodder paperback 2010) by Iain Matthew, a Carmelite priest and chaplain at the London School of Economics. Protestants are sceptical about mysticism. So are Catholics. ‘The trouble with mysticism,’ said John Henry Newman, ‘is that it begins in mist and ends in schism.’ But John’s witness (he was born in crisis-torn Spain in 1542, and died there in 1591) is very close to the experimental Christianity of Reform-minded people. It was born of his time in prison under the Inquisition. He was in darkness, both literally and psychologically. The tortures inflicted left him debilitated for life. He felt the abandonment of God. It is in that impenetrable darkness that John experiences the ‘Visitation’. It seems to vanish when he tries to describe it, but it is a deeper experience of the Christ of Glory which henceforth sustains his life. John’s pastoral work as a kind of roving chaplain will be to help men and women discover this visitation in their own difficult and often dark journey. Among his flock will be Teresa of Avila, who quickly recognises his authority as a disciple of the Lord. Father Matthew gives us a reading of John’s work that is sensitive to the text of the difficult poems and prose, as well as to the historical situation in which John was living. Father Matthew thinks John can help us in the 21st Century. John is for people who wonder where God was during Rwanda and the tsunami. He is for people who believe in God some days but not on other days. John’s Christ is ‘poor enough to share the wound, risen enough to heal it’. ‘If my spirit is bleeding inside, I can approach him with that and grasp the hem of his garment. My prayer can be holding that garment; power continues to go out from him.’ Prayer is a safe place to be, because Jesus Christ has shared the Dark Night with us.

  • John Haggerty

    Let me squeeze in another title for Frank Schaeffer’s book bag. It’s ‘REFORMING OR CONFORMING? POST-CONSERVATIVE EVANGELICALS AND THE EMERGING CHURCH’ (Crossway 2008) edited by Gary LW Johnson and Ronald N Gleason. I bought a copy today (Friday) in the only Evangelical bookshop remaining in my native city of Glasgow, Scotland, whose motto is: ‘Lord, let Glasgow flourish by the Preaching of Thy Word.’ (Not any more, alas.) One contributor Phil Johnson writes: ‘Why FIGHT for a message that doesn’t even have Christ crucified at the center anyway? Contemporary evangelicals have utterly neglected and virtually forgotten almost everything truly distinctive about HISTORIC evangelicalism.’ One final thing. Last year (2012) a group of very Reformed American evangelicals arrived in Glasgow. It’s an annual trip for them. They come for a week to do some street preaching. I spoke to them all, and found them most congenial company. They are also truly Spirit-led in their preaching. Men like these could convert the heathen in our cities. But on the Saturday night, a beautiful summer’s evening, they were asked to STOP preaching … by the police no less. Why? They happened to mention that one’s sins could lead one to Hell. This doesn’t go down well in pagan, postmodern, politically correct Scotland. After all, it might offend a drug dealer. What would John Knox say if he came back for a day? Any thoughts on that, Frank?

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    I don’t understand what you are intending to get across with this phrase – “the Puritans rebelling against kings and bishops”? Do you consider the Puritans’ rebellion against kings and bishops to have been a good thing or a bad thing, Frank?

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    How wrong you are!

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    There is no such thing as a progressive Christian. That is an oxymoron.

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.