The withering away of liberal Christianity

Read this interview with sociologist Rodney Stark on how the so-called “mainline” liberal denominations have dwindled into irrelevance:  Are Evangelicals the New Mainline?.  Among the many interesting points he makes is that the only congregations in those traditions that are doing well are those with conservative pastors.  And when “evangelicals” decide to go liberal, as in the emergent church or progressive evangelical movement, they decline too.  He goes into the history of this phenomenon and finds that it goes way, way back.

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    When I look a the theological works my late mother had, it was worth noting that there was very little that came from her United Methodist presses. Intervarsity, Zondervan, others–but not Asbury, by and large. There are only so many ways you can say “we don’t believe in much” and get people to buy it.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    When I look a the theological works my late mother had, it was worth noting that there was very little that came from her United Methodist presses. Intervarsity, Zondervan, others–but not Asbury, by and large. There are only so many ways you can say “we don’t believe in much” and get people to buy it.

  • Ryan

    “Are there hymnbooks in racks on the back of the pews? If there are, it’s a liberal church. Conservatives got rid of that stuff long ago… It’s true almost one hundred percent of the time.”

    Really? All this time and I thought I was conservative!

  • Ryan

    “Are there hymnbooks in racks on the back of the pews? If there are, it’s a liberal church. Conservatives got rid of that stuff long ago… It’s true almost one hundred percent of the time.”

    Really? All this time and I thought I was conservative!

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    “Really? All this time and I thought I was conservative!”

    I guess that means my church is a fence sitter. We have both.

    I think Mr. Stark needs to get out more. There are too many broad sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated by anything but his meager experience. The hymnal comment is just one of them. Another is the statement about school prayer. Nobody who knows me would confuse me for a liberal, but I am against school prayer; not because I believe it has no place in school, I just don’t want to have to put up with pagans praying in an official capacity.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    “Really? All this time and I thought I was conservative!”

    I guess that means my church is a fence sitter. We have both.

    I think Mr. Stark needs to get out more. There are too many broad sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated by anything but his meager experience. The hymnal comment is just one of them. Another is the statement about school prayer. Nobody who knows me would confuse me for a liberal, but I am against school prayer; not because I believe it has no place in school, I just don’t want to have to put up with pagans praying in an official capacity.

  • http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com Dr. Jack Kilcrease

    The irony is that Mainliners think that the Church is declining because of conservatism. The idea is that it’s not a welcoming place to people in the secular culture (see for example the movie “Priest”).
    Schleiermacher and the rest of the Liberal tradition have been playing this game since the 18th century. The idea is that secular people will want to be religious again if we Christians can somehow “split the difference” with them in regard to the secularist worldview. This will ultimately make the faith more attractive.
    Actually, in the modern world the opposite is the case. People who are secular enjoy not having to answer to any God and a lose of nerve on our part just reinforces that. For traditionalists, they can’t stand having the faith get watered down and so they leave for places where it isn’t (I would place myself in this category). Lastly, those who potentially might join are alienated. Why? Because in a pagan-secular culture, one of the most appealing things about orthodoxy is that it’s precisely not what secularity is- materialistic, relativistic, obsessed with political fads. Orthodoxy gives real certainty when we’re always been told by relativists we can’t be certain about anything. Hence, the Mainline with it’s free-for-all on interpretation of Scripture and the creeds of the Church is highly unappealing to real seekers also. I would imagine in 20-40, Mainline Protestantism will simply no longer exist in this country.

  • http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com Dr. Jack Kilcrease

    The irony is that Mainliners think that the Church is declining because of conservatism. The idea is that it’s not a welcoming place to people in the secular culture (see for example the movie “Priest”).
    Schleiermacher and the rest of the Liberal tradition have been playing this game since the 18th century. The idea is that secular people will want to be religious again if we Christians can somehow “split the difference” with them in regard to the secularist worldview. This will ultimately make the faith more attractive.
    Actually, in the modern world the opposite is the case. People who are secular enjoy not having to answer to any God and a lose of nerve on our part just reinforces that. For traditionalists, they can’t stand having the faith get watered down and so they leave for places where it isn’t (I would place myself in this category). Lastly, those who potentially might join are alienated. Why? Because in a pagan-secular culture, one of the most appealing things about orthodoxy is that it’s precisely not what secularity is- materialistic, relativistic, obsessed with political fads. Orthodoxy gives real certainty when we’re always been told by relativists we can’t be certain about anything. Hence, the Mainline with it’s free-for-all on interpretation of Scripture and the creeds of the Church is highly unappealing to real seekers also. I would imagine in 20-40, Mainline Protestantism will simply no longer exist in this country.

  • Louis

    Well, I’m no liberal (ecclesiastically), but I’m certainly no evangelical either – in the modern sense of the world. And I disdian the labels conservative and liberal anyway – there defintions are in the mind of the accuser / defender, and dnot clearly defined anyway. I prefer terms like orthodox and tradition – neither labels which would fit either evangelicals or “liberal” mailiners.

    But what’s this obsession with pigeonholing, classifying and condemning / praising accordingly? Pardon me, but it seems to be a very American thing, no?

  • Louis

    Well, I’m no liberal (ecclesiastically), but I’m certainly no evangelical either – in the modern sense of the world. And I disdian the labels conservative and liberal anyway – there defintions are in the mind of the accuser / defender, and dnot clearly defined anyway. I prefer terms like orthodox and tradition – neither labels which would fit either evangelicals or “liberal” mailiners.

    But what’s this obsession with pigeonholing, classifying and condemning / praising accordingly? Pardon me, but it seems to be a very American thing, no?

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  • DonS

    Attending and being involved in a church is hard work. If you really don’t believe the Bible, why go to the trouble?

    Even in “conservative” or “traditional” or “fundamental” or orthodox” churches (pick your label), there are many in the younger generation who are falling away from the faith as young adults. Our society is intensely secular and increasingly anti-Christian, and those without strong convictions are being influenced by that. So, in a mainline church with weak or non-existent doctrine, what would draw a young person to stay in the church? What’s the point?

  • DonS

    Attending and being involved in a church is hard work. If you really don’t believe the Bible, why go to the trouble?

    Even in “conservative” or “traditional” or “fundamental” or orthodox” churches (pick your label), there are many in the younger generation who are falling away from the faith as young adults. Our society is intensely secular and increasingly anti-Christian, and those without strong convictions are being influenced by that. So, in a mainline church with weak or non-existent doctrine, what would draw a young person to stay in the church? What’s the point?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Louis, in theology, “liberal” actually has a fairly specific meaning. In a nutshell, it means that the governing body of that denomination tends to doubt or outright deny certain cardinal doctrines of the Scriptures, such as the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, inspiration of the Scriptures, bodily resurrection, and virgin birth of Christ.

    In the U.S., this would be, among others, the ELCA, the United Methodists, the PCUSA, the Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ.

    Don’t be worried about making dichotomies; you have the orthodox evangelicals, Lutherans, and fundamentalists divided by mode of worship, mode of immersion, and so on. It is to describe, not to accuse.

    (and of course “orthodox” is contrasted with the Greek/Slavic Orthodox churches as well)

    Thankfully, the theology of unbelief is on the wane–a victim of itself, really.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Louis, in theology, “liberal” actually has a fairly specific meaning. In a nutshell, it means that the governing body of that denomination tends to doubt or outright deny certain cardinal doctrines of the Scriptures, such as the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, inspiration of the Scriptures, bodily resurrection, and virgin birth of Christ.

    In the U.S., this would be, among others, the ELCA, the United Methodists, the PCUSA, the Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ.

    Don’t be worried about making dichotomies; you have the orthodox evangelicals, Lutherans, and fundamentalists divided by mode of worship, mode of immersion, and so on. It is to describe, not to accuse.

    (and of course “orthodox” is contrasted with the Greek/Slavic Orthodox churches as well)

    Thankfully, the theology of unbelief is on the wane–a victim of itself, really.

  • Louis

    Bike – sure, but in my experience, not many people keep to those definitions.

  • Louis

    Bike – sure, but in my experience, not many people keep to those definitions.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What about those denominations or people who deny the Bible’s teaching on the sacraments? Are they liberals, too? The Bible certainly talks a lot more about those than it does the virgin birth.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What about those denominations or people who deny the Bible’s teaching on the sacraments? Are they liberals, too? The Bible certainly talks a lot more about those than it does the virgin birth.

  • Louis

    Todd, I was thinking along the same lines, but I don’t have the propensity for stirring as you do.. :)

  • Louis

    Todd, I was thinking along the same lines, but I don’t have the propensity for stirring as you do.. :)

  • Peter Leavitt

    One hopes that Rodney Stark is right, though he himself is a born Lutheran who is now agnostic. David Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian in a recent First Things blog post writes:

    We now also live in the twilight of an ancient civilization, and many of us occasionally deceive ourselves that the course of history can be reversed. Christendom is quite gone, and the Christian culture of the West seems irrevocably destined for slow dissolution. The arts it inspired, the moral grammar it shaped, the shared stories and convictions by which it bound peoples together seem surely to belong to a constantly receding past.

    Stark speaks of a receding Mainline “Christianity;” Hart, a devout Christian speaks of an inevitable receding of Christianity itself.

    Personally, I say Onward Christians soldiers, though Hart is probably right.

  • Peter Leavitt

    One hopes that Rodney Stark is right, though he himself is a born Lutheran who is now agnostic. David Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian in a recent First Things blog post writes:

    We now also live in the twilight of an ancient civilization, and many of us occasionally deceive ourselves that the course of history can be reversed. Christendom is quite gone, and the Christian culture of the West seems irrevocably destined for slow dissolution. The arts it inspired, the moral grammar it shaped, the shared stories and convictions by which it bound peoples together seem surely to belong to a constantly receding past.

    Stark speaks of a receding Mainline “Christianity;” Hart, a devout Christian speaks of an inevitable receding of Christianity itself.

    Personally, I say Onward Christians soldiers, though Hart is probably right.

  • Porcell

    Mr. Leavitt, as long as the word of the Jewish prophets and Christ exist in the Bible, then the future of Christianity is somehow assured, notwithstanding the present dismal reality of secular pagan civilization in the West.

  • Porcell

    Mr. Leavitt, as long as the word of the Jewish prophets and Christ exist in the Bible, then the future of Christianity is somehow assured, notwithstanding the present dismal reality of secular pagan civilization in the West.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Peter, Stark now identifies himself as an “independent Christian.” I didn’t know he was born Lutheran! He’s on the faculty of Baylor, a Baptist school.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Peter, Stark now identifies himself as an “independent Christian.” I didn’t know he was born Lutheran! He’s on the faculty of Baylor, a Baptist school.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Also, Hart, who I believe is Greek Orthodox, is a writer in the Radical Orthodoxy strain.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Also, Hart, who I believe is Greek Orthodox, is a writer in the Radical Orthodoxy strain.

  • Porcell

    Dr. Veith, thanks for the correction on Dr. Stark being an independent Christian. I based the comment above on a Wiki source as follows:

    Rodney Stark: That’s true, though I’ve never been an atheist. Atheism is an active faith; it says, “I believe there is no God.” But I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota. I have trouble with faith. I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I would believe if I could, and I may be able to before it’s over. I would welcome that.” [2]

    I neglected to read the following from the same source:

    In a later interview, though, Stark indicated that his self-understanding had changed and that he could now be described as an “independent Christian

    BTW, my new moniker is Porcell. I have finally bowed to my lawyer’s strenuous view that it is unwise to use one’s name in the jungle that is the Internet. Recently one of my financial accounts was hacked into .

  • Porcell

    Dr. Veith, thanks for the correction on Dr. Stark being an independent Christian. I based the comment above on a Wiki source as follows:

    Rodney Stark: That’s true, though I’ve never been an atheist. Atheism is an active faith; it says, “I believe there is no God.” But I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota. I have trouble with faith. I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I would believe if I could, and I may be able to before it’s over. I would welcome that.” [2]

    I neglected to read the following from the same source:

    In a later interview, though, Stark indicated that his self-understanding had changed and that he could now be described as an “independent Christian

    BTW, my new moniker is Porcell. I have finally bowed to my lawyer’s strenuous view that it is unwise to use one’s name in the jungle that is the Internet. Recently one of my financial accounts was hacked into .

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD; re #9, I was thinking the same thing about God’s ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper.

    :^)

    Seriously, one can make a Biblical case either way, and often on the same texts, depending on one’s hermeneutic. Obviously I, as a Baptist, find the evidence for the Lutheran view a lot more tenuous than you do.

    However, the historical record in the Gospels, not to mention Isaiah 7, make the virgin birth rhetorically a lot more difficult to dispute, IMO. Hence those who view the ordinances as such are simply not Lutheran, but not unorthodox.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD; re #9, I was thinking the same thing about God’s ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper.

    :^)

    Seriously, one can make a Biblical case either way, and often on the same texts, depending on one’s hermeneutic. Obviously I, as a Baptist, find the evidence for the Lutheran view a lot more tenuous than you do.

    However, the historical record in the Gospels, not to mention Isaiah 7, make the virgin birth rhetorically a lot more difficult to dispute, IMO. Hence those who view the ordinances as such are simply not Lutheran, but not unorthodox.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter/Porcell (@15), if you two are the same … um … then why did “Porcell” reply (@12) to “Mr. Leavitt” (@11)? That’s … weird.

    Leaving aside the wisdom of having one’s full name in blog comments, I’m near certain that such was not the reason for your accounts being hacked into. But I’m sorry to hear that, all the same.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter/Porcell (@15), if you two are the same … um … then why did “Porcell” reply (@12) to “Mr. Leavitt” (@11)? That’s … weird.

    Leaving aside the wisdom of having one’s full name in blog comments, I’m near certain that such was not the reason for your accounts being hacked into. But I’m sorry to hear that, all the same.

  • DonS

    And further to BB’s point @ 16, the issue isn’t one of interpretation of Scripture, or, to put it another way, sectarianism. A legitimate difference in hermeneutics still results in a creed which requires belief in the truth and authority of Scripture. And, if you believe in the truth and authority of Scripture, you have a strong incentive not to fall away from the faith.

    The problem with liberal theology is that it claims to be rooted in Scripture, but over the years the core teachings of the Bible, such as sin, the divinity of Christ, and eternal punishment, have been repudiated as being, essentially, anti-social and harsh. In other words, there is no creed, right or wrong. The church is a social club, and one that involves a lot of effort. Consequently, many young people say, why bother?

  • DonS

    And further to BB’s point @ 16, the issue isn’t one of interpretation of Scripture, or, to put it another way, sectarianism. A legitimate difference in hermeneutics still results in a creed which requires belief in the truth and authority of Scripture. And, if you believe in the truth and authority of Scripture, you have a strong incentive not to fall away from the faith.

    The problem with liberal theology is that it claims to be rooted in Scripture, but over the years the core teachings of the Bible, such as sin, the divinity of Christ, and eternal punishment, have been repudiated as being, essentially, anti-social and harsh. In other words, there is no creed, right or wrong. The church is a social club, and one that involves a lot of effort. Consequently, many young people say, why bother?

  • Porcell

    Todd #11 expressed one part of my mind, #12 another.

  • Porcell

    Todd #11 expressed one part of my mind, #12 another.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@16), you said, “one can make a Biblical case either way, and often on the same texts, depending on one’s hermeneutic.” Not that the ability to do so has any impact whatsoever on the truth, of course. Anyhow, are you defending this ability, or decrying it? If a “liberal” Christian makes a Biblical case in contrast to what you believe, he comes in for criticism. However, if a “conservative” Christian makes a Biblical case in contrast to what you believe, well, that’s just how things are and who can say who’s right, eh?

    No doubt, the virgin birth is clearly established in Scripture. As is the fact that, in Communion, we receive what Christ himself called “my body”. But you wouldn’t believe the lengths that theological liberals will go to to deny the plain teaching of the Bible, Bubba! They say it’s all a metaphor! Can you believe it?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@16), you said, “one can make a Biblical case either way, and often on the same texts, depending on one’s hermeneutic.” Not that the ability to do so has any impact whatsoever on the truth, of course. Anyhow, are you defending this ability, or decrying it? If a “liberal” Christian makes a Biblical case in contrast to what you believe, he comes in for criticism. However, if a “conservative” Christian makes a Biblical case in contrast to what you believe, well, that’s just how things are and who can say who’s right, eh?

    No doubt, the virgin birth is clearly established in Scripture. As is the fact that, in Communion, we receive what Christ himself called “my body”. But you wouldn’t believe the lengths that theological liberals will go to to deny the plain teaching of the Bible, Bubba! They say it’s all a metaphor! Can you believe it?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@18), all I see from you and Bubba is pure fundamentalism in the true sense. You try to define a subset of Biblical teachings of your picking as the important ones, the ones that define truth, that define us vs. them. The other Biblical teachings? Who can say, there is disagreement over those. But where does your list come from? Why don’t conservative, orthodox people care about the whole of the Bible, of what God said to us?

    And do all theological liberals deny the truth or authority of Scripture? Wouldn’t many of them argue that, yes, they agree to its “truth and authority” — properly understood, of course? So when you read Genesis 1, they would say, you have to understand it’s a metaphor. Or when you read Matthew 26:26, they would say, you have to understand it’s a metaphor. Not that the text really gives us any reason to read it like that, but such is theological liberalism for you. It claims to be rooted in Scripture, but it ignores the parts that it doesn’t like, that don’t make sense to it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@18), all I see from you and Bubba is pure fundamentalism in the true sense. You try to define a subset of Biblical teachings of your picking as the important ones, the ones that define truth, that define us vs. them. The other Biblical teachings? Who can say, there is disagreement over those. But where does your list come from? Why don’t conservative, orthodox people care about the whole of the Bible, of what God said to us?

    And do all theological liberals deny the truth or authority of Scripture? Wouldn’t many of them argue that, yes, they agree to its “truth and authority” — properly understood, of course? So when you read Genesis 1, they would say, you have to understand it’s a metaphor. Or when you read Matthew 26:26, they would say, you have to understand it’s a metaphor. Not that the text really gives us any reason to read it like that, but such is theological liberalism for you. It claims to be rooted in Scripture, but it ignores the parts that it doesn’t like, that don’t make sense to it.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD, when reading history, it is hard to view things as any genre but straightforwardly literal. On the other hand, when He says “this is my body” in reference to a piece of matzoh, the ordinary way this is interpreted is that it is symbolic. Otherwise the disciples would have been puking at the thought of ritual cannibalism.

    And now let’s talk about the central meaning of the Greek word “Baptizo.”…..

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    tODD, when reading history, it is hard to view things as any genre but straightforwardly literal. On the other hand, when He says “this is my body” in reference to a piece of matzoh, the ordinary way this is interpreted is that it is symbolic. Otherwise the disciples would have been puking at the thought of ritual cannibalism.

    And now let’s talk about the central meaning of the Greek word “Baptizo.”…..

  • DonS

    tODD @ 21: I’m not interested in having a sectarian debate with you concerning the sacraments/ordinances. We’ve had that discussion, which I undertook for the purpose of learning more about Lutheran doctrine. I respect your beliefs and the fact that these discussions are taking place on your turf — a Lutheran blog. We disagree, and I wish to leave it at that.

    Your comment misses the whole point, anyway. My point was that those who actually have a creed are motivated to continue in the faith. Even if that creed is wrong. Mormons and Muslims are very motivated to remain in the faith. But, mainline Protestants (or, at least, their denominational headquarters), whom I consider to be theological liberals, have abandoned any legitimate creed. They don’t believe in absolute Truth, which is the fundamental meaning of the Bible. They don’t believe in sin, holiness, or eternal punishment for sinners. They have no creed, and thus no motivation to remain in the “faith”, whatever that is for them.

    To address your questions, do you really consider the deity of Christ, original sin, and Christ’s death and resurrection to atone for the sins of all mankind to be merely a “subset of Biblical teachings” of my choosing? Because that is what your comment is saying, and you appear to be asserting that these truths are not any more fundamental to the faith than any other Biblical teaching. As for my “list”, how about I Corinthians 15? Try, in particular, verses 3-5 and 12-15.

    When I speak of “theological liberals”, I am speaking of those denominations which have abandoned their former doctrinal creeds under the influence of modern culture. The United Methodists, ELCA, Presbyterian USA, American Baptist Churches, Episcopalians, etc. who at one time held to the truth of Holy Scripture as regarding the core teachings of Christianity, but have compromised over the years with secular culture, until there is nothing of substance left. I am not speaking of those who interpret Genesis 1-3 as including an old earth, or perhaps even an evolutionary creation process (though I think that is wrong).

    But again, the point of my original comment was to distinguish between those who believe in SOMETHING which they regard as truth, and those who don’t.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 21: I’m not interested in having a sectarian debate with you concerning the sacraments/ordinances. We’ve had that discussion, which I undertook for the purpose of learning more about Lutheran doctrine. I respect your beliefs and the fact that these discussions are taking place on your turf — a Lutheran blog. We disagree, and I wish to leave it at that.

    Your comment misses the whole point, anyway. My point was that those who actually have a creed are motivated to continue in the faith. Even if that creed is wrong. Mormons and Muslims are very motivated to remain in the faith. But, mainline Protestants (or, at least, their denominational headquarters), whom I consider to be theological liberals, have abandoned any legitimate creed. They don’t believe in absolute Truth, which is the fundamental meaning of the Bible. They don’t believe in sin, holiness, or eternal punishment for sinners. They have no creed, and thus no motivation to remain in the “faith”, whatever that is for them.

    To address your questions, do you really consider the deity of Christ, original sin, and Christ’s death and resurrection to atone for the sins of all mankind to be merely a “subset of Biblical teachings” of my choosing? Because that is what your comment is saying, and you appear to be asserting that these truths are not any more fundamental to the faith than any other Biblical teaching. As for my “list”, how about I Corinthians 15? Try, in particular, verses 3-5 and 12-15.

    When I speak of “theological liberals”, I am speaking of those denominations which have abandoned their former doctrinal creeds under the influence of modern culture. The United Methodists, ELCA, Presbyterian USA, American Baptist Churches, Episcopalians, etc. who at one time held to the truth of Holy Scripture as regarding the core teachings of Christianity, but have compromised over the years with secular culture, until there is nothing of substance left. I am not speaking of those who interpret Genesis 1-3 as including an old earth, or perhaps even an evolutionary creation process (though I think that is wrong).

    But again, the point of my original comment was to distinguish between those who believe in SOMETHING which they regard as truth, and those who don’t.

  • Porcell

    Dr. Jack Kilcrease gets to the heart of the issue at 4 with:

    Why? Because in a pagan-secular culture, one of the most appealing things about orthodoxy is that it’s precisely not what secularity is- materialistic, relativistic, obsessed with political fads. Orthodoxy gives real certainty when we’re always been told by relativists we can’t be certain about anything. Hence, the Mainline with it’s free-for-all on interpretation of Scripture and the creeds of the Church is highly unappealing to real seekers also. I would imagine in 20-40, Mainline Protestantism will simply no longer exist in this country.

    Orthodox Christians may disagree on some issues , though on the fundamental issues of the incarnation, miracles, the passion, salvation, and eschaton they do agree. This is the point that C.S. Lewis makes in Mere Christianity. It is true that theologians among the orthodox churches verbally differ in the formulation of their creeds, though they do have carefully formulated creeds, as Don remarks.

    Basically, the mainline churches, following Scleirmacher, Harnack, and in America, Rauschenbusch, came to disbelieve in the divinity of Christ and located sin in social institutions. Today many of the mainline preachers say nothing of sin and repentance other than social sins including often the supposed evils of capitalism, nationalism and war.

    Richard Niebuhr summed up the mainline creed as follows:

    A God without wrath brought a people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the Cross.

  • Porcell

    Dr. Jack Kilcrease gets to the heart of the issue at 4 with:

    Why? Because in a pagan-secular culture, one of the most appealing things about orthodoxy is that it’s precisely not what secularity is- materialistic, relativistic, obsessed with political fads. Orthodoxy gives real certainty when we’re always been told by relativists we can’t be certain about anything. Hence, the Mainline with it’s free-for-all on interpretation of Scripture and the creeds of the Church is highly unappealing to real seekers also. I would imagine in 20-40, Mainline Protestantism will simply no longer exist in this country.

    Orthodox Christians may disagree on some issues , though on the fundamental issues of the incarnation, miracles, the passion, salvation, and eschaton they do agree. This is the point that C.S. Lewis makes in Mere Christianity. It is true that theologians among the orthodox churches verbally differ in the formulation of their creeds, though they do have carefully formulated creeds, as Don remarks.

    Basically, the mainline churches, following Scleirmacher, Harnack, and in America, Rauschenbusch, came to disbelieve in the divinity of Christ and located sin in social institutions. Today many of the mainline preachers say nothing of sin and repentance other than social sins including often the supposed evils of capitalism, nationalism and war.

    Richard Niebuhr summed up the mainline creed as follows:

    A God without wrath brought a people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the Cross.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@22), I fully understand that you believe that Jesus was merely speaking “symbolically” when he referred to his body, but it’s hardly true that your way is the “ordinary” way — what does that even mean to you? At best, it only became the “ordinary” way among (what I’d estimate to be) a minority subset of Christians in the relatively recent past of the Church. That’s a pretty qualified “ordinary”. But either way, “ordinary” or not, I don’t see how you could reasonably argue that your view on Communion is either “conservative” or “orthodox”.

    “Otherwise the disciples would have been puking at the thought of ritual cannibalism.” It’s entirely possible that, in that moment, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. The Gospels are full of such instances — not that this ever invalidates the truth of Jesus’ words, of course. But even a quick reading of 1 Corinthians 11 shows that Jesus’ disciples did not share your concerns about “cannibalism”.

    You can reject the literal interpretation of Jesus’ and Paul’s words. You can reject the conservative, orthodox teaching on this topic. I just don’t get why you want to pretend that your take on it is somehow conservative or orthodox.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@22), I fully understand that you believe that Jesus was merely speaking “symbolically” when he referred to his body, but it’s hardly true that your way is the “ordinary” way — what does that even mean to you? At best, it only became the “ordinary” way among (what I’d estimate to be) a minority subset of Christians in the relatively recent past of the Church. That’s a pretty qualified “ordinary”. But either way, “ordinary” or not, I don’t see how you could reasonably argue that your view on Communion is either “conservative” or “orthodox”.

    “Otherwise the disciples would have been puking at the thought of ritual cannibalism.” It’s entirely possible that, in that moment, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. The Gospels are full of such instances — not that this ever invalidates the truth of Jesus’ words, of course. But even a quick reading of 1 Corinthians 11 shows that Jesus’ disciples did not share your concerns about “cannibalism”.

    You can reject the literal interpretation of Jesus’ and Paul’s words. You can reject the conservative, orthodox teaching on this topic. I just don’t get why you want to pretend that your take on it is somehow conservative or orthodox.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@23), it occurs to me that the problem perhaps is that you’ve never actually met a “theological liberal”. They appear to be strange, uber-evil, nihilistic bogeymen, in your telling:

    They don’t believe in absolute Truth, which is the fundamental meaning of the Bible. They don’t believe in sin, holiness, or eternal punishment for sinners. They have no creed, and thus no motivation to remain in the “faith”, whatever that is for them.

    The funny thing is, you claim to have learned what they believe from “their denominational headquarters”. The reason I say it’s funny is because I just popped over to ELCA.org and, well, just look at the articles I can find! “Sin and forgiveness”, from a group that doesn’t believe in sin! Statements that “this church accepts the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church,” from a church that has “abandoned any legitimate creed”! You’ve so perfectly demonized “them” that you skipped straight over what they say and, it would seem, made things up. Or perhaps you were thinking of the other liberal denominations? Go ahead, tell me which ones fit your description better.

    Humorously, here is how the ELCA describes the split between the LCMS and groups that became the ELCA, on their page “Differences in Lutheran denominations”:

    Insistence by some LCMS leaders on a literalist reading of all passages of Scripture led to a rupture in the mid-1970s, which in turn resulted in the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, now part of the ELCA.</blockquote.
    Huh. They disagreed with the LCMS's "literalist reading" of the Bible. That reminds me of some commenters here … who claim they aren’t liberal like the ELCA … hmm.

    Anyhow, to your question, “do you really consider the deity of Christ, original sin, and Christ’s death and resurrection to atone for the sins of all mankind to be merely a ‘subset of Biblical teachings’ of my choosing?” Well, yes. See, if you look through the Bible and keep a rough tally of its teachings, and then compare it to the list you’ve drawn up (@18) of what’s really important, you’ll note that your list is shorter. Why is that? Why did God write all that other stuff if it isn’t important? How do I know your whittled-down list was correctly whittled down? I mean, sure, 1 Corinthians 15 is a good place to start. But so is 1 Corinthians 11. And, you know, the rest of the Bible.

    “The point of my original comment was to distinguish between those who believe in SOMETHING which they regard as truth, and those who don’t.” Yes, so you say. But as I’ve already alluded to, there are honestly very few people or churches who believe in nothing, your unfounded claims notwithstanding. And you’ve shown that even your grouping of “those who believe in SOMETHING” has nothing to do with salvation, as it includes Muslims (not to mention that I’m fairly certain there will be members of theologically liberal churches in heaven). So of what value is your (possibly false, or at least incorrectly split) dichotomy, exactly?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@23), it occurs to me that the problem perhaps is that you’ve never actually met a “theological liberal”. They appear to be strange, uber-evil, nihilistic bogeymen, in your telling:

    They don’t believe in absolute Truth, which is the fundamental meaning of the Bible. They don’t believe in sin, holiness, or eternal punishment for sinners. They have no creed, and thus no motivation to remain in the “faith”, whatever that is for them.

    The funny thing is, you claim to have learned what they believe from “their denominational headquarters”. The reason I say it’s funny is because I just popped over to ELCA.org and, well, just look at the articles I can find! “Sin and forgiveness”, from a group that doesn’t believe in sin! Statements that “this church accepts the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church,” from a church that has “abandoned any legitimate creed”! You’ve so perfectly demonized “them” that you skipped straight over what they say and, it would seem, made things up. Or perhaps you were thinking of the other liberal denominations? Go ahead, tell me which ones fit your description better.

    Humorously, here is how the ELCA describes the split between the LCMS and groups that became the ELCA, on their page “Differences in Lutheran denominations”:

    Insistence by some LCMS leaders on a literalist reading of all passages of Scripture led to a rupture in the mid-1970s, which in turn resulted in the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, now part of the ELCA.</blockquote.
    Huh. They disagreed with the LCMS's "literalist reading" of the Bible. That reminds me of some commenters here … who claim they aren’t liberal like the ELCA … hmm.

    Anyhow, to your question, “do you really consider the deity of Christ, original sin, and Christ’s death and resurrection to atone for the sins of all mankind to be merely a ‘subset of Biblical teachings’ of my choosing?” Well, yes. See, if you look through the Bible and keep a rough tally of its teachings, and then compare it to the list you’ve drawn up (@18) of what’s really important, you’ll note that your list is shorter. Why is that? Why did God write all that other stuff if it isn’t important? How do I know your whittled-down list was correctly whittled down? I mean, sure, 1 Corinthians 15 is a good place to start. But so is 1 Corinthians 11. And, you know, the rest of the Bible.

    “The point of my original comment was to distinguish between those who believe in SOMETHING which they regard as truth, and those who don’t.” Yes, so you say. But as I’ve already alluded to, there are honestly very few people or churches who believe in nothing, your unfounded claims notwithstanding. And you’ve shown that even your grouping of “those who believe in SOMETHING” has nothing to do with salvation, as it includes Muslims (not to mention that I’m fairly certain there will be members of theologically liberal churches in heaven). So of what value is your (possibly false, or at least incorrectly split) dichotomy, exactly?


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