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

A 50,000 year road trip

An interesting factoid from an article about Stephen Hawking saying that human beings will need to leave earth for outer space in order to survive:

University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese told Big Think that the closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. That’s 4.2 light years away, which means man could reach the star in 4.2 years – if man could travel at the speed of light.

At this point man travels at about ten thousandth of light speed, which would make that journey about 50,000 years.

via Stephen Hawking: Abandon the Earth.

More young people going into the ministry

USA Today reports that, after decades of decline, more and more young adults are going into the ministry:

For years, churches across the USA have prayed that more young people would explore careers in ministry as a wave of Baby Boomer pastors prepares to retire. Now it seems their prayers are being answered.

For the past 10 years, the estimated median age of candidates for master of divinity degrees has fallen steadily, from 34.14 in 1999 to 32.19 in 2009, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Theological Education (CSTE) at Auburn Seminary. That marks a reversal: From 1989 to 1999, the estimated median age had climbed steadily from 31.4 to 34.14.

Denominations hail this new pattern as a positive sign now, as churches increasingly depend on aging leaders and struggle to attract parishioners under age 30.

“A pastor usually attracts persons 10 years above and below their own age range,” says Gail Ford Smith, director of the Center for Clergy Excellence at the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. “If you have a 27-year-old starting a new worship service, they’re going to attract people ages (17) to 37. That really does appeal to us if we’re trying to reach mission fields of those who’ve not yet been connected to God through Jesus Christ.”

Filling seminary halls with people in their 20s is hardly new. In the 1950s and early ’60s, most students were fresh out of college. But the 1980s and ’90s increasingly brought more men and women who had spent two or three decades in business or raising families. For churches, a young-adult face in the pulpit became a rarity.

Today, theological schools are seeing younger students enroll in M.Div. programs. At Denver Seminary, the average age has dropped from 43 in 2000 to 32 in 2010. At Duke Divinity School, it’s dropped from 29 in 2007 to 28 in 2010. At Yale Divinity School, the average incoming age declined from 31 in 2006 to 29 in 2010.

Several factors help explain the new trend. One is demographic: America has more twentysomethings now than 10 and 20 years ago as children of Baby Boomers come of age, says Mark Wilhelm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

CSTE director Barbara Wheeler speculates that this may reflect “cultural forces, turning back toward altruistic professions after turning away from them for a while. Maybe after the recession, making money doesn’t look so good and other kinds of satisfaction have more appeal.”

via More young adults heeding pastoral call –

This is about ages rather than numbers, so it isn’t clear if the number of seminarians as a whole is going up.  That’s what’s needed.  I’m somewhat skeptical of the claim that pastors tend to attract new members 10-years-on-either side of their own age.  (Can any of you confirm or refute that?)  Still, this is surely good news.

Pardon Billy the Kid?

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is considering issuing a pardon for Billy the Kid, the wild West gunslinger who killed as many as 21 men.  The descendants of Pat Garrett, the lawman who shot the outlaw in 1881, are opposing the idea.  See A pardon for the notorious Billy the Kid? –

Billy the Kid

Julia Roberts converts to Hinduism

Movie star Julia Roberts–the ex-wife of Missouri Synod Lutheran Lyle Lovett–has converted to Hinduism, along with her entire family.  She is starring in the movie version of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love about a woman who does the same thing.  Maybe Hinduism will become the next religious fad in this country.  It ties into postmodernism in an interesting way, positing that the objective universe is an illusion (cf. “there is no objective truth”) and that god is to be found within the self.  Also, the issue for Hinduism is not so much sin–the body and what we do with it being part of the illusion–as escaping the physical realm by delving inside the self.  It’s a good way to be spiritual without being religious.

See Under God: Julia Roberts is Hindu: Is America ready for a Hindu sweetheart? – Elizabeth Tenety.

The decline of telephone conversations

Despite the cell phone revolution, people are talking on the telephone less and less.  The phones are increasingly being used for texting and for their other functions instead of calling people in real time and talking to them.  This is true of the younger generations especially, leading to conflicts with their parents and grandparents who complain that “you never call.”  So says this article:

A generation of e-mailing, followed by an explosion in texting, has pushed the telephone conversation into serious decline, creating new tensions between baby boomers and millennials — those in their teens, 20s and early 30s.

Nearly all age groups are spending less time talking on the phone; boomers in their mid-50s and early 60s are the only ones still yakking as they did when Ma Bell was America’s communications queen. But the fall of the call is driven by 18- to 34-year-olds, whose average monthly voice minutes have plunged from about 1,200 to 900 in the past two years, according to research by Nielsen. Texting among 18- to 24-year-olds has more than doubled in the same period, from an average of 600 messages a month two years ago to more than 1,400 texts a month, according to Nielsen.

Young people say they avoid voice calls because the immediacy of a phone call strips them of the control that they have over the arguably less-intimate pleasures of texting, e-mailing, Facebooking or tweeting. They even complain that phone calls are by their nature impolite, more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.

Kevin Loker, 20, a rising junior at George Mason University, said he and his school friends rarely just call someone, for fear of being seen as rude or intrusive. First, they text to make an appointment to talk. “They’ll write, ‘Can I call you at such-and-such time?’ ” said Loker, executive editor of, a student media site. “People want to be polite. I feel like, in general, people my age are not as quick on their feet to just talk on the phone.”

The bias against unexpected phone calls stems in good part from the way texting and e-mail have conditioned young people to be cautious about how they communicate when they are not face to face, experts say.

Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University who studies how people converse in everyday life, said older generations misinterpret the way younger people use their cellphones. “One student told me that it takes her days to call her parents back and the parents thought she was intentionally putting them off,” she said. “But the parents didn’t get it. It’s the medium. With e-mails, you’re at the computer, writing a paper. With phone calls, it’s a dedicated block of time.”

via Texting generation doesn’t share boomers’ taste for talk.

I am not young, but my sensibility agrees with that.  I don’t like to talk on the telephone.  It seems like an imposition on people who are not expecting my call.  I usually don’t mind it when people call me–that is, members of my family or job-related folks–but calls from people I don’t know really can be significant interruptions of a usually busy day.  I much prefer communicating via e-mail.  (To prove that I am not young but old, I haven’t picked up the habit of texting.)  Are any of you the same way?