Does mainline liberal Protestantism have just 23 years left?

512px-Ruins_of_Holyrood_Abbey,_EdinburghMore on the plight of mainline liberal Protestantism. . . .

Evangelical scholar Ed Stetzer calculates that at the current rate of decline, mainline liberal Protestant churches will cease to exist in 23 years.

He crunches the numbers and suggests the reasons.  For example, “Over the past few decades, some mainline Protestants have abandoned central doctrines that were deemed ‘offensive’ to the surrounding culture,” but that strategy doesn’t work.

Wait a minute:  Isn’t that the sort of thing that we have been hearing from the evangelical church growth movement?

Stetzer doesn’t really believe that these churches will cease to exist and he laments their decline.  But would it be good if they cease to exist, or is a liberal church better than nothing?  Is there a point to institutional religion without the religion?  Doesn’t that leave just an institution–with all its trappings of bureaucracy, self-protection, and regulation–without a purpose?

I would say that the rumors of the death of mainline churches may be greatly exaggerated.  There still have their Christian pastors, theologians, congregations, and members. But their future may be in their becoming more conservative.  This may be happening.  The Methodists, for example, have embraced the pro-life cause and show some skepticism about the gay agenda, though the church is still torn over those issues.  Conservatives in those denominations often struggle over they should stay and fight–until they are thrown out–or leave, thereby abandoning their church to the liberals.  And it is theoretically possible that some of today’s secularists might start attending the increasingly secularist church bodies.
[Read more…]

Shouldn’t liberals be going to liberal churches?

6209348934_ccf5e3159a_zMainstream liberal Protestantism is dying, with a decreasing number of people bothering to go to their churches anymore.  This is ironic because, in many ways, the message of those liberal congregations is now widely shared among our cultural elite:  be tolerant of all; be progressive; don’t worry about the supernatural; conform to the culture.  But though the cultural elite has embraced the social gospel of liberal Protestantism, hardly any of them bother with liberal churches.

Ross Douthat, himself a conservative Catholic, argues in the New York Times that those who are liberal politically and culturally should start attending a liberal church.  Even out-and-out non-believers in the supernatural will experience little conflicts with their beliefs.  And there are benefits to church attendance that would be good for them.

Douthat says that it would be good for the cause of liberalism to be grounded once again in some kind of church.  Liberalism, to have an impact, needs an institutional home.  He also throws out this priceless line, referring to recent tendencies:  “Liberal Protestantism without the Protestantism tends to gradually shed the liberalism as well, transforming into an illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.”

Read what he says, excerpted and linked after the jump, but then consider:  Why is it that liberals tend not to go to liberal churches?  Can you have the benefits of going to a church without holding to its beliefs?  Why is mainline liberal Protestantism in such a state of decline?  What happens to a Christianity purged of its supernatural elements?

[Read more…]

Theology & church growth

Boston_Garden_church_serviceCanadian researchers conducted a study of mainline Protestant churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, Uniting, and Evangelical Lutheran [the liberal denomination, as opposed to the confessional Lutheran Church of Canada]), comparing traits in congregations that were growing and those that are not.

They found that congregations that were theologically conservative are growing, and those that were theologically liberal are not.  (Go here for the complete study.)

After the jump, religion columnist Terry Mattingly reports on the findings, giving the breakdown on specific theological points that growing churches affirm and shrinking churches reject.

Notice that this study applies to mainline Protestant churches; that is, to denominations that are, on the whole, already on the liberal side, at least in their national leadership.  I’m curious about conservative denominations, some of which (such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and even, as I recall, the Southern Baptists) are stalled in their growth, though they aren’t declining as much as their liberal counterparts.

Granted that growth is not the main measurement of a church’s effectiveness and that growth is contingent on many different factors, such as location and demographics, this at least shows that orthodox theology is NOT an obstacle to growth, as has sometimes been implied. [Read more…]

Thomas Oden, ex-liberal theologian turned classical Christian, has died

Thomas OdenThomas Oden has died.  A prominent liberal theologian who replaced pastoral care with psychotherapy, Oden converted to classical, historical Christianity when he read the church fathers.  An Oklahoman (whose life in many ways paralleled mine), Oden gave us the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, insightful work on postmodernism, and much more.

Please read my review of his autobiographical memoir, A Change of Heart:  A Personal and Theological Memoir.  Then read that book for an inside look at how liberal theology took over the mainline denominations and how he broke free through the Gospel of Christ.

[Read more…]

What about the Christian left?

A listener whose religious beliefs make him a political progressive asked NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben why we always hear about the Christian right, but seldom hear about the Christian left.  Read her answer, after the jump, and then consider the points I make. [Read more…]

Church removes minister for her atheism

We have blogged about the case of the atheist pastor.  Gretta Vosper has been a minister in a Toronto congregation of the United Church of Canada, where she preaches atheism.  Contrary to my prediction, the plenty liberal denomination has finally removed her from office “because she does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.”

Now comes the indignation.  In a story about the action excerpted and linked after the jump, a member who describes himself as “agnostic, an atheist, a non-believer” says that he wouldn’t be attending church if it weren’t for Pastor Vosper. [Read more…]