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…]

Saying God is transgender

The contours of a new liberal theology, one in accord with the new ideology of sex and gender, are starting to come together.  (Liberal theologians have never found a new leftist ideology that they don’t like and won’t refashion theology around.)  A rabbi has written an op-ed in the New York Times maintaining that God is transgender.

After the jump, read why he thinks so and read a response from a Bible scholar.

The argument hinges on confusing linguistic gender with natural gender, confusing a Being who transcends gender with someone who purports to change the sex he or she was born as, and scholarly bloopers of an embarrassing scale.  But it exemplifies how liberal theologians often twist the Bible so that it can seem to support their ideology.

[Read more…]

Confessions of an ex-liberal theologian

Thomas C. Oden is a prominent theologian who formerly was a major practitioner of liberal, modernist theology.  But then, after reading the Church Fathers, he did an about face, turning to orthodox, historical Christianity.  He tells his story in A Change of Heart:  A Personal and Theological Memoir.

This is the most stimulating and illuminating book that I have read in a long time, giving an inside look at the construction of liberal theology, explaining what happened to mainstream Protestantism, and describing in novelistic detail how a prominent scholar came back to an authentic Christian faith.

Reading this book, published a couple of years ago, was an especially strange experience for me because Oden’s background and mine are so similar!  Though he is 20 years older than I am, our experiences have been so similar or at least parallel that reading about them is like reading about my own life.  [Read more…]