Churches, sects, denominations, and non-denominations

Sociologist of religion Peter Berger (an ELCA Lutheran) discusses the phenomenon of the Sunday Assembly, which we blogged about yesterday.  He said the fact that atheists too are gathering together following the pattern of religious activities demonstrates the almost universal human need to worship (or the equivalent) and to join together with others who hold common religious or philosophical convictions.

In the course of his discussion, he draws on older sociologists who distinguish between different kinds of religious institutions:  a church (which a person is born into) and a sect (which a person chooses to join).  Such a distinction, it seems to me, grows out of the European state church.  American religion, according to Dr. Berger, has added the concept of the denomination, which a person may be born into or choose freely to join.  Dr. Berger further says that denominations of one sort or another–in the sense of “a community of value, religious or otherwise,” have become inevitable in America, extending even to atheists.

After the jump, read his argument and some questions I have about “non-denominational” churches.  [Read more...]

A sociologist looks at Progressive vs. Conservative Christianity

In the context of a discussion about a growing movement of conservative Catholicism in England, Peter Berger–a giant in the field of sociology and an ELCA Lutheran–discusses some misconceptions about the appeal of progressive vs. conservative Christianity.  He says that “supernaturalism” increases a church’s appeal (despite Mainline Protestants’ [and I would add some ostensible conservatives'] attempt to appeal to the age by playing that  down by replacing the supernatural gospel with morality, self-help psychology, or politics).  He says that “sexual repression,” though, probably does dampen the appeal of conservative religion. [Read more...]

Maybe Christians aren’t so bad after all

Bradley Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, has published a book entitled Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

This is the book that provides the research we blogged about earlier that Christians who faithfully attend church do not, in fact, as is often said, have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.  What’s especially interesting to me is that Professor Wright takes on the source of so many of these statistics the evangelical pollster George Barna.   Barna defines “evangelical Christian” as someone who has had a born-again experience.  Wright looks rather at church attendance as evidence of Christian commitment.  (You can buy the book, giving the Cranach blog a commission, by clicking any of these links.)

Here are product descriptions from Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly

A sociologist at the University of Connecticut, Wright examines recent survey data on Christian evangelicals to see if they substantiate the often misguided and hyperbolic public perceptions of this faith group. Separating the wheat from the chaff, he explains how some poorly worded, ill-sampled statistics give the wrong impression of evangelicals and why people should avoid giving them credence. Though he often blames the media for gleefully reporting bad news about devout Christians, he doesn’t spare evangelical polemicists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for their false exaggerations of evangelical shortcomings. His biggest target may be the pollster George Barna, whose surveys on Christianity have generated intense controversy. Wright’s colloquial writing style gives this volume the feel of a folksy college lecture series. The abundant use of graphics adds to the impression the book’s genesis was cribbed from introductory sociology of religion classes. The conclusions drawn here–no surprise–are that the most committed Christians practice what they preach, performing better than the rest of the population on a host of social measures including divorce, domestic violence, sexual misconduct, crime, substance abuse, and everyday honesty.

Product Description

According to the media, the church is rapidly shrinking, both in numbers and in effectiveness. But the good news is, much of the bad news is wrong. Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what’s really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those of nonbelievers; Christians give more to charity than others do. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today.

via Amazon.com: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media (9780764207464): Bradley R.E. Wright: Books.

 


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