The Problem with Pietism

Last night, I was at a public conversation between two evangelicals (more on that soon). After the the dialogue, there there was a private gathering for the interlocuters and some others, with a table of finger food and a few bottles of wine.

The evangelical leaders didn’t drink any wine. One looked at the wine in my hand and made a comment to the effect of, “Looks good; wish I could have some.” I took that as a challenge and spent the rest of the evening trying to ply him with wine or get him to join us at the Town Hall Brewery afterwards. He didn’t bite, nor did the supporters of his ministry who surrounded him.

At one point I exclaimed, “You know, you can love Jesus and drink wine!” to which he chuckled uncomfortably. He then told me a story about a very famous evangelical leader who sent the organization’s custodian to the store to buy his wine.

I didn’t grow up in cultural evangelicalism, nor in pietism, so I can’t quite say that I understand from an insider’s perspective. However, I’ve been told about it. The pietistic behavior among evangelicals is an attempt to maintain “holiness,” as exhorted in biblical passages like,

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Megachurches Make You High

According to a new study, attending worship at a megachurch is similar to getting high:

By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

Published on LiveScience

DENVER — More and more Americans are spending their Sundays at megachurches, enormous churches with congregations numbering in the thousands. Despite the size of these churches, members don’t get lost in the crowd, new research finds.

In fact, a new study of 12 representative megachurches spread across the country finds that the size of these churches is a major part of their appeal. Members report that the experience of worshiping with thousands is intoxicating, the researchers find.

“It’s an addicting experience, it’s so large, it’s so huge,” said study researcher Katie Corcoran, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Washington. “One respondent said you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game.”

Read the rest: Megachurch Study Suggests Big Congregations Make Worship ‘Intoxicating’ Experience.

I have been to megachurches, of course, and they always make me cynical. But I’m sure that some readers happily attend them, so tell us what you like about your megachurch.

I’m More Evangelical than You

Jon Fitzgerald, who no longer uses the term “evangelical” to describe himself, weighs in on a topic that I’ve often pondered on this blog: What, Exactly, Is an Evangelical? He notes, among other things, how ham-fisted the mainstream media is with the term:

When it became clear that in the popular mind the word evangelical was more a social and political construct than a theological one, it set off a scramble to accurately self-identify in books, articles, and blog posts among evangelicals of all stripes. There are those who defend the theological roots of the term and wish to reclaim it from social rebranding, and others who recognize their own views in the social and political categorization and thus accept the term as is. Still others reject the label outright, ceasing to identify as evangelical altogether.

The result of all this hand wringing and word wrangling is that, in 2012, it is more difficult than ever to know what one means by the term. Today, we have what I call shades of evangelicalism. The term is not going away, but the people it is meant to describe are becoming more and more diverse—politically, theologically, and socially. At the same time, the media is using the term with far greater frequency.

Read the rest of Jon’s column: The 50 Shades of Evangelicalism | Politics | Religion Dispatches.

Why Liberal Christianity (Too Often) Sucks

Photo by Courtney Perry (All rights reserved)

Among the most interesting memes floating around the blogosphere this summer is the will-liberal-christianity-survive-or-will-it-die-or-is-there-a-great-liberal-awakening-happening? meme. For those keeping score at home, Ross Douthat published a book and then wrote a much ballyhooed column for the NYTimes.

Then Diana Butler Bass, who also has a new book out, pushed back at HuffPo.

Then Douthat responded.

Now Scot McKnight has weighed in.

For those keeping score at home, Douthat is an avowed conservative and religious (Catholic) traditionalist. Butler Bass is a liberal Anglican who has, until her latest book, been a cheerleader for the sustainability of mainline denominations. McKnight is a left-leaning evangelical who has no truck with nor commitment to any denomination.

Here’s where I think they each score points:

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