I was raised conservative evangelical (Southern Baptist). I went to a conservative evangelical seminary.
If I had to count on my hands how many times I heard the mantra that “conservative, ‘orthodox’ theology grows churches, while liberal, ‘heterodox’ theology kills them,” I would quickly run out of fingers.
Now there’s surely some truth in the notion that conservative churches attract more people, generally speaking, than liberal ones do. There’s enough ambiguity and uncertainty in life; many people like their religion to be unambiguous, confident, and yet pragmatic. And liberal/progressive Christianity does struggle with a kind of “catch 22″.
If your way isn’t the “only way,” why bother? If you don’t need the authority of your particular church, your dogmatic, orthodox theology, your dogmatic interpretation of Scripture, your dogmatic moral principles, for salvation, wholeness, well-being, and doing justice, why bother?
The more complicated, ambiguous, “grey” (versus black and white), the religion, the less appealing it is, right? And the closer the religion gets to the ethos (and logos) of the culture, the less necessary (and thereby appealing) it is, right?
That was the mantra. And it worked pretty well, back in the day…