How Churches Break: A Response to Rodney Stark

The mainline traditions, on the other hand, can help evangelicals with two things. First, although justice and works do not save (whatever that means to you), they are actions that we perform in imitation of the Jesus who loved all human beings. Feeding the poor, advocating for a living wage, trying to improve environmental conditions, are actions that -- if they grow out of our authentic faith -- are a logical expression of that faith. I cannot simply rest happy in the fate of my saved eternal soul while my brother and sister starves -- or chokes -- next to me.

Second, in the liturgy, wisdom traditions, and fixed-hour prayer to be found in the mainline traditions (and of course in Catholicism and Orthodoxy), evangelicals might find an antidote to shallow spirituality, emotionalism, or church-only practice. The mainline churches making themselves over for the 21st century are creating communities of faithful people on a faith journey, not just saved people waiting for the Second Coming, and these traditions will offer strength for the journey, and hope for the future, for them and anyone else who wants to drink from these wells.

I pray for my brothers and sisters (and I have literal brothers and sisters, and aunts, cousins, and parents, for that matter) who are American evangelicals, just as I pray for all of God's holy universal Church. All of us make up that marketplace Rodney describes in his interview, and I believe that marketplace exists not just because of human failure to reconcile, but perhaps because God is speaking in different ways to different people. However we wind up defining success or failure (and surely, isn't success also, in the words of the old evangelical hymn, rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying, even if it is only one at a time?), God has moved, is moving, and will move through faithful churches and faithful people.

Or, at least, that has been, is, and will be my prayer.

Read Greg Garrett's article "Hope Yet for Mainline Denominations" as part of the exclusive Future of Mainline Protestantism series at Patheos.


Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including the forthcoming The Other Jesus from Westminster John Knox Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.

8/9/2010 4:00:00 AM
  • Protestantism
  • Anglican/Episcopalian
  • Greg Garrett
    About Greg Garrett
    Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post,, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.
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