Monday, July 28, 2008

The New Reformation

There's quite a thought-provoking article in First Things magazine on the decline of Protestantism in the United States. Joseph Bottum's "The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline" chronicles the results of the theological shifts that are reforming the Protestant churches of America.

Reading this article reminded me of the eternal question we wrestle with as we seek a personal relationship with God by learning from the experiences of those who have searched before us: Do you want your church's faith to change you, or do you want to change your church's faith?

Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran—the name hardly matters anymore. It’s true that if you dig through the conservative manifestos and broadsides of the past thirty years, you find one distressed cry after another, each bemoaning the particular path by which this or that denomination lost its intellectual and doctrinal distinctiveness.

After you’ve read a few of these outraged complaints, however, the targets begin to blur together. The names may vary, but the topics remain the same: the uniformity of social class at the church head­quarters, the routine genuflections toward the latest political causes, the feminizing of the clergy, the unimportance of the ecclesial points that once defined the denomination, the substitution of leftist social action for Christian evangelizing, and the disappearance of biblical theology. All the Mainline churches have become essentially the same church: their histories, their theologies, and even much of their practice lost to a uniform vision of social progress. Only the names of the corporations that own their properties seem to differ.
The emptying churches don't necessarily reveal an abandonment of religious faith; in many cases, it seems, believers in absolute truths are merely seceding to new religions, although they may not define their choices that way...:

Look at the fury, for instance, with which environmentalists now attack any disputing of global warming. Such movements seek converts, not supporters, and they respond to objections the way religions respond to heretics and heathens. ...

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