Saturday, July 27, 2013

Did liberal Christianity win by losing?

So the New York Times recently published a provocative little piece: A Religious Legacy, With Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered.

If you care about religion in America, even a little bit, the article is worth your time.

In it, the author notes:

"In “After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History
,” published in April by Princeton University Press, Mr. Hollinger argues that the mainline won a broader cultural victory that historians have underestimated. Liberals, he maintains, may have lost Protestantism, but they won the country, establishing ecumenicalism, cosmopolitanism and tolerance as the dominant American creed."

However, it's not clear to me, given the possibility that this is true (and I think it is at least mostly true), what if anything we are to do or think about it? How can you have a moment that isn't your moment? What if you find the notion of seeking your "moment" dubious?

The article concludes:

Some scholars with roots in more traditional churches caution against overstating the importance of liberal religion. The recent work on the subject is “a nice rebalancing of the historiographical ledgers,” said Mark Noll, a historian of religion at Notre Dame and a prominent evangelical intellectual. But for a tradition to have any continuing influence, he added, it needs committed bodies in the pews. 
That point is seconded by Ms. Coffman, who worked as an editor at Christianity Today before entering academia. She currently teaches at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution where pastors in training, she said, are less likely to be savoring their broad cultural victories than debating which elements of evangelical worship they should adopt to attract a viable congregation.

At the very least, it leaves me pondering: Instead of investing our energy in triumphalist patterns of church that can attract large numbers, what would it look like for us to consider ourselves salt and yeast, leavening the next era of Christianity in ways similar to the ways our predecessors leavened our era?

Even more intriguing, is it possible to do both? Can we attract viable congregations AND influence the culture?

And what is a liberal Protestant, anyway?

Good friends listen to you enough to be able to tell you when you aren't even aware how some of your previous reflection connects with something new. A good friend recently pointed out to me that this phenomenon, of liberal Christianities influence on culture, is an example of missional networks spreading by losing control. I think he's correct, so I re-post the video of that here.

Clint Schnekloth @ Three Leadership Tables workshop from ELCA Churchwide Organization on Vimeo.


There's been a flurry of books on the topic of late, including...

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