The Rise of the Chicken Little Evangelical Blogger

John Spong

14 years ago John Shelby Spong said “Christianity must change or die.” Episcopalians have been doing both ever since.

Hebrews 11:32-38:

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

That account, of course, was written sometime during the 1st century. Since that time, a number of other horrifying things have been done to God’s people–they have been fed to the beasts in the Roman arenas, slaughtered by gladiators, beheaded, roasted in ovens, drawn and quartered, racked, and burned at the stake. They’ve had their eyes gouged out and tongues torn out of their mouths. They’ve been drowned to death. In more recent years, they’ve been cast into prison, whipped, electrocuted, and had slivers of wood driven underneath their finger and toenails, separating the nail from the appendage.

Through all this opposition, the church has survived and even continued to thrive. As the great hymn writer has said, “The church shall never perish / her dear Lord to defend / to guide, sustain, and cherish / is with her to the end.” That is the story of the church up till now. It’s the story of an institution that, despite moral failings from within and sometimes brutal repression from without, has continued to march on and grow. And while those who hated the church have long since died, the church marches on across time, “terrible as an army with banners,” as Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters. Hold these words and stories in your mind (and, for that matter, your hearts) as you read these words:

No, the Church shouldn’t change for millennials…but I think the Church must (and will) change along with millennials. In other words, we need not compromise the historical tenets of the Christian faith to recognize that this generation has something valuable to contribute to the future of Christianity, as does Generation X, the Boomers, and the generations before them. The article wasn’t intended to be a list of demands, but rather an expression of desires, a casting of vision and an articulation of my hope for the Church. Obviously, the real work begins when we come together in community to do the hard, daily work of reconciliation, listening, serving, and worshipping in spirit and truth.

That comes from Rachel Held Evans, in a follow-up post to her CNN article that was shared over 150,000 times via Facebook. Upon reading such a post, one is tempted to simply point out that if you compare the churches that accommodated modernity with those that made some effort to resist it, it’s the accommodationalists that are dying out, with the Episcopalians leading the way. They’re on pace to be completely extinct by 2037.

Yet when we state the argument in such pragmatic terms, we run the risk of missing why comments like the quotation above are so problematic. It’s true that the younger evangelicals doing their Chicken Little routine are completely ignoring what happened to the last generation to insist that “Christianity must change or die.” But the far more amusing thing is not the historical ignorance on display in such comments, but the ecclesiastical arrogance of such declarations. Hearing it, one can’t help being reminded of the late George Carlin’s rant about environmentalists intent on “saving the planet”:

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles…hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages…And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?

What Carlin says of the planet may be said of the church as well. Review that list at the top again–we’ve been burned, beheaded, disemboweled, and flayed alive and come through it all. We’ve been killed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve fought wars, we’ve been sent off to concentration camps and gulags. There have been many times in our history where the greatest hindrance to joining the church was that getting baptized could lead to imprisonment, torture, or even death. And through all that, the church has endured. But in the minds of certain Christian bloggers, privileged white millennials and their nebulously defined intuitions and impulses pose a greater threat to the long-term flourishing of the church than the Colosseum.

Such an astonishing display of vanity calls to mind one of Chesterton’s finest quips: In The Everlasting ManGKC tells the story of a conversation he had with an author named Grant Allen who wrote a book titled “The Evolution of the Idea of God.” Upon hearing the title, Chesterton remarked that it would be far more interesting to read a book by God titled “The Evolution of the Idea of Grant Allen.” So it is with this latest iteration of the “Christianity must change or die,” crowd.

Just to be clear: The problem is not with the simple (and obvious) observation that the church changes over time. Of course it does–it’s a human institution. The problem is with this preoccupation certain millennials have with how the church will change alongside millennials at the expense of asking the far more important question, which is how millennials will change to conform to the church.

photo credit: Scott Griessel via photopin cc
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  • http://danieldarling.com Daniel Darling

    Jake, you absolutely nailed it here. Jesus said, “I will build my church.”

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Excellent. Thanks.

  • becky

    Great perspective. Thanks!

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    I think that anyone that regularly reads RHE that thinks that she is not aware of the transformative power of the church and Christ is not paying attention.

    I get that people are upset at the questions. But we are making a false dichotomy if we say that the conversation must be “how can the church change’ or ‘how can we be changed by the church’.

    Rachel has expressed her love for the church, but also her frustration with parts of the church. As has almost everyone else that has ever been a part of a human institution.

    I honestly do not get why her posts have become such a firestorm. Lots of other people have said similar things for a long time. Some of them are heralded (inappropriately) as being the best thing since sliced bread. And other are (just as inappropriately) condemned as heretics for saying virtually the same things.

    I don’t think that RHE is either heretic or savior. I think she is trying to ask honest questions. I don’t think she is right in some of her answers. But that does not mean that the firestorm is appropriate either.

    • jakemeador

      Adam – There’s something substantively different about the way she asks some of her questions, as evidenced by her treatment of certain verses in her recent book. For instance, I thought her treatment of Proverbs 31 was actually really helpful and interesting. But her treatment of other scriptural texts was to begin with the assumption that they’re ridiculous and outdated and then take practical steps to demonstrate that. I think some of the questions she raises are really good, honest questions and others are deeply problematic. Kathy Keller touched on that in her review of the book for The Gospel Coalition.

      Matt really said all that needs to be said about this kind of questioning in End of Our Exploring. Alastair Roberts also commented on it in a great post at his blog a few months back:

      “Rob Bell’s theology seldom approaches you head on. It typically comes at you couched in a question, insinuated in an anecdote, embedded in a quotation from one of his friends, or smuggled in a metaphor. Its non-confrontational and conversational tone invites ready agreement. Even if you don’t agree, Bell hasn’t pinned himself down. He’s only asked a question, quoted an acquaintance, or related an anecdote, and could easily distance himself from any of them.

      We aren’t accustomed to arguing against metaphors, quotations, questions, images, and anecdotes, Bell’s stock-in-trade. We often don’t see them coming, and when we do, we are often uncertain of how to respond to them. Artfully employing such tools, someone like Bell can move you much of the way to his position before you even realize what is happening.

      Bell’s distinctive rhetorical style is taken straight from advertising (before writing this post, I bet myself that Bell had studied something along the lines of advertising or psychology in the past: a quick Google search revealed that I was correct). His fragmentary and impressionistic statements, single sentence paragraphs, vague, one-size-fits all observations, generous deployment of unspecific adjectives, frequent uses of the second person singular to describe states of feeling, and heavy dependence upon narrative, anecdote, question, quotation, metaphor, and image are all fairly typical of advertising style. ….

      If you read many blogs, especially from a certain brand of progressive evangelical, you will notice similar styles of writing and thinking in operation. Sentences are brief, there are numerous single sentence paragraphs, sentences in bold, or fragmented statements. Anecdotes and engaging narratives are consistently employed. Rhetorical questions, potent images, and controlling metaphors are used extensively. Such writing typically persuades by getting the reader to feel something. The responses to such pieces are almost always emotive and affirming, very seldom critical (and critical responses are hardly ever interacted with carefully).

      In an age dominated by advertising and the manipulation of feelings for the purpose of persuasion, the proliferation of conversational and self-revelatory styles of discourse, designed to capture people’s feelings, where logical argumentation once prevailed, shouldn’t surprise us. Where persuasion occurs through feeling, truth becomes bound up in the authentic communication of the ‘self’ and its passion, rather than in the more objective criteria of traditional discourses, where truth was tested by realities and practices outside of ourselves. This is truth in the mode of sharing one’s personal ‘sacred story’.”

      (Link: http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/rob-bell-and-don-draper-the-ad-mans-gospel/)

      • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

        I don’t fundamentally disagree with Alastair Robert’s evaluation, just his point. His point seems to be that Bell is engaging people inappropriately and if he would only argue correctly everyone would see it.

        But that seems to seriously short change many of Bell supporters. To suggest that Bell only has supporters because he is tricking them into supporting him seems wrong on its face. That isn’t what I see in reality. I disagree with Bell (and RHE) on a number of points. But I don’t see how saying their questions are inappropriate is really engaging them, their supporters or solving any problems.

        Either you want to engage or you don’t want to engage. Suggesting that RHE or Bell are asking inappropriate questions does nothing to actually engage those that are actually interested in the questions they are asking.

        • jakemeador

          Adam – Can you expand on that because if I’m understanding you correctly, I disagree, but I want to make sure I’m understanding.

          My basic point is that there are bad ways to frame a discussion. And if you come across a really poor way of framing it, the most responsible thing to do is not to pick a team, but to say “wait a minute, why are we asking the question this way?” For example, if someone wants to talk about national security… great. If they start the conversation by asking, “Should we bomb every nation in the Middle East or should we completely disarm our military?” I would say “That’s a bad way to frame it and if I answer the question as you’ve framed it, then our conversation is doomed from the start.”

          To take another example, in one of her posts RHE talks about being tired of questions with predetermined answers. Well, if she’s complaining about the church’s aversion to careful reflection and conversation, we can have a conversation about that b/c I share that concern. But the way she’s framed the topic is fundamentally problematic because she’s subtly attacked predetermined answers of any kind. But sometimes predetermined answers are essential–for example, when we’re talking about creedal questions. If someone asks “Is God the Father the maker of heaven and earth?” you better believe there’s a predetermined answer.

          Anyway, I’d like to hear you expand on your comment above b/c I want to be sure I’m following you.

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            Long response that crashed. So I will try to be more concise. I agree there are good and bad ways to ask a question. But there is also good and bad ways (I would prefer the words more charitable and less charitable) ways to read someone.

            So on your example of RHE’s predetermined answers, that is the basic requirement for a conversation. If what is going on is a teaching, then you can teach using socratic method or the questions of the catechism. But if you are having a conversation, you must be open to change.

            I completely agree that there are conversations I just don’t want to have any more. I would prefer not to discuss women i ministry with some people because I know their position and they know mine and there isn’t any further we can go. But I can talk to those people about other issues.

            An example of this is the difference between John Paul II and Francis on women as priest. John Paul essentially said that you can no longer have a conversation about women as priest. Francis has indicated that he would like to converse about the issue. In reality I think both have the same position, but it is the attitude either for or against conversation.

            In the end, you cannot converse with everyone. And you should not. We do not have that much time in the world. But if you are going to converse with someone, then it should be more about having a conversation than making rhetorical points.

            Because frankly, being told your question is wrong all the time is about as fun as talking to someone that is constantly correcting your grammar. That does not mean the correction is not right, but it is primarily teaching not conversation.

          • jakemeador

            Adam – Thank you. That’s a helpful way to put it. The example of the recent popes is helpful. I think comparing Benedict and Francis could perhaps even be more to the point.

            Anyway, thanks for the pushback and for the conversation. I’ve got a follow-up I’m already thinking through and this exchange has helped me think a bit better about that. Thanks.

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            (I don’t think I was more concise)

  • David Sessions

    I think there’s a bit of bad faith involved in responding to Rachel as if she’s a short-sighted “Chicken Little” for taking the issue of how church membership is changing in the current cultural context as a serious topic of analysis. If the way the church changes in 21st-century America is such a banal, uninteresting fact, why is every writer at Mere-O also concerned to have a say in the matter? If nothing can be done to shape the way the church is changing in relation to current cultural issues, why do you and other writers here address those very issues, and why are you all involved in various broader projects that having improving and shaping Christianity as a goal?

    You obviously don’t really believe that Christians being concerned about the direction of the church – and working to direct it toward or away from a particular future – is unimportant. You simply disagree with Rachel about what that future should be. So instead of disputing her on the substance, you are trying to portray her concerns themselves as illegitimate and present yourself as somehow above them. Though obviously I can’t read your mind, it seems dishonest to act as if you and others at Mere-O are not concerned about Christianity’s downward membership trends (across denominations, not just the “liberal” ones), and that it doesn’t play a part in your constructive thinking about the church.

    Finally: I get the annoyance with hand-wringing about millenials, and that the same article about it has been written dozens of times by the same people. But you are mischaracterizing Rachel to reduce her perspective to the “nebulously defined intuitions of privileged white millenials.” Just because she framed this particular article with millenials doesn’t mean that’s the limit of her perspective. But that insult is in keeping with your overall tone, and with that of most other male bloggers who take it upon themselves to put Rachel in her place. I’m still looking forward to one of you disagreeing with her without trying to paint her as frivolous and ignorant.

    • jakemeador

      David – There’s several points that all need further discussion in her post than what I was able to do above. Anthony Bradley nailed one of the main points–stop the hand-wringing and just join the UMC already. Koyzis nailed another at FT–the people converting to high church traditions are decidedly not doing so b/c they’re looking for a more liberal, progressive church.

      One other point that needs further discussion is the difference between speaking prophetically to the church and publicly complaining about the church. If you look back a little bit, plenty of other Christians have made similar complaints about the church being hypocritical, failing to live up to its moral standards, etc. Keith Green was saying it in the 80s. Francis Schaeffer was saying it in the 60s and 70s. It’s not a new criticism. Heck, I’m reading Stott’s Radical Disciple right now and he’s registering some pretty strong criticisms of the church and Stott was the consummate evangelical. But whereas Schaeffer, Green, Stott, etc. affiliated themselves with a specific church body and set about addressing the problems from within as an affectionate member of a visible, public community, Rachel steadily refuses to identify with a local church or even ecclesial tradition (hence Bradley’s critique).

      I should add that I wouldn’t strike so hard if I thought Rachel was some kind of untalented hack. That’s a waste of time. I’m writing about this because I think she’s actually a really talented writer with a lot of valuable things to say. For example, parts of her recent book are actually quite good. I talked about that when I reviewed the book here. She’s a talented writer and has some really good things to say about the Christian life.

      But her sense of her relationship to the church and the way she talks about it is just really, really unhelpful. If it’s any help, I’ve struggled w/ the same thing myself for many, many years. I grew up in a fundamentalist church that wouldn’t even allow women to pray aloud with men in the church. So I’ve seen the ugliness, hypocrisy, etc. And I wrote about it in the same unhelpful, detached way for many, many years. But at some point you have to be able to take the Augustinian route and say, “the church may be a whore, but she is my mother.” That can be a really difficult thing. Again, I know from experience. But if you can’t make that move, I just don’t know how you can write about the church Christianly, recognizing yourself as a member of it and not just a critic. There has to be an affection for the church, not simply as an institution, but as a body of flawed people beloved by God. And that doesn’t come across in her writing about the church.

      • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

        It seems as though the major rub is that RHE talks about the church being a whore, and you echo “my mother,” but something to note is that the phrase bares both. I think its fair to say that we are all a little skittish of both the abuse of “connected” churches that look like cults or cereal church shoppers. Perhaps we fall at fault and cannot believe that RHE is faithful too the church, and she might as well accuse us of being unable to her sin as a whore.

        • jakemeador

          That is a distinct possibility. I suspect there’s more to it than that, but it is entirely possible that this is a question of emphases more than anything else.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      David,

      This is a really good comment, and I’m grateful to have you chime in. Thanks.

      I’d point out that the final line of Jake’s post seems, to me, to be the money line and where the difference is between Rachel and us. I think there’s a fundamentally different ecclesiology at work, and that takes shape in the sort of prescriptiveness that each of us offer for “the church” and the way those prescriptions are set forth. Rachel indicated on Twitter that “there should be a give and take, a growing alongside one another” between us and the church. I think that sort of symmetry connotes an ecclesiology that gets things fundamentally wrong; the church has a lot more to give me than I have to give her. To use a Chestertonian approach, we do not make the church, but the church *makes us.*

      I think if we lose that asymmetry, then we lose the ability to hold together what Rachel says she wants, namely, the ability to adhere to traditional orthodoxy while addressing our own situation. It seems to me to be a fast way to reforming the church in our own image, as we are perpetually tempted to do with God.

      Which is to say, I think there’s more substance here in terms of the disagreement than you are granting.

      But let me make two other points:

      1) I think you’re right about all of us at Mere-O having an interest in the church in its relationship to contemporary society, and our own ideas of what that relationship should look like. As the Lead Writer at this here sight, though, I have moved over the past two years toward both a greater comfort with not “making a difference” in any meaningful sense or building that in as a part of our mission. You can look at the long talk I did on the vocation of writing, for instance, to see how I even commend that fundamental disinterest as a part of the writer’s position toward the world. I also think my responses to last year’s election and some of the cultural questions since then bear that out. If people read us, great. We won’t turn them away. But I don’t think we’re writing “to change the world,” either. I’m not sure my ecclesiology or my understanding of God’s providence permits that sort of hubris. (I should note that I’m still very much in the middle of working this out, and leave myself the room to revise this again next month. That room always exists, anyway, but I feel impelled to name it for some reason!)

      2) I’m a little surprised to see you, of all people, suggest that the “tone” here is due to male bloggers taking on Rachel’s work. Given that you’ve been one of my favorite sparring partners in the past and have been subject to some of my most snarky public words ever, I would hope you would give me the credit of knowing that we save our sharpest words for people we respect and whose opinions we take seriously. : )

      But given that you are looking for males who have written about Rachel’s work respectfully, might I suggest you use the “Search” bar above and look for her name? You’ll see several engagements with her in the past here, by both Jake and I, that may be (if I do say so myself) examples of the sort of approach you are looking for. I don’t think we or I always get our tone and approach just right. But I don’t think Jake is being malicious, either.

      • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

        Could you expand on point #1? I’m trying to understand more clearly. It seems you’re describing providence? I guess I’m a little puzzled because outside of God we are a collective the Church. It’s a bit like saying that democracy is more that the people in it.

        So then the question is what is this “God element” the the church? In a way I fear the danger of this line of thought is that it leaves so little up to us that we are no longer active enough to serve God or be a Bride for His affection. I don’t think it’s an undo risk to say that we make up the church, but instead the same reason we as individual must seek God.

      • Luke W

        Is God bound to the “ecclesiastical asymmetry” you require here? Do we have scriptural or historical support that He only guides the church through the voices that speak from this specific philosophical position?

        It seems dangerously dismissive. Based on the mouthpiece He used to speak to Balaam, God seems willing to use a wide variety of voices to speak when we’re deaf to the usual channels.

        • Hermonta Godwin

          Luke,

          One must keep in mind that Balaam’s donkey was confirming what God had already stated. The issue is not the voices but instead the content of those voices.

          • Luke W

            And that underscores my point. Matt posed the idea that regardless of the content, if a person speaks out about the church from a position of “ecclesiastical symmetry” their voice is suspect. Rachel doesn’t claim there should be a give and take between us and God – that would be a faulty position and worthy of suspicion. She calls for a give and take between us and the church, which is not an arrogant position unless we equate the authority of the church with God’s authority. We’ve condemned the Catholic church for such presumptions. Taken fully, I’m afraid that’s where Matt’s point may lead.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            I disagree that we condemn the Catholic church for claiming the speak on behalf of God. We condemn it for being wrong not for claiming to be able to understand and proclaim what God’s word says.

            Also RHE is not asking questions but is instead making demands/desires where the Church is to go. If she wishes to have a fair hearing then she needs to demonstrate that she understands the “historical tenets” that she believes are not to be compromised.

  • http://www.jasonhague.com/ Jason Hague

    Ahhh, perspective… Thanks Jake. This is fantastic!

  • http://cameronebrooks.com/ Cameron E. Brooks

    I get some of your concerns, Jake. But consider this for a minute: Let’s assume at least some of RHE’s concerns about the Church are true–that it has replaced Jesus with other things. If that’s the case–if we see something serious amiss–*should* millenials (or anyone else) change to conform to the Church? Or, in that case, would you recommend another course of action?

  • http://apmarshall.wordpress.com/ Alexander Marshall

    It feels like your last paragraph undermines your argument here. Throughout this post you seem to be suggesting that the change advocated by Millennial Bloggers like Evans is irrelevant/unnecessary whining at best and harmful distractions at worst. Then you suddenly change gears and say that change is a natural and inevitable part of the Christian tradition. Which raises a couple of questions: First, if change is normal and natural, how do we evaluate what is acceptable change and what isn’t? You’ve asserted throughout this post that the change advocated by RHE and like-minded bloggers is not acceptable, but by introducing the idea of acceptable change you raise a question of differentiating the two and you haven’t told us how to do that. Second, who gets to make these differentiations? And how do we account for differences in opinion? You seem to assume that the “inevitable change” will be obvious to everyone without considering the possibility that perhaps the fact that we are having this conversation is evidence that it is not so obvious.

    I also want to echo what David said about “bad faith” in this response and what Adam noted about how RHE does regularly consider the ways in which her faith challenge and transform her. What’s interesting to me is that I think if someone like Piper or Justin Taylor had written an article about how the gimmicks of late 20th century evangelical worship were ineffective and we needed to return to more traditional and relational styles of Christian community and worship everyone would have accepted it out of hand. But because it was said by RHE, it must be refuted at face value. The result is the strange contradiction in this piece of condemning those who advocate change even when that “change” is a call to leave behind recent changes and return to a richer tradition.

    • Hermonta Godwin

      Alexander,

      I believe the section of the RHE quote concerning the historical tenets is the key. If the change compromises the historical tenets then we rule it out of bounds. So the question reduces to what are those tenets. If we keep our eyes on those items then looking at her list of demands/desires can be judged as being acceptable change or bad change.

  • http://cameronebrooks.com/ Cameron E. Brooks

    I’m also concerned about the tone, as others have mentioned.

    The statement, “But the far more amusing thing is not the historical ignorance on display in such comments, but the ecclesiastical arrogance of such declarations” echoes my wish that the Church were more historically literate, but it does so in a mocking tone.

    This trend of getting amusement from people with whom we disagree is a widespread, unchecked problem in the Church–one I don’t think is worth conforming to.

    Too much of the dialogue among Christians is reduced to “us” mocking “them.” It’s one issue on which the Church does need to change if we want to reflect Jesus’ character.

    • Hermonta Godwin

      I think that the response to RHE would have been different if her list of demands/desires would have instead been questions. One cannot attack predetermined answers and at the same time give a list of proper conclusions. If she is convinced that her cause is just then she should just fight for those conclusions and not hide behind asking good questions.

  • Barry

    Change the message or beliefs? No. Change the structure that creates an environment where people who need help are made to feel uncomfortable to the point of unwelcome…yes. Check out NewSpring in SC. Grown from 15 to 50,000 in the last 13 years.

  • CT

    Great perspective and one that is much needed today. If I hear the cliche that “people need to know what we are for, and not against” one more time I am going to be sick. As a millenial myself, that is one worn out phrase.

    It is one that I think Evans does not really think through. If Christians really stood up for what they were “for” they would undoubtedly receive backlash against the world and opposition (even more so than now). History as well as the Bible tells you that Christianity and its tenants are in almost every way contrary to the way the world conducts its business.

    I think when you take “how can we market Church to the millenials” approach you have already lost. It comes across as gimmicky, faddish, and fake. That does not mean one cannot use modern technology, music, or other such changes to fit the community of which you are in. But it does not mean that we need to re-package and tweak the Gospel because it no longer is “hip.” Just stick to the basics, follow Jesus, stand up for His Word on how to live our lives, follow the Spirit, and love others. The rest will take care of itself.

  • David Hoffelmeyer

    I don’t often agree with RHE, but I do, sadly, agree with much of what she says about evangelicalism in this essay you’re responding to. What I suppose I don’t like about her essay on CNN is that it is a bit of a tired and broad critique. All that said, I don’t know that you treat her fairly in this article. She doesn’t seem to be afraid for the continuity of Christ’s church, but rather she seems concerned that Evangelicalism, the Western-born, cultural-political-theological phenomenon of the past few centuries, may die out. Christ’s Church and Evangelical churches are not the same set. I’m confident that you know that abundantly well, as you quoted a Catholic and an Anglican in your article. Anyhow, I appreciate much of the other things you’ve written, but I think you are shooting at the wrong target with this article. Alexander Marshall, below, expressed much of what I thought as well. Don’t be too discouraged by these comments, Jake, but maybe take a minute to assess if there is any truth in them. If I’m wrong, I apologize.

    • CT

      The statistics do not really support her “concern” though. While I think there are areas in which the Evangelical Church can improve in and change (lose the gimmicks), they are not the denomination that it is dying out. These churches are in fact growing. It is the old mainline denominations that are on their way to extinction. Why is that? That would be a better question to tackle.

      I equally find it interesting that Held bemoans the existence of
      ” culture wars” within the Church, yet then goes on to advocate for her position within these battles. How can the kingdom of God advance if it fails to address the culture? When the early Church grew, the culture around them changed ( in most cases for the better). One can question the way these “wars” are waged, but to simply state that they should be non-existent within the Church is absurd.

      • David Hoffelmeyer

        Hi, CT. Which movement is growing and which is not is not the issue I was concerned about. I was concerned with actually engaging what RHE was saying.. If you look above in the comments, David Sessions makes a great statement about his concern with this article, which is better than I could have written.

        As I said above, I often disagree with Ms. Held-Evans but I do think she deserves earnest, critical engagement because she is both brilliant and a genuine sister in Christ. This article doesn’t seem all that earnest in engaging with her point. And I agree that her critique is an old one that we’re all tired of hearing, and it isn’t fair to the complexity of the evangelical scene. Her point is not true of every evangelical church, certainly, but it is still a legitimate criticism of many evangelicals and evangelical churches.

        Finally, on the specific point of culture wars, I agree that we are called to be a church “in the world”, engaging with culture, exercising dominion as renewed image bearers, etc. I’ve imbibed the transformationist worldview as much as any neo-reformed evangelical. But we must be cautious and thoughtful (now I sound like Obi-Wan) about how we go about seeking cultural transformation. Timothy Keller has a wonderful lecture on the topic of Christ and Culture based on his work in Center Church. Here’s a link to that: http://vimeo.com/64581533.

        • CT

          I was not familiar with Evans prior to reading this post. I bowed out of the hipster-Christianeese-bubble echo chamber a while back. So that is my excuse for “being out of the loop” I guess.

          I read her article and quite frankly I found it neither brilliant nor thought-provoking. I am not saying this to be unkind, only someone who is reading her for the first time with no preconceived notions about the writer. I have heard everything she said a million times. It is hard to engage someone critically and earnestly on topics that appear to be nothing more than re-hashed talking points. I was not even offended at the piece. I was indifferent because I have heard the same narrow-minded critiques over and over again.

          Thank you for clarifying your position on the culture wars. It seems we agree that the question is not whether we engage in the culture wars or not, but how we go about it. There is room for good and honest debate in this area.

    • Thursday1

      Evangelicalism, the Western-born, cultural-political-theological phenomenon of the past few centuries, may die out.

      Those 3rd World Christians she talks about tend to be very conservative theologically and morally, at least in theory. They believe in a real heaven, a real hell, a real devil and a real resurrection. They also believe that gay and premarital sex is wrong, and that men and women should have distinct roles in society. That doesn’t mean they aren’t often heretical and hypocritical on a host of issues, but they ain’t liberals. Even a lot the liberation theology type stuff is really just a mask for white-non-white racial and ethnic conflict.

      Of course, Evans left that out of the narrative, as is standard operating procedure for her.

      • David Hoffelmeyer

        Errr… what? I don’t recall her talking about the “third-world” church in the article. Were you responding to something I said or just talking about something interesting to yourself? Generally the former is better for conversation than the latter. Real names are good for conversation, too. Seriously. It’s a trust builder. If you are an international fugitive in hiding only to resurface on evangelical blogs, I understand of course.

  • Luke W

    Those churches who’ve “accommodated” the modern idea of interracial marriage have done okay. Not all who accommodate die.

    “Accommodation” – if you want to use that term – has been a means of ridding the church of bigotry and ignorance. God has used the “liberal” culture to refine the church before, though we often go kicking and screaming. Doesn’t mean the greater culture always gets it right, that we should just conform to every new idea of the current society. But there’s no denying that the church has sometimes dug in their heels and God used outsiders with clearer vision to drag us out of error.

    When the world pushed the idea of a heliocentric solar system, Calvin stiff-armed the idea, calling it a “perversion of nature.” Eventually the church accommodated. Now just because we might find that same phrase on a Southern Baptist picket sign at a gay pride rally doesn’t mean we’re wrong now. But I’d argue that it does mean we should have some humility. The church has been often unable to see her errors in the moment, has been defensive about the wrong things, sure that accommodation meant the end of the church. (Hasn’t there been more Chicken Little-ism from those warning us NOT to accommodate to a new idea?)

    The great comfort of this article is the truth that God will correct and guide His church, even when we’re as confident of our positions as the author seems to be.

    • Anastasios

      Interracial marriage is not a “modern idea”, it actually went on quite a bit in the ancient world and the early church, which was largely colorblind (most prejudice back then was based on tribal membership, imperial citizenship or lack thereof, economic class, language, and/or religion). Moses married a black lady after all. The concept of “race” as a biological reality is a modern one, arguably originating with Columbus and the Spanish and British empires. Before then most people married within their own “race” but only by default (since very few people traveled outside their country), not because of active prejudice. People who did travel a lot back then had no compunction about marrying foreigners. Heck, most southern Mediterraneans (Greeks, Italians, and Spaniards) have significant Jewish and/or Arab ancestry, indicating frequent intermarriage in the days of early Christendom.
      It’s OPPOSITION to interracial marriage that was a modern idea, not interracial marriage itself. Historically, the definition of marriage was the union of a man and a woman, period. The modern racialists unfortunately added “….whose skin is the same color” to the definition. What happened in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia) was simply reverting marriage back to its original intent and meaning.

      • Luke W

        The full history makes a great example. The church went along with the “modern racists” – an example of the church accommodating the wider culture without discernment. When times changed, some in the church had to be corrected by outside civil activism. The church accommodated again, only this time the “liberals” brought some Christians (particularly in the American South) back to a more godly stance toward race.

        • Anastasios

          An excellent lesson indeed!

  • Paul M.

    I’m usually a critic of RHE, but I don’t think you fairly represent what she wrote. It’s abusive to sum up her thesis as “change or die.”

    Furthermore, it’s kinda a thing in church history to advocate that the Church should change to better reflect Scripture or to address human frailties that have crept in.

    Replace every reference to RHE and modern writers with passages from works by Luther and Calvin and you’ve got the logic of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

  • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

    If I can be
    so bold I might suggest you’re lumping a little too much together. Instead, reexamining the traditional battle
    lines of to change or not to change I can’t help but see that there’s more
    going on.

    First, I think there might be an in
    equivalence to the social and cultural lenses that we call
    “millennial” and the more metaphysical differences of theology. In a word, perhaps Christianity is an
    essencial and timeless truth that will never change, but Christian culture
    should and will change. Looking back at
    history we’re moving out of a rather long period of Victorian morals and
    Modernist ideals of progress, these aren’t Christianity but they are a major
    facet of Christian culture. Let us not
    be so bold as to think that Christian culture is timeless.

    Furthermore,
    I think we often combine Christian cultural morals with Christian truth i.e.
    the missionaries of the 1700s and there anti-native culture stance.

    I realize the line isn’t as defined as we often
    think. I’ve often kicked around the idea
    of calling my husband my partner because I think it might be right for
    Christians to take the lower place in society by “coming alongside” the LGBTQ
    people who are judged based on that word. I’ve also observed that the people my
    age care far less about if/what I disagree of if I can show care and respect
    for other people. My thought is that
    perhaps by going down to the level of people who are hurt by society I have
    earned the respect to be a vocal Christian.

    Is this too conformist or is this a millennial
    way of serving Christ? My point is that
    there’s a lot more to say than “conform but not too much,” we have to
    look at how Christian Culture is perceived first and then form it to express
    the gospel of Christianity.

    • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

      gee, that looked shorter before I posted it…

  • Anastasios

    I should hope the Church isn’t just a “human institution” like you claim! Whatever happened to the Church as the Body and Bride of Christ? I would argue that at the root of the desire to “change” Christianity is the idea that the Church in an “institution” that exists to serve humans so we can change or reform it into whatever we want it to be as the need arises. This pragmatism has been the way Americans have seen Christianity since day one (Great awakenings, new measures, and all that), but it’s wrong!
    It’s no wonder the USA has, out of all self-proclaimed Christian nations in history, been the one that’s arguably had the most emotional fervor but also by far the greatest tendency to spawn new heresies and innovations (think Mormonism, etc.)

    • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

      Why exactly is the church being a human institution bad? I think the humanness is something that can’t be dismissed. After all, why would God need to perfect and purify Her as His Bride? While we’re on this illustration, why would Christ marry Himself? It’s offensive, perhaps , that God would want us, but that’s the great mystery of salvation.

      • Anastasios

        I wasn’t saying the church didn’t have a human component. I was saying that the church is not “just” a human institution. In our culture, the word “institution” is usually used as a pejorative, so when I hear people saying the church is an institution, my first reflex is to assume they are insulting the church. Perhaps that wasn’t the author’s intent, but it came across as, if not an outright insult, at least a little bit of a dismissal or a “slap”.

        • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

          It seems akin to Anderson’s post in that we do not know how to define institution. It’s actually a little amusing to reread this thread and find just about every disagreement here is about one of the topics in that Anderson’s post.

  • Anastasios

    Also, there are plenty of pseudo-”conservative” Chicken Little bloggers out there, too, the ones I call “wannabe Bereans”. Prominent examples include Dave Hunt, David J. Stewart, and Ken Silva, and they seem to think that that the Church Fathers were heretics, everyone who doesn’t believe the earth is literally 6000 years old is a heretic, everyone who isn’t Protestant is a heretic, everyone who is High-Church Protestant is a heretic, everyone who lived before John Calvin/John Nelson Darby/Jack Hyles (as the case may be) was a heretic, everyone who isn’t dispensational/Reformed/Independent Fundamental Baptist is a heretic, and everyone who doesn’t agree on every issue with the blogger in question is a damnable heretic, etc.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    You’re inferring a bunch about Held Evans in absentia. And you’re chicken littling more than she was. Besides, you’re acting as though the notion that the church will never perish is somehow mutually exclusive with her continual pruning. That bachelor’s degree isn’t paying off.

    • Ryan Thomas Neace

      I love that Disqus created an end tag for my forehead slaps. lol

  • RonH

    Also from The Everlasting Man, chapter 6:

    Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.

  • Nyte

    Uhh just for the record, I will stand oln the vanity of Christ, Paul, Peter, James, John and any number of the Apostles —

    The Church is not going anywhere . . . but as so directed by Christ. As for change . . . and the utter whine by millennials or others, unless your call to change is for a deeper practice of the call of Christ as delineated in scripture.
    Get thee to a nunnery!

    — I am sure that’s out of context — but far milder than my impulses desire to comment, l’est I use the lord’s name in vain.

    Christianity is not a popularity contest. Never has been. Never should be. And in the mind and goals of Christ as far as I can tell — never intended to or will be.

  • Nyte

    Tony_Seco wrote,
    Flag as inappropriate
    “Opinion? I’ve been providing you with facts. Still you persist. What “facts” have you provided? Stories from Martins girlfriend. Try and provide one documented fact that supports your “opinion”. One!”
    I have already responded to the facts without having changed a single one.
    But your comment is about whether the police did an effective job. I think they could have done some things more effectively.
    These are subjective calls. For example, they could have noted the discrepancies against other possibilities.
    So on whether they could have done more or whether they did enough is a matter of opinion, not fact.

  • paul martin

    This post and most of the responses fill me with an almost giddy sense of happiness. I have no idea why. I am deciding not to analyze it.

  • Thursday1

    A few specific criticisms of the RHE article and similar arguments.

    1. It isn’t just churches in decline:

    a. People are leaving other religions. Buddhism is a shell of itself in Japan. Traditional pagan practices are in decline in places like Brazil.

    b. People are leaving community in general. Research is showing that this is one of the most individualistic generations in the West ever and everything from bowling leagues to secular community organizations are suffering.

    2. People used to leave churches and religions all the time. However, what they did then was either start a new religion or revert to a robust paganism. Now neither is true.

    3. It isn’t questions about science, except may for a tiny minority. The studies are quite clear on this: most people are totally ignorant of science.

    4. It isn’t about bad (or at least offensive) behaviour by the church:

    a. Religion has been with associated with corrupt, oppressive and/or unsavoury political parties and regimes for a long long time, and this didn’t seem to much hurt in the past.

    b. Religion was declining dramatically in Britain and Europe well before thing like the child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church became public.

    c. Religion was also falling in Britain and Europe well before gay rights became mainstream. (And churches who are more accepting of gays tend to be declining even more rapidly than those who uphold the traditional teaching.)

    (And as I note above, the usual response to this kind of thing throughout history was to create or adopt a new religion, not to become indifferent. Because that’s what truly religious people do when religious organizations behave badly.)

    What Rachel Held Evans is describing are precipitating events, not underlying causes. And the real reason people are leaving the church is that . . . they are less religious. The child abuse scandal or the churches teaching on gay sex is what crystallizes a modern person’s realization that the church is out of step with their modernist, essentially non-religious views. But it was the last push on a rotten tree, and if it hadn’t been this it would eventually have been something else.

    • Thursday1

      OK, let’s take a step back and think for a moment. Could it be that the reason the church is in decline in the West is . . . that people there are just less religious.

      I’ve noticed a couple things about all these emergent types:

      1. They’re always banging on about how much doubt they have.

      2. They often cannot see the point of traditional Christian moral stances on sex roles, gay sex, premarital sex etc.

      All (and I do mean all) religion is based on the perception of personality in the world. Some people, for reasons both genetic and environmental, have stronger or weaker religious perceptions. Those with stronger religious perceptions tend not to actually have much, if any, doubt. There are even studies where researchers have such people talk to God and they use exactly the same part of the brain as if they are talking to a friend. People believe in God because he’s right there.

      So, my strong suspicion is that the more theologically (and socially) conservative you are the more certain you are of your religious beliefs. While you hear lot more about doubt and such in emergent type blogs and books, doubt is not actually universal. That creates problems for liberal mainliners and emergent types, in that their target demographic seems to be people who have weaker religious perceptions and hence weaker religious belief. That means less commitment and less energy. It’s tough keeping a religious organization together when your target market is, well, people who are inherently less religious.

      And this actually seems to be the case:

      According to the PRRI study, most religious conservatives (54%) view religion as the most important thing in their lives. For religious progressives, the far majority consider (59%) it as one important thing among many. Religious progressives are actually more than twice as likely to say religion is not as important as other things (29%) than as the most important thing in their lives (11%).

      http://www.stateofformation.org/2013/07/the-rise-of-the-theological-left-a-response-to-tony-jones/

      I also suspect that an awful lot of the people who are involved in either liberal mainline or emergent churches are people who have a conservative/fundamentalist background that steeped them in church culture. That indoctrination formed a strong cultural bond with church and/or the Bible, but their religious perceptions (and conservative moral intuitions) for whatever reason just aren’t as strong, so they just can’t get on board with what the more conservative/fundamentalist churches are up to. The problem is passing on progressive Christianity to the kids. Liberal mainline and emergent types just aren’t going to beat Bible and church into their kids like conservatives will. Yet, that kind of indoctrination was precisely what gave liberals their attachment to the Bible and church in the first place. Not some conversation.

      My further suspicion is that emergent Christianity was the beneficiary of the great wave of secularization that came to the United States in the 1990s. There are an awful lot of people raised in conservative/fundamentalist homes that have left the church, but some haven’t wanted to “go all the way.” Because a lot of these people are coming out of a specifically American Evangelical subculture, not a mainline culture, they’re doing things somewhat differently than mainline liberals in areas like ecclesiology. But they’ve got a lot of the same problems with sustaining themselves after that initial wave of dechurching.

      As for the link between religious belief and social conservatism, it seems that the same perceptual system that is used for perceiving personality in the world (ghosts and gods) is also used for perceiving forms, essences and ideals in the world. The stronger you perceive those things, the more likely you are to be a social conservative. Obviously strong religious belief and social conservatism aren’t exactly the same thing, there are strong religious believers who are socially liberal and there are social conservatives who are not particularly religious, but there does seem to be a very strong correlation between the two, so my educated guess is that the strongest and most vibrant churches will continue to be on the conservative side of things on both theological and moral issues.”

      In summary, liberal religion really just means less religious religion, both in terms of belief and morality. Religious liberals have trouble perceiving God’s presence and work in the world. Their spiritual sight has become dulled. For much the same reason, they cannot perceive ideals, essences, and purposes in the world and so simply adopt a thoroughly secular morality.

    • Thursday1

      So, what exactly is causing people in the West to become less religious?

      Here’s my stab at it.

      Our way of life (not science, not philosophy) conditions us to see things in a mechanistic (not personal) way. Compared to past societies, we have very little uncertainly in our life and very little direct contact with creation. Everything is human made and human controlled. We live in an ultrasafe, ultrapredictable (compared to most human history), technocratic, almost entirely human built environment, with a multitude of distractions to go along with it. That is the perfect environment for dulling our perceptions, particularly our religious perceptions. People can no longer see God or the gods working their work out in the world, and they can no longer see ideals, essences and purposes in the world, which underlie all forms of religious morality.

      I like this anecdote:

      “In Chuang Tzu, a traveler sees a farmer laboriously carrying water with a pitcher to water his crops. The traveler walks up to the man and suggests that the irrigation could be done for a hundred plots much more simply with a draw-well and channels (a piece of appropriate technology if ever there was one). This is the farmer’s response:

      I have heard my teacher say: ‘When a man uses a machine he carries on all his business in a machine-like manner. Whoever does his business in the manner of a machine develops a machine heart. Whoever has a machine heart in his breast loses his simplicity. Whoever loses his simplicity becomes uncertain in the impulses of his spirit. Uncertainty in the impulses of the spirit is something that is incompatible with truth.’ Not that I am unfamiliar with such devises; I am ashamed to use them.

      http://dark-mountain.net/the-collapse-of-complex-societies/

      We’re much farther along that spectrum than Chuang Tzu’s farmer.

      ——–

      Some references:

      1. Religion is the perception that there are at least some things that are irreducibly personal about the world.

      http://richardcarrier.blogspot.ca/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html
      http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0195098919

      2. Modernity is changing how we perceive the world.

      http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/Weird_People_BBS_final02.pdf

      3. Secular morality only recognizes harm and justice as legitimate, while religious morality involves things like loyalty, respect for authority and holiness.

      http://edge.org/conversation/moral-psychology-and-the-misunderstanding-of-religion
      http://www.amazon.com/The-Righteous-Mind-Politics-Religion/dp/0307455777

      • Thursday1

        The main reasons most people go to church are specifically religious reasons. Thus, making the church less religious, as liberals and emergents do, is a complete non-starter.

  • Will

    Liberal theology has had little, if anything, to do with numeral decline of the mainline, or more specifically the Episcopal Church. Demographics, which is to say low birth rates, are the main factor. And there’s plenty of research to back it up. You can do better than recite the usual trope.

    • CT

      How can low birth rates be the primary factor? If that were so, than we would see the same amount of decline in more conservative Evangelical churches.

      While liberal theology may not be the primary factor, it is a factor (though not the only one most likely). When social justice replaces Jesus as God, people no longer feel the need to be in a church. They will just seek another avenue for their desire for social causes, which often is outside of the church ( see The Divine Conspiracy for further discussion on that score).

      There are probably many reasons why mainline denominations are shrinking while conservative evangelical churches are growing. It would be very interesting to see the results of a well-executed, unbiased study on the subject.

      • Will

        In 2001, a study by Andrew Greeley, Michael Hout and Melissa J. Wild was published in “The American Journal of Sociology.” The study, full of data, counters a lot of myths about religious switching and strictness theories being the reason for mainline decline. The authors conclude in part:

        “There are more conservatives today because their parents had larger families than did Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Congregationalist parents….Most alternative explanations turn out to be incorrect because they assume facts that are not in evidence in order to explain mainline decline or conservative growth….The explanation for the changing shape of U.S. Protestantism is, therefore, demographic, not ideological. The sociology of religion has long known that the surest source of new members for any denomination is the children of today’s membership (e.g., Greeley 1969). The conservatives had the advantage there because, for the first half of the 20th century, conservative families were having more children than the members of the mainline denominations were.”

        Liberal theology has had little, if anything, to do with mainline decline. There’s your unbiased study.

        • Anastasios

          “the surest source of new members for any denomination is the children of today’s membership”
          If that were ever true in the past, it sure as heck isn’t true anymore. The average American changes religious affiliation something like twice (from what I’ve read) so there is little or no correlation between someone’s parents’ affiliation and where they themselves will eventually end up. If anything there may even be a _negative_ correlation since many people tend to rebel against their upbringing as a rite of passage. Cradle Catholics tend to be very lukewarm (and end up either nonreligious or evangelical) whereas cradle evangelicals are often attracted towards Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or else out of Christianity altogether. Likewise political alignment often alternates generations as children end up opposite of where their parents were.

  • Thursday1

    [W]e’ve been burned, beheaded, disemboweled, and flayed alive and come through it all. We’ve been killed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve fought wars, we’ve been sent off to concentration camps and gulags.

    Well, it is possible that the more subtle, insidious and seductive methods of modernity could be more effective in destroying the church than outright persecution. Just saying.

    The better point is that theologically conservative churches seem to be more resistant to these more subtle methods.

  • Thursday1

    Evans summarizes the reasons young people leave the church thus:

    Young adults in the U.S. consistently reported that they left the church because they found it 1) overprotective, 2) shallow, 3) anti-science, 4) repressive (especially regarding sexuality), 5) exclusive, 6) hostile to those with doubts and questions about their faith.

    The question remains though: why, with the possible exception of number 2, do the churches who fit this description the best* seem to lose the fewest members?

    *Taking away the pejorative connotations.

    • Thursday1

      Evans has a tendency to elide over a lot of facts that don’t fit her narrative.

  • davestrunk

    There are several comments where Jake discusses more down here in this section, and I just keep finding myself in agreement over and over. Though I’m not sure if any writer on Mere-O actually holds a church office in any of their churches, that dynamic can change the nature of this conversation.

    For instance, I suppose I have a different “relationship” to “the church”- at least by appearances, though probably shouldn’t be in actuality. I’m a pastor. And like it or not, I internalize nebulous terms like “the church” often. RHE critiques often feel leveled at me. Even well-meaning ideas and thoughts about how the church could be…..well, I just hear the voice of condemnation, “you’re not good enough, and apparently you need to be more busy getting to work on _____ that _______ cares about.” (For those keeping score at home, this is not the voice of the gospel, this is the voice of the law).

    I wonder if we’d all be better served, as Jake suggests in various comments below, if when we used the amorphous “the church,” we thought of ourselves first. It’d probably dial down the rhetoric a bit. My flag is firmly in Jake’s camp, and I thought he nailed the initial critique.

  • Thursday1

    I do have to say that I am skeptical of the idea, often promulgated, among theological conservatives that what we need to double down on teaching doctrine. I’m skeptical of that. Not that teaching doctrine isn’t a good idea, but it won’t get us out of this mess.

    There is a real chicken and egg question about people leaving the church seems to be associated with a decline in theological knowledge. Does knowing less theology make people more vulnerable to being seduced by the secular world, or are people who are already less interested in religion for some other reason less motivated to learn about theology? Probably both are involved, but I happen to think the latter is more important. Intellectual knowledge has very little purchase on the human heart, and it is perfectly possible to know the doctrines well without having them change one’s inner being.

  • MichaelBlue72

    Jumping up and down in total agreement.
    I firmly believe serious change is coming to the church, but not as the millenials believe.
    Instead of conforming to society, the Bride is being raised up and set apart, called to even a deeper righteousness, a narrower path, than has been followed by any but the very first Christians.
    Denominational walls, theological differences and complete misunderstandings of God will dissolve in this generation and the Bride will be purified and unified for the coming age.

  • Joel

    I think there are some issues with RHE’s article, particularly the fact that mainlines should be doing better if she were correct. But when I saw the title, at first I thought it was about conservatives. Would you not agree that conservative chicken littles exist too – I’m particularly thinking of the type who draw really strict doctrinal lines, say the Gospel is at stake with every issue, and jump on the “heretic” label at every opportunity?

    • Joel

      Or the type that panics every single time our president does anything at all (some people could find a way that Obama was trying to destroy America if he went to the bathroom). I realize this is political rather than theological conservativism, but there tends to be a whole lot of overlap.

  • Patrick

    If you’re interested, I weighed in with Eastern Orthodox perspective on the comments on R.H. Evan’s blog site (and ruffled a few feathers). My initial comments addressed the issue of history and authority. It is Orthodoxy’s history as the church of the apostles that gives it its authority in matters of belief, doctrine, theology. It seems many Evangelicals are under the illusion that you can simply reinvent the church in one’s own image. Or, that you can simply add on some of the features of the ancient faith and sex them up a bit to make them attractive. Ironically, all the “strategies” Evangelicals concoct aimed at keeping people in their pews (or theater seats, bleachers, etc) are the very thing driving them out–that is one thing that Rachel got right. Freedom from this endless quest to accommodate culture, however, can only be found in submission to real authority, and there is only one.

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