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Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Death of the Liberal Church

Dave Schiflett has written a book with this jarringly straightforward title, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. I haven't read it yet, but I'm gonna.

From the description on Amazon, it reminds me of a book I did read a couple of years ago called, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, by Colleen Carroll. Both authors demonstrate that liberal churches in America are - on the whole - dying out while conservative churches are growing. They argue that this is because people who bother to go to church generally prefer to go somewhere that has definite ideas about doctrines and morals.

Schiflett's article on the same topic at National Review Online is a must-read. It's God-Lite Doesn't Cut It. Go there as soon as you finish reading the Burr.

Conservative believers can't gloat, but should see this as a warning to resist the temptation to loosen up and water down their absolutes.

Personally, I'm glad liberal churches are dying. The wider church will be the stronger for it. The "God-Lite" they offer may taste great, but it is definitely less filling.

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5 comments:

David Clapper said...

Interesting letter in today's NY Times Book Review with a different slant on the topic:
"To the Editor:
Mark Lilla's essay 'Church Meets State' (May 15) rests on a false premise. Conservative Christian denominations are not growing by converting other Protestants; they are growing their own. For almost 50 years women from conservative denominations had one more birth, on average, than other Protestant women did. Meanwhile, mainline Protestant denominations are declining because couples from those churches are averaging fewer than two births each; in short, they are not reproducing themselves.

"This demographic imperative accounts for 70 percent of denominational change, according to calculations I published (with Andrew Greeley and Melissa Wilde) in the September 2001 issue of the American Journal of Sociology. The remaining 30 percent of denominational change stems from the growing efficiency of conservative denominations in holding on to their own. Thus to find the root of the historic shift in American Protestantism, look not to the pulpits but to the nurseries.
MICHAEL HOUT
Berkeley, Calif."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/books/review/12letters.html?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Interesting take, but that really says nothing about the worldwide phenomenon. Go to the Sudan, or anywhere in Africa, for instance, and you'll see that it is the more traditionalist Christian groups that are growing. Is that a result of procreative rates too? Maybe. In either case, liberal Protestantism is dying.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Stiegemeyer,

I am happy to read this post, and I've also noted your comment about the worldwide phenomenon. However, it doesn't seem to me that the God-Lite churches are dying in America. Lakewood Christian, of Joel Osteen fame, is now having a grand opening of their new church -- a remodeled NBA stadium. They expect soon to reach 100,000 church-goers per weekend. Colorado has another huge God-Lite church. Rick Warren's Saddleback experience is also lite on God. At best these rapidly growing churches present a God who exists solely for our enjoyment and temporal happiness. In our country, it seems things are working in the opposite direction.

I do realize that the church's I've mentioned are not liberal in the classic sense of it. Surely, though, they are liberal in the watered-down, God-lite sense, aren't they?

-Fickel

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

You're right. The Mormons are growing too. So is Islam. I haven't read Schiflett's book yet, so I don't really know what statistics he cites or arugments he makes.

First, I'd say that there are clear exceptions to his thesis. And secondly, I think the numerical growth - sociologically speaking - probably has a lot to do with the simple fact that though God-lite, those you cite still give clear-cut answers to real questions (though we'd consider their answers deficient). This, as opposed to liberal wishy-washiness, appeals to people and attracts newcomers, for good or ill.

Granted, at this point no mention has been made of the work of the Holy Spirit, so I don't want to make too strong a point out of it. I just think it's an interesting issue.

Chris2x said...

I am not sure about the comment that Saddleback is lite on God, that has not been my experience from reading Warren's books.

I also don't know how supportable the numbers are here but it is interesting. I was making the same point to a friend who is a Lutheran pastor who is frustrated with some of the direction in the Lutheran church. In church politics dying churches have as much of a voice as thriving churches. But the churches that I know that are thriving locally are those that are Christ centered.

Chris
http://chris2x.com

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