Time For Truth

A place to grow in the Grace & Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ

The New way of being church? Part 2: Why bother?

I was thinking about and praying for a dear friend today, who was a “liberal Christian”, but then later abandoned all pretenses to Christianity and now lives his life as an openly gay atheist/agnostic. As I pondered the “new way of being Christian” and the way forward that is promulgated by the new postmodern forms of liberalism/progressivism, I wanted to look at the issue from his point of view (with a little of mine mixed in).

The first question that arises is why bother to join or remain if you are already a part of a new progressive church.

Here are the possible answers, shedding the “spiritual” language:

  1. Community of like-minded people. would a secular/political group serve as well?
  2. Psychological/emotional support…would a professional counselor work as well?
  3. Like-minded political causes – would the Democratic action groups serve as well?
  4. Caring compassion ministry opportunities – Would secular non-profit organizations serve as well?
  5. Looking for mystical religiosity – form without reality – would other re-emerging pagan spiritualities work as well?
  6. It might make my parents happy?

Why I should not join?

  1. The gloss of Christian language – I rejected Orthodox Christianity, why should I retain the language?
  2. The constant guilt from the passing of the plate.
  3. I enjoy doing other things on Sunday – football, sleeping in, a lazy day at the coffee shop, etc.
  4. The new is not very new.
  5. Political/denominational in-fighting.
  6. I don’t like being “preached” at. Don’t I get enough of that from my new president?
  7. The pews are often too hard.
  8. Who or what exactly are we praying to? I thought we rejected the whole idea of a personal (God is a person) God, so why bother praying?
  9. If I wanted heavy ritual and mysticism, the liberal catholic or Eastern Orthodox church, down the road does it better?
  10. I don’t want to fit into their “spirituality” mold – the PBS stuff is more polished than this.

As I thought about this some more, other questions arose in my mind.

If I were a liberal/progressive “Christian” why would I want secularists, atheists or followers of other faiths to become “liberal Christians”?

  1. It would be a more peaceful world if we all believed as I do – but it would be boring too and I could no longer push pluralism.
  2. I want them to support my causes – but wait, I guess they already do.

In the middle of these thoughts it dawned on me. The only “converts” that Christian liberalism seeks, is from Bible-believing evangelicals. This is the reason for the fight. This is the reason that liberals fight so hard to hold onto congregations that wish to leave. This is the reason that they do not choose to leave themselves. The only real problem is that their convert supply is shrinking. They often function as the bridge from orthodox Christianity to secularism as has happened in Europe. But there the church is supported by the state. In the U.S. it is not, which means that ultimately they are working themselves out of jobs. Therefore, they need evangelicals to thrive and grow, so that they will have plenty of fields to harvest. The “new way” of doing church is an attempt to keep the advances they have made in liberalizing denominations, while somehow regaining a foothold among evangelicals again.

In the animal world, predatory species can decline severely and even become extinct if they overwhelm their primary food supply. For liberal Christians their primary food supply is not the secular world, but orthodox Christianity. Therefore the news of declining number of evangelicals in the West is very bad news. It means loss of jobs and income—no more pay for mystic-babble and psycho-babble.

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March 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

13 Comments »

  1. I have to agree with many of your points, as much as I don’t want to. I hadn’t thought about where the “converts” to liberal Christianity came from.

    This really touches on a conflict I’ve been having. What are we doing Easter Sunday? I love the excitement of Easter, in the past I’ve been involved on many levels, fellowship, music, children. This is the first time in years that I am disconnected from church.

    I’m not sure about the historical reality of the resurrection anymore. Do I go to church and go through the motions, hoping it might take? Isn’t that just hypocritical?

    Will going just make me grieve for my old church, as just thinking of it now is doing?

    Anyway, enough pity-party, thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Comment by Sam | March 25, 2009

  2. Sam,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    I am very sad to hear that you can no longer celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus without hypocrisy. It breaks my heart to hear of anyone who no longer believes in the message of the gospel.

    My prayers are with you and my hope that very soon you will once again, with great joy and deep faith, celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and to trust him.

    Comment by Adel | March 25, 2009

  3. I’ll respond more in a bit. But in my experience of doing campus ministry outreach to students, a lot of our students were folks who were not religious or were estranged from it. Some were evangelicals to be sure. But many were as Spong says, part of the church alumni association. And the rise of evangelicalism makes that kind of outreach all the harder. It’s something we labored with a lot in our campus since Christianity has taken a lot of bad associations with it (anti-gay, anti-science, etc)

    Comment by Dwight | March 25, 2009

  4. Adel,

    You make a great point. Why indeed would the liberal Christians fight so hard to retain congregations that wish to leave? If I honestly believed that it was out of a genuine concern for my soul, I could live with that. In fact, I may have even stayed in the PCUSA even though my own convictions were in conflict with those of the Church. When I began to realize that this was a battle over issues like ‘per capita’ and who would own the building if the congregation voted to leave, I couldn’t really find a clear way to remain.

    It seems their prayer was ‘OH Lord send me a profit’ – instead of a phrophet.

    Comment by Rob Sayler | March 25, 2009

  5. ‘parasitic’ would probably be a more apt description than ‘predatory’, because there is no lasting life in and of itself, save at the expense of a healthy host.

    my 2c,
    dm

    Comment by Dave Moody | March 26, 2009

  6. Adel,

    I have often pondered this very question: “Why don’t liberals just leave the church–since it stands for everything they disdain–and form a new religion, instead of changing it and running it into the ground?”

    My conclusion, so far, has been thus: Being a “church” (or a denomination), with all its resources, assets, and perceived authority is an attractive thing. Being a “church” has many benefits. If liberals were honest with themselves and started a new religion, they would forfeit any remaining clout and sideline themselves, not to mention billions of dollars of foundation money for their “mission.”

    Comment by sinaiticus | March 26, 2009

  7. David,

    Parasitic is also an excellent way of describing liberalism.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Adel | March 26, 2009

  8. sinaiticus,

    You are absolutely right on each count and welcome to my blog.

    You also make the statement “if liberals were honest with themselves”…this is really the crux. Theological liberalism by it’s very nature is dishonest, for it twists the terms of Christianity to mean the exact opposite of the plain meaning.

    What is theological liberalism as a separate religion? Is it Universalist Unitarian? And if so what does this mean?

    In a 2001 survey of UU members in the Midwest, conducted by Ohio University. researchers asked UU’s to circle terms that best describe them. Here were the results:

    humanist (54%)
    agnostic (33%)
    earth-centered (31%)
    atheist (18%)
    Buddhist (16.5%)
    pagan (13.1%)
    Christian (13.1%)

    I think that this would represent mainline theological liberals quite accurately.

    Comment by Adel | March 26, 2009

  9. I assume most folks here don’t actually know any liberals, what less relate to them on a friendly basis in the church. That’s my charitable reading of the content of this posts and responses.

    Comment by Dwight | March 26, 2009

  10. Adel,

    You make a great point saying that liberalism is basically UU. I have said for years that many in the PCUSA are “closet” UUs. Now it seems they have come out of the closet big time.

    Contrary to Dwight’s comment (which is an example of the attitude he himself condemns) I know lots of liberals. Some are members of my church and some are good friends. Most of these stay in the church because they have been members of the church for years. It is their church and they stay because their roots are there. But even the most kind of these give the impression they need to “straighten” us confused evangelicals out.

    For many years, this attitude, though very real, have been mostly an undercurrent of our relationship. But the more the we discuss the homosex issue, the more the knives are coming out.

    Comment by Chris | March 27, 2009

  11. I guess I’m a liberal. I don’t like labels. I’m too busy worrying about my own soul, you’re going to have to worry about yours. I don’t understand how I’m parasitic.

    I think that the church has been in a constant state of change for 2000 years. I also understand that the ordination of gays is deal-breaker for a lot of people. We can yell and call each other names and even condemn each other to hell for our beliefs, it’s not going to change the situation. It’s not my church, it’s not your church, it’s God’s Church and if I understand scripture properly, everything happens for a purpose and God is in control.

    So, I’m just going to have to trust that everything will work out to His plan, not mine. God knows my plans never work out right.

    Having said that, the doubting side of me says, forget this, if this is how Christians act, Buddha’s looking pretty good right now. I kind of like the fat, happy one.:-)

    Comment by Sam | March 27, 2009

  12. I have not weighed in on this one yet, but Dwight’s comment got my attention.

    I have lived most of my life among political and/or theological Progressives (I prefer “Progressive” to “Liberal” since I consider myself a classical liberal, “free trade, free markets, free men”). I awoke to my conservative (classical liberal) outlook in my early teens (1963-64) even though all around me in my church and community were Progressives. And I have often wondered since, “what on earth would make decent, intelligent people, many of whom seem to act rationally in their personal lives, adopt such muddled thinking when it comes to questions of theology and public policy?” I have arrived at no final answers, but have a couple of observations.

    First, Progressives and conservatives are both “consistent” by their own concept of the idea of consistency. For conservatives, consistency involves applying the same standards and principles to each individual and each situation regardless of who wins and who loses. For Progressives, consistency consists of making sure that principles and standards, and the definitions of words, are applied to make sure that the “right” people (usually the “victims”) win and the other people (defined as the “oppressor” or as “dominant” or “privileged”) should pay for it. Progressives look at conservatives and see them as clinging to their ideology to preserve their own “privilege”. Conservatives look at Progressives and see them as hypocrites.

    Progressives see Jesus as some sort of non-violent, socialist revolutionary through a highly selective reading of the New Testament. And because principles, definitions and standards must always be implemented to create “justice” as Progressives see what is just, Progressives see themselves as the true heirs of the Church. Conservatives are seen as holding on to the machinery of the Church, and its orthodox theology, as a way of holding on to “power”.

    Second, the work of the Church is thus, for Progressives, inseparable from Progressive public policy, and all of the forms and language of the Church are manipulated to fit this paradigm.

    Third, Progressives of this generation reject, at least in theory, the whole idea of authority. This rejection seems more apparent than real since it is only conservative authority that they reject. They are perfectly willing to impose their own ideas and authority on others, as in using the courts to obtain public policy changes (such as gay “marriage”) that they could not get at the ballot box. This seems to follow from my first observation that, for Progressives, “just” ends justify any means.

    And fourth, Progressives, confident that they are on the side of “justice” see no inconsistency in seeking power in the Church for the purpose of “doing justice” in the world. And just as conservatives are reluctant to write off the Progressives entirely, they really believe that our salvation depends on our adoption of their Progressive ideas. They hold on to us in the same way we might refuse to give up on that athiest next door.

    I have concluded that, for the most part, Progressives are decent, well-meaning people, who really believe what they say they believe. I can like and respect them as individuals even if I disagree with them on theology or public policy. Debating these issues with them can often be fun, and can sharpen, and sometimes correct, my own understanding.

    They, as we, seek to hold on to the denominational machinery because they, as we, see themselves as the “true church”. Ultimately though, fighting over property and institutions seems to me to be the wrong way to seek to build the Kingdom. At some point, our internal battles, distracting us from our real work, will result in the destruction of the denomination we are fighting over. Recognizing that point, when we should shake the dust off our feet and walk away, is the real trick.

    Comment by Whit | March 27, 2009

  13. Well as a liberal myself, I could scarcely recognize almost any of the claims being made about us.

    I don’t think Jesus was a revolutionary socialist, an anachronism in any case. While there was is political significance in Jesus (which the Romans did him in for) it’s dicey to get a “program” out of the Gospels. Or at best, one would have to recognize the interpretative role of the contemporary church in relating to the tradition including the NT in relation to the problems of today. Fallibility runs right through that process.

    I think liberal protestantism is a legitimate heir but not the only heir of the tradition. I likewise think evangelicalism is too. And Catholicism. And Orthodoxy. I’d like a faith big enough to hold all of us (I’d expand it out to include more folks than others would, including the LDS for instance).

    I’m grateful to be in a denomination where the denomination owns no properties, where congregations represent the locus of authority, where no side can “win” in the way of taking over a church to mandate their will to the whole of the church.The fights in the Presbyterian, Methodist and other churches on both sides makes me ill at ease.

    Ultimately I worship God in Christ in the church for many of the same reasons folks on here do. We may express that differently but looking at that list of reasons in the original post, it’s not reflective of any liberals I’ve had the privilege to work and worship with in the church.

    Comment by Dwight | March 27, 2009


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