Is there vitality in the old mainline?

Evangelical and Arminian Baptist Roger Olson offers his perspective on the vitality in the mainline, including this observation about megachurches.

I have lived in quite a few American cities and have observed growing old-line denomination churches—some of them bursting at the seams. In almost every case they are charismatic or evangelical ethos-wise and exist in some tension with the hierarchy and especially the liberal theologians of their own denominations.

And here is his observation of one of our main ills.

All that is to say, much of the vitality of old-line Protestantism has faded due to the loss of an adequate spiritual-theological center. Old-line Protestant denominations have absorbed one aspect of American culture so completely that it is killing them—tolerance. And here by “tolerance” I mean fear of objecting to anything except intolerance.

I’d be interested in particular to your take on his suggestions at the end of his post.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Is there vitality in the old mainline?

  1. Reading some of the comments in the original post reminds one of the old warning that there are none so blind as those who will not see. If we continue to take the heart out of Christianity then we cannot expect our churches to flourish.

  2. Right now the United Methodist Church is frantic about saving itself (not the world) because it has largely quit proclaiming the core story that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The core story is not what we are doing to Rethink Church to save our institution, but what God was doing and continues to do through Jesus Christ. We natter incessantly about ourselves…but there’s no where to rest from this self-promotion.`

  3. I find it interesting that in his “prescriptions” he includes blended worship in there with things like orthodoxy and living spirituality (which seem together to imply his fourth point about the supernatural). In my experience liturgical looseness is very often wedded to theological looseness (one can believe almost anything and still sing “How Great is Our God,” whereas something like “A Charge to Keep I Have” is a bit too exact to avoid causing some awkwardness in the pews/chairs). In fact, in my experience many people are eager to grasp onto “worship style” in order to avoid having to face the infertility of their theological convictions: in my conference (Great Plains, i.e. Kansas and Nebraska), Bishop Jones has been advancing something like these four prescriptions, and seems (to me at least) to have gotten far more “buy in” on the worship question than any of the others. Being malleable on worship is 100% compatible with the liberalest sort theology, because if your basic premise is that certain parts of Christian doctrine can be consigned to their “historical context,” then certainly what you say and do as a Christian on Sunday morning can be likewise discarded and replaced with something more modern or “relevant.”

    1. I remember the first time we did “A Charge to Keep I Have” in my current appointment. As we closed in on the last few words, you could almost hear the question marks in people’s heads.

      What? Does that say that? What?

    2. ” In my experience liturgical looseness is very often wedded to theological looseness (one can believe almost anything and still sing “How Great is Our God,” whereas something like “A Charge to Keep I Have” is a bit too exact to avoid causing some awkwardness in the pews/chairs).”

      I think your argument largely explains the PCUSA’s decision to cut “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal, in that other article John posted recently. Too theologically robust–it’d make some lukewarm pew-warmers uncomfortable.

Comments are closed.