Monday, July 16, 2012

Speaking of the Folly of "Progressive" Christianity

It would seem that Ross Douthat, of the New York Times has been reading my criticism of progressive Christianity's attempt to distance itself from theology and collapse religion into social ethics because he has chosen to illustrate my theological point with some statistical data. His article specifically reviews the declining attendance in Episcopal churches and correlates it to the conscious decision on the part of the denomination to become deliberately progressive.

As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

And why not? After all, what do Episcopalians have now to appeal to a young, socially liberal demographic? You're telling them, "Look, we believe what you believe," but then you also want them to believe in the existence of an omnipotent deity which their college professors have told them is intellectual barbarism, ask them to give up an hour or two out of their precious weekends to do liturgical calisthenics (sit, kneel, stand, kneel, sit), and encourage them to give money so that the church can continue to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and marry the homosexuals (like Jesus did) out of the comfort of their altar-filled, stained-glass cathedrals. That's a PR manager's dream.

So while progressive Christians and secular liberals continue to laud the Episcopal Church (US) as a model for Christianity, regular old Christians are investing less and less of their time in the Episcopal and like churches. Douthat rightly observes that the problem is not a renewed emphasis on the social ramifications of the Gospel but on the emptiness that comes when you strip Christianity of everything not compatible with political liberalism, not unlike Burklo trying to taking everything "unbelievable" out of the New Testament. The truth is, and somewhere some Episcopalian must know it, that a Christianity without a full-bodied, soul-saving, pre-existing, sanctifying, dead-buried-resurrected-returning Christ is no Christianity at all. It certainly has nothing that is going to put butts in the pews and bills in the offering plate. If progressive Christianity is going to continue to have a voice in the greater faith community, it needs to realize that it has fallaciously and dogmatically married social liberalism and theological liberalism. Maybe that's the aberrant marriage they really should be worried about.

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