Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sobering evidence of Liberal* Protestantism's emptiness

Greg Griffith at Stand Firm analyzes the situation in Connecticut (wait, don't leave, there is a Northern Plains connection) in this post. Here's his key paragraph:

In this little episode we can glimpse the fear that grips the hard-line "progressive" leadership of the church. In Connecticut, a hotbed of religious liberalism* if there ever was one, headed by a bishop whose hard-line tactics easily stack up to (and indeed occasionally exceed) that of the presiding bishop, a congregation that its rector describes as "unique and represent[ing] an alive and diverse Christianity" can't afford to keep its doors open. If ever there were a surrounding population that is open to the message of the New Thing, it's Connecticut. If ever there were a bishop who's demonstrated his willingness to follow the Schori scorched-earth policy of dealing with dissent, it's Andrew Smith. The rector of Christ Church describes his parish's financial woes as "the perfect storm," but in fact the Diocese of Connecticut is the "perfect storm" for the Episcopal Church's New Thing. If it can't survive - indeed, thrive - there, then its chances of surviving anywhere else are slight at best.

* Note that this refers to churches that obscure or deny core teachings shared by most Christians around the world - mainly as to the divine nature, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not about political liberalism; there are many orthodox, traditional Christians who are politically progressive.

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut seized one church building and two other congregations walked out of theirs rather than face litigation. The result is two empty buildings, lots of bills for the Bishop to pay, and a third building with lots of debt and a marginal congregation that is not growing.

Greg's point, that CT is a coastal, progressive and affluent state where non-traditional Christianity should thrive, should be a wake up nudge to those of us here in "fly-over country." If it can't grow in CT, where the Bishop basically got rid of his pesky traditionalists, then what is to become of churches here on the Plains?

As one Native American participant said at a church meeting two years ago, "You (the church) need to get your spiritual message back. We have our Native religion and can always go back to that. We don't need more clergy to do 'programs' - we have those through the Tribal governments."

Liberal Protestantism is spiritually empty. That's why it's always looking for a cause or project to fill that sad, vacant place in its soul. But what it winds up with is more emptiness. Empty preaching. Empty prayers. Empty churches.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 2 Peter 2:17-19


Scott said...

Amen. Liberal Protestantism is vapid. However, Fundamentalist Protestantism is soul crushing. One has turned political/social ideals into a god and the other has turned the Bible into a god. We must resist both and seek after Jesus Christ, as revealed in scripture, as our lord and God.

TLF+ said...

Scott, excellent point you add. In some ways, both Liberal Protestants and Fundamentalist Christians are fighting over the same "prize" - control of a Constantinian model in which there is a nominally Christian culture of which they hope to be arbiters. American Fundamentalists are as culturally entangled as the LibProts with, as you say, the same soul crushing result.

The Anglican Via Media was meant to chart a course between clerical authoritarianism on the one hand and uncritical Biblical proof texting on the other. With the State Church model, we wound up over time with a spiritually cold "cultural consensus" church of our own. Now that the American cultural consensus has brokend down, we have opportunity to get back to God-given sources of our identity and ministry. Last night's reading from Luke 22 meant alot to me - yes, Satan will "sift us like wheat", but Jesus has prayed for us and the time to turn back and find strength will come.

James Gibson said...
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Scott said...

That is a fantastic analysis of the current state of the American Christian landscape. I have always been deeply drawn to the Anabaptist model of the church and theology specifically because it denies the role of a Christian "culture" that can be normative for any society. True followers of Christ have always been and will always be part of the Kingdom of God which has no earthly boundaries and will always be at odds with society. I pray that with the development of the ACNA we may be able to witness Anglicanism in the US living out the best of the tradition. But to be honest...

I'm not holding my breath.

James Gibson said...

I have always believed that liberalism and fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin. They were both birthed during the "Progressive Era" and continue to operate under an anachronistic cultural paradigm. Liberalism has found a home in mainline Protestantism while fundamentalism has seeped its way into independent evangelical traditions, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention. Orthodox Anglicanism is a different species altogether. Our argument with liberalism is not helped by lapses into a minimalist fundamentalism which is foreign to our deeper and more ancient tradition.

TLF+ said...

James and Scott, thanks for this great discussion. Scott, your latest reminds me of the great Anglican Evangelical John Stott, who in Basic Christianity argues that the true church is visible only to God, not bound denominationally or traditionally.

James, excellent pick up on the simultaneous historical development of these two extremes. Both claim to stand for transcendent values, but both can rightly be faulted as very earth bound "reaction formations" to particular historical developments.

None of us are perfect - we are always holding back some aspect of our life (see my sermon notes when they post here tomorrow). Yet our ability to identify and lay aside such compromises is key to our growth from spiritual infancy into "the full stature of Christ."