Thursday, April 15, 2010

Liberalism is not the answer

When the Emergent Church first came on the British horizon, I read some of their material. My immediate thought was that they had good questions. They seemed to be dissatisfied with the shallowness of much of contemporary evangelicalism, something that I could very much identify with. Thus one Emergent writer wittily characterised Contemporary Worship as "Worship that is 30 years behind the culture." On the other hand they also rejected the narrow legalism of much of contemporary fundamentalism, with its anti-intellectual bias. Unusually for American evangelicals (witness British prejudice emerging) they seemed to be interested in the Church before the 19th century. A desire for more seriousness in worship is to be commended.

Sadly, even then it was obvious that not all was well. To the Emergents it seemed that there were only two options in terms of conservative evangelicalism, vacuous big-box megachurches where the 'sermon' is a self-help lecture, and shallow fundamentalism, where the sermon is libale to be a tirade against women wearing trousers and people using the New King James Bible. Now this is blatantly not the case. I was saved out of liberalism in a medium-sized (for the UK) Reformed Baptist Church where the minister used the NIV, and women wore trousers, while the pastor preached expository series' through books of the Bible. But it seems that in the US in particular, such churches were discounted because of their size (less than 100 in the congregation).

Thus Emergents, who even at the beginning seemed to me to have missed the right answer (namely that a Church should be a community, which probably does mean that most Churches should be under 150 members), and to have wandered off into the wilderness of theological liberalism. Liberalism is not the answer. I was brought up in a liberal Church (of a mild type, mind you) in the Church of England. The Emergents are more advanced liberals, and the effect of advanced liberalism is this - it tells people that God accepts them just the way they are. The end result of this is that people wonder why on earth they should give up Sunday like this when it's a lovely day, and the beach/golf-course/cinema is beckoning. Now, some preachers can hold a congregation whatever they say. Most can't, and that is why liberalism has a long record of closing Churches.

Protestant (and for that matter Roman Catholic) liberalism has already been tried and found wanting. I suggest that it is the Gospel, not liberalism, that is the answer.


Hiraeth said...

Further, I would note that America seems to be where Britain was in the 1950s. They have not lost the churchgoing habit. What this, of course, means is that you can have atheist gatherings which resemble churches. And that people will go to churches which preach anything but the Gospel. The tragedy is when people in Britain try to do the same thing. A church in the Welsh Valleys, where drunkenness is rife (I have never failed to see people drunk in the streets after noon on Saturday), actually tried to 'do church' in a pub-like setting.

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