High on God and One Faith No Longer

High on God: https://www.amazon.com/High-God-Megachurches-Heart-America/dp/B086XKVTV9

One Faith No Longer https://www.amazon.com/One-Faith-Longer-Transformation-Christianity-ebook/dp/B08L9JRSW4/

The first is written by a mainline Christian academic now living in the PNW. Teaches at Washington State. He’s the uncle-in-law of a guy in my network who I had on the channel about his experience at Mars Hill Seattle. https://youtu.be/lA-Zp8OIDfQ

High on God is a bit hampered by the social science language but it’s a deeply honest book. He’s been studying the Evangelical/Mainline gulf for a while now and has learned a lot about why the mainline is cratering and why Megachuches are popular. He isn’t writing theologically so he isn’t making those kind of value judgments (although he expresses his values bona fides as a member of the academy at times)  

Here is a sample: At the time when I published the book, I argued that Fourth Presbyterian was a counterexample of this decline, and its continued vitality made the point; however, its inability to attract power brokers, to challenge city business, or to send young people out in mission to the world illustrated a religious body fully accommodated to their upper-middle-class milieu. To be sure, the church embraced its socially progressive identity, supporting LGBTQ ordination and same-sex marriage. In 2012, its church rolls boasted 5,000 members, but attendance was far smaller. With Buchanan’s retirement, Sunday attendance declined to 1,200 congregants at the several services. In 2014, the Fourth Church called their first woman to be pastor of the church, the Rev. Shannon Kershner. Kershner, a southern Presbyterian, has a dynamic personality and fits the lay liberal ethos of Fourth Presbyterian— she is comfortable with “doubts” and is clear that Christianity is not the “only way.” Or, as she says, “No, God’s not a Christian. I mean, we are . . . For me, the Christian tradition is the way to understand God and my relationship with the world and other humans. . . . But I’m not about to say what God can and cannot do in other ways and with other spiritual experiences.” 8 For Kershner, Christianity is one way among many paths to truth. As an egalitarian and liberal Protestant, she was critical of Donald Trump’s behavior leading up to the 2016 presidential election, and more generally willing to make her case for a moderate, left-leaning social and cultural vision.

Wellman, James Jr.; Corcoran, Katie; Stockly, Kate. High on God (pp. 67-68). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

 When I moved to Seattle in 1997, I intended to follow my study of Fourth Presbyterian with a similar analysis of churches on the West Coast. I assumed I would be able to track down an even greater number of thriving, mainline liberal churches in a part of the country known for its liberal politics and culture. To my surprise, I was wrong. I could only identify a few vibrant, liberal churches that were managing to grow. In the process of looking, however, I came across a veritable cavalcade of prospering evangelical churches in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, in 1999 and 2001, the evangelical Luis Palau Ministries in Portland and Seattle led two of the largest public gatherings in the Pacific Northwest. Evangelical churches had not only gained a foothold in the region, they had nearly doubled in size, while mainline congregations had declined by more than half since the 1980s. 9

Wellman, James Jr.; Corcoran, Katie; Stockly, Kate. High on God (p. 68). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

 I published these findings in my 2008 monograph, Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. 10 I examined twelve vital, liberal congregations and twenty-four thriving evangelical churches. My criteria for the “vital liberal” churches were simply churches that were not failing and that had either grown or maintained their membership and budget for at least the previous three years. The liberal church membership averaged 280 members and the congregations averaged $ 500,000 in their annual budgets, giving less than 10% of their funds to mission. The sample of twenty-four evangelical churches, on the other hand, included churches that had nearly doubled in size over a five-year period, averaging $ 2 million annual budgets and 13% in annual mission giving. While most of the liberal churches had no active missionaries, the evangelical congregations averaged nearly ten permanent international missionaries with many more individuals and small groups committing to short-term mission work.

Wellman, James Jr.; Corcoran, Katie; Stockly, Kate. High on God (pp. 68-69). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 

But the most stunning difference between evangelical and liberal churches was in the kind of social service churches offered to their communities. In the process of doing the research, we interviewed nearly 150 liberal lay members and clergy and nearly 300 evangelical laypeople and ministers. Through coding this data, it became clear to me that evangelical churches did much more than liberal churches in day-to-day social service for their communities. In nearly every evangelical interview there were reports of individuals and groups serving those in need— a trend that was much less common in the liberal congregations. If they spoke about service, liberals mentioned LGBTQ rights or urban homelessness, but they rarely spoke about engaging in direct service for others. While liberals often belonged to formal, service-oriented community groups, evangelicals were overwhelmingly doing work for others in small, informal neighborhood groups. It became apparent that researchers are not aware of evangelical service in large part because evangelicals do most of their service through informal networks. In one case, a group of evangelical retirees gathered once a week to paint houses for the elderly in their various neighborhoods. Because of the format of their service, there were few points of contact with local service organizations. On the other hand, liberals spoke a great deal, in abstract terms, about caring for the poor, particularly for the homeless and sexual minorities, but they rarely mentioned concrete, direct service to others.

Wellman, James Jr.; Corcoran, Katie; Stockly, Kate. High on God (p. 69). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

 The second book “one faith no longer” is by the author of the video I posted a few days ago. https://youtu.be/BoTim3-j7d8

Here’s a teaser: Based on this research, we highlight here that progressive Christians emphasize political values relating to social justice issues as they determine who is part of their in-group; they tend to be less concerned about theological agreement. Conservative Christians, however, do not put strong emphasis on political agreement in order to determine if you are one of them—their major concern is whether you agree with them on core theological points. The bottom line we seek to illuminate in this book is that progressive and conservative Christians use entirely different factors in determining their social identity and moral values. Indeed, we argue that the ways in which these two groups deal with questions of meaning are so different that it is time to regard them as distinct religious groups rather than as subgroups under a single religious umbrella. While there are many ways to look at the divisions within Christianity (racial, political, theological, denominational, etc.), we will start with the theological divide to explore other implications of the split between Christians. Our aim is to show both how theologically progressive and conservative Christians define their social and political priorities and how those definitions differ from each other. We also examine how differing social and political aspirations emerge from these theological distinctions. This will get at the question about the nature of the theological divide within Christianity and the degree to which this disagreement leads to distinctive religious groups. That theological divide is related to political divisions among Christians, but it is possible that the issues that separate theologically progressive and conservative Christians are even more fundamental than those political disagreements.

Yancey, George; Yancey, George; Quosigk, Ashlee; Quosigk, Ashlee. One Faith No Longer (pp. 4-5). NYU Press. Kindle Edition.

Neither book is terribly theologically deep. They touch on theology and some history but for the most part they are social scientists. 

One of the points both books make is that while Evangelicals tend to get all the attention in the media, often negative, the Progressives are far less intensively studied with is very interesting. A recent book by Jack Jenkins written from the progressive side did some of the same complaining. https://www.amazon.com/American-Prophets-Religious-Progressive-Politics-ebook/dp/B07TW7GKZ3/

From One Faith No Longer:

 Quite often we see news coverage about conservative Christians. But while some news outlets publish stories about progressive Christianity, these stories largely do not help one achieve a deeper understanding about the nature of progressive Christianity and where the root differences lie between it and conservative Christianity. While occasionally we hear about resistance to politically conservative Christians (Bush 2019; Farber 2020; Harber 2020; Mazza 2020), generally our understanding about the nature of progressive Christians is lacking. There has also been relatively little scholarly work that examines the nature of progressive Christianity. There has been work outlining the history of progressive Christians (Gasaway 2014) as well as primary documents by progressive Christians that enunciate their stated beliefs (D. Brown 2008; Peters and Hinson-Hasty 2008; Progressive Christians Uniting and Cobb 2008; Felten and Procter-Murphy 2012; Lee 2015). Recent attempts to explore progressive religious groups have utilized a case-study approach (Slessarev-Jamir 2011; Braunstein, Fuist, and Williams 2017; Krull 2020) and interviews with congregants at a progressive church (Streyffeler and McNally 1998). This work is valuable but not generalizable. Stenger (2005) does use a national survey to argue that potential members of liberal Christian groups may be more than indicated by the sizes of these groups. Her work provides some insight into why progressive Christians are less effective in their political activism than conservatives, but it does not illuminate how these two groups prioritize their social, theological, and political values. Perhaps the best systematic study on progressive Christians was conducted by Burge and Djupe (2014), who investigated the degree of inclusiveness among clergy in the Emergent Church movement, but this work does not inform us about the attitudes of the average progressive Christian. There is much more research on conservative Christians than on their progressive counterparts. There is also more work concerning the social identity and social boundaries of conservative Christians. For example, research has documented that theologically conservative Christians are relatively likely to exhibit particularism (J. Green 1993; R. Williams 2011; Yancey, Shaler, and Walz 2019).3 Conservative Christians are relatively unwilling to accept religious out-groups (T. Smith 1999; Edgell, Gerteis, and Hartmann 2006; D. Smith 2011; Jung 2012; Kidd 2013; Yancey and Williamson 2014) and have a preference for other Christians (Smidt and Penning 1991; Bobkowski and Kalyanaraman 2010). Their particularism tends to focus upon the maintenance of theological distinctions. But it remains to be seen if the theological particularism of conservative Christians is reflected in other social dimensions. While conservative Protestant colleges and universities maintain strong theological expectations of conformity, they are relatively tolerant on political matters (Yancey et al. 2019). Furthermore even their religious particularism can be moderated by political alliances (D. Smith 2016). Although we have a reasonable level of research on the social boundaries of conservative Christians, questions about the relative role of political and theological concerns are not settled.

Yancey, George; Yancey, George; Quosigk, Ashlee; Quosigk, Ashlee. One Faith No Longer (pp. 6-7). NYU Press. Kindle Edition.

Anyway, if you like the samples you might want to check out these books. pvk 

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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