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Protestant-Groups-in-the-U.S.-MapContinued from part 1

And the United States

Back in 1994 Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, mostly claiming it to be rather badly underdeveloped. Well, things have changed quite a bit on that front. There has been quite an intellectual renewal.

Professor Berger (like me actually) calls himself evangelisch but not really evangelical, not to mention incurably Lutheran, and he claims to be very comfortable with evangelicals.  He comments that there is something of a movement of the evangelical intelligentsia into prestigious universities and such. He considers it somewhat like the influx of Jews in the 1930s. I find that comparison quite interesting.

The other day on Geoffrey’s post Local Churches, Dave Smith posted a video in comments from the Free Congress Foundation, documenting the origin of political correctness and locating its origin in the Frankfurt School of the early 1930s. this was part of the exodus mentioned above. It included many liberal (maybe licentious would be a better term) groups and people who suddenly realized they were not welcome in Hitler’s Reich. Weimar Germany had been an incredibly liberal, not to say immoral place, and Hitler was not amused, then or later. Many of these refugees ended up either in the United Kingdom or the United States and by the end of World War II, many had become respected figures in the educational system, as well as the other elites.

Max Weber said a while ago that Protestantism. was responsible “for the disenchantment of the world” because of the evident distaste for the three most ancient and powerful aspects of the sacred, Namely the mystery, the miracle, and magic. While there is obviously a fair amount truth in this, it can easily be overdone, especially before the 1950s, I think. One always has to remember  that one cannot understand Protestantism unless one views it against the background of the Catholicism from which it sprang, any more than one can understand American history properly without understanding English history during the colonial period. That’ is the origin of them. Catholicism does feature that triad more, as we all know, but so does Pentecostalism. And Pentecostalism is the fastest growing part of Protestantism. And it isn’t even true of most Evangelicals, or even some mainline Protestants, say Anglo-Catholics or Confessional Lutherans. So one has to be very careful with this.

The main part of mainline Protestantism’s problem is the loss of the core of the Gospel: the cosmic redefinition of the structure of the universe centered about the birth and life, and death of Jesus. it has come to be some vague (mostly) left-of-center social program, which is a huge distortion. or it has come to be some sort of vague morality, such “as be nice to old ladies if they slip in the gutter”. Nothing really wrong with either, but they are not what Christianity is about. The Evangelicals seem to have not gotten this memo.

And what either secular or religious fundamentalism offers people is simply certainty. “We’ll tell you what is true, and if you do what we say, it’ll be all good for you”. While the relativists say, “Don’t worry about what is true and what isn’t, it’s all relative anyway, so it doesn’t matter. They are actually pretty much polar opposites, but nearly the entire world is in the middle. It makes little sense to go with either one, we don’t know everything, but we do have a reasonable idea of right and wrong, and it’s the correct solution. After all, God is indeed Love, He is also Reason.

But what you’ll find pretty much everywhere is pluralism, and it has its problems as well. Now you get to make choices, such as the example in the interviewer gave:

I recently had a conversation with a German Catholic theologian, who was shaking his head when I mentioned to him that the denominational boundaries are breaking down in the United States, that one could grow up Baptist, attend a Mennonite college, become a member of a Nazarene church, marry a Reformed person, and send their kids to an Episcopalian school.

That’s hard for theology to deal with isn’t it? and in truth, pretty much all of us here are lay theologians, we study (more or less) we read, we think. In other words, we’re not the average guy in the pews (or not in the pew, for that matter). We can see the similarities and yes the differences between our churches. But I wonder does the average parishioner, for most of us, things change in the liturgy, but they change mostly slowly, how many notice? This may have been where Vatican II messed up, they got in a hurry, if they had taken a few generations to make the changes, as happened in most Protestant churches, would the Catholics have noticed? Other than the change to the vernacular language, of course.

And for that matter, no matter how similar the theology, our individual churches have considerably different feel, the average parishioner isn’t likely to confuse them, not matter how much we try to convince them that it’s all the same thing. And that is good, I think.

Lots more in the links, and I’m very interested in what you all think. Personally, I think it a fairly viable thesis.