Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wisdom from Water_to_wine on Evangelicalism and Mainline Protestantism

Rachel Held Evans has a post entitled The Mainline and Me, in which she discusses her issues with mainline Protestantism.  My favorite commenter under that post goes by the name of “Water_to_wine”, and I’d like to highlight some of her wisdom:

1.  Rachel feels that there’s something missing from mainline Protestantism.  She states: “I miss that evangelical fire-in-the-belly that makes people talk about their faith with passion and conviction.   I miss the familiarity with scripture and the intensive Bible studies.   I miss the emphasis on cultivating a personal spirituality.  I miss sermons that step on a few toes.”

Water_to_wine responds: “Interestingly enough, the things that you mention as being ‘missing’ from mainline are the very things I’m personally relieved not to be exposed to any more. For me, in the evangelical church passion and conviction came across as arrogant certainty and a reflexive dismissal of other views. Intensive Bible study led to bibliolatry and discussion in such studies was always about towing the evangelical line, not thinking critically or wrestling with issues. Personal spirituality led to an individualistic view of salvation and generally manifested itself as mushy, gushy ‘Jesus & Me’ spirituality or people essentially bragging about what great spiritual giants they were. Sermons that stepped on toes weren’t about changing hearts or minds, they were about circling the wagons and calling out those whose intellectual or social commitments differed.

“Those are my own personal perceptions of my experience in a particular place at a particular time. I’m sure that there are good evangelical churches out there, but I’m much happier being part of a church that focuses on community and that has a certain degree of humility about their ability to know things and about what kind of Christians they really are. I feel like I can be in authentic relationship with people like that.”

2.  A regular commenter on Rachel’s blog, Karl, offered a thoughtful critique of mainline Protestantism, based on his own experiences.  He talked about a visiting priest who said that we are all sons of God and that Jesus did not literally and physically rise from the dead, and those in the church who felt that these issues actually matter felt marginalized.  I could sympathize with Karl here because, as liberal as I am, I am happy to attend a mainline church that values the Bible and Christian doctrine, rather than getting flaky on me (see my thoughts here on mainline flakiness).  But another point that Karl made was that mainline Prostestantism conforms to cultural norms and does not offer people anything that they can’t get out of the New York Times.  To this, Water_to_wine astutely responded:

“Interesting take.  I’ve noticed the opposite. In my particular experience, it’s the evangelical churches that commercialize everything with coffee, books, cds, and t-shirts available for sale in the gathering areas. If I want to go to the mall on Sunday morning, I can. If I want to hear a rock band or pop group perform, sing some karaoke-type tunes, or listen to a comedian, I can stay out late on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday morning. If I want to hear political rants of any kind, I can turn on the radio or read the comment board of practically any news website.  My experience has been that the mainline is the one that’s offering something different. My church is a place I can go where no one is trying to sell me anything or keep me constantly entertained! My mainline church is decidedly ‘uncool,’ and that is one of the things I love about it!”

I said this once on Rachel’s blog, and I’ll say it here: Well said, Water_to_wine!

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