Part of what helped the church to draw in so many people, Wilford argues, has been a strategy that has upended another commonly held assumption about centers and peripheries. While it’s common to speak of contemporary religious life in terms of “seekers,” such a usage typically refers to the individual, not the institution, as the one who is doing the seeking. Wilford suggests that Saddleback has reversed this scenario; by catering to individuals’ tastes, needs and preferences, the church, in effect, becomes the seeker. “It is not a matter of churches presenting their organization to the ‘seeking’ masses,” he writes, “but rather of actively seeking the masses out.”
This insight may press the point about “inversions” a little too hard; after all, if churches are trying to cater to “consumer” tastes, and consumers find the church based on those tastes, aren’t both parties doing at least some seeking, much in the same way consumers and producers in any marketplace seek one another out? Nevertheless, postsuburban megachurches, according to Wilford’s argument, have been more flexible and more receptive to their constituents’ needs and tastes than have their mainline or Catholic brethren, and this flexibility is largely responsible for their enormous growth. At Saddleback, this institutional seeking of the “religious customer” has taken a number of forms, including the development of a vast array of tastes: several alternative rock services, a “Spanish-language adult contemporary service,” an African American gospel service, a service featuring traditional hymns. If this menu seems to echo various spaces of consumption—a mall, perhaps, or a tourist resort that has lots of various dining and activities options—that’s quite literally by design. Wilford notes that Saddleback’s campus is intended to “mirror the architectural design of its surrounding environment,” a landscape well known for the prominence of its shopping spaces and opportunities for consumption. The line between consumption and religion—and, moreover, between what has been “sacralized” and what hasn’t—frankly seems so porous as to be nonexistent.
What if the 1970s were not simply an evangelical revival like those of old, but the first stirrings of a new spiritual awakening, a vast interreligious movement toward individual, social, and cultural transformation? …What if the awakening is not exclusively a Christian affair, but rather that a certain form of Christianity is playing a significant role in forming the contours of a new kind of faith beyond conventional religious boundaries?
Diana Butler Ross, Christianity After Religion
Carl Trueman wrote, back in 2010, about Protestant amnesia and Catholicism:
Most of my Catholic friends are not Catholics because they have convictions about the unity of the church, or the preservation, delineation, and development of dogma over time, or even the sacramental authority of the priesthood and the primacy of Rome. Their Catholicism is a merely cultural thing. In short, they have no more reason for being Catholic than most Protestants have for not being so. They are Catholics because they were born that way and, providing they can get to Mass at Christmas and Easter, their Catholicism does not really interfere theologically with their daily lives in any significant way. The modest size of the families of most of my Catholic friends is something of a poker tell on how far the Pope’s encyclicals have really penetrated their daily lives.
Now, in an increasingly secular world, where unbelief is becoming the default position, Catholics may well need to start clambering out of bed in the morning and asking themselves if they have sufficient reason to remain Catholic; and at that moment, they might find that they too are suffering from ecclesiastical and theological amnesia, and no better off in reality than the poor old Protestants. If all that keeps you Catholic is the fact that a priest baptised you at some point in the past, and now your son runs track for the CYO, you might have a problem. In short, I suspect that Catholic converts like Bryan are no more typical of the Catholic Church as a whole than pointy-headed historians like myself are of Protestantism. And, of course, the truth or superiority of neither Catholicism or Protestantism is to be determined by the parlous levels of ignorance, historical, ecclesiastical, and theological, prevalent among their respective adherents. That Protestants are generally amnesiacs and Catholics generally cultural rather than committed, is sad; but it is not relevant to the question of whether the Pope or Luther was right or wrong. After all, Erasmus was hung up over the Pope’s morals; but Luther was concerned as to whether the Pope’s doctrine was true.
I love Addie Zierman’s writing, particularly this great post on her time in China. She’s currently blogging through evangelical Christian cliches on her blog How to Talk Evangelical, and her post today was on the 15 signs you were raised in the Christian subculture.
You had more than one Bible, at least one of them written specifically for “teens.”(Bonus points if the cover sported fluorescent colors and/or spiral shapes. Double bonus points if you ever wrapped one of said Bibles in duct tape to be “alternative.”)
You learned about dating from the Christy Miller series. (Bonus points if you were successfully deterred from “missionary dating” by the whole Katie Weldon and Michael-from-Ireland train wreck. Double bonus points if you’ve ever said, “I’m just waiting for my Todd.”)
You bolstered your commitment to sexual purity with any of the following: a purity ring, a True Love Waits pledge card, any book by Dr. James Dobson, or multiple repetitions of DC Talk’s song “I Don’t Want It” on youth group road trips.
Check out her blog here.
For the church to lack love is for the church to lack everything. No heresy could conceivably be worse! …We evangelical Christians often insist that we are loving; it’s just that the world is so sinful they can’t see it—or so we tell ourselves. They don’t understand what “true love” is. That attitude is frankly as arrogant as it is tragic. …If contemporary people don’t see in us what ancient people saw in Christ, it can only be because the love that was present in Christ isn’t present in us. And if they see in us what they saw in ancient Pharisees, it can only be because the self-righteousness found in the Pharisees is found in us. Our comical insistence that we are loving, despite our reputation, is a bit like a man insisting he’s a perfectly loving husband when his wife, kids, and all who know him insist he’s an unloving, self-righteous jerk. If he persists in his self-serving opinion of himself, insisting that his wife, kids, and all who know him don’t understand what “true love” is, it simply confirms the perspective these others have of him. This, I submit, is precisely the position much of the evangelical church of America is in. Until the culture at large instinctively identifies us as loving, humble servants, and until the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day are beating down our doors to hang out with us as they did with Jesus, we have every reason to accept our culture’s judgment of us as correct. We are indeed more pharisaic than we are Christlike.