Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jenkins on Liberalism's Broken Promise

I've just finished reading Philip Jenkin's The Next Christendom, (rev + exp ed.) this book is incredibly important exposing as it does in graphic detail the way the world is becoming rapidly more religious and arguing for the effect this is going to have on future international relations.  This is the book, that in its first edition, all but predicted 9/11 (the proofs of the 1st ed. were finalised on the 10th, the day before).  Whatever you think you know about religion you will find something in here to upset your preconceived ideas.  Every chapter you think you know where Jenkins is going to go and then the next one surprises you just as much.  Neither is he one sided, he has no qualms pointing out the good and the bad in everyone!  It is an unputdownable book, seriously I haven't read even a novel this hard to put down for a long time.  Here is is pointing out the irony of Liberal Protestantism.
Every so often, some American or European writer urges the church to adjust itself to present day realities, to become relevant by abandoning outmoded supernatural doctrines and moral assumptions.  Some years ago, the Episcopal Bishop John Spong of Newark advocated just such a skeptical and secularist New Reformation ih his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die.   In his 2002 book, A New Christianity for a New World, Spong again attempts to explain Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born . . . Viewed from Cambridge or Amsterdam, such pleas for accommodation may make excellent sense, but in the context of global Christianity this kind of liberalism looks distinctly dated.  While some American churches have declined, it is the most liberal and accommodating that have suffered the sharpest contractions.  In the Episcopal Church, the worst casualty has been Bishop Spong's own diocese of Newark, which has lost almost half its membership since 1972, a rate three times worse than the normal diocese in that denomination.  Conversely it would not be easy to convince a congregation in Seoul or Nairobi that Christianity or "traditional faith " is dying, when their main concern is a worship facility big enough for the ten or twenty thousand members they have gained over the last few years.  (p10-11)
Not that numbers are everything but the idea that churches just need to loosen up a bit more and everyone will come flooding back is pure make-believe.  If church survival is your goal, whether it should be or not is a different topic, then the best thing you can do is stay traditional - at least in terms of doctrine.  Jenkins compares the situation to 18th c. Europe and America when "secular Enlightenment ideas made enormous progress" and most observers had "concluded that Christianity had reached its last days" but "then as now, the triumph of secular liberalism proved to be anything but inevitable"  as at the beginning of the 19th c. saw a massive revival of orthodoxy and tradition among both Protestants and Catholics (p11).

Let me know what you think :-)

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