There have been numerous books that have been published over the last couple of decades about the state of the church, especially the way in which it has compromised with the modern and postmodern strains of thought found in western culture today. In particular, D.A. Carson’s The Gagging of God, David Wells’ God in the Wasteland, and Marva Down’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, all analyze the culture of the last two decades and how many churches have been corrupted by the teachings involved. Everything from the church growth movement to many of the “outreach methods” are analyzed, and I believe rightfully lampooned, which brings me to the main point of this post.
When churches in the Evangelical/Protestant world (I can’t speak for Roman Catholics or Orthodox), put an inordinate amount of emphasis on a “personal relationship” and a “conversion experience,” this is often combined with capitulations to modern (in the chronological sense) culture, at the expense of Christian tradition and history. This is often done to “not intimidate” or to be “relevant.” This has bred a vicious cycle of perpetual immaturity and historical ignorance, where the local congregant, often attending church for decades, cannot tell the difference between Augustine and Aquinas, Bach and Palestrina, and the differing views of the Eucharist/Communion.
For a new believer, this is of course understandable, but for a supposedly “mature” Christian, it is inexcusable. In fact, this “seeker” mentality has become so anti-intellectual, and anti-art in some circles, that Down talks about how classically trained musicians actually are unwelcome in many churches, because they are not “relevant” to outreach and the “worship experience.” In other words, some of the most gifted, and rigorously trained individuals are being shunned because of this sort of culture compromise. Intellectual types have had similar experiences, which brings up the “two directions” idea.
For the classically trained musician above, the intellectual, the historian etc…, there seems to be two options for those who do not want to compromise with the toxic, surrounding culture. One path leads towards more “fundamental” styles of Protestantism/Evangelicalism, where being separate from the culture has always been a trademark, and where things such as traditional gender roles, a high view of scripture, and fairly traditional or austere worship has been maintained. I also believe this is why rigorous Calvinism is enjoying a resurgence of sorts, because of its high view of God’s sovereignty and transcendence, in stark contrast to the “Jesus is my buddy” and “self-esteem” pablum that has dominated evangelicalism.
The other path leads to the Catholic, Orthodox, or the conservative “high-church” Anglican and Lutheran traditions, which have a rich cultural and intellectual history, and seemingly have been untainted by the decadence of modern culture (Orthodoxy in particular has an appeal this way). I know someone who attended an evangelical school with me and joined the Orthodox church because he “already had the conversion experience and personal faith,” and now wanted the historical church, and accepted the doctrine that came with it.
So for those of you Evangelicals reading this, what is the solution? As one who has attended a Free Lutheran, then Missionary Alliance, and now an Independent Baptist church, I find some of the “high church” traditions to be highly attractive, especially for cultural, historical, and artistic reasons. Some of the “mainline” denominations have compromised so much that morally and theologically they are almost unrecognizable as Christian. What say you?