Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Typologies of the Liberal Church

Mark Byron has an excellent post up with a three-fold typology of the liberal church and some measures the conservative church can take to "woo" them.

The three types are Anabaptists, the Grace Junkies, and the Proto-Unitarians. The Anabaptists (who are not necessarily actual Anabaptists, eg, Amish or Mennonite) are orthodox Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) who are have a keen interest in economic justice and in pacificism. Grace Junkies are basically orthodox Christians (mostly Protestant, I would imagine) who have very permissive attitudes towards sexual sin. Proto-Unitarians are heterodox psuedo-Christians in Catholicism and mainline Protestantism who no longer hold to any real belief in the Bible, sin, or Jesus' role as Savior. (See this post -- or really almost any post -- at MCJ)

Byron's prescription for reconciliation is one that I think I can basically endorse. With the Proto-Unitarians, it would be impossible to take them as they are. They are essentially in need of conversion and discipleship. With the Anabaptists, there is a real need for American evangelicalism to make sure that it is living up to the message of the parable of sheep and goats. With the Grace Junkies, though, it's a bit harder to say if I agree or not.

The Grace Junkies can be won over by more orthodox evangelicals with an earnest hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner approach to ministering to the sexually-active single seeker, bringing them to see a loving God who sent his son to die for them. Along the way, they'll see that there are some things that God doesn't want them doing, which includes doing the Wild Thang with their significant other. There's a fine line between being sensitive to seekers and being permissive, and the GJs err on the latter.

The stereotypical evangelical church focuses on sexual sins and substance abuse sins more than the others (like selfishness, gossip and materialism) since the effects of them are more dramatic. We might want to take a look at preaching against the "minor" sins, since they can be gateway sins to the bigger ones; people who are moving away from God on the little things may move away on the big things. That won't win over all the GJs, but it will win over some.

I think I agree, but I would think that the church needs to be far more active than just "preaching against the 'minor' sins": We need to be discipling. Formal discipleship is a something that I think that the American church needs very badly: spiritual children needs spiritual parents.

As for the effects of the GJs, I have to say that I've seen their impact first hand. I host a homegroup for my church which has as one of its purpose discipleship. My group is geared towards people my age (early 20s), and over the past year we've had a number of people come through who grew up in permissive churches and are now sexually active, often with non-Christian partners. My group leader (I'm only the host) has developed a policy of waiting until they bring it up to instruct them in proper Christian behavior, and it's had mixed results. Some accept instruction, others don't.

Regardless of my quibble with him over the GJs, I certainly agree with the refrain of his conclusion: The best route towards reconciliation and a stronger American church is to pray, pray, and pray some more.


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