Frank Schaeffer has been an outspoken critic (to say the least) of the Christian Right since he left the movement many years ago. He found a spiritual home in Orthodoxy, and blogs at “Why I Still Talk to Jesus — In Spite of Everything.” In a recent blog post, he widened his critique of evangelical Christianity in America to include “progressive” Christianity. Here, he takes on the Phyllis Tickles and Diana Butler Basses of the world who see a new era emerging in the western Church — an age that stresses spirituality rather than religion, community rather than institutionalism, inclusiveness and diversity rather than a “bounded set” mentality, and orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy.
He lays his cards on the table right at the outset of his piece:
I don’t think there will be some new age of religion dawning in America anytime soon unless a lot of people change their minds about worship. The dream of progressive Christians whether they call themselves “emergent” or something else will fizzle along with the slowly collapsing evangelical/fundamentalist juggernaut unless the basic mistakes of North American Christianity are addressed.
In summary, he asserts: “The problem with North American Christianity is not the window-dressing– it’s the whole package.”
And the whole package, as far as Schaeffer is concerned, is the liturgy.
- Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have abandoned the primary signpost that forms people into a community.
- Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have lost “something to show up for that was different than the rest of your life, special, set apart.”
- Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have forsaken the unity that comes through shared practice and tradition.
- Dispensing with the liturgy, churches have lost the sense of being “home” — “…the point was you showed up and it was always reassuringly the same. It was to worship what the Manhattan skyline is to born and bred New Yorkers: home.” Instead, Schaeffer asserts, churches have replaced the real New York with a Las Vegas imitation.
It’s no wonder then that a generation of evangelicals and disgruntled fundamentalists wandering away from evangelical communities have zero idea about what to actually “do” in terms of worship and practice when they start up their own churches as a counterpoint to the bad experiences they suffered through in times past. They may think that they are rebelling against the straitjacket of right wing fundamentalist “culture war” Christianity, but in fact they’re just simply continuing it by other means. The sign posts are still gone. They are still in a head game of ideas about God, not in the world of worship of God. Until forward thinking Christians are willing to look back at what’s been lost no one is going to be able to get anywhere past just being another fad.
For Frank Schaeffer, the problem is not primarily doctrinal but practical. No matter what our doctrine may be, if our churches look like the rest of the culture, feel the rest of the culture, speak like the rest of the culture, and act like the rest of the culture, we will not “do” Christianity as it was meant to be done. We create consumerist Christians who are ever after the latest and greatest thing.
- Mystery and open-mindedness in our theology
- Rediscovery of Eucharistic sacramental tradition in our worship
- Seeking out the old, the mystical, and the monastic for spiritual formation
- Abandoning “relevance” and trying to be “modern” and instead reconnecting with our historic traditions of worship
- Practicing NT freedom in being more inclusive and recognizing the ever-expanding trajectory of the Gospel, which welcomes the marginalized — minorities, women, gays, etc. — and allows them to serve and lead in our congregations
Schaeffer critiques us for abandoning the wisdom of tradition to live out the human proclivity for “free-thinking” and autonomy that has been at the root of our civilization since the Enlightenment (and which, by the way, was the original sin). If we abandon this “progressive” mindset, he says, and instead intentionally “build communities around ancient worship practices that would be recognizable to any other Christian in history, we’ll be on to something.”