Further UPDATE: Somehow, as usual, Phil Johnson feels the need to have some kind of last word about this post. So if you’ve been unduly influenced by my liberal rantings to love, pray for and appreciate your brothers and sisters still holding out in the mainlines, go get yourself vacuumed out real good at Phil’s blog. I guess my vast plan to make the TRs like Driscoll is working. Muhahahah! UPDATE: Well…I’ve managed to get everyone angry with me. It’s a good thing I don’t live off of your offerings. Thanks to all of you who’ve read this and commented. I look forward to YOUR posts on YOUR site about what Mark Driscoll should have said.
With the amount of time I’ve spent defending Mark Driscoll as a brother and his brand of evangelistic missionalism as a church model to be applauded, I suppose I’ve earned to right to disagree with Mark as well. It’s actually not the case that I disagree with Mark’s post on the death of the mainline denominations as much as it’s just that I need to say a few things in response, and in various levels of agreement and moderate disagreement.
1. He’s mostly right, and the mainline story is horrendous. “Ichabod” has been written over much of it, many people will never go back, and much of it is a wasteland. All that being said, there’s more to the mainline story than Mark has written. This is just too much shorthand, too much Driscoll-style analysis. We need to LEARN from what’s really happened. Many evangelical denominations- even conservative ones- aren’t out of the woods with much of what has gone wrong here. (Do you think the number of Calvinists in SBC seminaries matches up with the number of Calvinist SBC churches or Calvinists in those churches? Now why would that be?)
2. From what I’ve read and heard from Mark, his experiences in mainline churches were uniformly disappointing, and I can “feel” that with no trouble. The mainline leadership has lost their way and betrayed their constituencies. There are many apostates among them. Their seminaries are lost and most of their official actions, programs and pronouncements are an embarrassment. Ditto, high five and all that.
3. What Mark doesn’t mention are the amazing, faithful, brave, awesome remnant movements in those mainline churches. For example in the UMC there is a large and vital resistance in the Good News movement. In the PCUSA, there are many faithful evangelical pastors like Mark Roberts and Tod Bolsinger. Confessing Churches in the PCUSA are often healthy churches. The Laymen’s Committee has long stood bravely against the liberals in the PCUSA. Movements like Presbyterians for Renewal are doing great work. Yes, the power structures work hard to navigate around these conservatives, but they are tenacious.
I wish Mark had acknowledged that one doesn’t know everything about a mainline church by reading what goes on at a convention or assembly. The PCUSA still holds to the WCF and other orthodox confessions. Evangelicals and conservatives who have chosen to stay in the mainlines aren’t invisible. They aren’t to blame, and they shouldn’t be written off with rhetoric that sounds like the analysis of a youth director doing a comedy routine.
4. I appreciate Mark’s bluntness in talking to the Mars Hill audience, but what is going on in the mainlines is a tragedy. Good people whose parents and grandparents faithfully built gospel loving churches have watched as those churches were taken away, not just by liberals, but by unprincipled, evil people who had no respect for the people in the pews and no compunction about taking those denominations down radically different paths than they were built to follow. I have pastored these people, and their hearts are broken. They have no desire to become Baptists, etc. They are faithful, loyal and Bible believing. But they are also virtually powerless. To leave is to leave their property and buildings behind, and to eliminate the voice of Biblical faithfulness from the life of the denomination.
5. The logic of female leadership = liberal apostasy has a lot to commend it. I think, again, the situation is complex in the mainlines. Did the ECUSA and the PCUSA yield to feminists? Or did the seminaries start assuring the churches that they had read the Bible wrongly? If female leadership is a path to liberalism, what about Pentecostals and Charismatics? And just how important is the gay component of this struggle? In the PCUSA, gays are clustered in sympathetic churches and schools, but are not in leadership or influence in the more conservative PCUSA churches, which still support the ordination of women. I believe we are looking at denominations where minority points of view were able to gain undue power. While the majority of people in the typical pew still hold to Biblical positions in many of the mainlines (esp in the south and in rural areas), the leadership is no longer responsible to the people who write the checks. It was a hijacking, not just a slow slide.
6. Let’s support those still in the mainlines. Point out the churches that aren’t the liberal stereotypes. Encourage faithful pastors and elders. Young people who stay with these churches deserve to be seen as part of the evangelical family and encouraged rather than told they must leave their local church. The mainlines have many older members who are Biblically deserving of honor, not scorn.
We can do better to encourage the “remnant,” and to not make those who remain at those churches into fodder of our rhetorical denouncements of the mistakes of the mainlines.
BTW: Brad at Broken Messenger has posted on the GBA situation as he sees it. Support this kind of truthful posting.