Mainline and Emerging

A reader writes …

Hi Brian,
I really enjoyed the reader email about the mainline church; as this is an issue I think a lot about. I grew up in a mainline Presbyterian environment, but I’ve grown weary of the denominational and doctrinal divides in the Christian church. Two things strike me with regards to “A New Kind of Christianity” and the issues you are exploring. First, during the second half of the twentieth century, the mainline churches were the ONLY home for the kind of cutting edge theology that you and your movement engage in. Evangelicals simply have not tolerated preachers or theologians with “liberal” theological or political views. So most Christians who have wanted to reexamine or question traditional Christian teachings have been in the Presbyterian, Methodist, or Episcopal tradition. You yourself can point to your own treatment as an example of how Evangelical churches tend to treat those who dissent from the accepted teachings.
Second, paradoxically I think the “emerging church” movement is rooted in the evangelical tradition. Evangelicals have been theologically conservative but much more liberal in their understanding of church planting and worship structure. Mainliners have traditionally been much more conservative than evangelicals in these areas. I think what the emerging church has done is combine this evangelical approach to church with a much more flexible and inclusive theology. Someone like Peter Rollins could be considered quite radical in his theology. But he is still an evangelical in the sense that he is out there preaching what he believes; he is going out in the midst of secular people and sharing his own view of the Christian faith. That is the most evangelical thing one can do.
I agree very much with you that mainline and emerging churches have a lot to offer each other. Mainline churches have buildings, a rich history of tradition and thought, and space and openness for the kind of theology emerging churches engage in. Emerging churches offer a freshness, vitality, and YOUNG PEOPLE, that has been lacking in Mainline churches as young people have dropped out. So instead of a bunch of gray heads sitting in the mainline pews; and a bunch of twenty and thirty somethings meeting in bars; why don’t these two groups ever come together and share their visions of the Christian faith? They might have more in common than they realize.
So there are just a few thoughts in me that you have stimulated.

Thanks for this. I couldn’t agree more – “mainline and emerging churches have a lot to offer each other.” And the good news – they are coming together and sharing their visions of the Christian faith. I’ll have to share more on this in the weeks ahead.