Q & R: Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants …

A Presbyterian responds to A New Kind of Christianity:

I have nearly finished “A New Kind of Christianity”, and I find that your views are largely congruent with my own. Because my views developed within the Presbyterian Church starting 50 years ago, the implication of this is that the Christianity that you identify as “new” isn’t new to everyone.
Have the problems that you identify in “A New Kind of Christianity” been perpetuated primarily by the evangelical branch of Christianity?

Thanks for this question … To some degree, I think you’re right – I would say that conservative Evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic theology have been the nest that nurtures “the six-line narrative.” But two qualifiers about mainline Protestantism …
1. There’s a lot more “old paradigm” in the Mainline than many people realize – not in the pulpits so much, but among the people who attend church Sunday but listen to religious broadcasting Monday-Friday.
2. Some of the themes in my book have come onto the scene in the last decade or two, and some are being opened up even at this moment, so I wouldn’t assume that what I’m talking about is exactly what you encountered 50 years ago.

This possibility is suggested in Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”. Many mainline protestant churches of 50 years ago did not subscribe to the six-line story line that you discuss in Chapter 4. I think that this was especially true of folks who were educated in Old Testament theology by people like Berhard W. Anderson (Methodist). In fact, I claim that in spirit at least, the view that you present in Chapter 5 is very similar to the one described by Anderson in his “Unfolding Drama of the Bible” (still in print after half a century). Another source of interest is “God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital”* by G. Ernest Wright (another Old Testament person, Presbyterian). Wright’s emphasis on narrative almost seems postmodern, even though he finished his book in 1950.

Thanks so much for these references. I haven’t encountered them before.

So “A New Kind of Christianity” may be “new” to evangelicals, but will be less new to some mainline protestants. The problem that mainline protestants face is that they are not as effective as evangelicals in expressing the virtues described in Chapter 1, paragraph 1 of Noll’s book.

Yes, I think that Mainliners have a lot to learn from Evangelicals and Evangelicals from Mainliners … and the future calls both to keep moving forward, adapting, changing, learning, growing, as you say below:

My point is not to criticize but to suggest that evangelical thinkers don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and might profitably go back to resources familiar to mainline protestants. Similarly, mainline protestants need to learn from evangelicals how to translate faith into action. There could be some useful synergy here.

Amen! I remember when a particularly vicious Evangelical reviewer said of one of my books, “McLaren is nothing more than warmed-over Rauschenbusch.” This challenged me to go back and read Rauschenbusch in more depth. I realized that many things many of us were just discovering (about Jesus and the gospel of the kingdom) had indeed been articulated a century ago, and more. I think of Jesus’ words about “scribes of the kingdom” bringing forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52).