Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From the Series "Evangelicalism's Challenge": "Where Are the People?" (Crystal Cathedral, Rob Bell)


Where Are the People?

by Jim Hinch
Winter 2014 Cover Story

Jim Hinch is a religion correspondent for the Orange County Register. He has also written for The Los Angeles Review of Books, Gastronomica, and other publications.
"Evangelical Christianity in America is losing its power -
what happened to Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral shows why."

The Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California, is one of America’s largest and most celebrated ecclesiastical buildings. At 60,000 square feet and designed by architect Philip Johnson, it was until recently the sanctuary of Robert H. Schuller, once one of the country’s most prominent and influential Christian ministers. In September 1980, when he dedicated the cathedral at an opening ceremony (“To the glory of man for the greater glory of God”), Schuller was at the height of his influence, preaching to a congregation of thousands in Orange County and reaching millions more worldwide via the Hour of Power, a weekly televised ministry program. Among the show’s annual highlights were “The Glory of Easter” and its companion production, “The Glory of Christmas,” multimillion-dollar dramatic extravaganzas staged inside the cathedral with a cast of professional actors, Hollywood-grade costumes, and live animals. The setting for the spectacles was a striking, soaring, light-filled structure justly praised by architecture critics. But it was not a cathedral. It was never consecrated by a religious denomination. The building is not even made of crystal, but rather 10,000 rectangular panes of glass. Like the much beloved, much pilloried Disneyland three miles to the northwest, the Crystal Cathedral is a monument to Americans’ inveterate ability to transform dominant cultural impulses—in this case, Christianity itself—into moneymaking enterprises that conquer the world.
But 2013 marked the end of an era. In June, Schuller’s evangelical Christian ministry, founded almost 60 years ago amid the suburbs of postwar Southern California, conducted its last worship service and filmed its last Hour of Power in the Crystal Cathedral. Hounded by creditors (including some of those Hollywood-grade costume and livestock suppliers), the ministry had declared bankruptcy three years earlier and last year sold the cathedral for $58 million to Orange County’s Catholic diocese. The diocese promptly announced plans to transform the 34-acre campus, which also includes notable ministry buildings by other name-brand architects, into Christ Cathedral, a spiritual home and civic showplace for the county’s surging population of more than 1.2 million Catholics, many of them immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia. The equipment facilitating Schuller’s elaborate stagecraft—lights, cameras, below-stage elevators, theater-style seating, an indoor reflecting pool—will be ripped out and replaced with a consecrated altar, bishop’s cathedra, baptismal font, and votive chapels dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and other saints prominent in immigrant Catholics’ devotional lives. When the building reopens for worship in 2016, it will embody a transformation in the nation’s spiritual landscape that is only now beginning to be felt.
Just 10 years ago, evangelical Christianity appeared to be America’s dominant religious movement. Evangelicals, more theologically diverse and open to the secular world than their fundamentalist brethren, with whom they’re often confused, were on the march toward political power and cultural prominence. They had the largest churches, the most money, influential government lobbyists, and in the person of President George W. Bush, leadership of the free world itself. Indeed, even today most people continue to regard the United States as the great spiritual exception among developed nations: a country where advances in science and technology coexist with stubborn, and stubbornly conservative, religiosity. But the reality, largely unnoticed outside church circles, is that evangelicalism is not only in gradual decline but today stands poised at the edge of a demographic and cultural cliff. The most recent Pew Research Center survey of the nation’s religious attitudes, taken in 2012, found that just 19 percent of Americans identified themselves as white evangelical Protestants—five years earlier, 21 percent of Americans did so. Slightly more (19.6 percent) self-identified as unaffiliated with any religion at all, the first time that group has surpassed evangelicals. (It should be noted that surveying Americans’ faith lives is notoriously difficult, since answers vary according to how questions are phrased, and respondents often exaggerate their level of religious commitment. Pew is a nonpartisan research organization with a track record of producing reliable, in-depth studies of religion. Other equally respected surveys—Gallup, the General Social Survey—have reached conclusions about Christianity’s status in present-day America that agree with Pew’s in some respects and diverge in others.)
Secularization alone is not to blame for this change in American religiosity. Even half of those Americans who claim no religious affiliation profess belief in God or claim some sort of spiritual orientation. Other faiths, like Islam, perhaps the country’s fastest-growing religion, have had no problem attracting and maintaining worshippers. No, evangelicalism’s dilemma stems more from a change in American Christianity itself, a sense of creeping exhaustion with the popularizing, simplifying impulse evangelical luminaries such as Schuller once rode to success.
Prominent figures in the evangelical establishment have already begun sounding alarms. In particular, the Barna Group, an evangelical market research organization, has been issuing a steady stream of books and white papers documenting the erosion of support for evangelicalism, especially among young people. Contributions from worshippers 55 and older now account for almost two-thirds of evangelical churches’ income in the United States. A mere three percent of non-Christian Americans under 30 have a positive impression of evangelical Christianity, according to David Kinnaman, the Barna Group’s president. That’s down from 25 percent of baby boomers at a similar age. At present rates of attrition, two-thirds of evangelicals in their 20s will abandon church before they turn 30. “It’s the melting of the icebergs,” Kinnaman told me. Young people’s most common complaint, he said, is that churches are too focused on sexual issues and preoccupied with their own institutional development—in other words, he explained, “Christianity no longer looks like Jesus.”
A book making the rounds among evangelical pastors these days is called The Great Evangelical Recession. Written by John S. Dickerson, a former investigative journalist turned evangelical pastor, it chronicles in unsparing statistical detail how evangelical Christianity is hemorrhaging members, money, and influence. “The United States has shifted into a … post-Christian age,” he writes. “No one disputes this.”
Visible from nearby freeways, the 128-foot-tall Crystal Cathedral looms over Orange County’s landscape of low-rise tract houses, shopping centers, and manicured office parks. Up close, it resembles a giant, angular greenhouse. Glass panes, affixed to steel trusses by silicone-based glue, cover the entire exterior, glinting in the hazy Southern California sunshine and reflecting the landscaped grounds. Across a paved plaza from the cathedral are an older church sanctuary and an office tower designed in the 1960s by celebrated modernist architect Richard Neutra, and the so-called Welcoming Center, a performance and exhibition space completed in 2003 by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Richard Meier, known for his design of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Adjacent to these buildings are a memorial garden and columbarium sunk like an amphitheater into the ground, and a 236-foot-tall mirrored glass bell tower, also designed by Philip Johnson.
The cathedral complex is an odd, sometimes startling juxtaposition of high and low culture. The three main buildings, though architecturally distinguished, bear no stylistic relation to one another and thus resemble ships from different eras run aground on a shoal. The light-filled interior of the cathedral, seen from ground level, feels more like a corporate convention hall than a religious sanctuary. Before the Catholic diocese began renovation in 2013, potted palms and ferns surrounded a raised stage. A reflecting pool ran the length of an aisle between rows of folding, padded theater seats. Banks of stage lights hung from the roof. Giant speakers flanked the stage. Outside, gaudy statues (“The Smiling Jesus,” “Christ With the Lost Sheep”) adorned the plaza, including a bronze replica of Jesus striding across a reflecting pool at the base of Neutra’s exacting, 13-story Tower of Hope. Amateur religious art donated by members of Schuller’s congregation hung in an exhibition gallery adjacent to the reflecting pool.
On a recent tour of the cathedral, Father Christopher Smith, the Catholic priest charged with supervising transformation of the complex into a Catholic worship space, did his best, but frequently failed, to be diplomatic about Schuller’s design sensibilities. “It was a beautiful campus,” he said. “It’s still beautiful. But it’s tired.” He pointed up toward the cathedral’s sloping glass roof. “We recaulked 1,500 panes of glass. We’re really trying to fix the leaks.” In its final years, Schuller’s cash-strapped ministry skimped on building maintenance.
Outside, on the plaza, the priest stopped beside a statue of children surrounding a beneficent Jesus. “Some of these are awful,” he remarked. Most, he said, would be removed during the diocese’s $53 million renovation. The diocese, taking its inspiration from the historic cathedrals of Europe, envisions the structure as something wholly different from Schuller’s ministerial showplace. “Traditionally, cathedrals are centers of art and culture,” Smith said. “We want it to be that.” He spoke of touring symphony orchestras playing in the sanctuary, academic and theological conferences in the Welcoming Center’s exquisitely spare meeting spaces, ecumenical worship services, art exhibits, the bustling cultural activity of a civic gathering place—something Orange County, built over decades with little central planning in car-mad Southern California, simply doesn’t have.
Born in Iowa in 1926 and educated at an evangelical seminary in Michigan, Schuller arrived in rapidly suburbanizing Orange County in 1955, the year Disneyland opened. Like other successful evangelical ministers before and after him, he quickly grasped the direction American society was moving and molded his ministry accordingly. He established a church not in a building but at a drive-in movie theater in the town of Garden Grove, which, following World War II, was rapidly transforming from an expanse of orange, walnut, and strawberry farms 30 miles south of Los Angeles into a grid of suburban neighborhoods home to 44,000 people. Five years after Schuller’s arrival, the newly incorporated city’s population had doubled. Many of those new residents attended Schuller’s church, where he preached atop a snack bar to rows of worshippers in their cars. In 1958, Schuller bought a parcel of land a few miles from the drive-in and commissioned Neutra, an émigré Austrian who had made his name designing glass-walled houses for wealthy Los Angelenos, to build a permanent home for what was then called the Garden Grove Community Church. Neutra’s modernist, rectangular worship hall was dedicated in 1961. Seven years later, the architect added the equally severe Tower of Hope. In 1980, by this time a pastoral celebrity known around the world, Schuller began preaching in the $18 million Crystal Cathedral.
Schuller, like Billy Graham and other name-brand evangelical ministers, led a mid-20th-century spiritual resurgence that corresponded with the birth and subsequent coming of age of America’s baby-boom generation. Even as older, inner-city mainline Protestant congregations withered in postwar America, suburban evangelical churches gained members when boomers, now having children of their own, began showing up in the late 1970s. A decade later, evangelical megachurches—some of the largest of which were in Orange County—were the dominant trend in American Christianity, growing in lockstep with the suburbs that gave them birth and set their spiritual tone.
The Christianity practiced in these suburban churches was not of the fire-and-brimstone variety. Evangelicals are far looser and more theologically diverse than Christian fundamentalists, who emerged in the late 19th century in reaction to the destabilizing effects of industrialization, the Civil War, and advances in science. Fundamentalism, especially the view that the Bible is inerrant in all of its teachings, has been steadily declining as a force in American Christianity for decades. Recent Barna Group research shows that just 38 percent of Christians—down from close to half two decades ago—regard the Bible as “totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” Evangelicals, by contrast, while acknowledging the authority of scripture, place greater emphasis on the believer’s personal relationship with Christ. They trace their roots in America to Jonathan Edwards, an 18th-century Massachusetts divine who paired Calvinistic theology with scholarship, evangelism, and spiritual conversion. The preeminence of conversion has produced huge variety and creativity in their outreach to nonbelievers. For nearly a century, evangelicals have been at the forefront of innovations in church music, worship style, architecture, and use of media to engage the non-Christian world.
Schuller was one of those innovators. His embrace of California car culture, his commissioning of high-profile architects, and his focus on televised spectacle were all efforts to wow, and woo, secular audiences. (Those approaches also fed Schuller’s ego, and their success his pocketbook.) The suburban style of evangelicalism Schuller pioneered was showmanlike and inspirational, emphasizing feel-good messages and entertaining worship services rather than liturgical tradition and theological complexity. Most other large evangelical churches have followed this pattern, with greater or lesser doses of commitment required of their worshippers. Christian traditionalists often assailed popular evangelical ministers for watering down the faith. But their flocks grew as baby boomers, accustomed to television and American plenitude, sought churches that matched their upwardly mobile, entertainment-oriented life styles.
Only with the social turbulence of the late 1960s—and particularly after the Supreme Court’s 1973 legalization of abortion—did evangelicals begin moving to the political right, merging with fundamentalists in a conservative Christian voting bloc—a rightward tilt that tracked with larger shifts in American culture. As the boomers’ youthful political activism evolved into the suburban libertarianism and mistrust of government that propelled Ronald Reagan into office, evangelical megachurches offered their own spiritual blend of social conservatism and entrepreneurial innovation. Pastors emulated the corporate managers who often filled their pews. They researched their audience, introduced new products, marketed their offerings, and measured success by growth in membership and budgets.
Schuller’s own Orange County was at the forefront of America’s plunge into entrepreneurial suburbanization. Explosive growth in the county during the 1950s and ’60s led in subsequent decades to the construction of sprawling planned communities. Heavily capitalized developers transformed the landscape into a manicured rebuke to America’s troubled inner cities. Their plans excluded the prevailing elements of urban design: high-rise buildings, mixed-use commercial districts, multifamily housing, and straight streets, which were thought to be easier for criminals to navigate. The county lured corporations with plush but safely bland office parks, and local governments kept taxes low and business regulations light. The result was a resounding success. Today, Orange County is an economic colossus with a 2012 GDP of $195 billion; per capita, its GDP is roughly the size of Singapore’s. Over the years, some portion of that wealth flowed into the evangelical churches, which molded themselves to suit the county’s mostly white-collar, affluent population.
But just as Orange County pioneered a new form of low-rise urbanism, it was also among the first places to experience the demographic consequences. All those planned communities—their well-paid inhabitants liked to eat out, their houses needed cleaning, and their lawns needed trimming. Beginning in the 1970s, migrants, mostly from Mexico, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Korea, began arriving to cook, clean, and mow. These immigrants and their families began taking over formerly all-white neighborhoods, principally in northern parts of the county, transforming the look and cultural fabric of those areas. Today, Orange County is one of the most ethnically, politically, and economically diverse places on the planet. Only 43 percent of its more than three million residents are white, and almost a third were born abroad.
Nowhere is this more visible than in the neighborhoods surrounding the Crystal Cathedral. Garden Grove, where Schuller once preached to young white homeowners in their cars, is now inhabited almost entirely by immigrants and their descendants. The adjacent city of Westminster is home to the world’s largest population of Vietnamese outside Vietnam. In another neighboring city, Santa Ana, 82 percent of the families speak at home a language other than English, primarily Spanish. These mostly poor residents cram several families into tract houses, work low-wage jobs, and reliably vote Democratic (the county’s registered voters are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans; Barack Obama won in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012). They also gravitate not to evangelical megachurches like Schuller’s but to Catholic parishes, Buddhist temples, mosques, and storefront Pentecostal churches. The Islamic Society of Orange County, which owns a mosque, school, and mortuary five miles from the Crystal Cathedral, is one of America’s largest centers of Islamic worship. The Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, a few miles north of Orange County, is the largest Buddhist temple in the United States. Orange County’s Catholic diocese is one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing.
This demographic shift, which experts predict will make the United States’ majority population nonwhite in roughly three decades, has not been kind to suburban evangelicalism. Young people in Orange County, no matter their ethnic or economic background, no longer view themselves as living in a suburban appendage of urban Los Angeles. The county is dense with Vietnamese pho joints, boba tea shops, Asian shopping malls, halal markets, Mexican swap meets, punk-rock nightclubs, and art galleries. Corporate-style megachurches seem bland by comparison. Several of them remain in Orange County, including the Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Mariners Church in the planned community of Irvine, and First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. But these are clustered in the county’s most affluent areas. None are growing rapidly anymore.
These days, young Christians in Orange County attend very different kinds of churches, some unrecognizable as churches at all. Laundry Love, a ministry in Santa Ana, is an ad hoc community of young Christians who gather monthly at various inner-city, coin-operated laundries and wash patrons’ clothes for free. The ministry is an offshoot of Newsong Church, a mostly Asian evangelical congregation founded nearly three decades ago by a pastor named Dave Gibbons, who sought to reach people like himself, mixed-race descendants of immigrants (his parents are white and Asian) who felt out of place in mainstream American society. Newsong now has branches in Thailand, England, Mexico, and India—all of which function like self-sustaining Christian communes oriented around humanitarian relief initiatives. Gibbons has emerged as one of a growing number of in-house critics of evangelical Christianity’s wholesale adoption of corporate American values. “The church has become involved in big business,” he told me by phone. “That’s why artists and creatives don’t want anything to do with church. What’s unique about how we’re trying to do things is we focus on people who aren’t like us. We don’t have to build our own brand.”
A decade ago, Newsong, with 4,000 members, was on its way to becoming America’s latest Asian megachurch. Unsettled by its relentless focus on growth, Gibbons abruptly changed course, rededicating Newsong to ministering in low-income neighborhoods and providing a haven for artists. More than a quarter of the congregation left. But now Gibbons’s move seems prescient. In the past decade, evangelical churches, especially in culturally diverse urban areas, have been forced to choose between adopting urban cultural values and extinction. “The megachurch was a baby-boomer suburban phenomenon that folks under 45 typically aren’t perpetuating,” says Ryan Bolger, who teaches contemporary Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Young evangelicals “want to start communities in cafés, and this isn’t just whites. We’re starting to see with Koreans and Latinos a desire to move away from the churchiness of church, to be multicultural and in an urban context, church in the profane areas of life.”
At Epic Church, a 200-member, decade-old congregation in a northern part of Orange County populated mostly by Koreans and Hispanics, members gather for weekly worship in a rented office building but spend much of their time together working as tutors to low-income students at a nearby neighborhood center. “We haven’t been a church that understands ourselves as goods and services,” said Kevin Doi, Epic’s founder and pastor. The church welcomes gays, makes no overt effort to raise money from members, and regularly invites residents at a neighboring homeless shelter to its services. Doi said he has no long-range plan for his church and wouldn’t mind if it ceased functioning as an institution altogether. “We didn’t feel like our goal was to get people to come to our church,” he said. “We wanted to be present in the neighborhood, where we’re the guests.”
In a few years, perhaps a decade or two, religious America will catch up to Orange County’s present. There will be a shrinking number of evangelical megachurches, gradually aging and waning in influence. There will be numerous small, eclectic, multiethnic evangelical congregations whose emphasis on spiritual commitment and social service is unlikely to attract a large, mainstream following. And there will be surging numbers of immigrant Catholics, Pentecostals, and Muslims. The political influence of evangelicalism will decline. America will not become like Europe, where ossified state churches proved unable to compete against the inherently secularizing forces of market capitalism—and where immigrants’ faith expressions are often met with hostility. America will remain exceptionally religious. But traditional evangelical Christianity will no longer be a dominant presence in that religiosity.
Two years ago, in December 2011, yet another immigrant arrived in Orange County. Rob Bell migrated not from abroad but from Michigan, where he was a megachurch pastor and author who’d recently made the cover of Time and was about to be profiled in The New Yorker. Bell’s arrival, with his wife and three children, in the oceanfront city of Laguna Beach was tantamount to an escape. His spring 2011 book, Love Wins, the catalyst for the magazine stories, had ignited a firestorm in the world of evangelical Christianity. The book questioned the existence of hell and raised the possibility that all people, not just Christians, will be redeemed by God. Nothing in the book was theologically new; indeed, Bell never denied outright the reality of hell. But his book became a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over evangelicalism’s future. Younger, liberal evangelicals were for the book. Older, conservative evangelicals rejected it. In the midst of the debate, Bell, who had already tired of the institutional responsibilities of running his 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, stepped down from leadership and lit out in semi-anonymity for the beach.
When I spoke to Bell earlier this year, he was still in the first flush of California love, waxing lyrical about the spirituality of surfing (he owns seven surfboards and arranges his schedule around the daily surf report). He was also at work on plans for a television talk show. Bell represents the new breed of young evangelicals who are, with gathering speed, reshaping and in some respects dissolving their movement. A decade ago, Bell was lionized in the evangelical world for blending the movement’s age-old formula (conservative theology; rapid, corporate-style growth) with hip new brains and style (sermons larded with quantum physics; a YouTube video series). Yet, like so many younger evangelicals, Bell grew disenchanted with church. By the time he wrote Love Wins, he was already fantasizing about Southern California, where he had attended graduate school. Bell doesn’t go to church in Laguna Beach. He and some friends from college have formed a quasi-intentional spiritual community, gathering in one anothers’ homes to worship and talk about faith.
“Evangelicals are good at whipping people up into a frenzy, and then you’re like, ‘What was that?’ ” Bell told me. “I was the pastor of a megachurch, and lots of people came, and I did book tours and interviews and films. That’s fine. But I’ll take seeing God every day, which is washing dishes with my kids and walking my dog and interacting with someone I just met.”
In other words, the future of the evangelical church as glimpsed from Orange County might be no church at all. Robert Schuller’s brand of worship might just turn out to be nothing more than a spiritual fad. As the generation that embraced it—middle-class, baby-boomer whites flocking to car-based suburbs—dies off, their spirituality dies with them. This is not to say that the church will go away. The Crystal Cathedral still stands. But its name is now Christ Cathedral. And Schuller’s vision of a glittery surface reflecting himself and the suburbs where he preached is gone.

Scot McKnight's Review of Molly Worthen's "The Apostles of Reason"

Liberation Themes among Evangelicals
by Scot McKnight
December 6, 2013
“The culture wars, of the late twentieth century began, in part,” Molly Worthen contends, “as a civil war within evangelicalism” (177). So she states in her study of the “gospel of liberation” among evangelicals in her fine study, Apostles of Reason. In the 1960s some American evangelicals looked to the church’s precedents in dealing with the social tensions at work in American society. Two points: (1) “left”-leaning thinkers found resources in the martyr tradition, in the Reformation models of communes to the social welfare pushes of the 19th Century. (2) “Right”-leaning thinkers saw in these proposals traitors to the tradition while the leftists saw the rightists as caving into modernity. There the culture began.
To be sure, 19th Century Evangelicalism was a coalition, and one of the themes was social progress and justice for all. But the rise of the social gospel pressed conservative evangelicals into less social engagement, but connect this to burgeoning interests in the Second Coming [of Jesus] and dispensational thinking and the culture war of the American church took on potent significance.
In 1960, at the NAE meeting, these social issues were at the front: communism, the RC situation, IRS pressure on ministers who preached politics, providing alcohol on planes, and Hollywood’s attacks on evangelicalism (Elmer Gantry). It cared about relief in the world for starvation but did not concern itself with racism or systemic approaches to poverty. Patriotism was important.
But there were some more social-conscience evangelicals, like TB Matson, JB Weatherspoon, Richard Caemmerer, Vernon Grounds, Richard Pierard, Timothy Smith, and David Moberg. Politicians like John B. Anderson and Mark Hatfield broke ranks. Sherwood Wirt’s work belongs here too.
This gave rise to what many call the “young evangelicals.” Richard Quebedeaux was a leading story-teller of this new movement of socially active evangelicalism. It gave rise to Jim Wallis and, in my view, Wallis has carried the banner for this view since the 1960s — 50 years of relentless pressing of evangelicalism to see the social implications of the message of Jesus. He tried to gain a voice in Christianity Today but the editors saw too much politics in Wallis, so he began The Post-American and then Sojourners. They moved to DC and the rest is the story many today already know.
Alongside this theme of social or economic liberation was evangelical feminism. The story is known, too, but hierarchicalism ruled evangelicalism in many ways — Phyllis Schlafly, Beverly LaHaye, and submission [issues], etc. Churches reflected the same. Then came Nancy Hardesty and Letha Scanzoni’s powerful and epoch-changing book All We’re Meant to Be : from sexuality to ministry. Lucille Sider Dayton created Daughters of Sarah , and Paul Jewett at Fuller… and before long turbulence within was interpreted as coming from without.
Then some evangelicals advocated for supporting McGovern… a movement that led to the famous Chicago Declaration for Evangelical Social Concern, which tried to form more consensus across the spectrum and sought to address social issues, and this led both to a major statement and to an eventual unraveling based on identity politics. (This story has been told very well by David Swartz, Moral Minority .)
Theologically, Fuller becomes more the center of the story: George Ladd’s protests against dispensational eschatology, Geoffrey Bromiley’s translation and teaching of Karl Barth, the use of Bonhoeffer among many (it was at that time that I too found Bonhoeffer) … all leading to a bit of a revival of the anabaptist viewpoint among evangelicals.
Molly Worthen’s book, I am suggesting, will become a potential watershed in that she has revealed why the coalition mindset that many of us want-and-believe-in struggles to find genuine centrality among evangelicals because the gatekeepers would prefer less diversity at the table while also wanting the numbers for support in the movement.

Peter Enns, "A Call for Diversity in Evangelicalism" (Molly Worthen)

a call for diversity in evangelicalism: more from Molly Worthen

The term evangelical mind conjures images of a creature of many faces sharing one brain, or at least a movement of people who think and act in concert. No metaphor could be further from the truth. This story of shifting and conflicting authorities, evolving alliances and feuds, and debate over the essence of Christian identity means that it we continue to speak of an evangelical mind–if we continue to use the word evangelical at all, and we will–we must allow room for diversity and internal contradiction, for those who love the label and those who hate it. We must recognize that American evangelicalism owes more to its fractures and clashes, its anxieties and doubts, than to any political pronouncement or point of doctrine.
It may be wiser to speak instead of an “evangelical imagination.” In every individual, the imagination is the faculty of mind that absorbs ideas and sensations as fuel to conjure something new. It is a tool for stepping outside oneself or plunging into egocentric delusion. But we might also speak of the imagination that a community shares, no matter how furious its internal quarrels: a sphere of discourse and dreaming framed by abiding questions about how humans know themselves, their world, and their God. The evangelical imagination has been both an aid to intellectual life and an agent of anti-intellectual sabotage. Above all, it is a source of energy: energy that propels evangelism, institution-building, activism, care for the suffering, and a sincere passion for intellectual inquiry. It offers no clear path past the impasse of biblical authority, no firm discipline for the undecided mind, and no reconciliation with the intelligentsia of secular America. But any crisis of authority is no longer a crisis if it has become the status quo. If the evangelical imagination harbors a potent anti-intellectualism strain, it has proven, over time, to be a kind of genius.
Several things strike me here, but I will mention only one: the call for diversity in the use of the term “evangelical.” The term is here to stay in American culture, and rather than fighting and hand writing over who has the divine right to use the label, perhaps there is a better way forward: to embrace significant internal diversity as as part of the evangelecial identity.
To do this, however, the American evangelical power brokers will have to lay down their guard and allow for an evolution (if I may use the word) in what the label means. I think this will be hard to so, given that evangelicalism was created to protect boundaries rather than entertain a redefinition of those boundaries.
I suppose we shall see.

Roger Olson, "Review of Apostles of Reason by Molly Worthen," Part 1