Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

A failed movement?

3 March 2021

I've just been reading an article "American Evangelical Christianity - a failed movement" by Roger Olsen, a theologian from that branch of the Church. He discusses its past as "relatively strong, fairly cohesive and influential in a good way", but deplores the way it has developed since the middle of the last century. The point of change was the passing of Billy Graham. In particular, he makes two observations: the movement has been hijacked by far right-wing American nationalists and they have turned it into something it never was. Finally, American folk religion has risen up within the movement and pushed aside anything serious and profound about it-theologically, liturgically, doctrinally, homiletically, lifestyle-wise, etc. There is almost nothing distinctive about being "evangelical" in America today except being pro-American in a religious way."

With the closure of so many church buildings during the pandemic, it's been possible to sit back, as it were, and reflect on the many years of being immersed in churchy affairs. We miss the weekly gathering of (mostly) like-minded folk, catching up on their stories and thinking about the week ahead. We miss that one special day that is unlike all the other days of the week - except that during lockdown, its specialness is somewhat diluted.

But that specialness offered a cosy moment, a Sunday morning service that we could relax into, focus on things spiritual. There's a comfort in hearing the familiar - familiar hymns, familiar prayers, familiar thoughts. And it's that cosy comfort that is our greatest challenge.

Jesus never offered cosy comfort. Jesus was a man driven by a passionate belief that the reign of God was about to come, that the Jewish people needed to recognise the God who was moving amongst them. Jesus was a man who saw the unholy alliance between High Priests and Roman governors as a direct assault on Judaism and as a threat to the purpose of God to make God's people the servants of God's world. And those believers who could not leave that message in the grave with Jesus also had the passion to keep it alive, come what may. That's no cosy comfort. That's no special day once a week. That's what I've called "the revolution in the revelation", the summons to challenge, to question, to offer critique on the way life so often gets hijacked and misdirected.

A comment by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Church is her true self only when she exists for humanity. The Church is the servant of the world we live in. Faith is a life-sentence of service. May our Church not be a failed movement.

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