Monday, March 06, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: EXODUS: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, by Dave Shiflett

When I started reading Shiflett's book two weeks ago, I had high hopes. The first few pages of the intro were disappointing as he sounded a little to casual and flip. But getting into the book further [it's due back at the library in two days!] I am finding some good insights worth reading. By and large, his stats on the growth of conservative faith and decline of progressive church attendance is noteworthy.

You're thinking: Why would you read a book like this? The best answer is that it's research for my own book; the topic of which is how the afterlife controls the life we lead before we get there. Shiflett points out on more than one page that people turn to a more traditionalist church because they sense a better bet for the afterlife. Ok, so I'm paraphrasing. And Shiflett doesn't himself always say it, but the people he interviews tell him such things.

He interviews a number of people who have turned away from liberal churches--or progressive churches, as they are called--for a more traditional religion and liturgy. Some of the once-liberals enter the Roman Catholic Church, others like the orthodox Christian religion, and others are renegades within their own churches, like the Episcopalians --who have renounced the national Episcopal church to start their own because they don't like gay bishops.

Most of the liberal churches, characterized by Progress Theology, Shiflett says, believe in a 30% God; God Lite. Their God is not in control of you or me or any other individual or group or sports team or the weather for that matter. God-lite is not omnipotent and finds out what we are planning to do when we do it, about the same time we find out. God is in process; just like us. Draw your own conclusions.

Traditional believers go for the Absolute God; 100% God. This God is not stuck in present time; in fact, is beyond time; and absolutely has a say in what you and I and George Bush and Hitler and St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Sienna choose to do in life.

Thus, Shiflett concludes: the lesser the God, the lesser the congregation. Why go to church worship a God who is pretty much locked into the same moment of time of you are, can't help you change anything, and doesn't much look a God or god or even a fairy god-father for that matter. If that's your God, why join a church?

Shiflett quotes some pretty staunch liberals, like Louie Crew (gay activist and Episcopalian): "In backing the state and Wm Jennings Bryan in 1925, parts of the church wrote themselves out of the lives of many of the best minds in America....Every Episcopalian with half and IQ point left ought to be profoundly embarrassed. The vast majority of Episcopalians fled denominations where they had to hang their minds at the door, and now we are captive to trial where such mindlessness is aired for all the world to see." [he's speaking of the trial of Epis. ordination of gay bishops]

If that were the case, Shiflett's focus and the statistics he uses are flawed. Since the statistics, one has to assume, are a reflection of what's going on in America, Crew must be wishing out loud.

A few of the statistics in the book: of all democrats Born Again Christians make up 38%; of republicans 57%; and of independents 35%. Twenty-eight percent of pastors polled, 7% of Americans, and 9% of BAC believe in: an absolute moral truth revealed in Scripture; Jesus was without sin; Satan exists; God is omnipotent; Christians must evangelize. About half of atheists and agnostics polled believe in afterlife and souls; and 1 in 8 atheist/agnostics believe Jesus Christ is necessary for life after death.

"Many Christians live lives indistinguishable from those professing no Christian commitment," Eddie Gibbs (Jesus in Name Only) is quoted as saying. The truth may be as Shiflett asserts, "Religion in North America is 3,000 miles wide and three inches deep."

Shiflett lets the Unitarians (with a focus on the Big Unit in the sky) have it with both barrels. They don't believe in a father God, mother God, or a significant other God. And he points out that an atheistic religion is more than a small oxymoron. Figure this: there are 155,000 Unitarians in America; but over 200,000 people convert to Roman Catholicism in any given year.

The liberal churches are shrinking in population and the conservatively bent churches are growing. I don't see them bursting at the seams, yet. In light of fundamentalist Islamic factions terrorizing the world, are Christians looking for their own creed to stand on? It's the question I'd ask Shiflett. Fundamentalist Christian churches are not necessarily traditionalist churches. Shiflett does a good job distinguishing. He also allows for the vast spectrum within the Roman Catholic Church which includes Opus Dei, Pax Christi, and RC in countries with huge differences in politics and culture. That's what catholic means, though.

While many people are put-off by the RC theology that denies divorced/remarried [without annulments] and political pro-abortionists Communion, other RC want a Church that sticks by its rules in an ever changing world. A democratic government thrives when values and convictions are allowed to vote. Take that away from people and what do they have left to form decisions from, evaluate platforms with, and choose leaders who will protect their rights to hold diverse opinions?

Exodus is not a difficult read. It's well worth the time. You should be able to check it our for two weeks and return it early.

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