Monday, March 3, 2008


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President of the Chicago Theological Seminary [UCC]. Her reactions to the recent Pew study have been posted at On Faith. She says that "sociologically speaking" Protestants have won. I don't find that very reassuring.
It is clear from this Pew study that the old denominational affiliations no longer apply. The religious landscape in the U.S. is best described these days as “post-denominational.” Post-denominational means that it is far less important whether you are Methodist or Baptist, or even Catholic, than where you fall along the continuum of fundamentalist to evangelical to progressive (liberal) to secular or unaligned. While some faiths or denominations generally are more evangelical or more liberal, each tradition has a wide spectrum within it. If you are a liberal Christian in a conservative Protestant denomination, you may have more in common with a Reformed Jew than with the Christians in your own denomination. ....

....Protestant churches cannot count on their members knowing anything about the history and faith commitments of their particular tradition. These folks who are migrating from Catholic to Protestant or from liberal to evangelical or evangelical to progressive or whatever the pattern know more what they don’t want in a church than what they do want or believe. ....

These trends are examples of both strengths and weaknesses within the American religious experience. Clearly, the church I describe above where people don’t know the basic structure of Protestantism let alone its doctrines is a problem. It is also fraying the connections between the local church and the regional and national bodies of the church and also fraying the connections with church institutions (like seminaries). ....

So while the Pew study indicates that the “United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country,” these trends toward self-direction in faith is the distinctly, even uniquely Protestant ethos.

We may be declining in numbers, we Protestants, but sociologically speaking, in the U.S. we won.
Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: OnFaith on

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