Sunday 17 October 2010

Christianity's Future

Cherie Blair, wife of the more famous Tony, hosts the final episode of Christianity: A History. Blair is a smart cookie in her own right, asking the question 'why is Christianity in decline in the West?' First she dismisses the idea that two world wars were the critical factor, then lights on the phenomena of the 1960s as the real culprit. Convinced?

The programme begins with a strong Catholic flavour. Blair was raised in Catholic Liverpool where these days churches are being closed as the faithless faithful stay away in droves. The lights have gone out since holy mother church took fright and rolled back the initiatives launched by Vatican II. Having sampled the despondent nature of mainline Christianity in Europe, the scene shifts to the United States and a celebrity lineup of talking heads: Laura Bush, Jesse Jackson and Harvey Cox. Blair seems entranced by the 'vibrant' nature of what passes from Christianity in the US, and seems awed by the operation at the Willow Creek franchise. She is impressed by the greater involvement of women - something unlikely to happen anytime soon in Catholicism - and sees the Willow Creek-type model as a template for what needs to happen back in Britain.

Which is, when you stop to think about it, a remarkable conclusion. Bill Hybels burbles on at length, and Blair decides that a radical overhaul is needed on the other side of the Atlantic. That goes without saying, but mainline churches are in decline in the US too, and Blair shows little awareness of the negatives associated with mega-churches.

I'm not sure she nailed the question, but it was still fascinating viewing.


  1. We just had a mega-Church like this open in my kids' elementary school. If find the phenomena interest -- I will be curious where it goes in our community since there is a huge evangelical Anglican (no longer Episcopal) church in the town.

    I will be fun to see how this divides up those who go to church for morals and community vs. those that go because they feel Christianity is the one true religion.

  2. ~Engaging the Apologists~18 October 2010 at 16:10

    "Willow Creek" et al

    The multi billion dollar Jesus industry. They have political clout; they have 'Hall of Fame'superstar apologist/'academics' on call: JP Holding, G Habermas, J McGrath...
    Best not to mess with the God Industry, too much money at stake.

  3. This is interesting, because I find much with which to identify in Cherie Blair's comments.

    I had one foot in and one foot out of the 1960's myself. From a rebel's standpoint, there was adequate refreshment and renewal to be derived from that era, but also a great deal of uglinesss, depravity and decadence, if one became too caught up in the reassessment and new freedoms.

    It has been said that the 1960's provided the catalyst for the evangelistic revival which occurred in the late 1970's, courtesy of the moral majority and the emerging Christian right. At the time, I was caught off guard by this, since my "church" was underground FM rock radio, and I was an avid participant in the pleasures of that culture. I was shocked when Ronald Reagan got elected as our president, everyone began getting haircuts, the "Baby on Board" stickers suddenly appeared on the back windows of mini-vans, and GQ magazine replaced Mother Jones. It wasn't until the debauchery of the Clinton era that I realized that Christians stood for many of the values (I called these society's brakes) which I had grown to realize kept our civilization in check, and I began re-evaluating the impact of the past thirty years. The trends of the 1960's to 1970's really ruined some of my close personal friends, and negatively impacted children.

    Fast-forwarding to the present, I was intrigued by your mention of the Willow Creek phenomenon. I had not heard of this until attending a Father's Day car show at a church in my community. Their literature stated that they were afilliated with Willow Creek. I later discovered that Mark Tabladillo, who is very involved in the recovery of the former members of WCG, is also associated with this organization. I ended up liking what I experienced at the above mentioned car show, and have been attending that church for the past nearly two years. I am not a member, because to become such, one must complete a class in basic Christianity, be baptized if one was not previously, and sign a covenant membership. So, I attend every week primarily for group praise, the taking of communion, and as a part of my overall spiritual program.

    You could definitely classify this church as a mega-church. I realize that this term is often used as a pejorative, but those who use the word in that way have probably never attended such a church, never felt the spiritual presence during services, never experienced the incredible resources available through the church, and never observed the massive good which is done in communities to reverse the social ills and poverty. Attending has provided a definite uplift in my life.

    Based on my WCG experience, I had many fears regarding attending church, but have found that these were totally irrational. The key, for me, was in letting my relationship with God to be personal, and not allowing that relationship to be co-opted or controlled by a corporate group. Church, study materials, and fellowship are all simply tools available to me for personal usage.


  4. __Christ Myth Theory__19 October 2010 at 16:08

    Hey Cherie, what about the Crystal Cathedral (went bankrupt today). How does that light your votive candle?

  5. "The key, for me, was in letting my relationship with God to be personal..."

    Funny, that, Bob. That's exactly what they taught us, in WCG. Although that explains why you're not onboard with going through the indoctrination/re-education camp your new Christian buddies are offering.

  6. About it being "personal" Purple, I guess I didn't see it the same way while I was in WCG. I'm not doubting what you say, only asking for some elaboration on what you meant by a "personal relationship" taught in WCG. As many of us are discovering, different aspects were emphasized in different areas

    What we got in my area was personal prayer time and personal study, yes. But it meant nothing if you weren't plugged into the corporation. There were no individual Christians. Any personal revelation from God had better fit into corporate definition or it would be highly suspect. Concepts from non-wcg churches such as being "born again", or "Jesus living in your heart", were absolutely scorned. (I'm not stating these as doctrinal truths that all Christians should ascribe to, but just examples of how personal relationships with God might be considered discouraged). Anything that had to do with the emotions was also downplayed so that some of us ended up cut off from our feelings until they become so strong that they exact a high physical price. I have fibromyalgia now from the years of stress caused by suppressing my feelings instead of using them as a barometer to do indicate that something wasn’t right. Instead I buried my doubts as attacks from the devil and checked my brain at the door. My reward was a sense of satisfaction that I believed God to approve and therefore my connection to him was unbroken. Pretty hollow these days.

    My appologies for getting off topic Gavin, I'm just curious about PurpleHymnal's comment.

  7. Rather more on topic about the mega church phenomena...

    I think they are a pretty mixed bag of potential blessings and pitfalls.

    We americans are especially beset with the problem of mistaking quantity for quality. Then wondering why we are so dissatisifed.

    There's a lot of excitement generated in these megachurches. Kind of like the high we WCGers used to get from attending the feast. But like the FOT you may meet a lot of folks you think are like you but it's mostly surface. You don't really know these people. So when a crisis arises, it can really hit the fan. (something like that happened to one I know of in Lousisiana over the church's school football team)

    On the other hand these megachurches can have some pretty great programs to assist struggling folk.

    As BB says you can use them as tools. But unfortunately a lot of people mistake the tool for the product.

  8. Good job, Mickey. I couldn't have said it better.

    A personal relationship really is not personal, although some Orwellian types may attempt to call it that, when some corporate entity imposes all manner of modifiers. You might say we were all once involved in a WCG-centered belief system, or part of the Armstrong personality cult, but there is a big difference between those and having any type of personal relationship directly with God or Jesus. Frankly, a person would need to experience both types of relationship in order to appreciate the difference.


  9. "I'm not doubting what you say, only asking for some elaboration on what you meant by a "personal relationship" taught in WCG"

    Oh, absolutely, the weekly Bible study, the door-to-door fruit basket thing, the newsstand program, the YOU and YES events, the socials and the squaredances and every other form of milieu control the church exercised, absolutely made it a corporate cult.

    Underneath (and on top of!) all of that, though, was the requisite daily study and prayer, and prayer of the "day and night God's hand was on me/and I groaned till I confessed" variety, never the shiny-happy-Jebus-wubs-me-lalala tripe, and it was very much stated (in my area at least, that God was always watching us, and was always with us, as the Special Chosen Elect. Too, the God Family thing was especially emphasized in my area, so it really was a personal, familial relationship we had, when we would "go into your closet and pray".

    That's all I meant by the remark. If you were in one of the main cliques in your congregation, you had a lot of personal relationships with the brethren, as well.

    If you were outsiders amongst the outsiders, though, like my family was...well, a personal relationship with the God who had chosen us, was just about all we had left. Especially in a third tithe year.

    I distinctly remember repeated calls from the pulpit, to pray and do Bible study daily, to "get closer to God", though. Of course, Bible study meant with the Bible in one hand, and church literature explaining the Bible jigsaw in the other....

  10. "Frankly, a person would need to experience both types of relationship in order to appreciate the difference."

    OK, Bob, I'll play: Given your sentence above: What do you believe you had a relationship with in the WCG, if you've had "both types of relationship"? Are you honestly implying that you now believe we had a personal relationship with Satan, as members of the church?

    (Hm. That's actually a very Gnostic insight, come to think of it. Good for you.)

    As for your syrupy-sweet sticky-happy-shiny "relationship with Jebus" schtick, gag me with a spoon. That sickly brainwashing tripe is just as bad as our jealous, angry God was, you ask me: Extremes, in any situation, are never a good thing, IMO. Can't there be some kind of balance in the middle somewhere?

    *sigh* No, probably not. Although panentheism comes the closest, IMO.

  11. Purps:

    In retrospect, I feel that in WCG we had a personal relationship with a mask or filter. Whatever it was was placed between ourselves and God. And, it served as an egregious modifier to what could have been a more pure, and more deeply personal relationship with God. In short, being a WCG member was very much like being a good Catholic. Both of them certainly had their pope, didn't they?

    I know for a fact that there are some truths involved in both gnosticism and panentheism. The problem is that neither one is trustworthy for the purpose of eternal salvation, as neither is the total package, and neither elliminates the infamous void which we all had in our lives when we were unbelievers. However, either one is exciting to contemplate, and does titillate the intellect.

    Just as a general principle, what we experienced in WCG was a perfect example of what happens when man places himself in between the Christian and God. Man is the problem, not God.


  12. You lost me after Catholics, Bob. What kind of drugs does that mega-church put in your coffee?!?

    You can't tell me there's no "filter" between you and your shiny-happy-Christian god...isn't that why Christians say Jebus intercedes between them and God? (Which was one less filter than we had, at least.) But that's not a filter? Huh?

    The cognitive dissonance goes up to 11!