Monday, July 09, 2012

The Failure of Accommodationism


We've known for many years that mainline churches are losing people. The strategy for some of these has been to accommodate the Jesus-faith to the changing culture. The idea has been: If we are relevant and hip, people (especially young people) will come. This has been tried. It has not worked.

This strategy, writes Ross Douthat in Bad Religion, has mostly failed, and led to an even greater diminishment in numbers. He writes:

"The brave new world of the accommodationists had fewer and fewer people in it.  In fact, this had been clear almost from the beginning; it just took some time for the anecdotal evidence to harden into data.

Before the collapse in churchgoing began, accommodation was represented as the only way to forestall Christianity’s decline. Once that decline began in earnest, accommodation was hailed as the obvious way to stanch the bleeding and revive the patient’s health. But the collapse was often swiftest in the churches and orders and dioceses where accommodationism had triumphed most completely. The more a Protestant body pressed forward down the path blazed by Harvey Cox and James Pike, the more its seminaries emptied and its congregations shrank. The more a given Catholic order reframed its way of life along more secular lines, the fewer new members it attracted." (Kindle Locations 2092-2094)

In a few cases accommodating churches grew. But "in a great many cases, one form of accommodation tended to lead inexorably to another (and another, and another), and after many waves of accommodationist enthusiasm the tide of faith went rushing out. No sooner had a liberalizing faction won a great victory over what it perceived as the forces of reaction, it often seemed, than the next phase in its life was decay and dissolution." (Kindle Locations 2105-2108)

As for me and my church family, I'm doing my best to preach the *Real Jesus in an increasingly Jesus-illiterate world. That is our "strategy." It's ancient. It challenges culture rather than accommodates to it. And, it's attracting a lot of young people.

*Real Jesus - the Jesus presented to us in the New Testament.
We arrive at the Real Jesus by:
  • Study of the text
  • Looking at the original languages
  • Understanding the surrounding culture (socio-cultural study)
  • Looking at how words were used in the surrounding culture (socio-rhetorical study)
  • Entering into the now-relationship with the Living Jesus (experiential study)