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New book underscores exodus from liberal denominations
July 25, 2005
By Jeff Robinson
A new book uses the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of a larger argument that Americans are leaving liberal churches for conservative congregations.
In the book, entitled Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity (Sentinel), journalist and author Dave Shiflett spends a chapter on Southern Baptists and Southern Seminary in showing how the denomination has benefited from the numbers who have left liberal mainline churches.
In a chapter on the SBC, Shiflett details the conservative resurgence, showing how it cut across the grain of contemporary wisdom that says once an organization becomes liberal, there is no turning back. Shiflett interviewed Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land for the SBC chapter. In analyzing the growth of conservative churches, Mohler warns against polls that show nine in 10 Americans as having some positive relation to Christianity. Mohler is quoted extensively in the chapter and referenced frequently throughout the latter chapters of the book.
"The number of people actually living the Christian life is pretty low," Mohler said. "Only one in ten Americans are regularly involved in church, so I don't think the number of committed Christians could be any higher than that."
While Mohler points out that secularism seeks to rub out every vestige of theism from contemporary culture, he tells Shiflett that he sees encouraging signs on the campus of Southern Seminary.
"The students on this campus are not only more conservative than their parents," Mohler said, "but they are more conservative than their grandparents. There is no longer any social value in saying you're a Christian. These students' parents and grandparents came up in a time when Christianity was a social convention.
"The same was true of marriage. For their grandparents, marriage was culturally and socially acceptable, and divorce and adultery were bad. Homosexuality was off the radar screen. But their parents, the boomers, threw out sexual morality. They grew up and got married, which made them a little more conservative, but they also engaged in serial divorce. As so the boomers' children — students who are now on our campus — were impacted by a lack of stability in their family life. They want their children to have what they didn't have. They are living the biblical vision. And they are very conservative."-
Shiflett points out that Mohler and Land are the SBC's point men in the culture war and, though they have different app-roaches, share the same theological foundation. Both agree on the fate of liberal Christianity, Shiflett writes. Because of liberal Christianity's rejection of the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible, it is dead to rise no more, Land said. This is the reason the mainline denominations are bleeding members and conservative churches are drawing them in, he says.
Mohler says the mainline downgrade is perhaps seen most clearly in its views of sexuality.
"[Liberal churches] make no demands, including demands on sexual behavior," Mohler said. "Why should, for example, a sixteen-year-old boy and girl bother to go to a liberal church? What does this church have to offer that's any different from what they get from the culture? The church tells them that if they want, they can have sex. They already know that. That's what society tells them. The church needs to tell them that they can't have sex, and has to explain why. "
While the author of Exodus uses statistics and research to make his case, he also employs first-hand reporting to prove his thesis; Shiflett crisscrossed America interviewing both conservatives and liberals to find the reasons behind what is happening within American Christianity.
The statistics he uses are telling: there may now be twice as many lesbians in the United States as Episcopalians, Shiflett says. The Presbyterian Church USA has experienced a decline of 11.6 percent over the past 10 years, the United Methodist Church has bled away 6.7 percent of its membership and the Episcopal Church has lost 5.3 percent of its parishioners.
"Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity," Shiflett asserts. "Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public — people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe — go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood."