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Biblical Studies Journal Volume 1, Number 14
December 12, 1997
The Empty Church
(a book review)
Gregory Alan Tidwell
The Great Liberal Death Wish
Dancing With The Disciples
Thomas C. Reeves made a major contribution to the study of American religion
in his recent book, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.
Reeves chronicles the correlation of religious liberalism and the loss
of members by major Protestant denominations. Groups historically
dominating religion in the United States (Episcopalians, Presbyterians,
Methodists and Lutherans, for example) have grown increasingly divergent
in theology and increasingly anemic in attendance. Back
“The Great Liberal Death Wish”
Social commentator Malcolm Muggeridge identified a trend he
labeled “the great liberal death wish.” By this he meant the tendency
of ideological liberalism to use social structures to undermine the structure
Reeves certainly identified a similar trend in current
religious liberalism. Telling their congregations “that the consolations
and promises of the Bible are not ‘really’ or ‘literally’ true,” theological
liberalism “has succeeded in making itself dispensable.” With no
more to offer the faithful than amorphous generalities of sentiment, liberal
churches find many members with better investments for their time and effort.
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Dancing with the Disciples
Within the Restoration Movement, we should take note.
The Disciples of Christ followed this path of liberal Protestantism with
predictable results. Abandoning a confidence in the inspiration and
authority of Scripture, the Disciples lost their justification for existence.
Social activism and vague psycho-babble are a poor substitute for the gospel
of Christ. The Disciples today number less than a third the membership
they enjoyed a generation ago, and currently are seeking the oblivion of
assimilation through merger with the United Church of Christ denomination.
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