Voices – Back to the Mad Men Hypothesis

While avoiding the sermon that needs written, a few articles that seem to be saying opposite things popped up.

Here is the Washington Post trying to make a case that “the religious left” will come to dominate the next generation. Given that the core of article takes a very expansive view of what it means to be religious (“Notably, nearly one-in-five (18 percent) religious progressives are “unattached believers,” those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.”) I’m comfortable thinking that the article has something else at its core. Found in the last sentence – “If the current patterns continue, these shifts promise to reshape significantly the public face of religion and the calculations of political campaigns.” The religious left is not about religion so much as it is about the left. But, even with that, the article is pitching a view of the future of religion and the church. A vision that has absolutely nothing to do with doctrines or theology.

This is Peter Leithart in First Things asserting the God is doing “a new thing” and that new thing is forming a Metropolitan Church. The LCMS would breakout in hives at exactly what he is writing.

When churches work together, they often function as de facto latitudinarians, shuttling their theological differences to the Closet Reserved for Unmentionable Things. That won’t do. Cordial chitchat at the ministerial association won’t be enough. If there is going to be deep cooperation and communion, there has to be greater theological consensus, and to reach a consensus, the churches and their leaders must be committed to the hard work of common prayer, worship, service, and study. A truly metropolitan church will have to be more deeply catholic than we can imagine.

This has a much greater appeal to me and a greater sense of truth than what came before. Call this the generous theologian’s view of the church. Don’t expect the old denominations and confessions to go away. They won’t. But expect a much greater willingness to see the “satis est”, the “it is enough” of the Augsburg Confession Article 7 in churches that live right next to you. I might be reading into Leithart here, but part of that it is enough would be currently non-creedal churches rediscovering the Apostles Creed and at least a truly Calvinist or Mercersberg Theology view of the sacraments. At the same time some of the liturgical churches shaking off a biblical slumber and engaging the Word of God again. I’d call it breathing with both lungs (heart and head) if that phrase wasn’t already in use elsewhere.

The last article is about things that I could only dream about. My Mad Men hypothesis of a couple of posts back could be much more simply stated. The theology expressed in the liturgy and hymnody of the church is a better way. The customer currently wants dreck. Do you want to be a church that produces and serves dreck which looks popular but chases away those who have taste (and make taste!)? Or do you maintain standards knowing that: a) they can form disciples which is the mission and b) bad taste eventually is shown for what it is. Nehru jackets and jump-suits are gone, but Brooks Brothers and London Fog still make clothes. The article asserts that the great awakening to the dreck is happening.

A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic, high Anglican or Lutheran. The town I live in has several “evangelical” Protestant colleges: on Ash Wednesday you can tell who studies at them by the ash crosses on their foreheads.

As much as I don’t like the first article, this last one is what my ears want to hear. If just for that fact I’d discount it heavily. But I would take it as evidence of the non-denom/non-creedal folks being open to considering sacramental and creedal stands. (Which still leaves me looking for stirring signs of the Word in the liturgical churches. When my Bible study runs out of room, I’ll let you know.) Bottom line though is that this third article asserts the primacy of theology in the future of the church.

So which is it? Is there a way they overlap or are they mutually exclusive? Another Mad Men quote is Don talking about cigarette advertising. “I spent $10M trying to get people to switch, it doesn’t happen. It is all about the next generation.” That is what ties these three pitches or visions together. Each of the three articles isn’t really trying to get you to switch, but to capture the current generation’s imagination and persuade you to allow that vision to happen.

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