All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism


"In recent years mail deliveries have included a new kind of invitation to Protestant Christianity: slick brochures enumerating the social and psychological advantages of church attendance with no mention whatsoever of spiritual striving, suffering, or faith in God. Does this kind of secularity prevail not only in direct-mail Christianity but also in mainline Protestant churches? Finding the sermon to be the centerpiece of Protestant worship, Marsha Witten looks for the answer to this question in an in-depth analysis of preaching on an important New Testament text: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Witten finds that the transcendent and awesome God of Luther and Calvin - whose image informed early Protestant visions of the relationship between human beings and the divine - has undergone a softening of demeanor in American Protestant churches, with only some resistance from "conservative" traditions. Preached from the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) and the Southern Baptist Convention is a God whose primary function lies in providing psychological benefits to individual church members: the Parable of the Prodigal Son is seen as portraying God as a loving and understandable Daddy. In talk about Christian conduct, the focus is not on the challenges that the church could pose to the secular sphere of life. Instead, as in most of the Presbyterian sermons that Witten examines, individuals are encouraged to make the right choices among the secular world's various offerings, or, as in many Southern Baptist messages, to accept God's offer of rescue from the "lostness" of secular confusions. Witten's perceptive comments and her liberal use of excerpts from the sermons combine to show how complex rhetorical strategies transform Christian faith and contribute to its survival in what would otherwise be an alien world." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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