Magazine article The Christian Century

Critical and Faithful

Magazine article The Christian Century

Critical and Faithful

Article excerpt

WHEN ASKED WHERE the new members of liberal churches will come from, David Jenkins, former Anglican bishop of Durham, replied: "Where they have always come from--the evangelicals." This is only partly true, of course. Most members of liberal churches were born or married into a mainline congregation. Yet it is true that many members of liberal, mainline churches are former conservatives. It's a story that has been told over and over: the twin acids of modernity--science and historical criticism--erode people's traditional views of biblical authority. People also discover that faith doesn't deliver what is promised to them in conservative churches: folks who "get fight with God" still get divorced, suffer from terminal cancer and watch their children go astray. Confronted by the hard knocks of life, they need a church that is not afraid to ask tough questions, a church where doubts can be aired.

At their best, mainline churches are that place. They exhibit a magnanimous spirit. They accept doubts and differences of opinion, engage the questions of modernity and eschew legalism and triumphalism. Grace is not only preached but embodied in hospitable relationships.

And yet, as Ian Markham suggests in Wily Liberal Churches Are Growing (edited by Markham and Martyn Percy), mainline churches are often known more for what they don't believe than for what they do believe. Sometimes their identity consists in not being the Bible-thumping evangelicals down the street. …

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