The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity

  1. Review

    I haven’t read the book, and I do not intend to, but if the reviewer has been fair, Thomas C. Reeves deserves some attention from progressive Christians. In his new book — The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (Free Press) — he apparently holds that progressive leaders in the church have done a dismal job in responding to the spiritual hungers of most people. For example, he asks his readers to weigh the benefits between spending a day at the beach with the family and listening to a sermon on AIDS.

    Everybody has a theory as to why the old line churches have lost members, but I think Reeves may be right about some people who have left the church. They did not find anything that enriched their lives or empowered them to engage confidently in life’s struggles. When they went to church, they found that the leaders were always interested in the problems of somebody else and not in what was happening to them and to their families and friends.

    Wealthy and middle-class liberals have had a tendency to become alarmed at the plight of the very poor while ignoring the conditions in which those with small or moderate incomes must live. We have not paid sufficient attention to their earnest desire for meaning in their lives, for some control over their destinies, for freedom from guilt and shame. We may not have addressed the genuine fears and anxieties of a great many people.

    If you are looking for a book that deals with the real fears of ordinary people, try to find a copy of The Power of the Lamb: Revelation’s Theology of Liberation for You by Ward Ewing (Cowley Publications, 1990). Unfortunately this fine study of the Revelation to John, the Bible’s most troublesome book, is out of print, but it is well worth the search if you are concerned about middle-class people who feel that they are powerless, controlled by big business and big government. Ewing points the way for churches that want to offer hope.

    As I said, I have no intention of reading Reeves’s book. I do not want to put any royalties in his pocket because I think he is probably wrong in his assessment. According to Diego Ribadeneira, whose review I read in The Boston Globe, Reeves traces the decline of the church back to the Enlightenment and the eroding of orthodoxy. He may have forgotten that the church reached its peak of participation in the nineteen-fifties before decline began. I think we could trace the decline in attendance back to the rising influence of neo-orthodoxy and the renewed emphasis on belief as opposed to practice. I also think that we should notice all of the growing congregations that espouse "liberal" causes and all of the shrinking ones that claim to be "orthodox".

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