Wednesday, August 16, 2006

PW: Starred review for new book on mainline churches

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith
Diana Butler Bass. Harper San Francisco, $23.95 (320p) ISBN 0-06-083694-6

Most pundits will tell you that the mainline churches—Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Disciples of Christ—are in decline: it is now commonplace to assume that liberal churches are doomed and only evangelical churches are growing. Think again, says Butler Bass (The Practicing Congregation) in this challenging and hopeful book, which summarizes the findings of a three-year study funded by the Lilly Endowment. Yes, many mainline churches are struggling, but not because liberal Christianity is a contradiction in terms. Rather, the old neighborhood Methodist church has fallen on hard times because the old neighborhood has been replaced by a strip mall. And many mainline churches are thriving. Butler Bass showcases ten of them, including Redeemer UCC in New Haven, Conn., and Saint Mark (Lutheran) in Yorktown, Va. She then examines ten practices, from hospitality to worship to vigorous theological discussion, and posits that these practices are the heartbeat of vital mainline churches. Her provocative conclusions include the observations that today’s mainliners have redefined politics by favoring bottom-up acts of service over structural change. And the thriving congregations are neither red nor blue, but purple—a mix of Democrats and Republicans. This is Bass’s best book yet. (Oct.)


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