Thursday, January 13, 2011

Changing Protestantism

Sherry has an interesting post that talks about how what used to be called protestant 100 years ago is in serious decline and something different is replacing it under the same name.
Classic Protestantism and Anglicanism have dropped like a stone and now only make up 26% of American Christians. Catholics and Orthodox grew dramatically and together now comprise 38% of all Christians in North America.  The new post-Protestant groups have come out of nowhere (Independents and Marginals) and now make up 36% of Christians.
Independents and Marginals still have Reformation DNA because they emerged in reaction to classically Protestant Christianity but most do not see themselves as "Protestant" in the way the term was used in 1910.  They are the more or less estranged children and grandchildren of historic Protestantism who no longer feel bound by historic Protestant creeds or consensus.  We continue to see them as "other" because we are highly sensitive to their still existing Reformed assumptions, but their recent past and their future trajectory is away from historic Protestantism.  Because they are passionately evangelizing and masters of the media - old and new - they are growing faster than all other Christian groups.

Now Brandon makes a point in the comments that these new protestants are not fundamentally different from the old protestants. They share the same underlying assumptions. They have just taken them a step further. He is right. But the extra step or several steps are important to note. The more liturgical and more creed-centered churches of 100 years ago were stronger because of that. The rate of change over the preceding centuries was pretty slow. Now they have lost that and the rate of change has accelerated dramatically. When you talk about protestantism crashing and burning in the next 100 years people reply that it has been around for centuries and will continue for centuries more. But it hasn't been around for centuries. Not like it is now. It is not a solid rock. It is a house of sand that it crumbling over time.

Solid creeds and liturgy that helps the church pray her creeds is so important. It allows us to internalize what we believe. It helps us to pass it on to our children without changing it. It allows us to grow together and towards God slowly and organically rather than demanding a sudden conversion of life.

I was raised in a reformed church that was very liturgical and very creed-centered. It would still show as such on Sherry's study but it is much much less so than it was. Some congregations are independent in all but name. Those are the fastest growing ones. I think the same can be said about the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Baptist churches. Even those have become less creedal and less liturgical. Sure some traditional pockets remain but the excitement is all around the funky new churches that look and feel like independent churches even if they are technically mainline. So I think the stats don't tell the whole story. If that dynamic is accounted for the shift in protestantism would be more dramatic yet.

1 comment:

  1. Quick point your link above doesn't work. The correct link is "American isn't..."


    (again you can reply after lent)

    As for the rest of your point... American religions are children of the Radical Reformation not the Magisterial Reformation. The Presbyterian and Congregationalist "reform" denominations in America have been in decline since the 18th century. Wesley was the cool radical guy of his day.

    Lets not forget how large Unitarianism and Universalism were several centuries back.

    The 19th century Arianism became the Millerites and later the Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. The main surviving branch of Adventists were the Seventh Day Adventists which Ellen White over the course of her ministry pulled back from a full on Arian religion to a variant of Methodism, a religion that can comfortable be in the NCC and assert the trinity.

    Mormons were incredibly radical in the mid 19th century: divinity of Adam, prophetic leadership, doctrine of exaltation. Today the church downplays the differences, wants to be considered like evangelicals and has a neo-orthodox wing which is moving them in that direction.

    America has always been a hotbed of religious radicalism. The religious conformity of the 1950s and 60s was the exception in US history. An artificial unity created by a population that was averse to any sort of internal division.

    What is interesting is that for the last 2 generations America has been exporting its religion. Pentecostalism is becoming the dominant faith in Latin America. Adventists have more followers outside the United States than inside. Mormons have gone global over the last generation and having following in Asia and Africa as well as a renewed emphasis on England.

    American YRR / Evangelical style religion plays very well in Europe.

    What is more interesting is what happens to the rest of the world as American style Protestantism starts to become an important global faith? What does American religion look like in non American cultures?