Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Evangelical Envy

Amy links to this excellent post at Internet Monk (an evangelical blogger) on the state of the evangelical church, what he calls "the Church on the Corner" and how the new Christian music, "Praise & Worship" and the like, has almost become the new god of evangelicalism.

That Flushing Sound: Evangelicals Worship Till There's Nothing Left

Amy's quote is quite apposite: "All of this is very much worth reading, not only to get insight into what's going on in other Christian denominations, but as a way to innoculate ourselves against Evangelical Envy...Oh, if we were only more like them...all they have is growth, growth growth..." The comments there are quite illuminating as well, particularly Sherry Wedell's (of the Siena Institute).

First, some selections from the essay that really struck me:

Today, nothing divides churches like music. You could deny the Trinity and fare better in most churches that you will if you criticize the direction of worship as done by the Praise Team.


How long should anyone have to STAND in a worship service? Today, it’s common to ask worshippers to all have the physical stamina and attention span of 13 year olds. This, perhaps more than anything, shows how juvenile much of the current “worship renewal” really is. It’s youth camp taking over the church while we all say “At least the younger people like it.”


The preacher in many a Church On The Corner is a marked man. He is an obnoxious fixture in a worship service that is turning into a concert. He is a reminder of what we don’t like about church.

The concert has won. The worship service has lost. We will trade one for the other, but it is not a fair trade. It’s a loss of what we once had and could count on in almost any church.


In the meantime, there’s another essay to be written: Just how much money does it take to be a megachurch? Is the megachurch ethical? Or does the enormous cost of keeping middle class, white, suburban evangelicals happy mean the megachurch can’t do it’s full-service thing without spending a fortune?
The triumph of entertainment. The victory of the culture. And less we Catholics feel all smug, there are valuable lessons to be learned, I think. It's been said that the Catholics now want to go down the road that liberal Protestants went down, to their woe rather than weal. Just when they're waking up to their mistakes, we gleefully dive in, thinking we've finally Gotten It. I've heard this with respect to biblical scholarship, especially historical-critical scholarship. It's probably true of other things as well. And it's true now with respect to evangelical Christianity.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm afflicted with Evangelical Envy. The prospect of growth, growth, growth, is of course, quite alluring. Of course, there are some "natural" innoculations against this in Catholicism. Despite everyone's best attempts, the Mass, even when shoddily done, simply does not lend itself to the kind of musical silliness the essay talks about. Um. Ok. I mean, it you can't replace Mass with a 40 minute Praise session. There's the intellectual tradition, and a well-educated clergy (rapidly graying but not quite vanished) and a growing theologically educated laity (who're doing a lot of what the clergy used to). And, the teaching office, quite impervious to winds of change (much to the lament of many).

Praise & Worship, contemporary Christian rock and so on, has made huge inroads into the Catholic world. Look at LifeTeen. Or the Steubenville conferences. And, in my experience, the younger Catholics who're actually still on fire with the faith (as opposed to the ones who simply can't wait to stop going to Church once they're in college) are the ones who've had some kind of grounding, not always but quite often, in the evangelical world: with IV or FCA in high school, or with LifeTeen or the Steubenville conferences (Of course, who knows what it's like outside the South. Here we "lose" kids as much to the para-church evangelical ministries as to secular indifference) There seems to be something there. Maybe it's just the entertainment value. Or maybe there's something deeper as well.

I do think that , the proper caveats in place, one can learn from our evangelical geschwester (siblings just doesn't cut it. Brothers and sisters is nice, and often automatic, but cumbersome. I digress) -- from their successes as well as their pitfalls. That was what I got at the Evangelical Catholic institute in Madison last Spring. Yes, they're turned on to Praise & Worship ("get over it, it's what the kids like" was one quote I recall :)). But, at least from what I saw, this was integrated with a well-rounded approach to Scripture -- I mean college kids actually studying Scripture, and praying it, and applying it to their lives! Catholic college kids. Not Cru or IV -- and an exploration of the intellectual heritage of the Church, especially the Fathers. A hearing and imbibing and internalizing the Gospel.

The other thing that struck me about the above essay: the lack of generational diversity. There's a value to intergenerational community, and intergenerational worship. A huge value, especially in a culture that is youth obsessed, afraid of aging, and looks askance at the elderly. I know of at least one place that's using the EC model, in a traditional parish setting. A place where I cannot imagine praise & worship music. And it seems to work.

We shouldn't try to compete. Or try to be Cru or IV. Being Catholic is just fine, thank you. Even if that involves using some of the best practices, so to speak, of some of our separated sisters and brothers.

Anyway, this isn't just to be an apologist for EC (which wasn't what the essay was about, anyway). The warnings in the essay are serious. It reminded me of what Jacques Maritain (I think) said, in a different context, of the dangers of "kneeling in front of the world."

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