Fall reading selection: Future of Mainline Protestantism

August 7, 2018 by Joe Small

Suggestion for September reading

In the Presbyterian year of “The Way Forward Commission,” “The All Agency Review Committee,” and “The 2020 Vision Team,” it is especially important to look beyond our denomination’s organizational structures. What does the past and present of mainline Protestantism suggest about the Presbyterian future?

The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America includes essays by distinguished historians and sociologists that both analyze the current state of mainline Protestantism and suggests what its future is likely to be. The book is neither a partisan attack nor a devoted defense. Instead, the authors offer assessments of a mainline Protestantism that is not dying, but whose future will not be a return to past prominence. Presbyterian pastors and other church leaders will benefit from analysis that does not despair and does not present empty optimism.

Essays on “The State of Contemporary Mainline Protestantism,” “The Beliefs and Practices of Mainline Protestants,” “Futures for Mainline Protestant Institutions,” “A Divided House,” and “The Mainline and the Soul of International Relations,” are bracketed by two superb pieces by James Hudnut-Beumler that gather specific insights into a synthetic overview of the mainline’s future. His “Introduction” to the volume sets the central issues in bold relief, while his “Conclusion” sets the probable future in ways that are instructive for the present.

Hudnut-Beumler proposes that the shape of the mainline Protestant future depends on the answers to three key questions:

  • What will happen to mainline denominational bodies and their future importance and to the current power of congregations?
  • Will this sector of Protestantism find a way to successfully assert significant political and moral influence at a time when people hear “religion and politics” or “religion and morality” and immediately think of the religious right and James Dobson or the Tea Party?
  • What will happen to mainline Protestantism’s congregations as their most likely supporters move to self-describe as “spiritual, not religious” and as “non-denominational” mega-churches continue to grow?

The questions are not left hanging, for his concluding essay, “The Quakerization of Mainline Protestantism” contains provocative responses that are both cautionary and hopeful.

Theological Education Sunday resources are available

Theological Education Sunday is celebrated each September in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This year, Theological Education Sunday is officially set for September 16, but you may celebrate theological education any time that is appropriate for you and your congregation. Find the resources you need.

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Presbyterian Evangelism Conference set for October

The PC(USA) Evangelism Conference will be held at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center at Lake Tahoe. The theme for the conference this year is Sabbath Rest, Holy Surrender, Full Life, through which participants will be invited to consider what it really means to bear witness to Christ’s reconciliation by transforming our ministries into Sabbath Communities.