Big theologians predict hard future for congregational churches

Caught my eye when Al Mohler, head of the rather right wing Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville, KY, talked to Episcopalian or mainstream evangelical but separatist (Amish, Mennonite inclined) theologian Stanley Hauerwas this week. Wouldn’t have thought they could be polite. But they are! Being face to face does good things. Here is a snip from the conversation. Sorry if it’s a bit technical sounding.

Mohler: ..when liberals made the Christian faith rational, they made the Christian faith irrelevant and unnecessary.

Hauerwas:       Right. Well, I want to be careful with that word rational because I think nothing is more rational than Christian Orthodoxy. I think the Nicaea account of Trinity is an extraordinary development that is a tradition thinking through its fundamental commitment in a manner that is intellectually compelling. So the rationality that I was criticizing was the kind of rationalizing that presupposed that there was some kind of reason that didn’t reflect a tradition-determined mode of investigation. So I want to say that the problem with the response to the Enlightenment was it accepted the Enlightenment’s account of reason as reasonable, which was a deep mistake.

Mohler:            Well, I appreciate that clarification because I certainly emphatically agree that there is nothing more rational than Christian Orthodoxy in terms of the right exercise of reason. But the attempt to make Christianity rational in Enlightenment terms with the autonomous reason, I just have to say, I think you make that point very compellingly, and it leads me to wonder sometimes if evangelicals aren’t methodologically sometimes following the same kind of trajectory that the mainline Protestants did, but just a century late. You know, perhaps many evangelicals are arriving at a new form of liberalism just about a century late.

My editorial: When a congregation operates out there as one little branch of a tree, no, as a branch that thinks of itself as an island of right thinking — as we all do in congregationally-governed churches with weak denominations — the way we know right and wrong is just what we think the Bible tells us, directly, personally. We don’t let the experience of 2000 years (AD) plus 2000 years (BC) correct our thinking. We won’t be subject to all that. But the price of that island mentality is that what seems right at the time can be confirmed as right, very easily, by a congregational vote.

H says that when Christians took Enlightenment reason as more or less right, they made a mistake. Of course! Enlightenment thinking is scientific thinking that imagines it is timeless, always true, not dependent on any assumptions. Cornelius Van Til’s big mission in apologetics was nothing other than saying, you have to ask about the assumptions. If you don’t surface the presuppositions you talk around in circles for ever. There will always be one more objection to your supposedly iron-clad “evidence.” Because evidence only counts in a tradition, a story, a worldview. Supposedly neutral evidence is not convincing in a Christian confessional worldview, perhaps, and vice-versa. (Of course lots more can be said here.)

So: In view of the way that we all tend to think the way the rest of the world thinks, the way most of us are schooled to think, congregational and orthodox minded churches need resources to help them (us) think more in line with historic Christianity.

All this to say: H says that the free-form evangelical church has weak grounding. Congregational, orthodox-minded churches could change rapidly to look more or less like our sainted predecessors. Think how the mainstream evangelical denominations of 1880 or 1890 looked by 1930. Wow. This interview is coded and takes some working away to see it, but wow.

Here’s the whole thing: