The New 'Mainline' Church

Ten years ago,

Ten years ago, historian Mark Noll’s important book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind began with a powerful indictment: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." From there, Noll attacked evangelical anti-intellectualism and issued challenges to remedy the problem.

Ronald Sider, senior statesman of progressive evangelicalism, modeled his new book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience on Noll’s earlier work. However, unlike Noll, whose concern was evangelical intellectual life, Sider claims that contemporary American evangelicals must confront a wider, more devastating issue. Evangelical moral behavior resembles that of other Americans. To paraphrase Noll, the scandal of the evangelical conscience is that there is not much of an evangelical conscience.

The scandal of evangelical behavior, and its parallel lack of ethical conscience, provides a stinging critique of conservative American Protestantism. Even Noll, with his unblinking attack on the evangelical subculture, shied away from criticizing evangelical morality. After all, as a Christian renewal movement, evangelical religion was justly proud of its piety and could take much historical credit for what early evangelicals called "the reform of manners." But Sider gives no credit for past successes. Indeed, he goes right for the evangelical heart with his claim, "Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity" and "With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment." In other words, evangelicals are hypocrites - revivalists who need to be revived.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2005
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