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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Churchy Reversals

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

NPH is immersed in H. Richard Niebuhr these days. We're reading large sections of The Social Sources of Denominationalism during the commercial breaks of bowl games. It's a truly fantastic book and should be required reading for anyone even considering a vocation within the church.

Of the many observations contained in the 1929 book, this one strikes NPH as particularly ironic for a 2007 world. Speaking of the difference between the "church" (that is, the institutional church hailing from the Reformation--Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican) and the "sect" (the free church deriving from the Anabaptist tradition(s), Niebuhr says this:
They [the Reformation "churches"] are not prone to seek reforms; they are most often the bulwark of political conservatism.
NPH notes that, now, exactly the opposite of this assertion is true. Niebuhr wrote not quite 20 years before the German confessing church movement and the Barmen declaration, and so Social Sources . . . is without the benefit of such a historical case. And as a result of Barmen, along with the fundamentalist/modernist controversy (well underway in Niebuhr's day), the contemporary manifestations of these "churches" are now most soundly maligned as "liberal" by their mostly free-church antagonists.

In 21st century North America, it is those churches deriving from non-denominational, anti-state church traditions that are now the bulwarks of political conservatism, and not only its bulwark but, more accurately, its devoted activist. While those church voices which criticize the political order and the actions of the nation are increasingly those with the most comfy church/state legacy.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:11 PM


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