01: The July-August issue of Prism carries a special forum on the state of evangelical feminism.
The overall mood is somber, as the respondents note that while evangelical feminists seemed on the verge of “winning the day” in the early 1980s, today this is a strong movement to reassert anti-feminist views in the evangelical community, particularly on marriage roles and women’s leadership in the church.
At the same time, the contributors note the growing influence of “evangelical egalitarianism” in some quarters, such as the Christian Reformed Church and other Christian organizations, including the pioneer megachurch Willow Creek Community Church.
For more information on this issue, write: Prism, Evangelicals for Social Action, 10 East Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood, PA 19096-3495; www.esa-online.org.
02: The well-known phenomenon of baby boomer spiritual seekers disenchanted with religious institutions particularly hits home in the Jewish community.
The rates of disaffiliation and non-involvement in congregational life are high among Jews, a point made clear in the new book Finding A Spiritual Home (Jossey-Bass, $25) by Sidney Schwarz. The author, a rabbi, looks at how Jewish baby boomers are remaking synagogue life to a far greater extent than found in most Christian institutions. Through interviews with Jewish baby boomers, Schwarz finds that the modern model of synagogues, which he calls “synagogue-centers” is ineffective, as it stresses a “top-down” style of leadership and little emphasis on spirituality.
He lays out a new paradigm of the “synagogue- community,” which includes intimate and spiritually enthusiastic worship, lay leadership, and small group interaction (making them in some ways similar to “new paradigm” evangelical churches, even if they are far more liberal on social issues). Schwarz provides interesting case studies of individuals and synagogues demonstrating the new approach from within all the Jewish denominational branches — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.
But he concludes that these congregations are still a minority facing resistance from mainstream congregations and other Jewiish organizations wary of outreach to baby boomer drop outs.
03: In their new book Acts of Faith (University of California Press, $18.95), Rodney Stark and Roger Finke explain and defend their influential theory of religious growth and change often known as “rational choice” or the new paradigm.
The theory holds that religious organizations compete and grow by demanding costs or commitment and providing benefits (such as strong sense of community and identity) to members. Stark and Finke have been accused of reducing spiritual concerns to economic behavior, but they argue that their critics and other scholars don’t take religion seriously by reducing the motivations and behavior of believers to irrational forces.
Although the book is more theoretical than their earlier work, the Churching of America, it is fleshed out with historical and contemporary examples on such topics as the decline and growth of Catholic orders, the importance of social networks in religious growth, and the negative effect of state-sponsored churches on the religious marketplace, particularly in Europe. On the last topic, the authors present new findings suggesting that monopolies alone don’t explain Europe, as the continent shows a higher rate of growth of new religions than the U.S..
The last chapter is likely to be of interest to RW readers as the authors seek to show how, contrary to secularization theorists, low tension or liberal religious bodies may reverse their direction and become more “sect-like” as they raise the costs of belonging and move to a higher tension relationship with society. Stark and Finke hold that this is occurring in groups as different as the United Methodist Church and Reform Judaism.
They also find that growth taking place in such mainline bodies as the United Methodists and Presbyterian Church (USA) is mainly due to congregations tied to the high tension renewal groups active in these denominations.