Christian Hope?   Leave a comment

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that membership in Christian churches is declining. Why?

Well, the answer to that might take a bit more research.

There are those who will say that evangelical Christianity is just too strict. If we’d ease up on certain Biblical teaching, or better yet, convince everybody that those teachings no longer apply, we’d see people coming back to the church. Is that true?

Hmm?

Did you ever read The Damnation of Theron Ware? Published in England under the title of Illumination it was written in 1986 by American author Harold Frederic. Most common readers haven’t heard of it, but it is widely considered an American literary classic by scholars and critics. Thus I was forced to read it in college.

Some classics deserve the title because they were well-written. I found the plot of Damnation to be manipulative and the characters wooden and one dimensional. There was a sense that the book was written to convince people of the author’s POV rather than to write an exceptional novel. It is a “classic” because that POV appeals to academics who agree with the politics that motivated the book in the first place.

The novel centers on the life of a Methodist pastor (Theron Ware, of course) who has recently moved to a fictional small town in upstate New York. Recently married, Ware has had a number of experiences that cause him to question the Methodist religion, his role as a minister and even the existence of God. His “enlightenment” is encouraged through his dealings with Father Forbes (the town’s Catholic priest), Dr. Ledsmar (a local atheist, philosopher and man of science), and Celia Madden (a local Irish Catholic girl with whom he becomes infatuated). By the end, these three intellectually “advanced” characters find Theron a bore and a philanderer and their rejection leads him to go on a binge. He’s rescued by Brother and Sister Soulsby, practical fundraisers for Methodist congregations who pragmatically send Ware and his wife off to far-flung Washington where perhaps he’ll become a politician.

At the start of the book, Ware is already in debt and has a history of financial mismanagement of a prior church. He doesn’t take kindly to the trustees of his new church telling him how to conduct the ministry. He encounters Father Forbes, the local Catholic priest, and sees his first Catholic rite. He’s intrigued. Over time, he becomes quite infatuated with both the Catholic and atheist ways of thinking and with Celia, the organist for the Catholic church. He finds them all more intelligent and more faithful than he or his fellow Methodists. When he attends a Catholic picnic, they are drinking beer. Theron partakes as Father Forbes explains that their religions really aren’t that different, how one day there will be a single “Church of America” and it will look a lot like the Catholic church.   Ware doubts there will be any church at all because mankind is moving toward an age of science, but Forbes insists that religion is needed for culture. Ware counters that if this is so, he doubts the Catholic church will win out because of its incredibly rigid doctrines. He suggests the Universal Unitarians or the Episcopalians are bland enough to appeal to everybody. Forbes asserts that the Catholic church will win because it compromises while practicing the art of not seeming to compromise. When called on its compromise, it refuses to acknowledge that such as occurred. It only takes a generation for people to forget what used to be rock solid doctrine, so the soft compromise works very well for the Catholic church.

So why am I talking about a scene in an obscure 19th century novel nobody has read?

Because many people today are channeling Father Forbes while encouraging evangelical congregations to compromise. If we want to grow instead of shrink we should …. If the church is really a necessity in culture, we must …

COMPROMISE!

Posted September 8, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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