The Weakness of the Churches Influence

I have no doubt that on a congregation-by-congregation, pastor-by-pastor basis, Calvin College grads make better ministers than the typical Harvardian. But if the problem is an overall downward trend in the cultural influence of the churches, then perhaps those Calvin and Wheaton and Florida State pastors could use some reinforcements — not just from Harvard and Penn, but from the broader range of top-100 colleges and universities

David French and Joseph Knippenberg have both written thoughtful responses to my post piggybacking on Yuval Levin’s point about the failure of America’s churches to address the ills of working class life. French is in enthusiastic agreement with our take, writing that “during my years in the pews, I’ve witnessed a moral collapse — and a corresponding collapse in positive influence over the real lives not just of our fellow congregants but also of our fellow citizens in need.” Knippenberg, though, is more skeptical. He writes:

… I think Levin might be overlooking the quiet work a lot of American churches and faith-based organizations are doing. They’re planting churches in marginal areas and supporting missionaries, not just overseas, but in low-income apartment complexes here at home. They’re trying to teach people how to have successful marriages and how to be good parents. To be sure, the evidence suggests that, however much these folks are doing, there’s much more work to be done. But I’d bet that more money and energy from socially conservative churches and denominations goes into these efforts than into the political advocacy that garners headlines. Consider, for example, this site, to which I linked from a site belonging to my own denomination. Yes, we talk politics in the fellowship hall (almost never from the pulpit in the churches I’ve attended) and we might march for life, but the lion’s share of the outward-directed energy and money goes to missions and “service and mercy.” And when you plant a church to serve a community that is religiously underserved, it becomes the center of a congregation whose members hold one another accountable.

It seems to me that Knippenberg’s experience is still compatible with the point that Levin was making (and that I try to elaborate on in my forthcoming book). America is both a nation in which many institutional churches play an enormously fruitful role in the everyday lives of their parishioners and communities and a nation in which the institutional churches don’t play this role as widely and comprehensively as they did several decades ago.

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