Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The thing about megachurches

I just finished reading Frances FitzGerald's New Yorker piece about megachurches, "Come One, Come All " (abstract here; 12/3/07 article no longer online for free).

FitzGerald profiled Frank Santora, a young pastor at a smallish megachurch in Connecticut, and addressed the overall topic of the megachurch movement, which tend to be oriented more towards the needs of the congregation (a café! family finance classes! rock music in the service!) than toward a strict focus on scripture. Examples include Saddleback, the Southern California behemoth led by Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life guy), and WIllow Creek, a suburban Chicago megachurch.

FitzGerald writes:

Some evangelical pastors—typically from fundamentalist or Calvinist denominations—have attacked Saddleback and Willow Creek as market-driven churches that cater to the society's insatiable demand for entertainment. They have also charged Warren and Hybels [the Willow Creek guy] with preaching a Christianity lite, in which theology is marginal and the Gospel is mixed up with pop psychology. Their teaching, these critics say, is "me-centered," rather than God-centered, and it proposes that people are basically good, rather than essentially sinful and in need of salvation. Seeker-church pastors, they say, argue that the Scriptures help to heal pain and bring self-fulfillment, but in doing so they are suggesting that the Bible is true just because it works. Furthermore, their God seems to be a domesticated, useful deity—a God without wrath who demands no sacrifices from his children.

Wait, wait, wait. This is a bad thing? Huh. No wonder the megachurches are thriving. They don't use religion to browbeat people and try to scare them into submission? My, doesn't that seem sensible. I rather doubt I will ever be inclined to join any organized religious body, but if I did, the type that accentuates the positive rather than the "Crime and Punishment" approach makes a ton more sense. My essential world view is that people can be ethically good because it's the right thing to do, not because they know they're in for an eternal whupping if they don't. And the bad eggs, they're not going to have their "sins" excused because they go to confession, and they're not going to be punished by hellfire—this is where the criminal justice system comes in.

Honestly, I don't know how people buy into the whole "God's punishment" and "eternal reward" conceits.

1 comment:

Jeff Janusch said...

My sister, a former devout member of a "Jesus will toss your ass in Hell" type of church, now attends Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, MI, a total "Jesus is your buddy" megachurch that is scorned by all the regional Religious Right churches. While still a xtian, she has done a complete 180 degree turn and is "not the same person I was ten years ago", according to her. She has renounced previously revered asswipes such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh and has become quite the enviornmentalist.