An Evangelical Heart with a Mainline Brain?


“The heart says stay and the head says leave,” comments Richard Beck in his sympathetic response to Rachel Held Evans piece on why Millennials are leaving the church.  Many of us have had that experience within a church.  We find the theology lacking, but have a strong emotional connection to the people, style, songs, and sacraments. I don’t have much to add to Evan’s original post (see TylerZach or Brent’s thoughts).

But this is what I found interesting: In riffing off of Rachel Held Evans’ diagnosis of Millennials and the church, and speaking for progressive evangelicals in general, Beck claims that what the church really needs is “a mainline theological and social sensibility combined with an evangelical church expression.”  He proposes this as a way forward for the evangelical church, combining the heart, style, and expression of evangelicals with the theology and social concern of the Mainline churches.

Surely this seems like the best of both worlds.  Take the more progressive theology and social practice of a mainline mentality, and add it to the vibrancy and heart of a Evangelical church, and surely this equals a growing church attractive to Millennials/Progressives (at least it will eventually, as Beck admits these types of church are rare).

But I worry that the mentality exemplified by Beck is not going to help in the long run.  As I’ve said before, each of these positions is situated on the same Christendom continuum. This is a middle way that I worry is just as problematic as the two options on the two extremes.  Indeed, I worry that Beck is actually perpetuating binary thinking about conservatives and progressives, and then offering a combination of the two as a solution (which is all too typical because we Evangelicals slipped on Fundamentalism, hit our heads and forgot where we really came from [I’m working on a post on “evangelical amnesia” that will be up on the Missio Alliance blog soon.]).

Fitch and I explore why this happens in detail in Prodigal Christianity, looking at the Neo-Reformed and Emergent options.  But we have heard that this more radical (not merely middle) way is often confusing and ambiguous.

wizard-of-ozSo I’m going to take more time here on this blog exploring how not to merely combine the “Evangelical Scarecrow” with a Mainline brain, or perhaps in reverse, combining the “Mainline Tin Man” with an Evangelical heart.

We need to do this because in reality we are all more like “Cowardly Lions” needing to learn from marginal theologies about the courage to use our power differently (I’m thinking Black, Latino/a, and Anabaptist), and only then will God’s mission break out in our churches.


But back to the topic at hand: Do you think we need join an evangelical heart with a mainline head?  If not, what do you think is the way forward?