The Mainline Protestant Surrender of Christian Education

John Schmalzbauer has an interesting post at Faith and Leadership on the way that mainline Protestant denominations have relied on para-church and evangelical resources for Christian education rather than cultivating materials of their own. Here is his conclusion:

To be sure, mainline denominations have benefited from the assistance of evangelical para-church ministries (including Sunday School publishers). As Presbyterian Richard Hutcheson notes in Mainline Churches and the Evangelicals,” the role of the para-church is to work alongside or beside the wider ecclesia.

And yet if congregations do not learn to tend their own theological gardens, they will not survive. Such a development would be a loss to both mainline denominations and to the larger church.

2 thoughts on “The Mainline Protestant Surrender of Christian Education

  1. David: Good thoughts. I think Messiah is one of those schools with the resources and the leadership to combine “spiritual momentum” with “intellectual rigor.” This is why I am here.

    I think we do Christianity well here. And we do it in a very unique and God-honoring way that stems from Messiah's heritage. The “intellectual rigor” dimension has improved immensely, even since I have arrived, but it still has some way to go. You just can't sustain a high level of intellectual rigor when you ask faculty to teach a 4-4 load.

    Are there mainline schools where there is spiritual dynamism and intellectual rigor? I would argue yes, but it all depends on what you mean by spiritual dynamism. For example, Lutheran colleges such as St. Olaf or Valparaiso seem to have a certain spiritual dynamism about them, but this kind of Lutheran spirituality may not be recognized by evangelicals.


  2. Fascinating comments, presupposing that there is still life in “mainline” schools. Can you name a mainline denominational school where the spiritual dynamism matches the intellectual rigor of the school itself? The evangelical campus offered spiritual momentum, but many lacked the intellectual rigor. Thus, in the late 80's through the mid-part of the past decade, Christian students could find few schools that offered both. So most tried to find the best evangelical school possible and keep their faith, rather than attend a mainline school and lose it. This is simplistic analysis, but I know many who made just this choice. My question today is whether this state of Christian higher education has changed at all. (I also beleive this lays a wonderful groundwork for presenting the mission and vitality of Messiah College!)


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