Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Has Suburban Sprawl Shaped American Christianity?

Fred Clark argues in the affirmative:

I believe . . . that American Christianity has been shaped by the suburbs far more than the suburbs have been shaped by American Christianity. [...] The suburbanization of American Christianity has had a huge impact on institutional and denominational structures. Automobile-shaped development has produced an automobile-shaped ecclesiology. The car has abolished the possibility of the parish. And that, in turn, has helped to redefine “neighbor” as a matter of preference more than of proximity — as optional rather than obligatory. That redefinition is rather significant, since “Who is my neighbor?” is kind of an important question for Christians.

The suburbanization of American Christianity has altered our theology in other fundamental ways. Consider, for example, the church-growth movement and its focus on the archetypally suburban idea of the “homogenous unit principle” [Ed: The Homogenous Unit Principle states that churches with culturally and ethnically homogenous membership grow the fastest]. Could there be a more radical rejection of Pentecost than that?

Andrew Sullivan raises a parallel: "It's a faint echo of how Islamist fundamentalism required the location-free Internet to take off. A geographically disassociated, global religion necessarily becomes an ideology, because, unlike the parish, it does not have to grapple with local reality, with differing views, with different temperaments."

Steve Clowney

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