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Friday, September 4, 2015

"The Sky Is Falling, the Church is Dying, and Other False Alarms" (Ted A. Campbell)

TITLE: The Sky Is Falling, the Church Is Dying, and Other False Alarms
AUTHOR: Ted A. Campbell
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (116 pages).

There is a reason why people keep saying: "No news is good news." Just open up the daily newspapers or the headline news and you should find out a few more reasons. Simply put, there is so much bad news reporting out there, that not hearing anything about it is in itself a good news already. Ironically, while the Church is not of this world, it often seems like doomsday prophecies and bad news continue to plague the state of the Church. Even among Christians, it is common to hear the following bad news:
  • The Church is dying
  • The numbers are dwindling
  • The spiritual vitality of churches are deteriorating
  • Many Christians are discouraged, down, and disillusioned
  • ..
On and on, it seems so ironical that the very Church that is supposed to preach the good news is herself swimming in the pools of bad news. Ted A. Campbell bucks this trend by suggesting that all these bad news statements are simply false alarms. They are based on old paradigms. They rely on past expectations that are projected unwittingly into the future unrealistically. While the Church is not the same institution it once was, that does not mean the Church is going to go away anytime soon. It is not a deteriorating kind of growth. It is simply a different kind of growth. It is not about Christianity declining in the West. It is about new forms of Christianity rising in other parts of the world. The West simply needs to catch the wave. Rather than to say people are disinterested in religion or Church, it is more accurate to acknowledge that people are still interested in faith matters, just not in the old ways we used to work. 

In five chapters, Ted Campbell tears down the false alarms so that we can see more clearly the hope and renewed excitement for the future. As an elder of the United Methodist Church, a historian, and a "long-time participant in inter-Christian dialogue," the danger for the Church today is not external threats but the buying in of mythic theories and doom. He removes MYTHS of world perception right off the block. There is the myth of shrinking churches. Instead of shrinking, conservative churches have grown, as what Dean Kelley's thesis had predicted. The ones shrinking are the liberal denominations. News reports that indicate a decline in Protestants do not take into consideration that it parallels the decline in mainline Protestantism. News reporting has become increasingly biased against Christianity, especially after the 9/11 attacks that lump public opinion not only against Islam but also all things religion, including Christianity. Here lies the key problem. Myths and bloated news reporting about the negativities of religion and Church have marred the perceptions of people. They are not grounded in facts and good research. Instead, they are filled with spin reporting of poorly done research, spurred on by a cynical view of religion in general. This is especially with the gay debate, where Churches often take the brunt of negative news reporting.

The second chapter on FACTS show us that while there is numerical decline in many Christian communities, there is no indication of a church in a coffin. The author supplies four to five major facts to counter the myths. First, historic Protestant churches were never the "dominant center" in the 20th Century. Put it another way, "mainline" exists more in the mind and perceptions of people rather than reality. The Church was never mainline in the first place. It has always been persecuted, albeit differently across different eras. Church statistics do not tell the full picture. Many denominations and their adherents, for various reasons were never accounted for in these numbers. The changes do not reflect proportionately according to population fluctuations in the country. The Church were never any mainline in the first place. Second, there is a corresponding decline in the other religions as well, which means that Christianity is not the only one affected. Moreover, disputes arise according to how the numbers were counted in the first place. For instance, what makes an actual worshiper? Is it official membership numbers or number of people attending each Sunday? What of those who registered as members years ago but no longer goes to Church? Third, the rate of decline is slow, not drastic, contrary to some scaremongers. Note also that some members church hop and complicates the data collection process. Comparing some of the numbers now with those from the 40s-60s era, the "nones" of today parallels the "inactive" of yesterday. Those attending churches each Sunday are in no way active members. There is a strong commitment base in churches. Fourth, even when Protestant churches split up and go their ways, overall church membership stays around the same. Fifth, this reveals one big fact: There are strong cores of membership in every Church.

After dispelling some fallacies and myths, Campbell begins to work on the LEGACIES the historical Church has left behind. While there are many different churches and denominations, there is only one True Gospel, and all of them proclaim that. He puts on a historian hat to show us some legacies of the past that still exist today.
  1. Ecumenical Engagement and Commitments: The Church continues to work toward greater unity and common understanding
  2. Postmillennial Optimism and Social Engagement: There is a greater thrust toward progressiveness and missionary zeal; concern for social justice; Typically, conservative churches may be conservative theological, but they are often socially progressive at a practical level. 
  3. Our Conservatisms: The conservative practices of today do not differ significantly from the past. 
  4. Roots Beyond America: Most of American churches hail from European Medieval origins. 
  5. The Gospel: Legacy of all legacies. This one factor alone unites the Church in ways no others can. With this one factor, churches can be optimistic that we are all more common and united than the world thinks.

The chapter on STRENGTHS, build upon this gospel factor, that while the church has ancient roots, it is not necessarily as frail as the world may paint them to be. Five key characteristics are highlighted: 1) Doctrines and Liturgy are continually being renewed, not rejected; 2) Christian music continues to be refined and re-invigorated with fresh zeal; 3) Stronger desire and expectation for spiritual formation; 4) Multigenerational transmission; 5) Church based benevolent and charities.

On the FUTURE, Campbell proposes several initiatives that are helpful and hopeful. First, strengthen the core of our existing communities. Do not let them be discouraged. Every growth is based upon a core. This calls for strong leadership at the center, those who are able to consistently expect to serve and lead by example. Be re-introduced to Scripture. Maintain a comprehensive overview of doctrine and theology. Appreciate one's tradition and legacy. Implement a program for spiritual formation. Second, learn to engage communities through understanding of their needs. The environment around us is increasingly diverse ethnically and culturally. Third, Seek to build bridges with existing members in the neighbourhood rather than to be tied down to the past, that are already history. Fourth, offer both tradition with contemporary adaptations in worship. Fifth, be open to marketing. This does not mean dabbling in marketing work per se, but to be aware that if we do not use martketing as a strategy, we become tools or objects of marketing by others. One example is social media marketing which can be used to address needs in a new era. Sixth, speak on behalf of communities in need. What has our preaching to do with our neighbouhoods? Do we talk all about God and ignore the people around? Doing church means learning to be a part of the community we are in. Seventh, learn to speak of denominations as various ways of being Christian. Instead of being shy about the Church as an institution that is detested because of modernistic cynicism, see the Church from the eyes of a rich legacy and an effective channel to aid society.  When we are not ashamed of the gospel, we ought not be ashamed of our legacy, our history, and our united future. Finally, grace is the ultimate expression of the gospel.

Reading this book brings about lots of renewed hope and optimism amid the tide of negativity and sarcasm about the Church. Even Christians themselves have unwittingly bought into the lies and myths perpetrated by news agencies and secular media. We have a chance to prevent the throwing out of the baby of legacy with the bathwater of past mistakes. There is no perfect Church. That does not mean there is no hope to become that perfect Church. When Christ comes again, He will come for the Church, His Bride. If God so loved the Church, so should we. Campbell has done all of us a great service by getting rid of the myths that continue to discourage congregations and demoralize Christians. He dispels the accusations that come fast and furious and shows us how to debunk them. If we stand for truth, should we not learn to boldly reject untrue things hurled at Christians? If we are vigilant, should we not distinguish facts from fiction, truth from falsehood? Through the proper understanding of statistics, numbers, and facts, we are better equipped to interpret them from the right lens. Remember the strengths within each of us. The Church may be struggling but she is not dying. She may be down but she is definitely not out. With renewed encouragement of the core leadership group in every church, there is a lot of room to grow and to be the witness that God has called all to be. Be not afraid of tradition or legacy. Instead be wary of letting the Trojan horse of falsehood that attacks us from the inside out. Do not be weary of doing good. Instead, rally the people to do whatever possible based on the limited resources and to trust God to fill in the rest.

I believe this book is a wake up call to a sleepy Church that has been intoxicated by the fumes of despair. May Campbell's word of hope be that electrical fan to aid the Spirit of God that is blowing according to God's perfect timing.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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