Spirituality From The Bottom Up

Does this imply a return to spiritual basics? To some extent, yes. Southern Baptist pastor Paige Patterson of Dallas, Texas, credits some of the recent Baptist expansion to a narrowing of emphasis. “Almost all of the churches which have great success have moved away from great diversity in programming. They are focusing on Sunday school, on worship, and on music.” Churches that have stressed social ethics are remembering that the church is founded on, and has grown by, telling the good news of Jesus, offering people a new life in him.

Along with an evangelistic emphasis comes, in many cases, a renewed evangelical theology—at least a recognition that evangelism is fundamental to the Christian’s calling. Philip Walter of the American Festival of Evangelism says, “There are leaders in every group all the way across the spectrum who have a concern for evangelization. But in the mainline groups the people who have the evangelistic zeal have been ignored. Nobody has listened to them.”

Declining membership has created greater receptivity to their concerns, however, and there is change in the wind. In the sixties and seventies says the PC(USA)’s Allison, “Presbyterians had not clearly identified the work of evangelism separately from other concerns. The focus was on mission, and evangelism as part of that. It got lost in the shuffle. Evangelism wasn’t given a lot of the energy.” During that same period, the church began to lose members. “If the church had maintained its stress on evangelism as such, then it might have been different.”

But, says Allison, that concern for numbers is not necessarily a negative motivation. “A lot of people thought the church was doing fine until they looked at the statistics ...

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