Christendom Must Die...for the church to live

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A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society,by Rodney Clapp (InterVarsity, 25 pp.; $14.99, paper);

Death of the Church: The Church at the End of the 21st Century,by Mike Regele (Zondervan, 352 pp.; $22.99, hardcover). Reviewed by John Ortberg, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois, and author of The Life You've Always Wanted: Spiritual Transformation for Ordinary People (forthcoming from Zondervan).

At a conference for United Methodist clergy, Bishop William Grove told of a recent visit to a church in Germany. The pastor was talking to a group of 20-or-so year-olds and took longer to get to Grove than is customary when greeting a bishop. By way of apologizing, he explained that he had just met these young people earlier in the week: they were gathered outside on the steps of the church one day when he arrived, and they asked him: "What is this place?" "It's a church," he told them. "What's a church?" they asked. He fumbled for words: "It's a place where we meet; more than that it's the group of all of us who have devoted ourselves to following Jesus." "Who is Jesus?" More fumbling: "He was a person we believe was sent from God—was God Himself—whom God raised from the dead."

The primary moral Grove drew is that we have experienced the passing of Christendom. For better or for worse, the notion of Western religious consensus and the concepts of parish and clerical roles that went with it are gone and are not likely to return.

This is precisely the situation that has occasioned both A Peculiar People, by Rodney Clapp, and Death of the Church, by Mike Regele. While they are very different kinds of books, and lead to different implications, they are both ...

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