Journalistic sources seem to suggest that there has been a resurgence of the American Religious Left (i.e., politically liberal Christians who support progressive agendas) in the wake of the strong support from the conservative Christian right in the 2016 presidential election of Donald J. Trump. Using quantitative analysis, we draw on survey data from the General Social Survey, the Public Religion Research Institute, and the National Congregations Study to assess the possibility of a resurgence among the Religious Left. In comparison with a speculated rise, our analysis indicates a notable decline in both the prevalence and engagement of Americans who self-identify as both religious and politically liberal. Not only is the constituency of the Religious Left shrinking, they have also been steadily disengaging from political activity in the last decade. Especially when looking at more recent elections, it has been those among the Secular Left who have been the most politically engaged. We summarize these empirical patterns in relation to the Religious Right and consider the potential for influence among the Religious Left aside from electoral politics. We also briefly consider other possibilities for their political impact and reflect on the inadequacy of the label “Religious Left” for capturing important dynamics. In the end, we urge greater attention to politics among sociologists of religion, providing a set of research questions to consider in light of the upcoming American 2020 national election.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: a couple years ago I took a group of doctoral students to Wycliffe College at Oxford. One of the most famous professors there was Michael Green who had tremendous impact upon me when I was in seminary when I read his books “Worship in the New Testament” and “I Believe in the Holy Spirit.” Both of those books transformed me.
by Alister McGrath, Christianity Today, 2/12/19.
… Green, an academically talented student, was converted to Christianity as a teenager. In quick succession, he earned first class honors in classics at Oxford and first class honors in theology at Cambridge. His sense of calling to minister in the Church of England reflected his lifelong passion for evangelism. While serving on the staff of the London College of Divinity, a theological college of the Church of England, Green published two works aimed at a student audience that established his growing reputation as an apologist and evangelist:Man Alive(1967) andRunaway World(1968).
These books were widely read and shared by Christian students and led to invitations to speak at major churches and student gatherings throughout the United Kingdom. I read them both myself while a student at Oxford in the early 1970s, and I recall vividly the impact of a sermon Green preached in Oxford on John 3 which helped me grasp the core themes of the gospel.
… In 1975, Green became rector of St Aldate’s Church, Oxford. As an Oxford student at the time, I recall well the sense of delight and anticipation within Oxford’s Christian student community on learning of this appointment. Many were thrilled at the thought of sitting at the feet of such a gifted and well-known preacher and evangelist. They were not disappointed.
Green’s preaching wove together his love for the New Testament, his passion for evangelism, and a deep sense of care and compassion for his congregation. Green’s remarkable capacity to encourage others in their faith and in exploring their callings led many to explore ordination, missionary work, or ways of ensuring their faith and professional callings were woven together.
…Somehow, Green managed to find time to write. His works of this period include hisI Believe in the Holy Spirit(1975), whose warm and winsome tone did much to commend the new interest in the Holy Spirit that was gaining sway in student circles and beyond.
Commentary by Prof. B.: My students in Transformational Leadership have the opportunity to hear in Oxford the author of this article, Michael Moynagh, personally explain the shared economy strategy of the Fresh Expression Movement. Read this article for a good introduction. First is a lengthy video followed by a short article.
(Drawing from his experiences, both as the Director of Research for Fresh Expressions and as Editor of Share–a collection of resources out of the Fresh Expressions phenomena–the Rev. Dr. Michael Moynagh (based at Wycliff Hall, Oxford) shared with assorted members of the Trinity community the impact that this, more than 10 year pioneering movement continues to have throughout the United Kingdom; April 11, 2013)
Just as the pieces of broken bread – in their different shapes and sizes – belong to the one loaf, we see that in all our diversity we belong to each other because we each belong to the one body of Christ.
Phil Potter, Team Leader of Fresh Expressions UK has likened the ‘mixed economy church’ to rivers and lakes. Rivers flow, bubble with energy and bring new water into lakes. Lakes are deeper and more tranquil. Just as rivers and lakes need each other, new forms of church flow into the existing Church and are enriched by its depth and traditions.
Four Methods that Mix Things Up
In some cases, a mixed economy church develops when new believers have a blended church experience. They attend both a fresh expression and an established church. There is nothing in the Bible to say that you can’t belong to two local churches! Rather than consumerism, this is about commitment – to more than one Christian community.
Shared events between an established church and a fresh expression can also lead to the development of a mixed economy church. The two communities can share social events, study groups, short courses, outreach or occasional acts of worship. Both will have a richer church life for having shared together.
One place to start might be for a fresh expression to look out for opportunities to serve its parent church. Might it provide the refreshments for a church study day, for example? There is nothing like loving kindness to open others’ hearts.
A third expression of the mixed economy occurs when emerging Christians connect to the church at large. This can happen through events run by local churches together, or through regional and national conferences and training events, or through accessing Christian resources and making connections online.
Fourthly, the mixed economy develops when new Christian communities cluster together. In an English cathedral city, a small team hosts a monthly Sunday breakfast for people in the neighborhood who don’t attend church. Up to 60 have crammed into a house!
The Birth of a Mixed Economy Church
A house is crammed with people who do and don’t have a church. They’ve gathered around the breakfasts are other events, such as ice cream parties in the summer and hot chocolate parties in winter.
These individuals start to ask questions about spirituality and faith, they are invited to a weekly meeting at which the core team eats together, plans, prays and studies the Bible. If a person enjoys it, they are invited to join the team.
Within two or three years, the team grew from 8 to 18 people. It multiplied into two cells. The cells meet from time to time.
Now, picture the same scene after five years:
Some of the cells will no longer be new. They will represent an established church. As new cells keep being added and cluster with these older cells, they will give birth to….a mixed-economy church!
If you lead a fresh expression, keep connecting to the wider body! Existing churches may be refreshed and energized by the new life you bring. Your fresh expression may be deepened by the wisdom and experience of established churches.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I recently spoke at a conference in Orlando, and described John Wesley’s conversion this way: Wesley decided that rather than live a fair-weather, ‘summer region’ … he was now: all in. Afterwords two pastors told me they had recently preached sermon series on the theme ‘all in,’ and wished they had known this about Wesley. To help pastors preach such sermons, here is my colleague’s analysis of Wesley’s Oxford sermon, where Wesley explains to his colleagues that though he was once an Oxford student and instructor, he was really only “almost” a Christian. Now Wesley realizes an ‘almost Christian’ (or what some today call a ‘cultural Christian’) is insufficient to attain eternal life, but an ‘all together Christian’ (or as might be described in modern language as being all in) is what God expects.”
Analysis by Ken Schenck Ph.D., Wesley Seminary, 2/12/15.
This is a masterful little sermon. Wesley preached it at Oxford in 1741. It is masterful for the way it fits its context and for the way it builds its rhetoric.
The text is incredibly clever, Herod tells this to Paul in Acts 26, that Paul almost convinces him to be a Christian.
What Wesley does is he describes a very religious person, a very pious person. Indeed, he is describing himself as a “methodist” in the Holy Club when we was at Oxford before. How wonderful if we had lots of people in our churches who were “almost Christian” like he describes!
He builds to the “altogether Christian.” This is the person who loves God and neighbor truly. And at the climax of the letter he gets to the main point. This is the person who is justified by faith.
I wonder if today we should almost preach the sermon backward, since we have plenty who are justified but are hardly as dedicated as the almost Christian he describes.
“For this reason the adversary so rages whenever ‘salvation by faith’ is declared to the world: for this reason did he stir up earth and hell, to destroy those who first preached it. And for the same reason, knowing that faith alone could overturn the foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and employ all his arts of lies and calumny, to affright Martin Luther from reviving it.”
“A quite contrary objection is made: ‘If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this will drive men to despair.’ True, to despair of being saved by their own works, their own merits, or righteousness. And so it ought; for none can trust in the merits of Christ, till he has utterly renounced his own.”
Phil Brien, shares a video slide and gives a helpful overview to Dunbar’s Oxford video, stating, “Robin Dunbar is excellent in the video – makes me wish I’d had a University education. He uses simple slides to explain his theory, maintains that even with lots of maintenance those weak ties will drop away to his 150 – and is humble enough to tell us that Aristotle and Plato got these numbers right well before he did.
He continues to justify his 150 in simple form. He shows a bar chart analysis of the average number of people we send Christmas Cards to, cites military units and tells us that even Facebook recently analysed their network and the average friends per user was 120-130 (very near).
I like his style. Explaining a complex, well research subject in a fun way. He’s happy to intersperse his serious research with a bit of fun. He analysed that boys spend on average 7.3 seconds on a phone call, whereas girls spend massive amounts of time on the phone!! I like amusing academics….”