Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jocks vs. Nerds -- Or Why Theology Geeks Feel Out of Place in Church

I try to avoid the "evils of revivalist Christianity" (aka American evangelicalism) rant that is such a staple of the Augsburg Evangelical discourse. I have personally spent hardly any time in that world, and so have neither the legitimate need nor the legitimate authority to speak much about it (unlike doctrinal Calvinism). And I think one of the good things about denominationalism, is that it gives you an excuse to restrict your watch-dog instincts to those you are actually responsible for. However this denunciation (by a revivalist Christian, and so from inside experience the only sort worth listening to) contained something that confirmed a point I had made a while ago, so I couldn't resist. (HT: BHT)

Back in the early 80's, I was an elder in a small church in North Hollywood, California. At a certain point, our pastor moved on and we had to start the process of finding his replacement. As we began the search, the district supervisor of the denomination met with us and confided to me an important principle to help us in the choice of a new pastor. At first, I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. In his opinion, after many years of guiding evangelical churches in southern California, he had determined that there was an important trait necessary to assure a man's success in the pastorate.

All things being equal, he needed to be a jock.

That's right, a jock. Being a jock (okay, a former jock was acceptable) would give him the ability to relate more effectively to his church members. And the more prestigious a jock he had been...well, you get the picture. Now the district supervisor was a good and godly man. There was nothing cynical about him. He was honestly giving me the wisdom of many years during which he had dealt with scores of churches and hundreds of pastors. And he had been a pastor himself. He knew his target audience.

Granted, southern California is unique. But in almost every area of culture, it has proven to be a bellwether for the whole nation. Several decades later, we might add a new element to the guidance of the district supervisor. Today, besides being a jock, it would be helpful if a prospective pastor had some experience as a rock musician. . . . .

In most of our congregations rock and roll "worship" . . . . can go on for 45 minutes or even longer on a Sunday Morning. But, God help the pastor who preaches more than half an hour. Twenty minutes is the optimal length. . . . . And no matter how good he is, he should never talk past noon. Why? Because it will encroach on two other vastly important Sunday evangelical activities - getting to restaurants for lunch and home for the games on TV. (Do you see the nexus between the jock pastor and preaching?)

No wonder intellectually-oriented Christians feel out of place in revivalist churches! The people who tormented us in grade school are now going to be weighing our souls in church!

What was the point I had made? Oh yes, that temperamentally modern "conservative" vs. "liberal" (in the usual American senses) is a close analogue of the old knights vs. clerks ("clerk" here means the medieval clergy as a whole). Which is another way of saying the Goths and the Romans, or the jocks and the nerds. This puts conservative religion in an odd place, because the modern revivalist pastor has to be a "knight" (mustachioed Goth, jock) in a job that still has many of the connotations of a clerk (clean-shaven Roman if not bearded Greek philosopher, nerd).

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