“Theology Feud Pits Half of Town’s Protestant Churches Against Another”
So reads the headline posted on Christianity Today last week. The “another” in the story is The Fountains United Methodist Church and its pastor, David Felten. Up until now, I’ve known about David Felten only from his involvement in creating the Living the Questions and Saving Jesus series. These are two of the best progressive Christian adult education programs available, and now he’s taking heat for practicing what he teaches.
Last week, a group of eight conservative churches in Fountain Hills, AZ – including Baptist, Lutheran (sigh), Presbyterian, and non-denominational congregations – launched a unified campaign against the likes of Pastor Felton. And me. And maybe you, too.
Banners appeared in front of the eight churches. A sermon series has been advertised by an op-ed and half-page advertisement in the local paper. One of the stated objectives of the series is to differentiate between “Progressive” Christianity and Biblical Christianity. In quotes from these pastors, words like ‘heresy’ and ‘apostate’ appeared. One said that those who promote a progressive form of Christianity are undermining the Christian faith.
They’re also pretty proud of themselves for joining together in solidarity to demonstrate the “unity of the body of Christ’ in Fountain Hills.” As one said, “Imagine Baptists united with Lutherans working side-by-side with Presbyterians, all while holding the raised hands of charismatics.”
To David Felten’s credit, he’s taking the high road on all this. He said, “It’s hard to imagine how much this kind of publicity would cost if we had to pay for it!” It worked on me; I went right to his church’s website to see what they were about. The first sentence of their mission statement says it all: “At The Fountains, our purpose is simple: to connect with God and serve others with thought-provoking openness and honesty.”
Oh, the heresy! The apostasy!
All this goes to show is that the gap between conservative Christianity and progressive Christianity is widening. If the questions being addressed in the sermon series (e.g. “Why Does It Matter that Jesus Was Born of a Virgin?” and “Why Does It Matter that the Bible is Reliable?”) are any indication, there’s not much room for discussion. There’s a fundamental difference in scholarship, theology, science and worldview at work here.
As churches continue to wring their hands at the loss of membership and money, they will either recognize that a whole lot of people are looking for congregations where they are welcome to be and welcome to think – or they will eventually die.
So I say, kudos to David Felten and the people of The Fountains. You’re a beacon of light that will not be put under a bushel.
For our part, we will continue to use Living the Questions and other great material like it. We just started Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith. I can only imagine the reaction of the “Gang of 8″ to that! Actually I wouldn’t mind some of the publicity The Fountains is getting. San Francisco is a tough market for any kind of organized religion.
Postscript: I just saw a response released by a group of Presbyterian clergy in the area stating that “the entire spirit of this campaign is not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ” and calling on their colleague and his cohorts to cease and desist. Hurray for them! I hope the local Lutherans will follow suit.