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A study on the recent American shift from liberal to conservative worship practices identifies the reasons that many worshippers are returning to more traditional churches, contending that Christians do not absolutely support pro-life and anti-divorce stances, the unquestionable nature of the Bible, or dogmatic religious rhetoric.
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Dave Shiflett gives us a book that is essentially a marketing research project on modern Christianity. The focus? Why are the conservative, orthodox brands of faith increasing market-share while mainline Protestant denominations are losing it? Shiflett uses personal interviews as his research tool. And there is undoubtedly a vicarious thrill as Shiflett presents hard questions to figures from both camps. For example on homosexuality, he asks the liberals whether they "...entertain the slightest worry that converting a former sin into a celebrated and even consecrated virtue might possibly have eternal consequences?" And to the conservatives, "If God is indeed omniscient and omnipresent, why [does] He allow disaster to occur, especially to those who have so closely cast their lot with him?" The answers Shiflett receives from his subjects measure out in words the true distance between the liberal and conservative positions.
Shiflett shows us that the progressive's journey starts by questioning literal Biblical interpretation. The liberal position observes that perhaps we should use the wisdom God gave us when seeking to understand and live by a Book that advises stoning for unruly children. Taking various Biblical passages like these without a grain of salt could leave us running short of rocks. In contrast, the conservative's dogmatic adherence to the same Book begins and ends with the nature and strength of faith itself. The sure belief that no matter the event, it can somehow be understood as the mysterious working of an omnipotent Creator. So the tragic events at Columbine for example (discussed in detail in the book) are not solely an indication we live in a world where people can choose to do very bad things. Instead, they are seen as evidence in the physical world of a spiritual warfare happening between God and the devil, where the eternal souls of us all are the territory in dispute. Looking at a tragedy like Columbine with these eyes reveals that "...God has a plan, and his plan is to turn evil into good."
Shiflett makes no pretense of editorial objectivity. His own views as to which group of religious leaders should perhaps worry about the exact nature of their eternal reward, and which ones will be welcomed by a majestic, sometimes foreboding God into heaven, are quite obvious. But he still gives a fair shake to subjects on both sides of the divide, presenting his questions, and recording the hopes, fears and faith he finds in the answers. And like any good marketing analysis, Exodus looks beyond the numbers and comes to some clear conclusions, one of which being that the power of orthodox Christian faith lies in its clear hope and steady assurance of what lies beyond death s door.--Ed DobeasAbout the Author:
Dave Shiflett is the author of Christianity on Trial. He has written for The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, ReaderÂ’s Digest, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The New Democrat, Investors Business Daily, The Guardian, and other publications.
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