Home > Linkathon > Linkathon 2/16, part 1

Linkathon 2/16, part 1

I’ve previously linked to Anthony Bradley’s critique of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), but I thought – especially given a recent discussion on church planting on the Phoenix Preacher blog – that this excerpt needed to be presented. The following quote is Bradley’s commentary on Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort:

Pulitzer-prize finalist Bill Bishop’s data-tested thesis is that social conservatives and social elites sort themselves politically and form churches around already accepted social norms. This will explain how the PCA grew and why it likely won’t grow beyond its current cultural demographic in the near furture. For example (page numbers to Bishop’s book are in parenthesis)….

…7) Low income whites, in general, have maintained their allegiance to Democrats as late as 2004. The Republican party experienced its largest growth, in past two generations, among middle- and upper-class Americans [regardless of race] (120). You will rarely find a PCA church of low income white people with allegiance to the Democratic party because low income whites are a culture many PCA’ers detest (121).

(8) Ideological and social white flight has left rural America behind (137). The most neglected and ignored churches in the PCA are rural. They have been left behind by surburban and city center white elites (137). As I’ve written before, middle-class elitism does not seem to care about poor white people.

Now, there is more than one side to every story, and I have yet to come across any critical response to Bradley’s assertions. But if there’s any truth to this, this is very disturbing to say the least. Pastors who are highly regarded by some of us are PCA. PCA pastors are influential in the Reformed church planting movement that’s become prominent over the past decade.

It’s interesting to me, now that I think about it, how there are no church plants targeted towards the trailer park, nor the projects.

I’m not a church planter, nor a pastor. I am an outsider, and a white male who is neither dirt poor nor affluent (in American terms).

Some of you are pastors, and church planters, and can comment on whether this is legit or not.

Check out this J.I Packer quotation from Tony Reinke’s blog.

  1. February 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This is a tough one, and I don’t entirely know what to do with it.

    I attend a PCA church, along with some of my fellow Calvary Chapel refugees. The Calvary we attended was a mix of brown and white, rich and poor; the PCA church is fairly criticized for being a “rich white church.” This bothers me a lot, but I’m at a loss to know what to do about it.

    To be fair the church gives money to local charities that meet felt needs in the community, and there are food drives, coat drives, etc. I believe the church believes that churches with substantial poor/Hispanic populations need a different kind of pastor/liturgy/sermon/whatever than what we offer, so the outreach effort is more focused on meeting needs in “their” community, rather than trying to draw them into “our” community.

    For the record I dislike the term “church planter” as I think it sounds like a temporary commitment, where as “pastor” sounds more permanent. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

    And again for the record there are churches in our area that border on trailer parks. They’re typically more charismatic than the PCA, and some are substantially more charismatic than the PCA.

  2. BrianD
    February 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Mike, perhaps you can speak up for those who don’t fit the racial, financial makeup of the church/denom.

    I’m thankful that there are a diversity of churches, if nothing else there are churches who will reach out to people the “rich white church(es)” never will.

    I can’t help but think of Jesus’s wineskin metaphors: old wineskins dry out, and new wineskins are necessary to contain the wine.

    I also can’t help but wonder, with that metaphor in mind, if the PCA is headed towards becoming an old wineskin, and groups like Acts 29 (and others not even born yet) will take the gospel to the trailer parks and the projects and the ‘hood in ways that the older denoms never could (and never would).

  3. February 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I went back and had a look at Bradley’s article. I’ll have to read Bishop’s book now. I’ll put it on my list alongside Liston Pope’s book Millhands and Preachers, which appears to cover some of the same territory in a different context.

    My initial reaction to Bradley’s article is that he’s responding to the perception that the PCA is primarily a social and political organization (and a church secondarily) by asking it to respond to that claim as a social and political organization. I might gently suggest that this is wrong-headed.

    It’s important to remember that the PCA is a relatively young denomination, and will probably face a crisis of identity over the course of the next twenty years as its first generation dies off and is replaced by (somebody). A generation ago it would have been very fair to criticize the Southern Baptist Convention for being too white and too Southern. That’s a less-fair criticism now. I would expect something similar to happen to the PCA. If not, then you’re right: it’ll wither and die and it will deserve to do so.

    I am not entirely sure that his characterization of the PCA is well-founded in its entirety; the church I attend until recently told itself a story that one pastor was a Republican and the other a Democrat, but nobody knew which was which. Now one of the pastors has left, but I don’t know which one. Also, part of the same story was that many of the rich white folks at this church were actually PCUSA refugees who got tired of hearing (presumably) liberal politics from the pulpit every Sunday, and were relieved to be in a less-political church.

    Bradley’s comment about “outliers” is something of a fig leaf, but not much if he doesn’t quantify (which he doesn’t). I guess I’m as free to assume that every PCA church is exactly like mine as he is to assume it’s an outlier.

    Is A29 taking the Gospel to trailer parks? As I mentioned above, most of the church growth I see on the poor end of town is in the shouting churches, much like Bradley describes.

  4. BrianD
    February 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I forgot that the PCA was so young. Bradley seems to be speaking from his own experiences, which may be very different from what (at least some) other PCAers, like yourself, have themselves experienced.

    There always is a witness to Jesus in any part of town you go to. At least that’s the case around my part of the country, and I expect that it’s the same in yours and everywhere else. The churches in the poor parts of town may not be theologically correct, but then again a) how many church groups target those areas to make sure there’s a theologically precise witness and b) to paraphrase Driscoll, it’s never been about the SBC and the PCA and A29 and Foursquare and whatever, it’s always been about Jesus.

  1. March 31, 2011 at 6:06 am

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