When church historians write books about the Downgrade controversy, the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, etc., they usually focus on the intellectual factors like Darwinism, higher criticism, the New Geology, and the repercussions of the Enlightenment.
I assume this emphasis is due in part to the fact that intellectuals naturally seize on intellectual factors. Church historians are intellectuals. Their analysis mirrors their predilections.
Another reason is that Christianity is an ideology, so even though one can approach church history from the standpoint of economics or politics or sociology–all of which can bring a useful perspective to bear–still the theological orientation of the Christian faith invites an emphasis on the history of ideas.
However, one of the problems with this emphasis is that it runs the risk of overlooking other key dynamics. I’m reminded of something I once read. I don’t have the quote at my fingertips, so I’ll have to reconstruct it from memory. As I recall, it was an elderly Anglican commenting on the Catholic sex scandal. And he said something to the effect that, in boarding school, his headmasters were old queens (or old queers). This was an unspoken perception among the student body.
He didn’t accuse the headmasters of molesting the students. Rather, as I recall, he was making the general point that his headmasters were uninspiring role models for young men. The boys didn’t look up to them. Didn’t respect them. The headmasters were soft. Farcical. “Eccentric.”
And I’d like to broaden the point. Not only do you have certain denominations in which “old queens” are disproportionately represented among the clergy, but the same denominations foster an “old queen” mentality among the clergy. Clergymen who are not old queens, clergymen who are straight, nonetheless cultivate a soft, ineffectual demeanor–a soft, ineffectual outlook.
Take the knee-jerk pacifism of the modern Vatican. Same thing with the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Or, for that matter, N. T. Wright. Likewise, take the Vatican’s knee-jerk opposition to the death penalty. Or take those ineffectual bromides about how Jews and Muslims should lay down their arms and learn how to get along. In some denominations, that’s what men of the cloth are expected to say. It’s so predictable.
And I say that to say this: I suspect the “old queen” mentality is as much a contributing factor to liberal theology, to dying denominations, as the intellectual factors. For normal men find that repellent.
Let’s compare it to Mark Driscoll. I don’t know much about Driscoll. I haven’t read much of his stuff. I’ve seen his ministry repudiated merely because he has a reputation for using indecorous language.
Now, from what little I’ve read about him, he came from a working class neighborhood. And he brings his blue-collar ethos into the pulpit.
For some people, that precipitates culture shock. Traditionally, many of us view the pastorate as a white-collar profession rather than a blue-collar profession. Except for the Hollywood caricature of the hillbilly preacher, that’s the cultural expectation.
But given what I’ve read about Driscoll’s background, I assume that he’s actually toning down the way he used talk with his friends.
Mind you, I don’t think prep schools boys at Exeter talk any differently to each other than working class boys. But part of projecting an upper class image is the ability to instantly to switch from lowbrow to highbrow depending on where you are and who you’re with.
From what I’ve read, Driscoll has the same onstage persona as his offstage persona. He is what he was.
I don’t know enough to offer a specific evaluation of his ministry. And I’m not trying to. I’m just citing him to illustrate a certain type. To contrast that type with another type.
But a Driscoll can obviously reach a demographic which the “old queen” mentality cannot. In particular, he can connect with men in a way that the “old queen” mentality never has and never will.
To illustrate the same point with a different example, take Mark and Donnie Wahlberg. They come from a working class background, and they are drawn to working class characters. From what I’ve read, they were lapsed Catholics who recently returned to their church.
Now, it doesn’t surprise me that they were alienated from the Roman church. How could two guys like that really relate to the “old queen” mentality?
To take one more example, I remember reading about the impact that Dwight Moody had on the student body at Cambridge. Moody came from a hardscrabble background. Had little formal education.
He was the antithesis of what the students were used to hearing at chapel. They were probably accustomed to a lisping, mincing, butterfly-collector. A Lewis Carroll type.
By contrast, Moody was passionate, burly, uncouth speaker. Yet I daresay that for the first time in life the students were face-to-face with a real man in the pulpit.
When we consider the sources of infidelity, we should make allowances for factors besides liberal ideas. Sometimes we need to consider the effect of the messenger as well as the message.