I am building up a (sorta) response to Thom Rainer’s 20 Influential Evangelicals list. My list will include mainline Christians, but in asking the question last night on Facebook, I was equally struck by the conversation about who and what is a mainliner.
No, mainliners does not include heroin addicts. Well, I guess it does. But you know what I mean.
]] gives several points as to what is a Mainliner:
- Mainline Protestants have a different perspective. They have a more modernist theology. So, for instance, they would read the Bible, not as the inerrant word of God, but as a historical document, which has God’s word in it and a lot of very important truths, but that needs to be interpreted in every age by individuals of that time and that place.
- Mainline Protestants tend to also believe that Jesus is the way to salvation. But many mainline Protestants would believe that perhaps there are other ways to salvation as well. People in other religious traditions, even outside of Christianity, may have access to God’s grace and to salvation as well, on their own terms, and through their own means.
- Mainline Protestants are much less concerned with personal conversion. Although they do talk about spiritual transformation, they’ll often discuss a spiritual journey from one’s youth to old age, leading on into eternity. So there is a sense of transformation, but there isn’t that emphasis on conversion — on that one moment or series of moments in which one’s life is dramatically changed.
- Finally, mainline Protestants are somewhat less concerned with proselytizing than evangelicals. Certainly proselytizing is something they believe in. They believe in sharing their beliefs with others, but not for the purposes of conversion necessarily. The idea of spreading the word in the mainline tradition is much broader than simply preaching the good news. It also involves economic development. It involves personal assistance, charity, a whole number of other activities.
Theopedia suggests that Mainliners are basically liberal with little or no concern about doctrine. I don’t think that is fair. Indeed, as the discussion shows — there are several theologians that are active in the life of the Mainline Church. Of course, they may just mean the Mainline Protestants.
In describing Mainline, I would start with our view of Scripture. Believe it or not, but George W. Bush, even though he was described as an Evangelical president, probably put it best when asked if the “bible was literally true:”
You know. Probably not … No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is … has got … You know, the important lesson is “God sent a son.”
Bush is, of course, a United Methodist Christian. His statement of faith, I would suggest, begins not with some reliance upon the “truth of Scripture” as “infallible” but with Christ.
I wrote last week about defining Scriptural Authority and mentioned the Articles of Religion. Even conservative (on the issue of women ordination and homosexuality) mainline churches do not define Scripture as evangelicals do. For instance, the Anglican Church in North America.
Further, even the uber-Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) does not hold to the “infallible word of God” line, but like their Anglican (and Wesleyan) neighbors, believe Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. Jack Rogers, once a strong inerrantist, writes about the WCF,
The question of the errancy or inerrancy of the Scripture is one which is strange to the Westminster Divines.…To contend that the Westminster Confession teaches the inerrancy of the Scripture because it does not assert that there are errors in the Scripture is to impose a modern problem on a pre-scientific statement.…Thus in an ahistorical manner, the Westminster Confession is still drawn into a controversy to which its authors were not a party. Certainly the Westminster Divines believed, and the Confession states, that the Bible is true and infallible. But to equate these terms with the modern concept of inerrancy is to impose upon the Westminster Confession criteria for proof and apologetic implications which had no place in their thinking.
Granted, some do not take kindly to this interpretation of the WCF. Others, such as the well beloved Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while upholding the WCF, affirm the inerrancy of Scripture.
Modern Evangelicals place “inerrant and infallible” upon all things to which the bible speaks — history or some some deluded notion of science. Scripture is devoid of the human witness and becomes something God himself wrote. Thus, for them, Scripture is all-sufficient. Mainliners reject this notion. Mainliners should agree that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, but that Scripture is not all sufficient (as it states in the WCF, for example). Further, Mainliners will adopt some form of historical criticism (usually) in digging deep into Scripture to discover what the authors said, compared to what we have been told, and what we say, the authors say.
In Mainline Christianity, Tradition will play a part as well. This is clearly evident in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy (reserving the notion that members of these two groups may object to such a label), the United Methodist Church, the various Anglican groups, and various Presbyterian groups. Thus, that which separates Evangelical from Mainline is the view of Scripture. Scripture is not infallible, inerrant, or all-sufficient.
So, I want to know — who are the mainliners you find inspirational. Unlike Rainer, I am not going to restrict the list to the United States. But, they should be mainline. While Evangelicals may lay claim to some of them (such as Bush and Wright (odd pairing) if you look at their statements and theology, they are Mainline).
Thus far, I have a list:
- George W. Bush
- Rachel Held Evans
- Diana Butler Bass
- James Cone
- Bishop Gene Robinson
- Jim Wallis
- Jimmy Carter
- Brian McLaren
- The unknown visitor, soup kitchen workers, hostel supervisor, sunday school teacher
- Archbishop Justin Welby
- Hillary Clinton
- Leonard Sweet
- Barbara Brown Taylor
- Agnes Abuom
- Frank Scheaffer
- Adam Hamilton
- Nadia Bolz-Weber
- Hong-Duk Kim
- Stanley Hauerwas
- Miroslav Volf
- Sharon Watkins
- Charles Taylor
- Alvin Plantinga
- Nicholas Wolterstorff
- Cornel West
- Steve Chalke
- Walter Brueggemann
- William Abraham
- Scott Hahn
- Desmund Tutu
- Rowan Williams
- N.T. Wright
- Tripp Fuller
- Craig Gross
- Michael Foster
- Pope Francis
- Sam Childers
- Rob Bell
- William Willimon
- Phyllis Tickle
- Marcus Borg
- Kallistos Ware
- Thomas Jay Oord
I’d really like this list to grow. So, here’s what I’m asking. Comment to add to the list or to affirm someone on the list. You can add or affirm as many as you feel is necessary.
Please note, I do not consider Catholics and Orthodox mainline. I am, however, collecting names and the such – as well as additions to the definition of what makes something mainline. Others will disagree.
I’ve updated the list – and will update the list. I’ve also had the benefit of discussing on various forums, from various angles. I think we done, I’m going to call the list “Top X Influential Non-Evangelical (i.e., inerrantists) Christians.”