Most intriguing, however, was John Hare’s paper. He started by offering a dramatic thesis: when we no longer know how to justify the higher demands of our faith, we will subside into the lowest common denominators of our culture.’ Hare saw this in the rise of three basic secular values in the church: success, happiness, and prestige. These are highly problematic as they lead to emphasis on size, emotionalism/entertainment, and the implicit competition of growth by redistribution (aka sheep stealing).
I need to reflect much longer on this analysis but it immediately made sense of something unexpected I noted on day one and which became apparent at various points in the week: the strange affinity between the evangelical megachurchism and liberal ecclesiology of some of those at the seminar. Numerical size and therapeutic impact were central to both. I had never noticed that affinity before but it was clearly there and needs explanation. Hare’s approach seems to me at this point as plausible as any: the abandonment of scriptural authority in liberal circles and the tendency to identify what works with what is true in evangelical church methods are both vulnerable to his thesis. Neither can justify the higher demands of the faith. Both therefore tend to end up as replications of the wider culture in a Christian idiom.