A Case Study of Mainstream Protestantism: The Disciples’ Relation to American Culture, 1880-1989

Williams, D. Newell, ed. A Case Study of Mainstream Protestantism: The Disciples’ Relation to American Culture, 1880-1989. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

D. Newell Williams’ edited volume on the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and American culture profiles the Disciples as a case study of mainstream Protestantism from 1880 through the 20th century. Newell attends to the church’s central though diminishing influence on American culture during this period, identifying the theological, institutional and social factors contributing to its numerical decline, and suggesting how the church might respond to this situation. The essays examine developments in the church’s growth, approach to theology and the Bible, organizational structures, geographical distribution, denominational mission and identity, and views of education. Several of the chapters compare the theological and social positions of the Disciples to the Presbyterians and/or the Baptists of the period. The chapters are the result of earlier drafts presented to a conference held April 15-18, 1989 at Christian Theological Seminary called “Twentieth-Century Disciples: Appraising a Mainstream Denomination and Its Future Prospects.” <p> Twenty-eight writers, not including Newell, contribute the book’s twenty essays, grouped into six major sections: Bible and Theology; Mission and Image; Education; Structure; Theological, Moral, and Social Profile; and Ecology of Growth and Decline. Each section concludes with a “working group response” that restates its primary findings and offers recommendations accordingly. Newell provides introductory and concluding chapters based on interpretations of the study's findings. In response to the church’s numerical decline and loss of influence on culture, he recommends that it identify a "basis for Christian union capable of overcoming social and cultural division that can serve at the same time as a distinctively Christian norm for judging theological statements and moral action." He proposes the gospel of God’s unconditional love as the answer to this challenge.