Review of Mainline Christianity

Meet the Author

Jason S. Lantzer is an adjunct professor of history at Indiana University, Purdue University and Butler University.  His BA (History & Political Science), MA (History) and Ph.D. (History) were all earned from Indiana University.  Lantzer is the author of two books: Prohibition Is Here to Stay: The Reverend Edward S. Shumaker and the Dry Crusade in America (2009) and Mainline Christianity: The Past and Future of America’s Majority Faith (2012).

Relevance

For the last several decades the group of denominations historically labeled “mainline” has been declining in number of members and influence in the larger culture.   Any talk of a future for an individual mainline denomination or for the group as a whole is heavily influenced by this reality.  These conversations have lacked a single historically accurate resource that offers a thorough and thoughtful account of the decline in the context of the full history of the mainline.

Book Basics

Mainline Christianity is a must read for all within the declining denominations, those of other religious traditions within the United States, and those interested in American history – especially in the twentieth century.  At just 137 pages (before extensive end notes), Lantzer’s one volume approach is concise yet complete, and scholarly yet straightforward.

Mainline Christianity is the story of the development and decline of the Seven Sisters of American Protestantism: the Congregational Church (now a part of the United Church of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, and the Disciples of Christ.  It is also an account of Christianity in America today insofar as what denominations could become and already functionally serve as America’s mainline insofar as numbers and popular opinion: Evangelical (including the largest American Protestant denomination: Southern Baptist Convention), Roman Catholic (the largest Christian “denomination” in the country and the world), and Pentecostal (currently the fastest growing type of Christianity).

So What?

While I cover many topics here at sowhatfaith, I write most often about that which I know best: mainline Christianity in America.  I have served as a pastor or lay staff member in congregations affiliated with four of the seven sisters, and worked in consultative and educational roles with congregations affiliated with the remaining trio.  Recently I wrote about the ten biggest changes I anticipate in the American church by 2020.  Those shifts are informed by my understanding of the trends in Christianity and our culture; Lantzer’s texts affirms those assumptions.

How well do you know

  • the story of mainline decline during the last several decades?
  • the history of the mainline from the formation of Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America in 1908 til today?
What do you think will happen to the seven sisters by 2020? 2050? Why?

Jason S. Lantzer.  Mainline Christianity: The Past and Future of America’s Majority Faith (New York University Press, 2012).  ISBN: 9780814753316.

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