Steve Pfaff on Denominationalism, Sin & Other Stuff
Date: October 31st, 2011

Is denominationalism becoming a thing of the past?  What are the upsides and drawbacks of a church affiliating with a denomination?  Are young adults becoming too soft in their faith, or are the kids alright?  Do we talk about sin enough in our contemporary religious landscape?  Tony invites his good friend and colleague Steve Pfaff, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, to answer these questions and more in an open-ended discussion that mirrors a typical weekly discussion that Steve and Tony often have.  You get a chance to listen in to what academics talk about over lunch or a few beers before a Husky football game.  Steve has a more favorable view of denominationalism than Tony does, but recognizes some of the downsides including the tendency to become less entrepreneurial and stagnant.  On the other hand, Tony is convinced by Steve’s argument that denominations help by communicating a consistent message about the quality of a religious organization and also assists in long-term quality control.  We ponder whether churches like Mars Hill that have several branch campuses are on their way to becoming new denominations.  Our conversation then turns to a recent article written by Rabbi Eric Yoffie on the Huffington Post (ht: RealClearReligion) that argues Americans no longer talk about sin very much.  Steve contemplates the downside of this, but Tony chimes in that successful churches like Mars Hill and his own church hit you in the face with sin in a hard way.  We both recognize that churches that provide a “tough love” message about individual sin are often more successful in attracting members than mainline churches that view sin as a social malady.  Our conversation also covers whether kids today are less religious today than in the past and why religious pluralism might be a good thing in terms of encouraging greater civility, contrary to some prior worries that it would promote religious conflict.  We promote the works of Christian Smith and James Wellman, but finally realize that we need people to know that both of us have written some pretty good books too!  Recorded: October 21, 2011.


Steve Pfaff’s website at the University of Washington.

Exit-Voice Dynamics & the Collapse of East Germany, by Steve Pfaff.

RealClearReligion, a portal for religious news and opinion (we appreciate them linking to us – thanks guys).

Evangelical vs Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest, by James Wellman.

The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Life, by Christian Smith.

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, by Christian Smith.

The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, by Anthony Gill (implicitly mentioned in the podcast).

Americans Don’t Like to Talk about Sin, blog by Eric Yoffie on RealClearReligion and Huffington Post.


James Wellman on Evangelical vs Liberal Christians.

Gordon Melton on Mega-Trends in American Christianity.

Mark Driscoll on the Growth of Mars Hill Church.

Mark von der Ruhr on Megachurch Recruitment & Retention.

Dave Travis on Megachurch Myths.

James Brettell on Trends in American Christianity.

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