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Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral

Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral
Why we are better off letting God make the gospel relevant.
A Christianity Today editorial, 1/10/2011

This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy....

Robert H. Schuller's famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem... which for Schuller meant "the divine dignity that God intended to be our emotional birthright as children created in his image." It was lost in the Garden of Eden, he explained, but "we hunger for it until we regain it through faith in Christ."

Over the years, many people have caricatured Schuller's theology. Indeed, there has been much to criticize. To be fair, it was more nuanced than many critics imagine....

But already in Schuller's day, there were concerns. The most scathing critique of this general cultural mood was from Christopher Lasch, who noted, particularly in The Culture of Narcissism, that the new therapeutic culture was leaving people trapped and isolated in the self....

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front....

Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy....

But we must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery. 

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