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Something to Rejoice About

Ruth Graham's New England’s Quiet Christian Revival
Something to Rejoice About

Too often the news for Christians portrays no hopeful signs for our nation’s spiritual health. Of course, “bad news” attracts more readers, viewers and listeners than “good news” so that is not likely to change any time soon since “news” really is only a product to be sold. But it’s also true that the few good news stories which provide variety and relief in our news media rarely have anything to do with religion at all, much less Christianity and even much less with evangelical Christianity.

This story is a dramatic exception to that rule. Ruth Graham—a freelance journalist who lives in Newberry, New Hampshire, and not the wife of the famous evangelist—chronicles a quiet growth in the evangelical church community in New England that is remarkable. For instance, even though the population of Boston, New England’s quintessential city, is less now than it was in 1970, the number of churches in the area has almost doubled, and, Graham reports, “the number of people attending church has more than tripled in that same period”.

An important element in the story is its focus on church planting done on a “slow growth” model. Graham does not point to megachurches or large evangelistic campaigns as the key to the resurgence of the church in the region; in fact, she doesn’t offer any particular reason why churches are growing in New England now at all. She hints at the growth being linked to personal evangelism and sound preaching, but only Stephen Um, pastor of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston offers any real explanation:  “This is happening on an organic, grassroots level from people with a burden for pursuing the common good and loving their neighbor, but still holding onto an orthodox doctrine.”

Elsewhere in the article, Graham, quoting from the NETS (New England Theological Seminary) Institute for Church Planting website, cites the widespread belief among evangelicals that “pulpits that once boasted gospel preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield now proclaim universalism, liberalism, and postmodernism”, but this negative focus does not seem to be the starting point for the movement. More new churches are being started than old ones revitalized, unless one counts the churches whose buildings are entirely empty and have folded up shop.

What is the focus, however, seems to be the three elements mentioned by Um: pursuit of the common good, love of neighbor, and adherence to orthodox doctrine. What better basis could there be for new life in what has been called the “graveyard of American Christianity”? Study Center advocates should rejoice in this hopeful model of the church in New England, and realize that our movement might parallel it in the modern universities of America. At the very least, we should have our students and faculty read this report for their own encouragement and to inspire them to “love and good works.”

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