1338405161m_SPLASHIf we had some bruallki, we could have bruallki and Menkooro—if we had some Menkooro.

That famous quip from the Star Wars expanded universe (Zahn) pretty much captures the church situation. The grass often looks greener in other traditions (Eastern Orthodoxy: Iconology! Aesthetics!), and sometimes it’s easy, standing within a tradition, to appreciate how it’s evolved, often to the point it would be almost unrecognizable to adherents past. Add to that that the best solution to today’s most pressing theological problem is likely tomorrow’s heresy, and you’ve got a complicated, no-win situation. But it’s worth looking back and checking in on, nonetheless. A few scattered notes:

1. Roman Catholicism: they’ve actually got the Menkooro now, and they’re close to the bruallki (I don’t know what those words mean either). Which is to say, the main hope for all this stuff is the unity of the church (it’s good to stay together), and they recognize this, as the RC church’s increasingly ecumenical tone suggests (a brilliant and progressive Protestant student, by contrast, once told me all RCs are going to hell). Anyway, they’ve got Menkooro, and this is all due to the marvelous Pope Francis. I had thought at one time that il Papa buono II wouldn’t update doctrine quite fast enough to satisfy some people, and that he was innovating in tone too quickly for the taste of others, but the guy’s absolutely genuine gentleness, humility, and love are so powerful as to occasionally occlude even politics in the public eye. Problem is, as a Catholic friend told me, you can never know what the next one’s like. But do say a prayer for unity today, if you get the chance.

2. PCUSA, Methodists, not-southern-or-reformed Baptists: It’s sometimes hard to tell, but my sense is that this is still sort of ‘normal’ American Christianity: serious but not doctrinally obsessed, trying to be contemporary/relevant (sometimes to a fault) and taking everything in moderation (except trying to be relevant, which can be measured by the number of different styles of head-mounted microphone the worship leader goes through in a year). Notes for 2015 are that their seminaries seem to be drifting leftwards, as are the recent graduates. They have so much excitement and energy, though, that the old-guard conservatives are probably happy, overall.

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3. Non-denom: Shares none of the problems of the others, but has lots of its own. A bad year for these: the Driscoll fiasco out in the Northwest was a decent example of how one person shouldn’t have that kind of power, and pretty much any (very) successful non-denom church plant will go that way eventually. On the positive end, churchgoers here don’t have to deal with politics taking over the pulpit (looking at you, Episcopalians. And Catholics, sometimes), they don’t have to deal with the stern moralism you sometimes get in the PCA, and they don’t have to deal with the confining world of Roman Catholicism. In fact, they don’t have to deal with much of anything at all. Some of us might read that as a red flag, but they’re definitely benefiting from the displacement elsewhere.

One thing the non-denoms are still doing right: preserving the Pentecostal tradition, which probably only truly survives there and in Methodist/Baptist youth groups. That tradition is usually in deep tension with institutionalized structures and authorities, so it makes sense this would be the place for it.

4. Episcopalians: Social justice, anyone? It’s up to you, you know. Visited one of these in Chicago last year and there was nary a Bible in sight, though the hymnals/compendiums featuring songs from underrepresented cultural traditions were genuinely fresh and cool. And 4/5 of my favorite churches ever are Episcopalian, and it turned out the Chicago one did have Bibles, in the basement. Nothing new or exciting for 2015, save that KJS is out and Michael Curry in.

4319175580_e1c3cebce3_bA few other notes: the OT’s sometimes harsh language and ethnocentrism have made the liberal Episcopalians, almost paradoxically, a little more supersessionistic / borderline Marcionite than some of its peers, BUT what it does so well is bring in genuinely new voices, beyond the confines of, well, affluent white men. These voices are often fresh and full of new life, and some of the other churches out there can start to look pretty fusty by way of comparison.

5. PCA: A few problems: mainly, that C.S. Lewis is still Anglo-Catholic, and N.T. Wright has a soteriology which is very nearly Catholic, and Benedict was Catholic and so is the liturgy and the monastic rule. There’s committed Reformed people who would cheer as you completely dismantled Calvin’s soteriology in favor of Catholicized virtue ethics, but who would start booing the second you mentioned universalism (which Calvin was never a fan of, but the Romanism thing was what really got him going). Seriously, Leo the Great should be next on the list. So PCA edges out TEC/ECUSA for most denominational drift this year. On the plus side, I spoke with a friend at a PCA seminary the other day and he was excited about Deuteronomy. It got me excited about Deuteronomy, too, because the meaning of things we encounter and experiences we have in life is often inseparable from their moral valence, something I’ve certainly missed before. They preserve this moral tradition faithfully.

Actually, they preserve more: Deuteronomy and Obadiah (let’s do a sixteen-part sermon series on Obadiah) and probably two-third of Protestant theology would be lost to American churches were it not for the PCA. As long as it stays Protestant. (The eschatology’s increasingly weird, too, anthropomorphizing things because Incarnation! Embodiment! Affirming creation! In all likelihood, there are no elevators in heaven, and the likely don’t have pottery, and they likely don’t have your stupid vocation, either. Unless they need more Christian bloggers in heaven, but I assume they’re fine on that front. Just fine.)