The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe

Robert Wuthnow, Oxford UP, 1997

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Wuthnow, professor of sociology at Princeton, claims that congregational drop in donations, voluntary and personal involvement are the result of a spiritual  crisis, caused in large part by clergy failure to address the vital relationship between faith and money, work, stewardship and economic justice.

        Quoting from clergy and laity interviews in sixty Protestant and Catholic congregations, parishioners often feel the church does not care about what they do from Monday to Friday.

        Wuthnow points to attempts to challenge members to think differently about matters of faith and finance.  Churches are being influenced by the cultural milieu in which we live (p ix).  Of primary interest is a 64-item congregational interview guide that he used in congregational analysis (p 247ff).  Clergy need to continue to emphasize stewardship and its centrality to the life of faith (p 105), featuring its theological significance rather than simply as common sense middle class virtues.

        Wuthnow spends a chapter on strategies for survival to bring together stewardship and spiritual perspectives:  to engage the congregation in ministry to the broken people of society, to move beyond middle class perspective; to initiate small groups for greater accountability; to encourage megachurch dynamics; to strength the  program churches (membership of 200 – 500).

        Wuthnowe’s attention is focused on clergy and their role in finance; this does not recognize the crucial changes in pastoral training and the churches changing role in society (the temptation to Constantianize the church; eg what are the implications for pastoral care in a culture where clergy training is increasingly on-line.  A new perspective is needed that goes beyond fiscal probity.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.