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Chasing Down a Rumor: The Death of Mainline Denominations.

Chasing Down a Rumor: The Death of Mainline Denominations. By Robert Bacher and Kenneth Inskeep. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2005. 192 pages. Paper. $13.99.

A rumor has been circulating in Christendom that mainline denominations are headed for extinction. With an apparent surge in growth among evangelicalism along with other factors, many speak of mainline denominations becoming dinosaurs. In this book, Robert Bacher and Kenneth Inskeep examine this rumor to see if it has validity. Early in the book they nuance the rumor to state, "If mainline denominations are in trouble, religion in America is in trouble" (p. 10). The book follows with a closer look at "the rumor" that includes examples from multiple denominations and suggestions about the implications for the future of mainlines.

The text is organized into three main sections: Perspectives (chaps. 1-3), Prospects (chap. 4), and Possibilities (chaps. 5-8). In Perspectives, the authors build a foundation by introducing various sections on history, the denominations themselves, and interpretations of church trends over the past fifty years. They then move into the second section, where chapter 4 presents statistical analysis. Denominations are compared in various aspects of theology and worship by looking at questions posed to both laity and clergy. There is a friendly warning to skip part of this section if you don't like to view charts and graphs (p. 84), but many readers will find these statistics valuable. The third section looks to the future, culminating in a summary of the findings, worries for mainlines, and a "to-do list for mainline denominations" beginning on p. 178.

This book addresses an important topic as the church moves forward in the twenty-first century. Mainline denominations are an integral part of the fabric of America, and therefore any breakdown or massive change in their core shakes the essence of American Christianity. With that said, this book offers an opening to discussion but is far from comprehensive in addressing the issue. Because of the nature of the data and anecdotes presented, the text reads unevenly at times, and some readers may get bogged down in the details. Chapter 4 is especially helpful as it presents the reader with a good deal of statistical analysis comparing various mainline denominations such as the ELCA with denominations like the Southern Baptists. This sort of comparison helps to alleviate the force of the rumor as it shows that many presuppositions surrounding it may be false. Although the final say is yet to come with regard to the future of mainlines, Bacher and Inskeep have given readers an opening for dialogue and a resource in which to begin study.

George Tsakiridis

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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Author:Tsakiridis, George
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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