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Turning around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church.

Turning around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church. By Thomas C. Oden. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. 272 pages. Paperback. $17.99.

In recent years, confessional movements have been building support within mainline denominations. These movements look to reclaim and renew their respective churches with a more traditional brand of Christianity. This is the claim of Thomas Oden in Turning around the Mainline. He states early on that "This book is written primarily for a lay audience" and both "the faithful within the so-called mainline churches" and those orthodox Christians looking in from the outside (p. 12). The author presents what he sees as a growing discontentment with the liberal direction that mainline churches and seminaries have taken in the past half-century. He writes this volume to serve as a record of these confessional movements. Oden states, "I see my own task first as an archivist, and only secondarily as an interpreter" (p. 14).

The book is divided into six parts, the first three focusing on the problems of mainline denominations and the need for confessional movements within them. Oden juxtaposes mainline ecumenical movements with historically confessional ecumenical movements, claiming that the former fail in being truly ecumenical. For Oden, the "old" ecumenical movement supported by mainline denominations focuses on general inclusiveness rather than on shared truth (pp. 111-112).

The fourth and fifth parts of the book present excerpts from confessional documents in the mainline traditions. This proves helpful in creating a small reference section for these document portions and defining what it means to be confessional. The sixth part is a case study that deals with ownership of church property. What happens to local church property when the congregation and its leadership are at odds over doctrine and church polity? The author gives an example using his own church, the United Methodist Church.

Oden clearly sides with confessional movements and the reclamation of the mainline denominations from their current wayward path. Whether one agrees with this stance or not, these types of confessional movements are a growing force within the church today, and members must be aware of their presence. Although aimed at a lay audience, this book is a useful read for clergy, especially those in mainline denominations. The author lays out a challenge to readers, one that must be taken seriously, no matter what one believes about the current state of these churches. In closing the book he states, "Today many Christian believers are called upon to have a spine within a mainline church tangled in spin. The story we have told is about believers with spine" (p.262). This challenge leaves the reader with a choice: take up the cause or put it down, because the future of mainline denominations may be in the balance.

George Tsakiridis

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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Author:Tsakiridis, George
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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