Conversion from the Top Down

I finally finished reading James Jordan’s The Sociology of the Church today. I am looking over bits of it and re-read this section on converting the nations:

Americans (evangelicals) like to believe the myth that society is transformed from the “bottom up” and not from the “top down.” This flies squarely in the face both of history and of Scripture. The history of Israel, as recorded in Scripture, is not a history of revivals from the bottom up, but of kings and their actions. Good kings produced a good nation; bad kings a bad nation. The order is always seen from the top down, though of course with real feedback from the bottom up.

To my knowledge, there has never been, in the entire history of Presbyterianism, a man who was set aside to be a scholar and writer. Without exception, Presbyterians load their best men down with detail and trivial tasks, so that they accomplish little. Their best thinkers are made teachers in theological institutions, where they are made to spend their days going over basics with young, immature men just out of generally worthless college educations.

We can contrast this with the armies of scholars maintained by Rome, and the small cadre maintained in Episcopalian circles. The difference is marked, and points to the fundamental difference between these two groups.The catholic party (Roman and Anglican) is frankly elitist. It strives to convert and control the elite in society, and it arms its best men for that task, giving them time for reflection and writing. The evangelical party (Presbyterian and Baptist, especially the later) is infected largely with the heresy of democracy, and believes (wrongly) that the conversion of society comes with the conversion of the masses.

3 thoughts on “Conversion from the Top Down”

  1. I wonder if James Jordan has read James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. Even though Hunter’s conclusions were fuzzy, the model of cultural change (the best part of the book) is very close to what Jordan is talking about.

    1. I highly doubt it! The models are similar, and you see Catholics going after the upper class with things like Opus Dei. I wish Protestant churches had similar efforts that weren’t tacky and foolish.

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