Project under the direction of Professor Ben King
This dissertation argues that two figures, William Reed Huntington at the turn of the twentieth century and Brian McLaren at the turn of the twenty-first, correctly asserted that The Episcopal Church was uniquely poised to meet the religious and spiritual needs of a changing world. In 1870, The Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington published his vision for the unity of the Church in America entitled The Church-Idea. That text began with these words, “Dissatisfaction is the one word that best expresses the state of mind in which Christendom finds itself to-day. There is a wide-spread misgiving that we are on the eve of a momentous change.” It does not require a great deal of understanding about the state of the Church today (2016) to realize that Huntington’s word continue to echo loudly through the decaying buildings of American Christianity. Huntington saw the possibility of momentous change as an opportunity and spent his life and ministry attempting to change the future of Protestantism in America. Nearly 140 years later, non-denominational pastor, leading voice of the Great Emergence, theologian, and author, Brian McLaren, stood before the 76th General Convention and declared the opening of The Episcopal Moment saying, “I believe this moment of Episcopal crisis is also a moment of Episcopal opportunity.”
This dissertation looks at the specific moments in history in which McLaren and Huntington found themselves. While it may seem that Post-Civil War and post-modern America have very little in common, we will examine the claim of Phyllis Tickle that they are bookends of a larger historical epoch. The words of hope for church unity from Huntington’s era have much in common with the words of hope for an Episcopal Moment in our own. Chapter one lays out the historical setting of the church in America after the Civil War, followed by a chapter dealing with Huntington’s Church-Idea and his subsequent work to bring forth a pan-Protestant American Catholic Church under the umbrella of what would become the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, including a look at Huntington’s work to revise the Constitution of the Episcopal Church to achieve his goals. Chapter three focuses on McLaren’s speeches beginning with his presentation to the Lambeth Conference in 2008, through his General Convention sermon in 2009 and the subsequent tour of Diocesan Conventions as well as other presentations and addresses, and culminating with his reflections in an interview with me on July 13, 2015. The final chapter looks at the response to each of these scholar-pastors in their era, as well as proposing a quadrilateral utilizing the work of both thinkers to suggest a way in which the Episcopal Church might seize this Episcopal Moment and become a church for the 21st century, ready to meet the needs of a changing America. Through spelling out each of these four points: 1) Come to know who we are and what we are about; 2) Raise up disciples; 3) Boldly go and tell our story; and 4) Not be afraid to fail: this dissertation suggests that if embraced by the Episcopal Church, it can situate itself perfectly to meet the needs of postmodern American religion.