David Brooks and the Limits of Sociology

What sociology cannot do is deal with the most important question of all — the truth question.

By the late 1960s, liberal Protestants began asking a rather difficult question. Why were the conservative churches growing? In retrospect, one aspect of the liberal Protestant crisis was reflected in that very question. The mainline Protestant denominations would have been better served by asking why their own churches were declining.

Commissioned by the National Council of Churches, researcher Dean M. Kelley set out to find out why conservative churches were growing, even as the more liberal churches were declining. In his 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion, Kelley argued that evangelical churches grow precisely because they do what the more liberal congregations and denominations intentionally reject — they make serious demands of believers in terms of doctrine and behavior.

“Amid the current neglect and hostility toward organized religion in general,” Kelley noted, “the conservative churches, holding to seemingly outmoded theology and making strict demands on their members, have equalled or surpassed in growth the early percentage increases of the nation’s population.”….

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