If you’re a pastor who thinks what the world needs is another non-denominational church or your winning personality, give-up. Send them to Shoreline, Austin, Texas. They have a better sound system than any Dolby movie theater, as comfortable seating as any recliner, better lighting than any Hollywood soundstage, a band just as good and loud as found at any rock, hip-hop, or alternative concert. I have found the sharpest knife in the drawer.
The combination of lighting that roved throughout the crowd, sound that beat in your stomach, and spot lights that appeared to show haze, smoke, dust in the air made you feel like you were at a concert or a nightclub where everyone is jump-dancing. Their 15-20 minute “opening act” which is the sine qua non of contemporary worship was spectacular.
Jesus was mentioned often; God even more. It was about grace but the validation of this connection to you is emotion, release, and everything from the prelude, to music, to emotive singers, and a self-deprecatory pastor is building to orgasm. Right now, it’s not sexual, but churches like this have no place left to go for an emotive release to validate their faith other than sex or Pentecostalism.
The televangelism that you thought died with the scandals of the 80s is alive and incarnate at Shoreline Church. That it’s personality driven is shown by the fact that the creed they confessed was written and/or approved by that pastor. It’s 8 statements long, and it’s Armenian Baptist, though it’s not identified as such.
They probably don’t realize this but their doctrine of justification is the Medieval one that the Reformation nailed to the castle church door yet still lives and thrives in the Papists as well as in American Civil Religion. It is this: Once you have done all that is in you, then God for Jesus’ sake steps in with His grace to save you all the way. Shoreline doesn’t say it this way but the way of Alcoholics Anonymous. Once you’ve hit rock bottom God is there to reach out to you with His grace.
Whiffs of the Gospel, even the substitutionary atonement, were there. But it was always an if-then proposition. If you transform, if you turn, if you realize that life is not all about you, then God is there to meet you.
Overall the theology was sloppy, messy. I heard distinct elements of the following denominations: Methodist, Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, and Disciples of Christ. But what was so clear and direct as to be painful was the emotion. It took real effort on my part not to respond emotionally to the music, the singing, the lighting, the pastor, the message, the whole experience. You don’t come out of this church saying, “I have walked with God today” or “I have not walked with God today” but, “I have experienced something.” Shoreline would say you experienced God. I think you experienced the best emotive release men can muster. I felt as I imagine those people do who claim to be abducted by aliens. I was prodded; I was probed; my sense of sound, sight, smell, touch, and even taste were bombarded and overloaded with the message, “Feel this!”
And how did this message which was all about how it’s not all about you, climax (and I use the word advisedly not salaciously)? With everyone saying the Sinner’s Prayer in unison. That’s the prayer where YOU invite Jesus into YOUR heart; where YOU give YOUR heart to Jesus. Where YOU finally let go and YOU let God. This was their Sacrament, and I felt bad for them. It’s as either Chesterton or Lewis said: it was like sucking your thumb and thinking you’re getting nourishment. For Confessional Lutheranism man’s central problem is that he is curved in on himself – look up homo incurvatus in se – and this was actually the central point of the message, but rather than pointing us to the cross, to the Christ outside of us as the answer, we were pointed inside.
This was done with such glitter, such glitz, such gewgaw that you didn’t realize it; it was like being cut by a sharp knife. And no pastor or church in the drawer could be sharper than Shoreline.