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Steven Waldman Interviews Rick Warren

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose of Christmas," spoke with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman at the offices of our partner, The Wall Street Journal.

What actually happened is a historical thing – there was a split. Historically evangelicals and mainline Protestants were all in one group. Along about the beginning of the 20th century there were some protestant theologians who started using the term “social gospel.” What they meant by that was you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place.

Really, Steve, in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing. It was in vogue at that time. If we redeem society, then man would automatically get better. It didn’t deal with the heart. So they said we don’t need this personal religion stuff

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So Protestantism split into two wings. Mainline Protestants – Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians – said we’re going to take the body, ok, and we’re going to care about poverty and disease and charity and social justice and racial justice. And the evangelicals and the fundamentalists – which, by the way, are two different groups, they are not the same; I’m not a fundamentalist – said we’re going to take the soul. We’re going to care about personal morality and pornography and protecting the family and personal moral issues and personal salvation.

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Who’s right? Well in my opinion they’re both right. And part of my desire as a leader is to bring these two wings back together. I think you need them both. I think it’s very clear that Jesus cared about both the body and soul. He cared about both personal and social issues. And I think they’re both important but there’s been this split.

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It’s interesting, the mainline died. It’s an irrelevant word. The mainline is sidelined. There are more Muslims in America than there are Episcopalians. There’s less than two million of ‘em. We’ve had a 40 year decline in all the mainline denominations while the independent and charismatic and the evangelicals kept growing and growing. So there’s been a shift.

This relates to something else I’ve seen you talk about -- the way the Christian brand, if I might call it that, has become tarnished. And there’s been research from the Barna organization saying that people have come to have a negative view of what Christianity is all about. First, do you agree with that?

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