The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto

The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto : Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism

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One of the nation's best known churches, Fourth Presbyterian is a thriving mainline church housed in an elegant Gothic building in Chicago's wealthy Gold Coast neighbourhood. Less than a mile to the west is another world: the Cabrini-Green low-income housing projects. In this even-handed account, James Wellman surveys the church's history of balancing its theological aims and its social boundaries and sheds light on the strengths and weaknesses of liberal Protestantism as a modern religious institution. Wellman shows how Fourth Presbyterian has moved from an establishment congregation to what he calls a lay liberal church working to overcome class and race inequality in its urban context, while carving out its institutional identity in an increasingly pluralistic environment. By examining the church's four main leaders over the course of the century, Wellman tracks Fourth Presbyterian's gradual shift away from an evangelical role and toward the current focus on service, epitomized in the church's main outreach program, an extensive volunteer tutoring program that serves hundreds of Cabrini-Green residents each week. In documenting Fourth Presbyterian's struggle to meet the needs of its privileged congregants while challenging them to move beyond exclusive boundaries of race and class, "The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto" opens a window into the past, present, and future of the Protestant mainline.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 280 pages
  • 158.75 x 230 x 31.75mm | 589.67g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252024893
  • 9780252024894

Review quote

"This is an important book, because the Fourth Presbyterian Church is important. Maybe not important in the way it once was, when the congregation included many of the controlling business and social elite of the city and there was no problem that couldn't be worked out over lunch at the Chicago Club. But important in the sense of understanding Chicago in the 20th Century... [Wellman] is not setting out to tell us the big story, but he can't help it. His story ... is the change in Protestantism's attitude toward the poor: from saving their souls, while letting them starve to death, to serving their earthly needs but playing down the evangelism... Fascinating stuff." - Paul McGrath, Chicago Tribune "The history of mainline faith is often told in terms of decline, but Wellman prefers a more complex narrative - an ethnographic tale of transition, accommodation, and negotiated social boundaries... A story well told that mixes critical reflection with careful description. Throughout the book, matters of race, class, and gender receive special attention, and the concept of 'lay liberalism' plays an important role in the analysis of the most recent years." - Choice Wellman astutely describes many of the challenges that confront the church of the twenty-first century -- comprehending the depths of people's needs, their desire for spiritual experience, the complexity of our cultural and religious diversity, and the like. The value of his research for mainline Protestantism, however, may transcend his conclusions. His method of using congregational history as a prism through which to understand and interpret the complexity of modern political, sociological, economic, and theological forces is an important model for students of religious, cultural, and social history." -- Frederick J. Heuser, Journal of Presbyterian History "Presents an intriguing systematic approach to issues affecting an affluent church adjacent to a slowly decaying fabric of humanity -- the public housing area named 'Cabrini-Green.' ... Wellman, through historical lenses, brings the interest of the reader from the beginning of the establishment of the church through its present minister, demonstrating how, with each succeeding pastor, there is a shift in the ideology of the church and its focus on the purpose of the church and its ministry." -- Interpretation "This engaging, richly detailed volume tells the story of one of the nation's best known churches, Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian, and offers a plausible challenge to the 'strict-church thesis,' according to which liberal values have led to mainline church decline." -- William P. George, Theological Studies "Explores the much overlooked topic of mainline or mainstream American Protestantism... Well written and researched." -- Theological Book Review "An insightful account of the travail and the opportunity of the Protestant mainline under the impact -- if not a the source -- of cultural transformation." -- Lowell W. Livezey, The Princeton Seminary Bulletinshow more

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