Some striking quotes from the final part of the series:
The very fact that Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral is now Christ Cathedral--home to Rome's OC diocese--points to a degree of change which is absolutely unfathomable to those of us who lived through this tumultuous and exciting time. Robert Schuller--the great "possibility thinker"--didn't consider the possibility of bankruptcy and losing his beloved Cathedral. For a time it looked like a smooth transition from father to son, and then suddenly, everything blew up. Now the Crystal Cathedral is "Christ Cathedral" and a Roman altar now stands obtrusively in the center of the Cathedral.
The reality is that good deeds don't often generate buzz. Warren is now old news here in the OC, suffering the fate of every "new" ministry when the "new" wears off. "Now what do we do?" "How do we keep it all going?" I'd bet the farm that figuring out what strategic step to take next occupies the time and energy of the staffs and governing boards of the remaining evangelical megachurches. Pity the poor staff person or board member who suggests going back to the basics of preaching the gospel! These churches truly miss the "buzz" which built them, and would probably do just about anything to get it back. But the buzz is long gone and chasing it is a fool's errand.
And this is why the OC is now a "burned over" distinct. People have seen too many staged miracles and fake healings. They have been told too many times that Jesus is coming back any moment because some crisis in the Middle East pointed in that direction. Too many times they've heard that God was doing a "radical" world-changing work through some preacher who then spent more time begging for more money to keep it all going than he did explaining how this radical new work might come about. Because the buzz was generated by personalities and entertainment, should we really be surprised it has fallen silent? No. All that remains when the buzz ends are ugly concrete shells with smaller and smaller crowds on Sundays, and ministers seeking to be more "radical" and hipper than their predecessors. It can only turn out badly in the end. This is why it is good the buzz is falling silent.
If Orange County is as burned over a district as Riddleberger says it is then the folks at Mars Hill Church should not expect too much. Ecclesiastes includes the legendary and wry observation that if you see something that appears new it is not, it was from ages past and that it is not really new. But if there's anything I learned the hard way within Mars Hill it's that a lot of us are convinced we know church history enough to think we're doing something new when we don't realize that, at best, we've done nothing more than needlessly reinvent a wheel or, at worst, contributed to a foolhardy cult of personality that shouldn't have been permitted to emerge to begin with. But the lure of legacy is just tempting enough that younger men, in particular (to whom the sales pitch has been rather explicitly crafted) are still likely to buy in. A responsible overview of church history may play a role in providing reasons for a young man to reconsider. The same could be said, of course, for older men.