Mouw comments that while many seminarians have a clear sense of denominational identity, more are like this student: "At seminary, she is confronted with a rich variety of theological options and styles of being the church. And all she can say for sure about the present stage in her journey is that the God who has surprised her several times very likely has more surprises in store. Is that 'consumerism'? Perhaps. But it also an exciting spiritual and theological quest."
I found myself resonating with this because I consider myself something of an evangelical mutt. Because my mom was a Christian and my dad was not, I found myself attending a variety of churches growing up, from Assemblies to Covenant to a Taiwanese congregation to Evangelical Free. I attended a Church of Christ/Christian Church college, got involved in ELCA Lutheran retreats, worked at a North American Baptist summer camp. I came to Wheaton for grad school and settled in a Christian & Missionary Alliance congregation for a few years. After getting married, we spent seven years in a Church of Christ/Christian Church before the ancient-future liturgical pull became irresistible and we joined our Anglican church.
The beginning of my journey was something of an eclectic hopping-ism, but by my early thirties, it was much more of an ecclesial pilgrimage that grew out of some degree of spiritual/theological maturation. Our deacon and rector are former Baptists that came to Anglicanism in their forties as a midlife sense of redirection and calling. On the other hand, many college students who have only known contemporary evangelicalism are quick to discover Anglicanism, Catholicism or Orthodoxy. I'm somewhere between the youthful exuberance/experimentation and the midlife pilgrimage, but becoming Anglican three years ago has felt like a homecoming in so many ways (most of my theological mentors and heroes have been the likes of Stott, Packer, McGrath, Wright, even going back to Lewis - all Anglican!).
Mouw also notes that Catholicism has made room for different orders and communities in a way that Protestant evangelicalism has not. A young Catholic might explore the Franciscans, Dominicans or Jesuits before sensing a call to the Benedictines. Mouw writes,
The Roman church, perhaps more than any other, has encouraged many different spiritual flowers to flourish in its ecclesial garden . . . A significant feature of the Roman Catholic pattern of spiritual shopping-around is the concept of "special vocation," which looms large in Catholic environs. A person has a special vocation to join the Jesuits or the Sisters of Charity, and this notion of an individual vocation is regularly linked to a collective vocation. In joining the Benedictines, for example, one joins a communal enterprise of living out a way of life characterized by such things as celibacy, stability, contemplation, and poverty. Other vocational communities have different callings to cultivate their own unique blends of disciplines and virtues.I think this is markedly different than the usual evangelical experience of finding a church that "meets our needs" or choosing a church on the basis of worship style, preacher or kids' programs. I like what Mouw says about the larger collective vocation and wonder how that might apply to Protestant communities. I think it would be healthy if people joined local churches with a sense of entering into a larger tradition and vocational emphasis, whether social justice at a Methodist church or evangelism at a Bible church or whatever.
It makes sense to me that every denomination or church has its own distinctives and place in the kingdom, and I think it's good for people to explore options to find where they best align (as long as it's done with this larger corporate sense and isn't just an expression of American individualism). As Mouw concludes, "We should celebrate the diversity of our Christian landscape, manifested, for example, in the existence of Lutheranism, Vineyard Fellowships, and Stone-Campbell congregations. If such diversity encourages a consumerist approach to the spiritual quest, so be it."