When we last left our heroes, it seemed like the American Church was in complete disarray. Hopefully you weren’t give to despair though, for out of the chaos emerged tremendous figures and institutions that would play a big part in the postwar world.
While fundamentalism veered off the track and became increasingly hostile, anti-intellectual, and defensive, another group arose in America. This group was called the the neo-evangelicals. Those Evangelicals reemerged from the fundamentalist ghettos, choosing to become a part of society again. A broad group of people from different denominations unified to return to American culture. Institutions like Christianity Today, Fuller Seminary (woot!), Campus Crusade for Christ, and the National Association of Evangelicals all were founded to unify and reject anti-intellectualism. Carl F.W. Henry, Billy Graham, and many others carried Evangelical Christianity from the margins back into the mainstream. During the boom years of Post-WWII, Evangelical Christianity was respectable, devout, and also relevant (for better or worse).
These “good old days” would not last. Churches would enter into a period of decline, as older non-Evangelical churches and denominations began to wither. The conservative churches that grew were not like the neo-evangelicalism that arose with Graham or CS Lewis however. Instead this Evangelicalism would soon be filled with Left Behind novels and Joel Osteen theology. The post-Eisenhower years witnessed the shift of institutional Christianity rooted in robust orthodoxy towards a do-it-yourself, consumer driven spirituality.
Correction begat overcorrection, and this new American spirituality would soon transform into something other than historic orthodox Catholic/Protestant Christianity. Christianity has always had bright spots of robust faith giving way to less bright times. Whether it was in times of corruption, murderous violence, or snake-oil salesmen, Church History has had it’s up and down times.
In our contemporary time, there appears to be a shift away from historic Christian faith. Of course there is the prosperity gospel, that is not new. But there is a new set of beliefs that has emerged within the American Church called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Based upon the research of Christian Smith, MTD is defined as:
A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
Good people go to heaven when they die.
How we view God is going to impact our faith. As mentioned in the post “Gandalf in the Sky,” if we view God as an abusive father, a sugardaddy, or mystical wizard, those ideas will shape us. We need to be formed in our understanding of who God is through Scripture, since he has chosen to communicate us through his Word. Even more definitively, he has revealed himself to us through his Son who is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1).
I hope and pray that you would be formed in Christ and in his Word this day.