We live in a momentous time in the history of America and the American church. The cradle of Western civilization, Europe, has long since abandoned the Faith. Rather than an example of how Christianity can transform a culture Europe is an example of a culture in decline having come to hate everything that made it great–chief among that being Christianity. According to much current research, America need only look to post-Christian Europe and its dilapidated culture to see where we are headed.
Further, we are beginning to see the second largest generation in American history come of age. The Millennials, but for the murdering of millions of their unborn brethren through the scourge of abortion, would be the largest generation in American history. The absolutely stupendous transformation of America wrought by the Boomers (the largest generation in American history) should give even a casual observer a picture of the potential of the Millennials for either good or ill. Here, statistics are not encouraging either. Millennials appear to be abandoning the Faith in droves, and, if the statistics hold true, America will mirror the spirituality of Europe within a few decades.
Thus, we stand at a pivotal point in history. The American church hangs in the balance. The heart of a generation seems to be slipping away. A once great civilization appears to be near collapse—America being its last bastion teetering and near to falling, nearly conquered not by enemies from without but from within. Standing at the precipice of the end of a civilization that has done so much good for so many—what is the church to do? How is this generation to be reached? How is Christ’s Kingdom best to be spread in 21st century America?
These and like questions seem to be on the hearts and minds of many in the American church. The Southern Baptists, still American’s largest Protestant denomination, just finished a historic convention in Orlando which considered similar questions. Ken Ham’s book Already Gone has caused many to seriously confront the failures of the American church to reach the coming generation. Finally, my own church is currently considering its vision for the future with these issues foremost in those considerations.
At their best, this soul searching derives from a genuine desire to impact the world for Christ in our time. It seems we can’t escape the desire to impact the world in a fundamental way, but how? These are therefore the questions with which we wrestle and the goals toward which we work.
Western Christendom has impacted the world for Christ in a fundamental way in the past, just not the recent past. The late Prof. Harold J. Berman wrote in his excellent book Law and Revolution that “Puritanism in England and America, and Pietism, its counterpart on the European continent, were the last great movements within the institutional church to influence the development of Western law in any fundamental sense (31).” Prof. Berman is correct, not just with regard to law but all of culture. Puritanism in particular left virtually no part of Anglo-American Western Civilization untouched. From art to science to politics to law to the family, Puritanism transformed culture in a pervasive way. For all the efforts of the church since the age of the Puritans, culture has not been impacted in such a fundamental way.
Thus, rather than re-doubling our efforts on methods that have not worked, perhaps wisdom would dictate looking to the past to consider what did work. Perhaps we should consider what the Puritans actually believed and taught. Perhaps we should consider how they lived. And, we should do this, if we want to do it at all, not through the Victorian lens of Nathaniel Hawthorne or the perverted lens of modern media or the distorted lens of modern historical revisionists, but rather by considering the Puritans as they actually were. Maybe we should do the same with the Reformers, those Christian world-changers who predated the Puritans.
Of course, that would necessitate a look into history, and the problem is that modern man, and the modern church-man, hates history. Os Guiness states that we have an “abominable view of history,” and he is exactly right. It might also necessitate a rethinking of some of our modern doctrinal innovations and our contemporary programs, methods, and ideas about how church should work. Likely it will require much repentance for foolishness and abandoning of God’s ways of living, working, thinking, believing, and evangelizing. Are we up to the challenge? Only time will tell, but it won’t take a lot of time. In just a few decades we will know. And, if at that point our churches are as empty as Britain’s are now, then we failed.