A Steady Christian Influence
Recent events have left Christians wondering how they stand in American society. In the last year, we at Christianity Today have received several manuscripts by prominent Christian intellectuals suggesting that the United States has become definitively and irreversibly anti-God. Other Christians continue to urge us to do good with the hope that we can make a difference. Each side can marshal compelling arguments and strong evidence. Today and tomorrow we will publish two views on the matter by two prominent evangelical leaders.
Harold O. J. Brown has led a distinguished academic career, and now serves as a professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is the author of many books, most recently The Sensate Culture (Word, 1996), and as the editor of The Religion and Society Report, Professor Brown has relentlessly exposed the folly of Western society's anti-life drift.
Leith Anderson is pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Anderson is one of the most respected pastors and leaders in America, having also served as interim president of Denver Seminary and the National Association of Evangelicals. He is the author of many books, most recently Leadership That Works: Hope and Direction for Church and Parachurch Leaders in Today's Complex World (Bethany, 2002).
These two articles came to us separately. The authors did not see each other's manuscripts ahead of time, and so are not debating one another. Nor are these essays intended to be finely reasoned theological or sociological arguments. While they offer arguments, they distill moods shaped by the authors' years of passionate involvement in trying to shape American culture for Christ. —The Editors
I spoke at a convention in Philadelphia where, after one of my sessions, a woman raised her hand and asked, "If the gospel and the church are supposed to be so effective, why is everything in America so bad?"
What she was saying, basically, is that the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't work. And perhaps the reason she assumes that failure is because she has heard that message so often from our pulpits, our broadcasts, and our publications. The gospel might have worked somewhere else. It might have worked at another time. But we are repeatedly told that the gospel doesn't work anymore; we have had ample opportunity in America for the gospel to have significant impact, but what we often hear is that things are getting far worse.
So how bad are things in the United States? Indeed, we live in difficult times. Not one of us needs to look very far to see the effects of sin. We have corporate corruption, pornography, abortions, divorces, anemic churches, 5 million couples living together who are not married, clergy immorality, drug abuse, and more.
But that really isn't anything new, is it? In the history of America, the roots of deism and secularism go back a long way. Books like Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Theodore Rex, the biography of Theodore Roosevelt, remind us of the appalling immorality, drug abuse, and business and political corruption that permeated generations 100 and 200 years ago.
So things have been bad, and continue to be bad, in lots of ways. But what kind of influence are Christians having on our country today?
The Difference We Make
One hundred and fifty years ago, slavery became illegal in America when abolitionist Christians put their lives on the line for human freedom. One hundred years ago in America, opium, laudanum (an opium-based painkiller), and morphine use was so pervasive that it produced an unprecedented number of addicts. One hundred years ago, the Sears and Roebuck catalog sold heroine and syringes through the mail. Fifty years ago theological liberalism dominated the religious landscape of America, and born-again Christians were clearly on the margins of society.