The collapse of religious liberalism and the weaknesses of evangelicalism may suggest the possibility of flirting with secular solutions to America’s problems on its two-hundredth birthday. But as soon as one begins to examine such proposals one is likely to find the same self-made-man image that created most of the problems we now need so desperately to solve. And the Bicentennial advocates of secularized “civil religion” only remind us of the view that as soon as Rome began to regard itself as the highest value and to worship its emperors as personal symbols of its ultimacy, the kiss of death was upon it.

Any answer to our problems worth talking about will be a genuinely religious answer. R. L. Bruckberger writes perceptively in his Image of America:

“The West launched Marxist Communism upon the world, as it also introduced industrial enterprise with all its fabulous efficiency. If the West were one day to rediscover a spiritual unity, that unity might encompass the world as swiftly as has the heresy. After all, the first centuries of Christianity were filled with heresies long since forgotten.… [However,] to wipe out a heresy, to recreate a unity, more than authority, more than force is needed; there must be an immense intellectual effort. Perhaps what the Western world most lacks today is a clear and wholly comprehensible doctrine of man’s earthly salvation, a doctrine not opposed to Christianity but inspired by it” (trans. C. G. Paulding and V. Peterson, Viking, 1959).

Of the available religious options, the evangelical one brings us closest to the kind of model faith Bruckberger regards as necessary. But why doesn’t evangelicalism offer more practical help to our nation at the level of its most pressing problems?

The reason ...

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