Some guidelines for action

Time and Newsweek, those infallible and inerrant analysts of all that is American, tell us that 1976 was the year of the evangelicals. I am pessimistic.

Sydney Ahlstrom, foremost historian of the American church today, argues that America has now arrived at the end of a four-hundred-year cycle. It has come to the end of an epoch dominated by evangelical Christianity. Though I am more inclined to agree with the learned Yale professor than I am with Time and Newsweek, I am nevertheless more optimistic. A more accurate analysis will direct us away from both of these extremes.

In the past two centuries the percentage of American people affiliated with any Christian church rose from less than 10 per cent to nearly 70 per cent of the total population. Accompanying this amazing growth of the church, however, has been the Americanization of the church. It would be far truer to say that America has conquered the church than that the church has conquered America. As Will Herberg has so brilliantly shown in his book Protestant, Catholic, Jew, one can truly be an American only through membership in a church, and the real values of the church are far more the social and political principles that hold together the melting pot of the United States than the principles of Holy Scripture.

Within the mainline Protestant church in America, moreover, evangelicalism has gradually lost its once dominant position. Beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century and culminating shortly after the first World War, the leadership of American denominations turned from evangelicalism to the neo-Christianity of liberalism. By 1930, leadership in most of the mainline Protestant denominations was clearly in the hands of liberals, ...

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