Why is the one-time winner now a loser?

Traditionally, the church in America has been overwhelmingly evangelical. As the dominant religion, evangelicalism gave structure to this nation’s world view and to its ethics (honored in theory if not in practice).

But beginning about 1880, liberalism began to move into the American church in serious fashion. By the end of the First World War, religious liberalism had become dominant in many of the older, so-called mainline denominations, and it continued to reign supreme over the leadership of the churches between the two world wars. From Riverside Drive in New York, the old Federal (now National) Council of Churches was its official voice and spoke for American Christendom in the halls of Congress and to the public media. The liberal Christian Century became its literary flagship. Liberalism controlled the resources, agencies, religious colleges and universities, the most influential seminaries, prestigious foundations, and the religious book publishers. But how and why did this all come about?

The Wave Of Scientific Secularism

In some ways, liberalism was merely an eddy of a far broader stream sweeping through history. Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, in his classic work The Crisis of Our Age, traces the movement from a society whose values are based on God and religion to one whose values are drawn from the world of the five senses. While one need not buy every aspect of Sorokin’s rather too-neat evolution of Western thought, still all must agree that Western civilization has gone through a massive change in the last 300 years. For most Western Europeans as well as for most Americans, God and the church are no longer dominant factors. Western Christendom has become secularized. Its center ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: