Have evangelicals come full circle in just 50 years—from fundamentalist isolation to mainstream acceptance? Have we embraced a national creed that values personal growth over doctrinal orthodoxy?

Unhappily, one of America's most insightful observers says that's precisely what we've done. Conservative columnist David Brooks of The New York Times argues that Americans no longer take religious doctrines seriously. We assume religious differences are temporary, that denominational distinctions will fade away, and "We will all be united in God's embrace."

This comforting assumption means that millions feel free to try on different denominations (as several presidential candidates have done), and we're inclined to think all people of goodwill are "basically on the same side," Brooks writes. As evidence, he cites President Bush's comment that Christians and Muslims pray to the same God—an assertion that is "theologically controversial, but … faithful to the national creed."

The result, says Brooks, is a religion that is easygoing and experiential rather than rigorous and intellectual. To fill their pews, Brooks writes, pastors "emphasize the upbeat and the encouraging and play down the business of God's wrath. In modern "seeker sensitive" churches, "the technology is cutting edge, the music is modern, the language is therapeutic, the dress is casual."

This easygoing attitude, combined with a belief in holy homogenization, is why Christians have difficulty sustaining culture war efforts, Brooks maintains—and why fire-and-brimstone groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are now "husks of their former selves." Evangelicals are, he concludes, quoting sociologist Alan Wolfe, "part of mainstream culture, not dissenters ...

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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