American Christianity: Ideas on How We Got Here

I believe that in our day we have the most biblically illiterate people of any generation since before the Reformation.

What is common to me is that what people understand is what they learn at church, and they go to that church for entirely the wrong reasons. When asked “How do you know you’ll get into Heaven?”, at least 70% of Christians would say “Because I’m a good person!”. If you do not see the problem with that answer, you might want to question your understanding of Christianity. Christianity is NOT like other world religions that say you must do X, Y, and Z in order to reap some benefit for a god or gods. Christianity, as revealed by God in His Word and the incarnation Jesus Christ, is about what God has done for a people. Even with the surge of ‘New Calvinism’, biblical orthodox Christianity remains dwarfed among the works based groups.


The whole of modern Christianity, at least here in America, is absolutely bent on placing mankind at the center or the core of all matters. Even though the ideas of a man-centered theology is nothing new it seems to have grown over the last 300 to 400 years and perhaps more significantly in our day. The traditional orthodoxy of Calvinism may have once dominated the Christian worldview during the early settling of the New World, it was quickly dwarfed by deism, Arminianism, and Pelagianism.

With the rise of the ‘common man’ during the Enlightenment, the established systems of Puritanism had been supplanted by whatever Christian worldview was most compatible with the ‘American Dream’. Here we find notable characters such as the ‘Father of Liberalism’, John Locke, who aimed to replace the ruling of God’s sovereignty with that of a humanistic ‘social contract’ making men responsible to men, rather than to God. With the rise in reliance of human reason to discover the truths of mankind, one’s own happiness became the focus rather than the glorification and enjoyment of God.

Out of this period in American history were born ideas (resurgence in most cases) of Universalism, Eternal Subordination of Christ, and denial of: deity of Christ, the Trinity and the need for repentance. What had become the focus of Christianity (what was left of it) was merely the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus Christ and a salvation based on works. The individual had become the ultimate authority and judge of what was true or false/right or wrong and were no longer going to the Bible as the authoritative doctrine of Truth but rather the truth found in ‘human experience’.

All of this of course led to the Great Awakening(s) where great men like Jonathan Edwards attempted to swing the pendulum the other way in hopes of a return to Biblical orthodoxy. While a great many were pulled away from full on atheism during these periods, the damage of liberalism had already done. One of the most well-known preachers of the 2nd great awakening, Charles Finney, was a major proponent of liberal Christianity. He denied such things as Original Sin, Substitutionary Atonement and he was an advocate for Christian Perfectionism. Because of his incredible oratory abilities and his work concerning social issues of his day, his influence on modern Christianity is still noticeable today.

I believe that in our day we have the most biblically illiterate people of any generation since before the Reformation.

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