Rising Tide of Secularism?

One of the common components to the story of American religious history as told among Evangelicals is that Christian influence is waning and that modern culture is more hostile to Christianity than ever before.

Are we so sure?

    Historical demographers and sociologists have shown that in 1776 only 17 percent of the national population belonged to a church. It appears that an official religion governed an indifferent population for much of the colonial period. Then, in the nineteenth century, under the influence of evangelical expansion, church membership began to increase sharply. By 1850, 35 percent of Americans were church members. By 1906 the number was 51 percent. Sixty-two percent of the American populace belonged to religious institutions by 2000, though not specifically Christian churches. Evangelicals led the expansion. (David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom, 5-6)

5 thoughts on “Rising Tide of Secularism?”

    1. Great question, Doug. There aren’t any such figures.

      On another note, I really appreciated your thoughts on Obeying the Bible. I spent a good bit of time working through a similar issue with my Acts-Revelation course last week: what we think the Bible is will impact what we think we’re supposed to do with it. And, Bible as “rule book” is a bad bibliology…

      Also, if I may shamelessly plug, I think you’re going to dig my Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? book when it comes out.

      1. The figures about membership are open to question. For instance, how are pre-revolutionary Anglican members measured when there were no Anglican bishops in the colonies to confirm members? Presbyterian churches (and possibly many Congregational churches) were very exacting in their requirements for membership. One had to appear before the session (as is true today) and be examined as to one’s experience and understanding of the gospel at work in one’s life. This was very rigorous and the evangelist Charles Finney, as a young man coming into the Christian faith upon his experience of salvation (circa 1830), was rejected by the session of the local church on the grounds of the inadequacy of his experience and understanding. It was common for the “mainline” churches to be attended mostly by non-members.

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