Have American Evangelicals Become Secularized? Some New Year’s Reflections on Changes during a Lifetime

Have American Evangelicals Become Secularized? Some New Year’s Reflections on Changes during a Lifetime December 31, 2012

Have American Evangelicals Become Secularized? Some New Year’s Reflections on Changes during a Lifetime

Each year as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day arrive I feel more ambivalent about them. I admit it; I even feel weary of them. They seem so anti-climactic after Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, unlike other holidays, they are, to me at least, devoid of any special significance. Memorial Day is at least a time to think about my deceased mother even if I cannot visit and decorate her grave (which I do as often as possible). July 4 is at least a day to contemplate and celebrate the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution. Labor Day is another holiday I care little about. It always falls on a Monday and I don’t officially “go to work” on Mondays, anyway, so I usually spend Labor Day much as any other Monday. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the three holidays (“holy days”) that carry the most meaning for me. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bring me only a kind of sadness as a result, I think, of a feeling of Sehnsucht—something missing.

When I was growing up, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were very special on our family calendar. The former always brought one of the most interesting and inspiring church events of the year—“Watchnight Service.” For those of you who don’t know what that is… Watchnight Services were begun by Pietist leader Nicholas Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf when he was “bishop” of the Herrnhutters, the Moravians, who lived on his estate in Germany in the early 17th century. “Watchnight Service” was a time of spiritual renewal for the whole community with worship, common meal, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer leading up to midnight and the beginning of a new year.

Our Watchnight Services during the 1950s and 1960s followed a typical pattern. First came a “song service” with hymns and spiritual songs. Following that was a “covered dish supper,” a “potluck” meal in the fellowship hall. (When I was very young that was “over in the Settlement House” a few blocks from our church which didn’t have a fellowship hall.) Often eating was followed by “testimony time” with special emphasis on prayers answered in the past year and aspirations for blessings in the coming year. (We didn’t talk about “New Year’s resolutions” because that was secular stuff. Our language was about what God would hopefully do in us and among us in the coming year.) After the testimony time we would re-gather in the sanctuary to watch a Christian film. (We didn’t call them “movies” because those were what people watched in “movie theaters” which we all knew were dens of iniquity.) Some of them I remember were “The Tony Fontane Story” and “The Restless Ones.” After the film came a sermon followed by the Lord’s Supper. Finally, around 11:30 or 11:45 people “gathered around the altar” for intense prayer. At exactly 12:00 Midnight the organist (or pianist before our church had an organ) would begin to play especially loudly—usually some hymn or song about the “second coming,” the return of Jesus Christ, the rapture. At that signal, people would pray louder for the return of the Lord.

After the Watchnight service ended, usually around 12:30, church people opened their homes for fellowship. I doubt that everyone went to others’ homes to eat and chat until the wee hours of the morning, but my family did. I remember falling asleep on people’s couches and even sometimes floors as my parents drank coffee and talked and prayed. (In the Christian form of life I grew up in, mention of a life need often was taken as an invitation to stop right then and pray.) I was usually carried to the car asleep, sometime around 3:00 AM, and then tucked into bed without waking up until late morning.

Around 10:30 or 11:00 our little family would pile into the car all bleary-eyed and drive the ninety minutes to my stepmother’s New Year’s Day family reunion. She had eight siblings and every New Year’s Day all who could gathered for an extravagant “lunch” (really more like dinner in mid-day) at one of their homes somewhere in small town upper Iowa. (The most common place to gather was my stepmother’s oldest sister’s large house in Kanawha where the largest church in town, a virtual cathedral to me, was the Christian Reformed Church and where more kids attended the CRC school than the public schools! My cousins in that family were all members of a youth group known as “Young Calvinists.”) While my cousins and I played outside (weather permitting), the men sat in the living room and watched football while the women stood in the kitchen and cooked and “cleaned up” and chatted. Eventually, when the football game ended, the men fell into conversation about religion. I loved to sit somewhere unseen and listen. That was probably the beginning of my desire to study theology—just to understand my extended family that was so theologically diverse. They (my stepmother’s family) were divided between Pentecostals and Reformed (CRC). The conversations could get lively, but they were also always civil and respectful. On the way home, sometime in the evening, I often heard my parents talk about the Reformed relatives along these lines: “Well, we know they are Christians, too, but how can they believe those things?” “Those things” meant T.U.L.I.P.!

The New Year’s “celebration” of my childhood and youth died away sometime in the 1970s and 1980s. Churches stopped having Watchnight Services. Our family stopped attending New Year’s Day reunions except once in a while. Those reunions, of course, sputtered and died out as the older siblings went off to retirement homes and passed away.

Now, without the spiritual and family dimensions of New Year’s Eve and Day they seem empty to me. In fact, it’s worse than that. Now they seem to be nothing more than an opportunity to extend the consumerism that has taken over the previous month. Unlike during my childhood, almost all stores are now open on New Year’s Eve and Day. My wife and I don’t “party” so New Year’s Eve is just a time to watch a television movie and, if we’re feeling especially awake, watch the ball drop in Time Square. But I always feel that Sehnsucht I mentioned earlier—a sad longing for Watchnight Service and fellowship and family reunions.

But my point isn’t just to express my nostalgic feelings. It seems to me our evangelical Christian communities in America have lost something precious—not just by abandoning Watchnight Services. That’s just a symptom of a larger abandonment. When I was growing up, at least in evangelicalism, your church was one of your extended families. You looked forward to being with your church family, eating together, having fellowship together, sharing triumphs and tragedies and prayer requests together, praying together. Now, for the most part, anyway, even in evangelicalism, “church” is Sunday morning worship only. For some it also includes Sunday School, although that’s gradually dying out, too. Many churches have attempted to fill the “fellowship gap” with a small group ministry, but in most such churches only a minority of the members are involved and these groups tend to fall into an affinity pattern (“birds of a feather…”). Children are usually not part of the small groups. I have doubts about whether the contemporary manifestation of small group ministry in churches really fills the gap left by the demise of events such as Watchnight Service.

I realize that I sound like an “old timer” longing for a “golden age” of the past. I’m convinced, however, that my complaint is more than that. I think church life in America has changed so dramatically that it is hardly recognizable. If time machines existed and someone from a typical evangelical church in the 1950s were transported to a typical evangelical church of the second decade of the 21st century, he or she would be shocked by the change. Other than the building (perhaps), almost nothing would be recognizable. In 1950s evangelicalism we memorized Scripture. Who does that anymore? Then we sang theologically rich hymns and gospel songs. Who does that anymore? Then we studied our Sunday School lessons on Saturday (if not before). Who does that anymore? Then we attended church on Sunday evening and invited “unsaved friends” to hear the gospel. Who does that anymore? Then we gathered in each others’ homes for fellowship and prayer and Bible study. Who does that anymore? Then we went door-to-door with gospel tracts and invitations to attend church. Who does that anymore? Then we knew the people we went to church with well. Who does anymore? Then we were required to give an account of our conversion before baptism. Who does that anymore? Then we had occasional “protracted meetings” (revivals that included special services nightly for a week). Who does that anymore? Then we had warm, even passionate, “altar calls” and invitations to accept God’s call to be missionaries. Who does that anymore? Then we watched missionaries’ “slide shows” and heard their stories of successes and failures “on the mission field.” Who does that anymore? Then we had “missionary barrels” in the church foyer to collect “goods” not available to missionaries “on the field.” Who does anything like that anymore? Then we had church picnics and people stayed after church on Sunday evening to talk and pray and the young people fraternized and flirted as the children played games on the lawn outside the church. Who does that anymore? Then the pastor (and often the pastor’s spouse) visited members and visitors in their homes. Who does that anymore? Then evangelical families had “family altar” at least weekly (if not daily) at home. Then evangelicals called each other “brother” and “sister.” Who does that anymore?

Are these all cosmetic changes only? Or has something substantial been lost in them? All of those changes would be cosmetic, culturally contextual, IF something had replaced the older practices. Unfortunately, in most cases, those aspects of evangelical life in American churches and homes have simply fallen away not to be replaced by anything. We have become by-and-large a Sunday morning religion of people who don’t really know each other.

All that, of course, raises the question of why? Why has American evangelical life changed so dramatically in the course of a lifetime? I think the answer lies in cultural accommodation. We American evangelicals absorbed the ethos of the consumer-driven and entertainment-centered, upwardly mobile, affluent lifestyle of the society around us. And we contributed to it.

My sociologist friend is now convinced that the “secularization thesis” he once promoted has been largely disproven. He now believes the sheer number of churches and people involved in religious activities gives the lie to the idea that modernity inevitably leads to secularity. I’m not so sure. While evangelical church attendance may have increased and evangelical mega-churches dot the landscape and evangelical God-talk is on the lips of many politicians, I question whether this is real evidence against secularization. It depends on what “secularization” means, I guess. But it seems to me we American evangelicals, numerous and influential as we are, are just as secular as our unchurched neighbors. The only differences are in what we say we believe and that we go to church on Sunday mornings. We go to and rent the same movies they do. We get divorced as often as they do. Our church lives function much like their club activities.

Someone traveling from 1950s American evangelicalism to today’s American evangelicalism would probably think we have changed so much that we are unrecognizable as evangelical. That person would almost certainly think that we are no different than the “mainline, nominal ‘Christians’” they knew and regarded as a mission field in the 1950s.

Of course…as someone will inevitably point out, there are exceptions. I’m sure there are churches like the ones of my childhood and youth—spiritually intense and demanding. But I argue they are the exception and are probably in the process of changing in the ways I described here. If not, they are probably considered “cultic” even by other evangelicals. (Consider this an explanatory footnote: I distinctly remember that in 1950s evangelicalism it was common for pastors and elders of churches to intrude very forcefully into the “private lives” of church members who “went astray” morally. My stepmother, pastor’s wife, for example, went to the home of a church member who was unfaithful to her husband on a daily basis to pray and read Scripture with her while her husband was at work. This went on for weeks, hours every day, until she repented, left the adulterous relationship and returned to her previous “walk with the Lord.” This was normal practice then. My father, our church’s pastor, did it when the “backslider” was a man. Today, I fear, it would be considered evidence of “cultic activity.”)

So what am I suggesting?  A return to the 1950s? Well, not exactly. Yes—in the sense of recovering in new ways the sense of community American evangelical churches had then. Real spiritual community necessarily includes availability, transparency, and accountability. No–we don’t have to return to Watchnight Services to recover those. But we do need to create new ways of filling the “fellowship gap” left behind by the demise of such intense events.

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  • James Petticrew

    I have very fond memories Hogmanay Watchnight Services, we had two preachers! The service would end with the ships on the Clyde sounding their horns and churches ringing their bells for the New Year. The youth group would then “first foot” families in the church, that is visit them throughout the night till about 9am. I think that idea of church as extended family has been lost over here in Scotland but perhaps the mission of the church is healthier when we mix with neighbours and friends at new year rather than avoid them as “worldly” and corrupting

  • Roger,

    I remember Watchnight services. Ours were a more staid affair than the ones you recall, but they were a combined service that included the First Baptist Church and the First Methodist Church. After reading your explanation of the origins of Watchnight being within the Pietist movement, I am thinking it must have been the Methodists’ idea, because I had never encountered it until our family joined First Baptist when I was 12.

    I agree with you about the secularization of Evangelicalism. In fact, I can’t imagine how your friend thinks his idea has been discredited by the abundance of churches. Just looking at your typical evangelical congregation one sees the enormous attention to clothing, jewelry, cars, possessions, etc. And as you point out, church only “happens” for that one hour on Sunday morning. Oh, and those mega churches! I honestly cannot tell the difference between a Sunday there and a day at the mall!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I was born in ’73 to a Roman Catholic home, so both the era and the faith you describe is very foreign to me. But I love hearing a child’s perspective of what things were like. Children seem to key into both what is good and what is off about the lives around them. It seems to me that we are in a chrysalis time (to use something of a cliche). Everything is being disolved to be re-assembled into something new. It’s a process, I think.

  • Stan Lewis

    Great, great post! You are echoing much of what has been on my pastor’s heart for some time now. He actually wrote a book on this called Killing the Church: The Failure to Confront (Dr. Jeff Parker). It is a call for Christians to confront blatant sin within its ranks and is quite challenging! While I agree with your complaint that our modern churches look little like a “family” of believers, the only problem I see with that era is its complete isolation from the hurts and needs of the “least of these” within the community (I actually grew up in a church much like the one you described, a Church of God, and we were very much a family but had absolutely no outreach ministries to the local community because they were not like us). I think the answer is a family of believers that is turned outward toward a world in need.
    Btw….I’m reading your 20th Century Theology book and it is so rich. I’m a little over halfway through it and am looking forward to finishing it!

    • rogereolson

      I’m glad you’re reading it, but you should know within a year a much expanded and updated, revised version of 20th Century Theology will be published by IVP. The title will be The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction. It will be about twice as long as 20th Century Theology so as to serve as both a reference work (on modern theologians) and textbook/tradebook. I hope you’ll check it out when it is published.

      • Stan Lewis

        Thanks for the info. I’ll let my professor know so if he wants to change textbooks for his next class he will know. I am currently in seminary classes for a Masters in Apologetics at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. As soon as I get a break from all the required reading, I’m going to try to delve into Against Calvinism. I have recommended it to my pastor because he is starting an exegetical sermon series through Ephesians and one of his first topics will be the rise of the popular, Calvinist movement among evangelicals today. Thanks again!

  • Roger, thanks for taking us down memory lane. How well I remember those old time “Watch Night” services in our little white frame church on 8th and Allen (later on Dunham). SUGGESTION: You should consider writing a book incorporating your memories of the past while, at the same time, projecting your vision of what Christ’s universal church will look like in the distant future. When I say “church,” I mean to include but not limit it to the local churches of any particular denomination. Personally, while I cherish the memories of the past, I am VERY optimistic about the future “increase” of Christ’s kingdom (Isa 9:6-7 with 11:9). In my opinion, the local brick and mortar church as we have known it will be replaced by something even better suited to reach the masses of humanity before the end of the 21st century. Perhaps modern social media will enhance the spread of the gospel. Who knows? In any case, this issue would make for a great book and I can’t think of anyone more qualified to write it than you are.

    P.S. I personally do not believe in a so-called future millennium.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ivan.

  • Jeff Hayes

    Thank you Roger for your writings, I enjoy them very much! Thank you for today’s “Have American Evangelicals Become Secularized? Some New Year’s Reflections On Changes During a Lifetime” Of course Amerian Evangelicals have become secularized but to what degree? Secularization by Evangelicals of course, varies from church to church, denomination to denomination, seminary to seminary, Evangelical to Evangelical. Some changes have been very beneficial! In the early to mid 1960’s because my parents were very conservative, I never saw a movie in a theater but only at the church or a city wide showing of a Christian film at a local theater. I now appreciate the freedom to go to the theater and not be reminded that if Jesus returns I will be left sitting in the sinful theater. My mother disagreed before she died but I don’t believe we hardly ever ate popcorn at home as children because it was associated with the evil theater. Now I enjoy and eat popcorn without feeling any guilt at home or at the theater! In light of this, there are religious traditions that we have altered and others that need to remain. As I recall those past years when Evangelicals were less secular, I appreciate very much some of the traditions that we grew up with. As a child, I remember and observed the sincerity of church people praying and fasting for the sick on a regular basis. Should we ask, does the practice of urgently praying and fasting continue in our Christian culture today? Today, would we even call the elders and anoint someone who is sick with oil and pray? I remember Roger and you may also recount people healed of cancer and other health issues back in those years as conservative Evangelicals prayed and fasted. You may remember my Grandfather miraculously healed of diabetes when you were in your teens. Your step mother came to the hospital, prayed for him and as she did, he saw a vision and was healed. The healing immediately turned the entire hospital into chaos when all of the professionals came running from all over the hospital to examine this man who now no longer had diabetes! I long for more of those events to occur! It may take more old fashioned prayer and fasting , time being spent on our knee to see those kinds of miracles again. Thank you Roger for reflecting on “Watchnight” Services. I did appreciate all of the music, movies, testimonies and potlucks associated with Watchnight Services! In saying that, I recall one post Watchnight Service very well. As teenagers, my brother, a friend and I discharged a 12 gauge shotgun at midnight just outside the backdoor of the church in celebration of the New Year. It didn’t seem to alarm those who were praying at the benches inside the church but then again we were more concerned about the mayor’s reaction since he lived across the street from the church. That along with a few other events in the first few moments of the New Year have etched Watchnight Services into my memory. Thank you again Roger for your reflections!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for taking my trip down memory lane further, Jeff. I think you are thinking of the governor (not mayor) who lived next door (not across the street). He was Nils Boe. Remember how we left the church windows open when we sang so he might hear us? We even heard from his housekeeper (according to my dad, anyway) that he enjoyed listening to our hymns and gospel songs. I don’t think I ever knew about your shotgun blast at midnight. You were a trickster, as I recall. Remember the night you and some friends were chasing my wife’s brother and his bride through town after their wedding and my job was to stop you so they could get away to their motel? You followed us down one of those narrow, winding streets in the “rich part of town” by the VA hospital. I stopped my car in the middle of the street so you couldn’t get around. The groom and bride got away! We had a lot of fun, didn’t we? Back then, church (in the broadest sense of extended family) was a hoot.

      • Jeff Hayes

        Roger, you are accurate in remembering that the Governor, Nils Boe, lived next to the church on Duluth Ave. Thanks for mentioning the fact that the windows of the church were left open so that he would hear the singing! Roger, there was a Mayor named Mike Schirmer who lived on Jefferson Ave. across from the back door of the church on 33rd St. You may have left for college when the mayor lived in the neighborhood. Roger, I do remember the night that your wife’s brother was married and you stopped us dead in our tracks on a narrow road! We could not get around you and the newly married couple got away! Our only consolation was that we had put Limburger Cheese on the engine of his car during the wedding ceremony! Apparently the smell of the cheese was overwhelming in the car. I am very sorry, even years later, that we used the cheese! In recalling those days, I know I was blessed to be a part of the church and have people like you as friends.

        • rogereolson

          Ha! I forgot about the Limburger cheese trick. Yes, those were good times (for the most part). I do miss the church of our youth.

  • ” But we do need to create new ways of filling the “fellowship gap” left behind by the demise of such intense events.”

    I agree. And I also agree that “small groups” do not accomplish this by themselves. But it seems to me that those of us who recognize this truth are fresh out of ideas to help correct it.

    • rogereolson

      I have lots of ideas, but I think things have moved too far away from church-as-extended-family for them to work. But, believe it or not, rarely does anyone in any church I attend ask my opinion about anything. Well, maybe that’s completely believable! 🙂

  • Thanks,
    I have been a part of what used to be called Fundamental churches )according to the work you recently participated in, I fit somewhere in the Evangelical realm) for 1/2 a century. I find your post spot on. While I am a proponent of Christian liberty, I have found, like you, that folk have pursued liberty without maintaining true spiritual disciplines.
    BTW, at our Watchnight gatherings we used to play tic, tac, know, as in know your bible. Mr Lietzow was a tough quiz-master.

  • People don’t have as much energy these days as in the past. More women are working to help pay the taxes. When I was growing up our family would play games until midnight and then go outside and bang things and make noise. My husband and I attended one year a game night at our local Christian and Missionary Alliance church. At midnight we formed a circle and prayed the new year in. One year we had a game night at our home for the 40 somethings at our church. I hoped some would pray the new year in with me. I prayed by myself as the rest watched the ball drop on our TV.

  • John C

    I grew up in the north of England in a Brethren Assembly in the 1970s/80s, but we had Watchnight Services too – games, Lancashire hot pot, and then a Watchnight service. And like you I feel a strong sense of nostalgia for those days. You explain the decline of these gatherings to secularization, but I wonder if they don’t relate more closely to another development highlighted by sociologists – the decline of social capital (as documented in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone). Of course, Putnam actually sees megachurches like Saddleback as an attempt to stop the decline, so he’s less pessimistic about modern Evangelicalism.

    • Joshua Wooden

      John, where in north England did you grow up?

  • Phil Miller

    The AoG church I grew up in (my dad was and still is the pastor) had a Watch Night service while I was growing up for many years. I think when I was in high school, though, they started having it earlier. The congregation was aging, and people began complaining of having to stay up late. Now, they don’t really do anything on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know if it has to with secularization, per se. I think it has to do with the importance of these tradition not being passed down. I actually blame the older generations more than the youth, because, as I mentioned earlier it was often in response to them not wanting to be inconvenienced that these things ended.

    The African American Pentecostal church we were members of before moving still has a Watch Night service, although, it is not attended all that well. In that tradition, Watch Night has a different historic underpinning. They look book to 1862 when the Emancipation Proclamation became law.

    In some ways I do think secularization is to blame, but I think it’s part of overall American culture, too. You mentioned the lack memorization of Scripture in churches as a symptom, but isn’t that related to the way Americans approach education in general now? We don’t place nearly as much emphasis on things that require tedious repetition like we did even 30 years ago. We are dedicated to the idea that we need to encourage creativity and independent thought in students (not that those are bad). Technology also undoubtedly plays a role, too. Our attention spans have gotten shorter, and we have grown impatient with things that don’t deliver immediate results.

  • All this talk about the “secularization” of the church fails, in my opinion, to acknowledge that God cannot be compartmentalized, nor can his creation. He is not only Lord of the spiritual world, but also Lord of the so-called secular world. To him they are one and the same and both have been affected by the fall. Any thinking person would have to admit that sin and wrong-headedness may be found in the spiritual realm as well as the secular realm. Christ came to redeem and transform ALL aspects of his creation. Thus it is written: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (“world” i.e., Greek = cosmos).

  • Thanks for your thoughts and reflections. Just last night I mentioned to my wife attending Watchnight Services growing up and watching The Tony Fontane Story! Stay the Course.

  • Thank you for this wonderful message. we need to hear it. All you spoke about was what I knew as a young person in my little village in Africa. We were taught by the missionaries that came from the western world to observe them as Christians and it actually help us to grow and love each other as a family. It is surprising to know that the practice is almost dead. Having said so, I also want to inform you that the fire of the move of God among the Evangelicals in Africa we use to know is equally dying. We need to pray for the Church.

  • John

    Do church congregations still have Sunday evening services nevermind Watchnight services?

    • rogereolson

      Not many–at least not in urban areas. I think there are still some in rural and small town churches.

  • Jay Saldana

    Dear Roger, I was up and rummaging around in my email and found your blog. As you have been a long time favorite of mine, this is kind of a late Christmas gift (thank you Lord!) So, I loved seeing your youth through your eyes. I grew up in a funny ,mix as well, – wait for it – I am an Hispanic who was raised Roman Catholic and studied for the priesthood in a missionary congregation but my mom (Dad was the RC) was raised as a Methodist (converted to RC to marry my Dad)who was raised by her Mom (and Dad – whose Brother was a Baptist Minister)) who (my mother’s mother – are you confused yet?) was a Jew who converted to Christianity to marry my Grandfather. Got It? LOL. So when you talk about traditions… I can go so there. “I have stories!”, as grandma would say. I really look forward to interacting here.
    Now to your central topic, this is something that I have given a lot of thought to as a relative recent born again christian (Jan 1, 1999) who is now getting ready to enter into the ministry in the UMC. I went from CMA Church, to Assemblies of God and finally to UMC in the years since. Being a nerd it was only a matter of time before I early on got into Theology and found you, among others. I say all this as a preamble to to my response to your topic. I think the reason for the slow loss of “community” or “collegiality” as I generally refer to it is the commitment/doctrine to a “personal relationship to God” coupled with a poorly discipled church body.
    A “personal relationship” is by definition as private and separate from others. It is also open to evaluation (mine is deeper than yours; my fruit is bigger/smaller than yours, ect.) To that add a true lack of intellectual pursuit of God to the point of avoidance and we have a bunch of people making things up and doing away with “the misunderstood” based on a personal comfort level. It then becomes easy to seek the popular fad (new is better). Rather than a rigorous interaction with your brothers and sisters and a seeking to “speak as one voice” in common joy of illumination, we are a bunch of “individuals” avoiding being wrong.
    It looks like we have given up on God things when, in fact we are like children avoiding what we “perceive” as uncomfortable. There is a solution, but it is slow and not very glamorous but as a vessel I am only required to pour out the contents not evaluate them.
    I look forward to doing more of this.
    I pray you have a God filled Year with abundant Grace and Joy.

  • I don’t think the demise is surprising. Romans 12 shows that there is an organic interface between these two- secularization and the Body life. Being fashioned according to the age (I don’t mean in an Amish way) damages the Body life. The fact that churches are struggling to retain the Christian reality of holidays- like praying in the new year- is indicative of deeper problems, mainly a lack of the renewing of the mind. Without transformation and the renewing of the mind, the living and service of the Body of Christ is frustrated.

    “American evangelicals… are just as secular as our unchurched neighbors. The only differences are in what we say we believe and that we go to church on Sunday mornings…”

    Do you think this is a far reaching ripple of Augustine’s response to the Donatists? In “Instructions to the Unlearned” he echoes this sentiment:

    “You’re bound to see drunkards, misers, tricksters, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, people wearing amulets, assiduous clients of sorcerers, astrologers… The same crowds that press into the churches on Christian festivals also fill the theaters on pagan holidays.”

    • rogereolson

      Yes, but “we evangelicals” have long proudly claimed that we are “different” than those “mainline Christians” and “Catholics” who are hardly different from their totally secular neighbors. I see that changing. “We evangelicals” are losing our distinctiveness except on paper.

  • Rev Cliff Kay

    I did not come to faith until the late 70’s in the UK and can recall many of those themes. What books could you recommend that encapsulate that change with any sense of detail? Really appreciate your work, “The Story of Christian Theology” filled in a lot of gaps during my recent theology studies in Cambridge. Already ordered The Modern Theology release for later this year. Any planned speaking visits to the UK?

    • rogereolson

      You are the first person to tell me my forthcoming book on modern theology (The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction) can be pre-ordered. Congratulations. I’ll have to go to amazon.com and see it. I keep telling my wife I wish I would get invitations to speak in the UK! I get invitations from all kinds of place, but never from the UK. I’d love to go there–whether to speak or just to visit. I have an ancestral home in Essex County I’d like to see (on my mother’s side–some ancestors were Puritans who came to New England in 1632).