Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Declaring Doom 1

posted by xscot mcknight

One of the more interesting books that have come my way of late is Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization, a book edited by C. Mathewes and C. McKnight Nichols (no relation). If the title doesn’t interest you, perhaps this line will: “In American history, prophesies of godlessness are as American as American godliness itself” (6). Paradoxically, alongside this worrisome fear that the country was about to fall into apocalyptic doom is the liberal vision that America was about to reach its real vision of losing its religion. This book fascinates me.
What do you think of preaching that warns of imminent or national doom? Or, of imminent or national good days to come?
So, we’ve got two groups in this country: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Walter Lippmann, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, John Dewey, John Judis, and Ruy Teixera — the first group. The second group: Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins, Edwards Amasa Park, William Jennings Bryan, Hal Lindsey, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Falwell, Christopher Lasch, Robert Putnam and Ann Coulter. Each thought the end was imminent; each thought their prophesies — either of the goal of a liberal country denuded of its religion or the demise of godliness by growing secularization or modernity — were about to come to pass.
These two themes are as American as apple pie. The book has eleven studies of these themes, and the approach is to take snapshots of these themes through specific people.
The study makes one wonder if apocalyptic warnings or the dream of a liberal (secularized) culture might not be “verbal games” people play to persuade others to join them in their own vision. The study makes one wonder if biblical apocalyptic and prophecy deserves renewed consideration in light of such cultural scripts. Why say this? America, according to many historians, is no less religious now than it was during the Puritan era. Anyway, the prophesies have not really come true — either way.
I grew up in a world haunted by these two visions. Sundays could be like experiencing Revelation first hand. Every autumn our church staged a prophecy conference. The potent warnings were vivid and scary — I remember one preacher telling us with near certainty that the Lord would return before 1971 or 1973 since the “fig tree” and the “one generation” predictions would be fulfilled by then. I suppose one can grow numb to preaching like this, but when you’re about 10 or 12 years old it can be fierce and fearsome stuff. It was a good time to get saved so you can be on the right side of that awful demise we were about to face. The cynical distance of these words are borne of experience: the preachers were all wrong, but they were as American as godlessness and godliness. This series on the book above will help explain these themes.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(37)
post a comment
RJS

posted October 7, 2008 at 3:55 am


Given the state of affairs in Europe for example – don’t you think that concerns of slowly increasing secularization might be legitimate (prophesies of doom gloom and imminent return aside)?
It should be an interesting series.



report abuse
 

John C

posted October 7, 2008 at 4:53 am


I agree with RJS – sometimes even the paranoid have enemies, and radical secularization can happen (as is the case in much of what used to be Protestant Europe).
What’s oddly postmodern about prophecy beliefs (both religious and secular) is that they (re)constitute reality. They may be all wrong, but when taken seriously they become more real to the believer than prosaic reality itself. So the stories we humans tell each other have enormous power, quite independent of their veracity.



report abuse
 

Rick

posted October 7, 2008 at 4:58 am


Even though the history religion in America differs from that of Europe, RJS is right that we still need to look at trends there (especially in light of increased information, communication, and globalization).
One line that I have questions about is:
“America, according to many historians, is no less religious now than it was during the Puritan era.”
How is that measured? House of worship attendance? Daily or weekly practices?
Is the dichotomy between religion and secular life greater today than ever before and taken into consideration (not just in terms of religious culture and secular culture, but also in the lives and behaviors of individuals)?
Also, the “doom” talk has mainly focused on a Christian, or Judeo-Christian context. Are we now including in this discussion other religions in our more pluralistic nation, or are they considered part of the “doom”?
Should be an interesting series.



report abuse
 

Joey

posted October 7, 2008 at 5:56 am


“Without vision the people perish.” – That seems a bit ironic in light of this post.



report abuse
 

Bob Brague

posted October 7, 2008 at 5:57 am


The inner English teacher in me won’t keep still. Prophecy is a noun; prophecies is the plural of prophecy. Prophesy is a verb; prophesies is the third-person, present-tense form of “to prophesy” — I prophesy, you prophesy, he/she prophesies. What we are prophesying turn out to be prophecies. There, I said it, and I’m glad.
Therefore, I truly hope the title of the book is Prophecies of…, not Prophesies of….
This is not to take away from the general discussion at hand.



report abuse
 

Scott W

posted October 7, 2008 at 5:59 am


America is not America without these two contradictory dynamics at play. They must be held in tension,just as much as the rise of the kingship,which YHWH didn’t approve of but reluctantly set up,according to the Deuteronomic history,occasioned the rise of the prophet as a necessary institution/office.This is where we have to live! As soon as Christians learn to accept this and struggle with this,the better we’ll be.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:03 am


Ah Bob,
You’re right on spelling But they put the verb in the title. And they can say it that way if they are talking about the action of the prophets.



report abuse
 

Diane

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:36 am


Fascinating topic and fascinating responses. Another way (possibly?) of seeing the two poles is as a struggle between the desire to “denude” religion–or Christianity more specifically, if we’re talking about an American context–of its toxic elements, a desire to “purify” it, and a desire to make religion more vital, more central to life as we live it so we don’t get too caught up in secularization. I will look forward to this series.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:42 am


On secualarization …. this study operates with a theory that is increasingly consensus — so far as I can tell: while the USA and Europe have some mirroring, the overall idea that we are following Europe is not accurate. There are too many differences.
On American religiousness since the Puritans … a theory in this book, though I don’t yet know how pervasive, is that America has not become any less religious since that era and partly to explain that is the important observation that not all of the 17th and 18th Century of America was “Puritan.”
Bob, on spelling: as in “he/she ‘prophesies of godlessness'” so far as I can see — and yes this spelling troubled me initially — but then I thought, “Good grief, this is Oxford Press!”



report abuse
 

John C

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:47 am


In terms of the Puritan era, one can argue this either way. Firstly, there was little or no atheism in 17thC British America, and practically everyone insisted they were a Christian. But in Virginia especially (in contrast to New England), there were few clergy and few church buildings, so church attendance would have been low and irregular.



report abuse
 

Scott Eaton

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:49 am


It’s kind of odd to me to see Jimmy Carter in the same list with Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter. I’m not sure they belong together.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:51 am


Is the theory pervasive or persuasive? It may well be pervasive in the book – but I doubt I will find it persuasive. On to the next installment…



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 7, 2008 at 6:53 am


Scott,
That one surprised me, too. “Well,” I thought, “I suppose if one is casting the net widely.”



report abuse
 

Carlo

posted October 7, 2008 at 7:25 am


I expect there are some helpful themes in the book for us on the other side of the Atlantic too.
Britain’s moral climate was pretty similar to how it is today centuries ago. You only have to take a quick look at the environment in pre-Wesley and Whitfield England.



report abuse
 

tscott

posted October 7, 2008 at 7:38 am


I’ve started and stopped this post a number of
times. Saying to myself…sure we’re more secular,
then listing the arguments…sure the doom added
the nominal to pews, then giving historical proofs.
I was in a charismatic group along time ago. We
were very into the prophetic(talk about no lack of vision). Then I ran into a book published in the 1950’s
“The History of Protestantism”. On the sect type
church, the second century Montantists were described,
and was I shocked that what seemed like a cutting
edge movement was more like a recurring Christian
response to secularization.
Have to agree that words are used to get others
into our vision.



report abuse
 

T

posted October 7, 2008 at 7:48 am


If looking at the elite institutions in America, whether they be academic, legal/professional or even general media, there has been a profound and deep conversion toward secularization (mostly evidenced by a dismissal of religious viewpoints, and sometimes by overt hostility towards them when they dare aspire to relevance). If the book denies this, then they have quite a case to make.
On the other hand, though, thank God for the non-elites! One can get the wrong idea from looking at our elite institutions that 80% the American populace is either decidedly athiest or strongly agnostic (or should be), which just isn’t true. But even in the masses I don’t believe that Christianity is having nearly the formative influence in this country that it had two centuries ago.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 7, 2008 at 8:13 am


T – well put. It will be interesting to see how they make a case in this book.



report abuse
 

Bob Brague

posted October 7, 2008 at 8:14 am


I don’t know whether ‘prophesies’ is British spelling for ‘prophecies’ (Oxford Press and all). It sounds rather unlikely, but I suppose anything is possible (except of course, the Incarnation and the Resurrection and the Ascension and a few other things). :)
For the good old U. S. of A., I stand by my original statement. Third person, singular, present tense: he/she/it prophesies. You looking for a noun? Prophecy it is. Unless you want a verbal noun, called a gerund. Then it’s prophesying or prophesyings. But the action of the prophets is still called prophecy. When prophets are active, when they are doing what they do, they prophesy.
Discussing language is one of my “favourite” things to do, but it’s not the “centre” of my life. Didn’t we give Britain the heave-ho a while back?



report abuse
 

paul

posted October 7, 2008 at 8:32 am


As for the idea that America is no less Christian today then it was during the Puritan era…I guess it depends on perspective.
– From the perspective of a slave in the 17-1800’s, i imagine it would be hard to argue that we were following the words of Jesus better during the Puritan era(the same goes here in the South for the 100 years after slavery with the acceptable/legal rasicm)
– From the perspective of a Native American, I imagine it would be hard to convince them of the Christianess of our country while killing many and forcibly removing the rest
– From the perspective of women who were not even considered equal enough to have a vote until 1920 (and still rarely receive equal pay/voice) i imagine the Christianess of our country may look a little brighter today then it did in the past.
While our country may be worse off in some ares of morality, it’s hard to argue for the improved morality of a past that allowed for slavery/legal racism, genocide and forced removal from land, and the lack of equality for 1/2 the population.
(Sorry, I just struggle with the idea that “we need to get back to the good old days” that I hear from so many here in my region)



report abuse
 

Diane

posted October 7, 2008 at 8:39 am


T,
A survey was done showing Sweden to be the most secular country in the world, India the most religious (I don’t know what survey). So it is common to say, vis-a-vis the US and elites, that we are a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.



report abuse
 

Rick

posted October 7, 2008 at 9:08 am


Paul #19-
Good thoughts, which again brings up the question of how to measure “religious”.
Does moral = religious?
Can a nation, or group of people, become more moral (or just as moral depending on the issues), yet less religious (depending on how one defines religious)?



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 7, 2008 at 9:09 am


We’ve moved from a society where religion was almost mandatory to one where the only moral value is that you don’t think anyone else’s behavior is wrong, where believers are expected to keep their religious values secret, and the quickest way to end a promising judicial career is to be a devout Christian.
Sounds like they were right. We’re slowly becoming a more godless, secular society.



report abuse
 

T

posted October 7, 2008 at 9:39 am


Diane,
That’s classic! I’m going to have to commit that to memory.
Paul,
Some very good reminders. I share your skepticism about calls to return to “the good old days.” Those days had plenty of issues. That said, the debates about those issues (like slavery or anything else) used to assume the relevance of God’s character, or specifically Christ’s, to the discussion. Debates were frequently framed within a worldview that accepted theology as a necessary part of any significant discussion. That doesn’t mean that bad theology didn’t have its share of influence (just like bad science), but theology was presumed to have a seat at the table. The circles in which this is no longer the case are many and appear to be hardening.



report abuse
 

T

posted October 7, 2008 at 10:16 am


FWIW, I totally agree that “prophecies” of doom (is that right, Bob? :)) have been used manipulatively, unintelligently, and at times even arrogantly by the American Church, and have worsened the problem in the long term. (Scot, I don’t remember seeing you at my church growing up–were you sitting with the cool kids in the back?)
But it seems obvious to me that secularism/athiesm has gained important ground in our society. I just don’t think the solution is predicting Christ’s return in 2011, or making any other claims of which we can’t be sure. I tend to think the solution is to continue to reform our theology (and be humbly honest about what’s clear, what’s opinion, etc.) and, even more important, to practice the priorities of Christ of which we are sure, those for which this blog is named.
(Another side effect of elevating doctrine, particularly a gnostic one, over practice is exactly this kind of societal loss of credibility. We shout our disputable pre-trib or creation story conclusions from the roof tops and leave the weightier matters of Christ’s law undone. Thankfully we have folks like Mother Teresa whose life continues to give credibility to Christ and show his relevance to our problems.)
I’m just glad these issues don’t get me riled up . . . :D



report abuse
 

Travis Greene

posted October 7, 2008 at 11:22 am


ChrisB @ 22, “believers are expected to keep their religious values secret, and the quickest way to end a promising judicial career is to be a devout Christian”
Talk about prophecies of doom. This simply isn’t an accurate description of the overwhelming majority of America. It’s like the shirts that say, “I broke a rule, I prayed in school”. No, you didn’t. Prayer is just no longer MANDATORY. And that’s a good thing. Nowhere is it prohibited (how could it be?)
Did we not just have a huge scandal in the justice department about hiring people based on political (and theological) affiliation? See “Goodling, Monica” and “Moore, Roy”.
Growing secularism might be a problem. The apathy of the nominally religious is probably a bigger one. But it’s simply false to say that we live under some kind of oppressive atheistic regime. See “Bush, George W.”



report abuse
 

paul

posted October 7, 2008 at 11:26 am


Good thoughts all…
Rick #21 I agree that how one defines religious is important. I doubt that morality = religious…or that morality is the only measure. But I do think that a “religious” society (if such a place exists) will definitely exhibit attributes of Jesus. And when a society (such as ours) exihibits and lives in such horrible ways (for dozens if not hundreds of years), then I begin to wonder at the religiousness of that society
T #23 I agree that God is no longer an assumed point of view in many places, and this can be disturbing at times (it would be much easier if we all assumed God and could move from there). I am from Northern California, and I believe that this is one such environment. That being said, where I live now Christianity is still more or less assumed among many people. While having God as a given is helpful, it can also lead to many people who think they are Christians, when in reality they are far from the truth…people who are apathetic and complacent in life. in other words, I am not sure that simply believing in God as a whole makes a society more religious. Believing in God may actually trick a society into thinking they are religious…



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 7, 2008 at 12:22 pm


Travis said: it?s simply false to say that we live under some kind of oppressive atheistic regime
Which I never claimed. Our society is, however, becoming more and more secular and less tolerant of public faith, even with the occasional blip like Bush or Obama — what makes them noticeable is that they are different.
Compare this justice department story with the religious questions raised during the last SCOTUS confirmations. It isn’t literally everywhere, but it’s certainly getting worse.



report abuse
 

John C

posted October 7, 2008 at 12:57 pm


Chris B – It’s hard to believe that American society is becoming more secular and less tolerant of public faith, when you compare the first US Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison…) with the last few (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, GW Bush). None of the early presidents were orthodox Christians, and most were very reticent indeed about their personal faith. Hard to imagine them participating in the sorts of faith forums we’ve seen Clinton, Obama and McCain take part in this year. Hard to see them selecting a fervent Evangelical as a running mate. The rising hostility to public religion might result in part from its rising prominence.



report abuse
 

T

posted October 7, 2008 at 1:36 pm


John C,
Political rhetoric might be the exception that proves the rule concerning the trend toward secularism among elite institutions, precisely because politicians have to get votes largely from non-elites, unlike the elites of academia or the legal profession, for example, who are generally more accountable only to other elite peers. And political rhetoric is not the same thing as which philosophy is generally shaping the society. In my opinion, just in our legal system alone, secular understandings and assumptions about reality have largely (though not totally) replaced theistic or even deistic ones which were widely held 200 years ago. It just takes a while for that kind of philosophical paradigm shift to fully work itself out into all the various laws, judicial decisions, and governmental policies in our kind of system, which is still somewhat accountable to “the people”, not just the institutional elites. The change has been quicker and much more obvious in academia.



report abuse
 

Kacie

posted October 7, 2008 at 2:18 pm


It seems to me that our doom and gloom prophecies are closely tied to the fear that we are becoming less of a Christian nation, which to me seems to be a false assumption in the first place. Regardless of the number of Christians in America, our government is not now nor has it ever been run truly as a Christian nation. This presupposition takes away the commonly-held assumption that we have been blessed by God because of our great leaders of faith and that this blessing could be taken away when our leaders or our people become godless.
I would say instead that God allowed the nation of America to be great for a time, and in time (God’s time) we will inevitably fall. We are no different then Christians in Rome, watching some leaders oppose them and some make a shift to cultural Christianity. Regardless of what the state of our government’s godliness/godlessness is, we are still God’s people, and merely Caesar’s citizens. The Holy Roman Empire was no more holy then the great country of America. :)



report abuse
 

Travis Greene

posted October 7, 2008 at 2:28 pm


I just don’t really see the evidence of this massive shift to secularism (I’ll give you academia, but only certain sectors of it). There’s a difference between pluralism (we can’t assume that everybody believes the same thing, so we shouldn’t have teachers leading students in mandatory prayer) and some kind of oppressive secularism (nobody can mention any beliefs or morals or they will be immediately dismissed).
I think we as Christians should stop acting like we’re some kind of outcast minority, because, frankly, we look incredibly silly when one of our own has been in the halls of power for 8 years. Just because Christianity doesn’t hold the privileged religion it used to be (again, to be honest, I’m glad of it…) doesn’t mean we’re being oppressed, or that secularism is the inevitable alternative. There is an amazing vitality to religion in American life that is, I understand, somewhat unique (particularly compared to Europe).



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 7, 2008 at 3:10 pm


Travis,
I just don’t really see the evidence of this massive shift to secularism (I’ll give you academia, but only certain sectors of it).
Which sectors of academia will you cede to T’s point and which do you retain? Where do you think secularism rules, and where do you think it doesn’t?



report abuse
 

Mike

posted October 7, 2008 at 9:27 pm


Don’t forget that Europe’s abandonment of religion and adherence to secularism coincided with the devastation of world wars fought on its soil. I think faith was largely beaten out of the Europeans by decades of violence unmatched by anything in history. And this, of course, was the culmination of centuries of religious as well as civil strife.



report abuse
 

GregF

posted October 7, 2008 at 10:15 pm


A timely topic since it is now being reported that both Obama and McCain may be the anti-Christ.



report abuse
 

Travis Greene

posted October 8, 2008 at 2:28 pm


RJS @ 32,
I guess I have to be honest and admit I don’t have some kind of vast experience with the academic world. But I did go to college (at a state school, whatever that’s worth), and I never felt like I had to hide my faith from the evil sneering intelligensia. Sure, religion was mocked at certain times and in certain quarters. But I had classes in diverse areas like literature, film, philosophy, and Judaic studies, and at no time was religion dismissed outright as something for the backwards. Okay, that seems obvious for Judaic studies, but even there, where there was huge diversity of opinion, all viewpoints were welcomed.
But I think that’s what gets people upset. Somehow, as Christianity is (rightly or wrongly, imho rightly) removed as the privileged religion, upset Christians seem to think that means we’re sliding into rampant secularism. I don’t think that’s what’s happening at all. I don’t think pluralism and secularism are the same thing. I don’t think the end of mandatory school prayer is at all the same as forbidden school prayer.
I work in a very politically liberal environment (we’re an anti-death penalty nonprofit law firm) and I’ve never once felt like I had to hide my faith. The fact that I care about social justice because of my evangelical Christian faith is something many of my nonreligious colleagues don’t necessarily understand, but they respect it, and are interested by it. So I just don’t buy that the end of Christendom is the birth of a nation that has no tolerance for public faith.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm


Travis,
I think in general that you are right.



report abuse
 

Richie "Rich" Merritt

posted October 10, 2008 at 10:37 am


As the leaders and thinkers and movers and shakers of the sphere of influence that we have or encounter daily. Which is more important? Which will have more impact?
#1 A belief, fear, loathing, etc…, of the world matters and how they affect a people, culture, or country; or…,
#2 – A Love for Jesus that burn so brightly that folks will be drawn to it. Sold out burning with passion from the heart, mind, and soul burning bright I am talking about here! Then that Love being shared with the people around us.
I believe it will be the later. I believe that Jesus in issuing the Greatest 2 commands knew that the issues of this world would interfere, stall, or hamper the effectiveness of those 2 commands – thus He simplified the 10 into 2 and even included the prophets in the mix.
History has repeatedly shown what happens to powers that fall prey to morale decline, all the ranting and raving in the world will be drowned out by the rhetoric of hate and discontent already present. So…, the ultimate equalizer is LOVE!
I hate to simplify things so.., but really if You Love God and You Love People is there anything else that matters?
Just my two cents on this…



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.