Ten Dominant Moods In American Religion Today
This article is an effort to identify ten dominant moods in American religion
today. I have no purpose to exhaust every possible trend. And I understand, when
anyone sets about the task of identifying modern trends in religion or elements
of popularity, you set yourself up for the work of revision. Things are changing
at such a pace, what you write in the morning may need adjustments in the
afternoon. Nevertheless, I thought it would be valuable to me to make such a
list. Ten Dominant Moods in American Religion today:
1. Non-judgmental; resistant to discipline. Cultural pluralism and the pressure of being politically/religiously correct results in exalting as a principle, the spirit of being "non-judgmental." Whatever anybody wants to do about anything or everything, there is cultural pressure to relax, be accepting and never ask anyone to examine their beliefs and behavior. Yet the kindest thing you can do for anyone is tell them the truth. And "those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the test also may fear," (1 Tim. 5:20). Sentimental silence is the best friend sin ever had. The friendly, diplomatic spirit toward error hastens the progress of apostasy, in whatever form it may assume.
2. Subjection, Emotional. That which is subjectively based proceeds from or takes place in a person's mind, rather than from an external, objective source. When you do what you think and feel, rather than believe and obey the Word of God, the basis of your religious life is subjective and emotional; therefore, relative to how you feel at any time. "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does," (Jas. 1:25).
3. Coveting Excitement, Entertainment, Drama, & Style. With the advent of television, movies and internet media, there is greater demand for visual, external excitement. To be entertained is "more fun" than reading and studying. So we are constantly working on ways to supply more dazzle, sometimes with a loss of scriptural content. Popular worldly methods are being demanded in religious settings. Our commitment must as Paul expressed: "we preach Christ crucified," (see 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5).
4. Ecumenical. The ecumenical spirit is to accept everybody as brothers and sisters, without regard to differing teaching and practice, as "the loving thing." With only a confession of your faith in Christ accompanied by some involvement in "Evangelical religion", the ecumenists embrace you with a claim of joint fellowship. "Unity in diversity" is the plea, and the discernment between truth and error required by Scriptures is set aside. Though not in a religious setting, Rodney King's statement during the LA Riots captures the premise of ecumenical religion: "Why can't we all just get along?" Of course we can, but how? The desire for unity can only be fulfilled by letting God's truth be our authority. By our commitment to what God's Holy Spirit has revealed, we can effectively endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Eph. 4:3).
5. Informal, Casual. Comfort has been put above reverence in our age. Being casual, relaxed and sporty it is argued is of greater significance than being reverent, fitting, appropriately dressed. Society is in a dressdown, casual mode. The danger lies in the message that worship is just like anything else. A change in dress code generally signals a change in attitude. Are we willing to regard worship with a leisure attitude? "Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil," (Eccl. 5:1).
6. The Social Gospel. Interests in serving social needs and financing social causes is a ruling power in American religion. Today, the social gospel is alive in churches with social and benevolent programs to make this world a better place to live through counseling, physical fitness, various kinds of therapy, community involvement and sometimes political activism. Paul had a plan far more comprehensive and reaching to the cause of man's problem: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for every who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek," (Rom. 1:16).
7. Biblical Ignorance. In American religion today, there is little interests in serious Bible study. Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli concluded, "Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates," (www.crosswalk.com/faith/1218766.html - by Albert Mohler). Only when we read, can we enjoy a true knowledge of the mystery of Christ (Eph.3:4).
8. Less preaching. Is preaching "a dying art." In some places there is movement away from preaching toward a more popular (relevant?), multi-media presentation. There is a mood that seeks to gradually replace preaching with some form where entertainment and audience appeal has a higher place that instruction (diminishing the need to "convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching," 2 Tim. 4:2). Talks that make people feel good enjoys greater popularity than the boldness of divine truth.
9. Worldly. To be worldly means to find your life in what the world offers instead of what God offers in Christ. To be worldly means, to seek the temporal thrills, ambitions and pleasures, with that priority ranked above godliness. Those captivated by the world may have "a form of godliness," but by their attachment to the world they deny its power. "And from such people turn away," (2 Tim. 3:5).
10. Misplaced emphasis on Numbers. Bigger is better. The emphasis on numbers leads directly to the introduction of modern marketing strategy into the church. The outcome is, we sell customer satisfaction instead of preaching the gospel. Instead of being followers of Christ, we follow the crowd and give them what they want to increase our attendance and contribution (so we can enlarge the crowd). Instead of worshipping in Spirit and truth, we adapt our worship to the changing needs of the public. This inordinate emphasis on numbers eventually let's men determine the work of the church instead of God. "The tendency to make Christianity fashionable, and carnally respectable, must be met at the cost of sneer and ridicule from any quarter," (Millennial Har., 1868).
If these "moods" I have identified can be viewed as soil, it is rich and fertile to receive the Charismatic seed. It is ripe to re-generate Calvinism and advance Ecumenism, with every attending error. To the extent these things play out among us, we stand at risk and the next generation stands at even greater risk. The answer is, teaching and practicing the inspired, sufficient Word. "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified," (Acts 20:32).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 11.6; June 2004