With churches drifting towards theological liberalism in the 20th century, many church goers exited as leadership loosened their once-firm grip on essential Christian doctrines. When did the exodus begin? I posed this question to Dr. Mark Tooley, CIA analyst turned researcher of religion. Dr. Tooley is the President of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, where he lobbies for religious freedoms and promotes historic Christianity. Dr. Tooley told me,
“Well, just to be clear, the mainline denominations, they’re often called the Seven Sisters, that include today the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Church, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And these are all the historic denominations that date back to America’s founding in the 1600s. And they used to be the cultural, religious, and spiritual guide posts of American spirituality, and they remained so through the mid-20th century. But they all were taken captive, starting with the Seminaries, and working their way to the respective bureaucracies, and ultimately the clergy themselves, in the early 20th century. All of them adopted the German perspective, the School of Higher Criticism starting late 19th century; all of them were certainly beholding to the Social Gospel in the early 20th century. And so if you were an elite in the mainline Protestant world, in about World War I and the 1920s, it would have been very unusual if you still believed in the need for personal salvation, or believed in a judgment after you die; or if you believed in the historicity of the Virgin birth, or the bodily Resurrection. All of those issues would have been settled in favor of the liberal side, at least 80, 90 years ago, in the mainline Protestant upper reaches.”
The exodus out of the church continues in dramatic numbers! The American church is a step behind the trend evidenced in Britain where church buildings are being sold and transformed into restaurants and dance halls. Join Cristie Jo and I as we interview leaders and track the rise of secularism around the world.