Thinking about American Christianity

What do you think of when you think of American Christianity and the American church? Just stop and think about that for a moment before reading further.

Think a little more…

OK, ready?

Below is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on American Christianity. Please, read it and think through it. Although he was speaking of the American church in the 1920’s and 30’s think of how his words might apply today.

  • Is he correct?
  • If not, how far off is he and what correction would you offer?
  • If so, what can American churches and her members do for correction?
  • What other thoughts does this quote bring to mind?

God has granted American Christianity no Reformation. He has given it strong revivalist preachers, churchmen and theologians, but no Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ by the Word of God….American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of ‘criticism’ by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s ‘criticism’ touches even religion, the Christianity of the church and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics….In American theology, Christianity is still essentially religion and ethics…Because of this the person and work of Christ must, for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.[6]

6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism without the Reformation,” in No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes, 1928-1936, ed. Edwin H. Robertson, trans. Edwin H. Robertson and John Bowden (London: Collins, 1965), 92-118.
As cited by Michael Horton in Who Exactly Are the Evangelicals?

Even if you don’t answer here this is certainly food for thought.

tagged as in Church Issues,Culture

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jamesreardon February 22, 2010 at 10:21 am

Good food for thought. I think Francis Chan speaks a little to American Christianity in his book, Crazy Love. We do indeed have great speakers, great ideas, and great enthusiasm (to a degree), but I would agree that Reformation hasn’t happened here yet. And so I wonder, what would it look like if we radically lived like Jesus did? Going further, what would our perception be of those we call radical (e.g., Shane Claiborne or Cornerstone Church or even First Woodstock regarding their radical plan to give: if we too became radical (although, like Chan says, maybe what we call ‘radical’ is actually what Jesus called ‘following Him’?
Great post. Great food for thought. But what a convicting post this is.

2 Darrin February 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm

He is certainly correct, and his pinpointing of our failure with the Word and the centrality of the gospel is accurate.

As Al Mohler’s post Friday showed, we really don’t have patience for too much of God’s Word these days. Contrast with this quote from Justin Martyr in the second century:

“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.”

3 Biff Gordon February 23, 2010 at 1:05 am

During the Reformation, in Geneva, people were so hungry for the Word that they would go to the church to sit under the exposition of Calvin or others 6 days a week. Sunday Calvin would preach New Testament. Monday through Friday was for Old Testament teaching. Then there were various classes and Bible studies besides. The character of the city was transformed. Much the same happened during the First Great Awakening in America. Sadly, the 2nd Great Awakening ushered in the downgrade of American Evangelicalism, in my opinion.

4 Mark Lamprecht February 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

James, I’m not sure about even loosely linking Shane Claiborne & Johnny Hunt. There is something to be said about radical giving, but I would like to think about what it is that’s being given. A radical giving of the Gospel would seem to be more in line with reformation. I think Chan does address some of these issues and he is probably correct in his reference to “following Jesus.”

Darrin, great quote from Justin Martyr.

Biff, great follow-up that seems to go along with Darrin’s comment.

Thanks for the comments, guys. This is a tough issue to think through. It’s almost as if that in America we are free to our detriment. So many people could not even get Scriptures to read for themselves and we’ve got verses printed on t-shirts.

5 Mark Lamprecht February 23, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Check out brother Leonce’s @CrumpII post as it relates to American Christianity.


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