Friday, May 5

A de Tocquevillian Ring

Alexis de Tocqueville has oft been quoted--though perhaps apocryphally--as having said:

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

I was reminded of this astute perspective as I read Rodney Stark's fascinating article, "A Civil Religion," in the May 2006 issue of The American Enterprise. In it, Stark recounts observations about America's "genius" by one of Communist China's leading economic, social, and political analysts . His statement has a hauntingly distinctive "de Tocquevillian" ring:

"One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact the pre-eminence, of the West.... We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics."

He concluded by asserting, "We don't have any doubt about this."

Interesting that the Communist Chinese don't have any doubt about this, but we most assuredly do.


Lawrence Underwood said...

Is it not amazing that even a spiritually blind Communist can see the role that the Church and Christianity has played in the history of the West and the United States; yet, most American Christians are oblivious or ambivilant regarding this serious issue. I would expect the masses of unregenerate citizens to not see this simple fact, yet it is also a problem of Bible toting, God loving, church attending people. Some even give it lip service, but their actions belie their true beliefs. Perhaps, regeneration is not as common as some would like us to believe in our nation. . .

George, thank you once again for a thought provoking quote. Your ministry is surely appreciated. If you are ever down here in LA (Lower Alabama) I'd love to treat you to some of the world's finest coffee and barbecue.

weave said...

I am reminded of Sydney Ahlstrom's work, "A Religious History of the American People," in which he refers to colonial and post-colonial America as "The Protestant Empire." Pilgrims, Puritans, and Congregationalists, Baptists, Anabaptists, and Quakers, Lutherans and Anglicans--each contributed seed to the soil of American Protestantism. And even the French-Indian War played a role. Protestant England won this war. Catholic France lost. As a result, Protestantism's foothold was strengthened in the colonies.

After he put his signature to the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, future president of the United States, said this: "This day, I trust, the reign of political protestantism will commence."

Our nation's "Christian DNA" is indeed deep, richly flavored, and robust.

gileskirk said...

Lawrence: That sounds like an offer I just can't refuse!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Grant,
Thanks for the astute quotes and observations. This, I believe, is a call to pastors and the focus of our messages. I am certainly no fan of those who preach straight evangelistic messages week in and week out. This starves the people of sanctification. On the other hand, the practical, how-to sermons so often spouted from pulpits is sickening. "How to have a wonderful marriage," "Three ways to build a friendship," or you get the idea.

My point: The Gospel must be central to all of it. The reason so many unregenerate folks are sitting on pews each week is because the focus has been removed from the cross. In my opinion, pastors need to preach carefully and slowly through whole books of the Bible. If this is done well, you will quickly cover many, many topics that will help your people grow, but the text will always force your focus on Christ and the cross. It might take you 3 years to get through Hebrews (it did me) and you may worry that the people are going to loose interest (mine did not), but the sheer discipline of this method will accomplish many great things.

I know this is not a homiletics blog, but it is clear that preaching properly is the answer to the implied problem raised in the post.

Lawrence Underwood said...

I believe that you have hit the nail directly on the head. For three years I was involved with a ministry that worked deeply across denominational lines among evangelical churches. One recurring note I made was that the vast majority of congregants, and many pastors, seemed to be ignorant of the Gospel. It is truly shocking. If they were aware of the Gospel they were unaware of the Gosple's mandates when it came to the 'profane' world outside the chapel.

The man centered message of modern America is a laudanum for the masses. It is in vogue. It is appealing. It is damning. We must pray and labour that the church will repent of her error and that Reformation will take place. Else, we are toast.

Just let me know when, brother.

Johnny! said...

Dr. Grant, do you know the name of the Chinese analyst?