Christianity’s Contribution to Civil Society Has Diminished

Very few people, if any, actually talk about theology in the context of public life.  In the 19th century and even in the 20th century, theological conviction played a large role in shaping the direction of civil society.  Theological viewpoints used to hold weight and were considered as significant.   Many of the things we now enjoy were as a result of people acting out of carefully thought-through Christian ideas.   Now the Christians ideas that are most often heard in society are not mainstream voices tackling mainstream concerns, but  narrow-minded attitudes tackling fringe issues.  Those Christians who are attracting large audiences are often speaking in terms of pop psychology and a self-help context instead of a mature approach directed to the good of others and towards public policy and the common good of civil society as a whole.    Academically trained Christian viewpoints are largely not heard in the public sphere either.   Christianity has become pop.

Christopher Marlin-Warfield has written an essay about Moving Away From Christian Pop.   He expands on this argument:

There are, I’m sure, plenty of reasons for this, but at least one of them is the general absence of theology from the conversation. While there are media personalities that occasionally talk about religion in the mass media, it is a rare thing indeed to see an actual theologian – or even someone with any actual theological education under their belt – commenting on Christianity in the public sphere. Commentary on religion is left to political pundits, and commentary on ‘what Christianity thinks’ is too often left to either far-right media personalities or cheerleaders for political and cultural secularism….

I’m not trying to suggest that Christianity is not, on some level at least, about a personal relationship with the divine, but we have, in many ways, lost the connection to our heritage that built universities and the American public school system; that inspired education for the poor and enslaved; that inspired the abolitionist and civil-rights movements; and on, and on, and on. I think it’s reasonable to make the demand that churches – with the help of public, academic theologians – reclaim this history and engage the world in conversations about Christianity as though it is something more than a vague feeling. As though, in short, it is something serious.


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