Everywhere we look, freedom is under fire. The prognosis in some circles, for the future of freedom, is bleak indeed. In his book “America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It”, author Mark Steyn details a coming dark age where America stands alone in defense of civilization and freedom. In “After America: Get Ready for Armageddon”, he appears to conclude that America will not succeed in its quest to be a beacon of freedom and civilization in a world where darkness is encroaching. Numerous demographic experts have noted the plunge in birth rates and the coming extinction of whole peoples if this trend is not reversed. Some have suggested that the demographic crisis we face is really a crisis of faith. People of faith have hope for the future and thus tend to have more babies. Even the formerly proliferate Islamic world has suddenly experienced a very sharp drop in birth rates. The reason for this according to economist David P. Goldman in his recent book “How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying Too)”, is the Muslim world’s inability to adapt to the modern world and thus a sense of hopelessness as a result. He argues that this sense of hopelessness is driving the rage behind the Jihadi movement.
Two exceptions to this demographic collapse are Israel and America in general and conservative Christians in particular. Evangelicals, both in America and globally, are demographically proliferate and are making converts at a rapid rate, as are Orthodox Catholics. (The Evangelical movement is the fasting growing religious movement in the world) These groups are major factors in the fact that America’s birthrate is still above replacement rate. Other than Israel, we are the only major developed country to have a birthrate above replacement rate. Secularists and mainline religious groups have a birthrate more in line with what we see in Europe. If this trend continues, the demographically proliferate groups will increase their proportion of the overall U.S. population and our birthrate will increase as well. The question is whether it will continue.
Traditionalist Islam was, until recently, among the fastest growing groups demographically but their birthrates are now dropping at a rate faster than the rest of the world. Will Evangelicals and Orthodox Catholics run into the same demographic wall? It is here that Goldman offers an interesting perspective. In traditional Islam, Allah is too radically transcendent for mere humans to enter into a direct personal relationship with him. For this reason, he argues, traditionalist Islam is still firmly rooted in tribal norms and leans toward collectivism. This makes adapting to the pace of change in the modern world harder. On the other hand, the Evangelical form of Christianity is more individualistic and heavily emphasizes a direct personal relationship between the individual and God. The flexibility and adaptation that comes with such individualism allows Evangelicals to preserve faith and community in the face of the rapid changes that come with modernity.
Such adaptability is reflected in a new study from Baylor University entitled “The Values and Beliefs of The American Public”. People who strongly believe that God has a plan for their life are much more likely to have a high degree of hope for the future, a stronger degree of confidence in our free enterprise system, more skepticism of the ability of government to solve their problems, a belief that their ability to get ahead is largely a function of hard work, as well as numerous other attitudes that lead to a greater ability to adapt.
The problem in the case of Evangelicals is that their cultural influence lags far behind their numerical vitality. This imbalance needs to be addressed if America in general, and Evangelicals in particular are to serve once again as “A City on a Hill”.
The key is to re-examine what prompted America to seek to become “A City on a Hill” to begin with and then reclaim those principles and apply them to the challenges of today. America’s early civilization was rooted in the ideal of Biblically based liberty. Those who established that civilization utilized what is known as a “Covenant Theology”. The Covenant Theology begins with the individual relationship with God and the reality of the eternal salvation of the human soul, but it does not end there. As part of the “Covenant” we have a responsibility of be agents of God’s justice in the present world. That means, among other things, the preservation of liberty. The notion of covenant infused every dimension of human activity, from religious devotion, to the arts and sciences, to politics and economics, etc. The early American religious leaders were also leaders in all these fields. What has been termed “The American Enlightenment” was led by religious figures. As a natural result of this, America’s dominant culture reflected a Biblical worldview.
In time, a growing number of American Christians abandoned this approach in favor of sticking to preaching salvation primarily as securing our spot in heaven. This resulted in a leadership vacuum in the institutions of American Culture, which was filled with a new leadership hostile to Biblical values. Because the American notion of liberty was rooted in Biblical values, the loss of those values in the arena of high culture is threatening our heritage of liberty.
American Evangelicals need to reclaim a leadership role in the arena of high culture if they are to exercise the kind of cultural influence comparable with their surging demographic numbers. By doing so, they could create a high culture that once again is compatible with Biblical truth and capable of sustaining the ideal of liberty as a “City on a Hill” at a time when it is sorely needed. The first step is to re-examine the Biblical roots of the American Civilization.