The Descent into Unbelief, The Promise and Failure of Victorian Christianity
Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing portions of the article, The Descent Into Unbelief: When Christendom Produces Cultists, Mockers and Atheists, by Jonathan Rice. It originally appeared in the SCP Journal (29:2-29:3) and is reprinted here WITH PERMISSION. Please respect their copyright.

This article struck a chord with me because it addresses many issues facing the church today. He also takes a slightly different stand on the issues regarding church passivity. He looks at the promise of the Victorian Era, in someways likened to the hayday of Christianity, in that the church was so effective at changing and improving society. Many of the beneficial institutions we take for granted today owe their beginnings to devout Christians of this time period. But their children? Many of them walked away from the faith. Some of the most well-known atheists and agnostics are the children and grandchildren of devout Christians of the Victorian Era. The reasons he explores are relavent to the Church today and I think worthy of critical analysis.

Recently I came across an old book by Ian Bradley entitled, The Call to Seriousness: The Evangelical Impact on the Victorians, which gave a detailed account of how the nineteenth-century British Evangelicals ended the English slave trade, abolished sati (widow burning) and infant sacrifice in India, banned child labor and other related abuses in England, started the world’s first animal welfare organization (The RSPCA, which banned the torture of animals for sport), rehabilitated prostitutes, reformed the Parliament, brought education and relief to the destitutes of England, and brought about prison and lunatic asylum reforms, just to mention a few.[1] The period referred to in Bradley’s study is the Victorian era, which came on the heels of the Wesleyan Revival, a movement that brought about the wholesale transformation of English life and culture, and, by extension, brought sorely needed reforms to the nations then under British rule.

Bradley tries to take the stance of an impartial historian. It becomes clear after a few chapters, however, that the subjects of his study are steadily gaining his admiration and empathy. In each chapter he critiques the excesses of the movement: their petty legalisms, repressive behavior codes (“The Cult of Conduct”), intellectual philistinism, and so forth. And yet his approach is fair and he always balances the negatives with their many positive contributions. For the most part, the positives win out. A famous historian
quoted in the book sums up the positive/negative mixture:
“Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.”[2]

What are the fruits of American Christianity? At the moment, at least to me, it appears that we are a church divided on every front. There is, of course, the division over whether we should homeschool or be a witness to the public school, whether Genesis can be interpreted as historic or is merely a fable, whether Jesus is really the only way or if perhaps we all worship the same God in different ways. But among conservative, evangelical Christian churches (of which I am a part), there is at times more vehement division. "Petty legalism" describes it well. The "anti-intellectualism" of some segments of Christianity I have always found a little disturbing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. This issue will come out more later in the article, but sometimes it does appear that, rather than activiely engaging our culture and its shaky foundation, some of us have put our fingers in our ears and begun to sing "la, la, la..." so as to protect ourselves and our children from this teaching.

But Christ said,
...upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
We are to be on the frontlines of this battle for our culture, not retreating from it. It is the Gates of Hell which have reason to fear, not the faithful Christian.

(Note: I do NOT believe this is a battle for our children to face. My stance is that parents need to instruct their children diligently in the Word so that they learn to discern truth. If they leave home with the light of God's Word, the darkness around them will be illuminated. Satan cannot snuff it out. But in fear, we do sometimes hide it under a bushel. And if we are not faithful in presenting our children with a means of examining the ideas they will be confronted with, they will not be well-equipped to meet the challenges they inevitably will face.)

[1] Ian C Bradley, The Call to Seriousness: The Evangelical Impact on the Victorians (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, 1976).

[2] Ibid., p. 106.