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Sociological study on the Inevitability of Temptation,
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This review is from: The Churching Of America 1776-1990 (Paperback)
This easy to read work intrigues. It does this by carefully challenging the previous conclusions of the churching of America, i.e. Ahlstrom et al.
Starting with Colonial times, it reviews the quantitative analysis and the qualitative conclusions as well. It determined that much beginning from these times on has been distorted by bias and not using the best census material available.
They deduce that successful church movements base their focus on otherworldliness, starting out thus as sects which grow. The tendency however is to eventually make minor concessions to the culture, thus shifting the emphasis away from what gave them success, high tension with their culture towards lowered levels. This cyclical pattern they have found repeated over and over, the sects becoming churches thereby giving birth to new sects that revitalize the church and grow.
The pattern begins with the upstart Baptists and Methodists outgrowing the established Congregationalists, etc. Then themselves, especially the Methodists losing their dominant position to new groups.
Their conclusions are fascinating, disputing much of the established findings of scholarly American Christian history. Rather than finding the changes in churched American as attributable to sudden cultural/societal glitches, rather the authors find "a long, slow and consistent increase in religious participation form 1776 to 1926--with the rate inching up slightly after 1926 and then hovering near 60 percent. Second, they conclude that the primary factor is what they term "the sect-church process" (roughly sketched out above) in supporting the progress in America.
The future? They place confidence in humans as "rational beings, not puppets enslaved to the strings of history and always have the capacity to choose." Their surveys and literature they use suggest that American will continue to want and find or start movements which maximize otherworld rewards sufficient to inspire sacrifice.
One must remember this is sociology speaking, not theology. Theology of the best kind tells of God's unfolding plan of salvation (heilsgesitche) which will occur exactly as God has planned. True faith, belief and membership in this salvation is His doing through His church, where His Word and Sacraments are truly spoken and distributed.