“Scottish Puritanism was responsible for our nation’s founding – built on conquering all lands for Christ and His Kingdom on God’s terms through evangelism. Why the radical decline?”
My history might be incorrect. I thought the Covenanters from Scotland, Puritans from England, Huguenots from France, Beggars from Netherlands, etc. were responsible for the founding of “New England.”
To answer the question about the radical decline of evangelism, I just want to give an overview and this might appear simplistic. I recognize that there are other factors to consider.
I think the power of the OLD RUGGED CROSS has been lost in the church due to an ideological crisis. But since the word “ideology” is considered offensive, I would rather call it either of the four: religious, theological, philosophical or worldview. This crisis has been with us since the time of the Greek intellectual dominance and even earlier than that.
For me not to lose my answer into abstraction, let me just start with 16th century. During the 16th century, two versions of Protestantism struggle for dominance. These are the old Protestant led by Erasmus due to the influence of Renascence and the new Protestant led by Luther due to the influence of Reformation. For almost 200 years, from 16th to 17th century, the Reformation version of Protestantism gained the upper hand. But the old Protestantism survived until its triumph in the 18th century with the so-called Age of Reason or the Enlightenment. For another 200 years, from 18th to 19th century, the supranatural structure of the old worldview since the dawn of humanity and its idea of revelation has been seriously questioned by both “reason” and “science” and found to be “irrational” and “unscientific.” So the old worldview, with its supranatural character and faith in revelation had been discredited. Such idea penetrated the academe especially the natural and social sciences. And that’s why the world that time was prepared to receive the messages of both Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. Darwin’s evolution removed the idea of divine purpose from natural science while Karl Marx liberated Socialism from all utopian dream. And from the academe, it spreads into the public arena and took control of people’s minds.
A new trend has emerged from the 19th to the 20th century. Most reputable scientists have recognized the insufficiency of their previous convictions and an attempt was made to merge the idea of evolution with Hegelian idealism. Even theology was not spared by this trend. A “new theology” has emerged attempting to relate evolution to revelation, to reconcile science and religion, a shift from transcendence to immanence and finds its highest expression in “the gospel of the humanity of God and the divinity of man.” To end my answer, allow me to quote from Herman Bavinck:
From every quarter comes the demand for a new dogma, a new religion, a new faith, a new art, a new science, a new school, a new education, a new social order, a new world, and a new God…Buddhism and Mohammedanism and the religion of Wodan are commended to us, theosophy, occultism, magic and astrology, daemonism and satan-worship, race and hero-worship, ethical culture and the pursuit of ideals, the cult of humanity and of Jesus… Each individual regards himself as independent and self-governing, and shapes his own course and pursues his own way. Everybody has his own religion (Philosophy of Revelation, p. 31).
These “reform” movements possess two qualities: mental anarchy and emphasis on the human will as the way to salvation. Every person has his own faith. Will the “new gospel” survive in such an age? Or is there a need to return to the power of the OLD RUGGED CROSS?