Is Today’s Church in the Grip of a New Christian Romanticism?


As I was doing the nightly cleanup at home and prep for the next day, I was struck by a thought.

In the mid- to late 19th century, Christianity in America was in the grip of a post-war romanticism. The following were characteristics of the Church in that era:

Devotion to social issues, particularly justice for groups deemed oppressed

God as lover and wooer

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher

Hymnody that captured the romance between God and Mankind

Pastors with national followings and “fans”

Dramatic presentations of the Christian message

Emphasis on the role of women in religious service and leadership

Concessions to contemporary science and pseudoscience

Concessions to cultural and societal “progress”

Questioning of traditional models of Christian thought and practice

Infatuation with End Times prophecies and fulfillment

Henry Ward Beecher was the pastoral icon of that era, and his views were strongly in accordance with those characteristics above. Indeed, he was called the Most Famous Man in America for promulgating his new “brand” of Christian faith.

When I look at “Christian” America today, so much of it parallels that time of Reconstruction between 1865 and 1890, it’s scary.

In what ways do you think we are (or are not) seeing a revisiting of Christian romanticism with the features noted above? Who would you nominate as the Beecher of our day?

25 thoughts on “Is Today’s Church in the Grip of a New Christian Romanticism?

  1. I think it is hard to nail this down to one individual. You see a lot of this in people like Joel Osteen, Jim Wallis, Rachel Held Evans, all of whom espouse some serious errors. I think the celebrity driven, cult of personality goes much wider thanks to the proliferation of the internet. Many people today are “I am of John Piper” or “I am of Chuck Swindoll”. The level of name dropping in the church is incredible.

    As I have said so many times, we are on the cusp of a seismic shift in the religious landscape and I think the romanticism that you identified is part of that as the religious culture clings to the traditional notions of what Christianity means.

  2. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    I agree with Arthur that a seismic shift in the religious landscate is afoot. What I am noticing in my local library is the removing of Christian materials the last few months. Christian books are selling for a dollar. Christian cd’s are selling for three dollars. There are no other religious books being culled. For example spiritual occult books, books that denounce traditional Christianity,etc, are not being sold. Dan Brown books are being kept on the shelves. Books about other religions are being kept on the shelves, apparently.

    I think that we may be in a period of increasing ‘deception’ in our culture and nation. Education is undergoing much review and apparently change in Canada. The teaching of FACTS is being set aside for teaching on how to get along with others, values teaching, the group being more important than the individual, etc, at least as I understand it.

    ‘Deception’. I think we are going to move into a time when reality and truth will be hard to find. We already see alot of deception going on in government, education, and business systems.

    • Mr. Poet

      At my local libraries, books are sold both coming from the stacks and coming from public donations. We have a pretty good selection of Christian books of all sorts, although I wish there were more. I even requested the libraries purchase a Christian book I was pushing at the bookstore where I work. They bought two (and the books are still on the shelf). Most of the Christian books being sold come from public donations, by my estimation.

      What shocked me (working at the bookstore) wasn’t so much people buying Dan Brown. (I believe from dabblings like that that people, including Christians, are looking for reasons not to believe.) No, what got me was how many people bought Fifty Shades of Grey and then came back for the other two books!

    • Linda,

      I have said elsewhere that Canada is the West’s canary in the coalmine, particularly when it comes to the intersection of perceived “socialism” and religious freedoms. What we do not understand is a government nanny state cannot abide anything that chafes against it, and religion, particularly Christianity, MUST be kept bound and in a perpetually compromised position.

      Canadians have argue against me in this, but we’ll see who proves correct in the end. Seems to me that you’re sharing exactly what I knew would happen. It simply could not be any other way, and I don’t see how anyone cannot see that coming.

      • Linda

        Hey Dan,
        I think that I know what you are saying about Canada. Unfortunately, the USA is right on our heels in many of the up here in Canada. We may be ‘socially progressive’, ‘multicultural’ etc. but we have a very weak army and navy. Two ships that went out on practice manoevers off the Vancouver coast recently crashed into one another. One ship is now in the repair yard. These two ships probably represent 50% of our navy force! (just guessing but I would not be surprised. 🙂

        Is it ever a bad thing to help the poor? I know that issues go along with this, but issues go along with business as well. What about the lumber industry, mining, agriculture? Does the government have its hand in these in the USA? I believe the answer is yes. Farmers receive subsidies etc.

        I would say one of the best things about Canada is the programming we have for the poor in our midst. For many people, not having enough is not their own doing or fault. It is only the rich that are complaining that they have to contribute even one penny toward the health and well being of another. Our cost for our universal health care in Canada is very low. In Alberta because of our oil revenue we do not pay any health premiums for our provincial free health care provided to all. In other provinces in Canada the universal health care cost is also modest for taxpayers.

        Sorry for my long comment

  3. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    I think that different denominations are focusing on one thing or another and also making concessions in their traditional beliefs and practices. It’s not just one kind of ‘church’ in our culture. For example the SDA’s are really big on end times predicitions and prophecies. The more charismatic/pentecostal churches are ‘in love’ with God. The music often portrays a sensual kind of love. We do not have a sensual kind of love with God. We don’t writhe with lust for God or stand in puppy love before Him. We fear and respect him. We lay down our lives for Him and for our brothers.

    The United church has conceeded to the vality of homosexuality in its leadership personalities. Charismatics are into questioning everything about the idea of what traditional religion is and trying out everything to see what happens.

    There is a push for ‘society justice’ and the use of free Christian labour to enter into mass ‘good works’ for the benefit of society. This is deception by the church. What the church leadership is looking for is a ‘foothold’ in the coming world change that is going to take place. Christian leaders see potential in the work of masses to be of value to the ‘world’.

    In the minds of some believers personalities have taken over the role of God in their lives. They live and breathe the words and teachings of these men and women who are ‘popular’ in our day.

    • Linda,

      People do not remember that there was protest in the late 19th century with “sentimental” Christian hymns. Oddly, those sentimental hymns are the ones most often defended by those who reject a move toward today’s “God is my boyfriend” worship songs. Those sentimental hymns were the “God is my boyfriend” hymns of their day (I’m looking at you, “In the Garden.”)

      I’m not sure that I can necessarily oppose Christian leaders who are attempting to keep a foot in the door. There’s always that tension between reaching out to the lost and being accused of hanging around with “bad company.” How much compromise is necessary before one becomes totally compromised? That’s a tough one.

  4. Mr. Poet

    Although I could focus on any celebrity pastor’s “errors,” I think any pastor thrust into the limelight will have his errors exposed in ways the local pastor’s would not. I would say all of us believe wrong things. Can any of us on this forum say with a straight face, “What I believe is 100% correct?”

    • akaGaGa

      Not honestly, we couldn’t. If we did, though, we’d be admitting that we’ve stopped growing and learning because we have arrived.

      But I can’t remember the last church I was in that didn’t either say that or imply it. Even on the internet, if you go from church to church and read their “statement of faith” in most of them you’ll find the “difference” they take pride in. It’s the old “I’m of Apollo” or “I’m of Paul.” Many are more concerned with being “right” than being in Christ.

        • The us vs them thing, the competition between religious groups, is driven by money. Too many local churches see attenders/members in terms of units of giving that need to be retained like any other asset.

          • Arthur,

            Not to be too negative, but I think the problem is more than money in the Us vs. Them battle:

            1. Our better-ness proves that our doctrinal stance is superior, OR
            2. God prefers our means of doing church, OR
            3. We are simply more “evangelistic” or “missional,” OR
            4. Our programming and creativity are superior, OR
            5. Any combo of the above.

            That’s not the way we should be thinking because the reasons for our growth at the expense of that neighboring church may have nothing to do with our spirituality or cleverness. Thinking that it does is setting up the church for future falls from lofty places.

  5. Diane R


    I agree with you that we are going through a repeat of the late 19th century with all of the characteristics you listed. I would also add liberal Protestantism that flooded into the formerly evangelical mainline churches and seminaries at that time Today it is called emergent (or Progressive Christianity) but it is actually liberal Protestantism under another name (I.e., if it
    looks like a duck, acts like a duck and walks like a duck, maybe it is a duck). But also during that time God answered with the prayer and missions movement, the Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday revivals as well as the Pentecostal awakening at the end of the century and spilling over into the 20th.

    My nomination for today’s Henry Beecher is Rick Warren with Osteen coming in second.

  6. Don Costello

    I also believe there is a “seismic shift” beginning to happen. Personally I believe it is going to be what Paul called the “great falling away” or apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Many of the liberal leaning (apostasy leaning) blogs and websites already are espousing teachings that line up with what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-4:4. The time will come when they will not uphold sound doctrine.

  7. Mr. Poet

    To me, the biggest disconnect is that it seems most Christians, whether leaders or otherwise, want “revival” to mean that the majority of society will lead moral lives in everyday society (otherwise called civility) while all of our petty entertainments…TV, movies, video games, Web surfing, reading habits, sports, foodie-ism, or whatever you can think of as entertainment…remain intact. It’s fine that I don’t have illicit relations and get into “bad viewing habits” as long as I can still watch Law & Order: SVU. And it’s okay if I don’t use drugs as long as I can watch Breaking Bad.

    • Don Costello

      Excellent point Mr. Poet, I have many times been convicted of Paul’s words in Romans 1:32, “…but have pleasure in them that do them.” The non-fiction or fiction about the story of man can be dramatized through video or audio effectively without showing blood, guts, sex, and blasphemy.

      • Don,

        I think our modern disconnection from community creates this entertainment issue. Because we no longer interact with others in meaningful ways, we fill that time with the kinds of entertainments that don’t require other people. All this does is impoverish us further, and creates an unhealthy longing for individual stimulation that would otherwise come in healthy ways from community.

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  9. Chris Baumgart


    In the plus or minus column, for what it is worth… I touched briefly on Beechers bio. The ebb and flow of popular preaching seems to ride waves parallel to what’s on television, advertising dollars pushing books from Publishers, large regional supporters from certain denominations… But overall it seems money buys fame, the power of the dollar is driving doctrine, NOT the Holy Spirit.

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