There’s a good deal of confusion in Western Christianity. It’s become intertwined with political and economic power, as well as with the intellectual developments of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. This results in a very complicated set of interactions.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 26, “An Age beyond Christendom” Loc. 4658-4953.
Gonzalez notes that in the late 18th and early 19th century a new type of aristocracy was arising in the West, based on wealth rather than family (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4664). The lower classes tended to become dissatisfied, which resulted in various revolutions (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4671). During this time Christianity spread geographically as well, reaching all parts of the world, at least to some extent (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4678). Nations, aided in part by the Industrial Revolution, changed the process of colonialism to focus on economic power (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4692). European colonial powers increasingly sought sources of raw materials in areas where they could find political footholds (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4715). Modern military forces were a significant tool through the 19th century as well (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4715).
“Behind this new order stood an even deeper intellectual revolution…” (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4722) which Gonzalez identifies as a new emphasis on observational experimentation. The explosion of technology led to tremendous changes in manufacturing and distribution (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4729). In the 18th and 19th centuries there were also expectations that the Gospel would take root all over the world, creating a largely Christian world (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4751).
Gonzalez considers that the great wars of the 20th century were provoked by a continued desire for expansion of territory and power in a world with little space for uncontested expansion (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4758). Especially in Russia, church and state were pitted against each other in 1917 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4772). As both Communism and Fascism grew in various areas, Christianity was viewed as a threat to government (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4801). By 1939 the tension erupted into a second World War (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4817).
With the destruction in the World Wars, Gonzalez sees the death of Western optimism about Christianity (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4824). Nations which had once been vital in the spread of the Gospel had now caused tremendous amounts of death and destruction. A strong climate of anticolonialism grew up rapidly, rejecting Western culture as well as intrusive government (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4852). The dispute often came to be seen as one between white and non-white people (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4860).
As globalization increased the Western world found that people from former colonies sought out residency and work in the countries which had previously governed them (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4875). The Church, as an international organization which cut across all sorts of barriers, was very important in the search for social, economic, and political balance (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4889). This work evidenced itself in both theological conservatism and progressivism, retreat and advance (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4896). Secularism and religion fought for dominance. Sects arose, along with various forms of self-mediated religious faith (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4910).
In this portion of the book, Gonzalez will consider the movements, both theological and geographical, by which Christianity separated from its traditional home in Western civilization (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4932).
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