In his (excellent) biography of Bavinck, James Eglinton notes a shift that happened in the great Dutch theologian around the turn of the century. Earlier in his career, Bavinck was deeply concerned with the project of reinvigorating Calvinism in the Netherlands. This is reflected in many ways—it is in his earlier career that he wrote the Reformed Dogmatics and venerated Kuyper, for example.
But around 1900 he starts reading Nietzsche and comes to the conclusion that if they could just keep most people in the Netherlands Christian, that would actually be a great victory. And so his energies start shifting away from the work of promoting Calvinism or specifically Reformed churches and movements and toward a more basic advocacy for basic Christianity. (This is the era when he produces his excellent Christian Worldview, for example.)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I survey the scene in the US right now. If I had to guess, I’d say 90% of the country probably fits within these three groups:
- not Christian
- first-generation Christian
- badly catechized Christian
That this is the state of affairs when, only 15 years ago, nearly 40% of the country identified as “evangelical” and an appreciable chunk more were Catholic or in mainline churches that still preached the Gospel is a shameful commentary on how badly our churches have failed at catechesis and discipleship. But it also tells us where our energies need to be directed, I think.
There’s a book we’re reviewing in the next print issue, which should reach subscribers soon, in which the author, now no longer a Christian but who grew up in the church, has a line about desiring a story where, “food is not the danger but the salvation.” What does it say about the state of catechesis in our churches that someone who has grown up in the church and has now apostatized can say that with no apparent sense of irony?
Ultimately, I think our work at Mere O is for those three groups of readers and one other: well-formed Christians who are desperately lonely and discouraged by the rampant idolatry that surrounds them in so many churches and Christian communities.
The goal for our magazines, publishing houses, colleges, think tanks, and churches should be something very simple, I think: We want people to be able to say “yes” to these questions:
- Do you love Jesus and know he loves you?
- Do you know that Jesus died to rescue you and rose from the dead so that, through him, you too can triumph over death and sin?
- Can you recite the Apostle’s Creed? Do you understand what it means?
- Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer? Do you understand what it means?
- Can you recite the Ten Commandments? Do you understand what they mean?
If we can get more people saying “yes,” to all those questions, we should be absolutely over the moon. (If you need convincing these are the right questions, I’ll let Martin Luther try to convince you.)