Decline and Fall

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Practical Ethics, a webpage based at the University of Oxford, has an interesting post on research that suggests a society's crime rate will be higher where there is widespread rejection of the notion of hell.  Statistics are statistics, of course, and so the findings will no doubt be contested; yet it reminded me of a lecture given under the auspices of Dr. Williams's Library in London in 1995 by Michael Watts, historian at the University of Nottingham. entitled "Why did the English stop going to church?'  In this lecture, Dr. Watts analysed the decline in church attendance in late Victorian England and, much to his surprise and regret, came to the conclusion that the standard narrative of both secularists and evangelicals -- that the decline was predicated on the rise of evolutionary theory -- was incorrect and that much more significant was the church's increasing equivocation on the doctrine of eternal punishment.  When there was no eternal punishment, it seemed, people lost interest in going to church. At the end of the lecture, he professed personal discomfort at having to agree on this with Charles Spurgeon, someone for whose theology he personally had little time.

Both the survey and Watts's argument seem to underline once again the importance of allowing God's word to set the church's doctrine, priorities and emphases.   As Luther pointed out to Erasmus: ours is not to decide what will and will not appear plausible to the world around; it is to expound the whole counsel of God.
Posted June 24, 2012 @ 9:46 AM by Carl Trueman
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