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May 25, 2022

The United States Has Been Marked by Spiritual Ebbs and Flows 

By Dr. Chuck Hetzler


The light of the gospel has been fading for many years in the western world. America, along with Canada and many western European nations, are often referred to as “post-Christian.” I’ve caught myself using the term as well, but it’s actually a misleading and harmful catchphrase. Referring to America as a “post-Christian nation” reinforces a false narrative about our country’s Christian history and fosters an ungodly perspective that must be renounced. 

Washington DC Capitol dome detail with waving american flag

Dr. J. Edwin Orr was the twentieth century’s expert on Christian revivals and awakenings. His books, borne from years of primary source research from his two PhD’s (including one from Oxford), include numerous details of the rise and fall of Christianity, especially in the West.  One of Christian Union’s most shared resources is a YouTube video, when Dr. Orr spoke to Campus Crusade for Christ in 1977. The title of his message is “The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening.” Do yourself the favor of watching the twenty-six minute video, which has never failed to enlighten and inspire university students, CU Fire attendees, or friends of Christian Union, many of whom have seen the video dozens of times. 

Among Orr’s numerous insights, the facts about revivals in America counter the popular notion that many people hold, mistakenly thinking that Christianity started strong in the colonies and has gradually declined since the 1700s. But that image of gradual decline over centuries is not the truth at all. Orr explains that Christianity has waxed and waned all throughout our nation’s history. There have been many high points and many low points in every American century. You will be amazed to hear how far Christianity had fallen at certain times in America’s past. 

Dr. Orr’s primary aim, however, is not to detail the troughs of Christian devotion in the United States. He is most interested in the peaks of Christian revivals that followed after it had appeared to die. What did God’s people do when they had their backs against the wall? How did God respond when they turned to Him and began to seek Him with all their heart?

Saying that America is a “post-Christian nation” wrongly communicates that Christianity was here and now it's gone. An accurate portrayal of America’s Christian history leads us to acknowledge the sad truth that Christianity in America has sunk once again. That description is not only more true to the facts, but, more importantly, leads us to ask ourselves the right questions: What are we going to do about it? Will we respond as past generations did?

More than properly reflecting our religious history, saying that America is a “post-Christian nation” carries a sense of finality and defeatism that is antithetical to our calling in Christ. This misnomer makes one feel like the battle is over, like we tried to advance God’s kingdom in this land for as long as we could and now we need to adjust to living as a dwindling minority. We even come up with theological reasons to explain why God isn’t working powerfully in our context. 

I have even heard of conferences for Christian ministers that are designed to help them settle in to this new normal of ministering in a “post-Christian culture.” How can this be? God’s gospel cannot be chained. His kingdom is an ever-increasing one. His power is just as great in America as it is in Africa, just as mighty in the 1700s as in the 2000s. He is no respecter of persons.

Instead of helping one another cope with a “post-Christian reality,” we should be spurring one another on to seek God earnestly to change this reality. We should be examining God’s mighty works of the past and figuring out what we need to do to change our ways and experience His resurrection power in our day. Our conferences and messages should be all about how we can humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and repent so He can revive us again, just as the Psalmists cried (e.g., Psalm 85:4-7) and just as our brothers and sisters did in America’s earlier generations. 

We praise God for the gospel’s growth in many other places, like Africa mushrooming from 9 million believers in 1900 to 685 million today! Incredible! Yet, our calling is also to this nation. Christian Union is making a serious attempt to seek God for national Christian revival and sincerely encourages you to join us in this effort at the next CU Fire retreat. All you have to do is invite a small group of people to your home on a Friday evening and all day Saturday. CU does the rest to provide the schedule and messages you need to inspire and equip you and your friends to seek God for another world-changing move of His Spirit in America. Hosting CU Fires may be the easiest way to get strong in the Lord personally and be part of a movement seeking God for revival in our land. He deserves the glory!

RELATED: Want to go deeper in your faith? Click here to receive a free download of Christian Union’s "Seeking God Lifestyle” Bible Course Manual.

Dr. Chuck Hetzler is the executive director of Christian Union Day and Night, a ministry that promotes spiritual strengthening in Christians across America, helping them thrive in order to make an impact in an increasingly secular culture by covenanting together for successive spiritual initiatives.