The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Introduction to Modern Protestantism

MARK A. NOLL

It is always precarious to attempt a history of Protestants because there are so many different kinds of them, they exist in so many different places, and (at least for the purposes of this book) they have approached questions of law, politics, and society in so many different ways.1 Today, for example, a satisfactory general account of Protestantism would have to treat long-standing differences that have divided Protestants from each other: Lutheran from the Reformed, Anglicans and Episcopalians from Mennonites, Presbyterians from Baptists or Methodists, and still other ancestral groupings from each other. It should take into account broad liberal and conservative tendencies that now run as strongly within denominations as between them. In addition, it would need to include treatment of the many new Protestant churches, especially the Pentecostals, that have sprung up in such rich profusion since the start of the twentieth century. And, at the start of the twenty-first century, it should by rights deal with the spread of Protestant movements around the globe: Baptists and Anglicans are now present in more than 160 counties, Presbyterians and the Reformed in more than 140, Lutherans and Methodists in more than 100, and other, somewhat smaller bodies are almost as widely spread.2

Rapid and nearly unprecedented change in the shape of world Christianity over recent decades adds special complexity to the engagement of Protestants with the law, politics, and society. In the course of the twentieth century, Protestantism precipitously declined as a culture-shaping force in Europe and some traditional European dependencies (such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). In the United States, where there are more Protestants than in any other single country in the world, Protestantism has been fragmented and reshaped into forms and proportions looking very different in the early twenty-first century than they did in the early twentieth. And although it is difficult to adjust to new worldwide realities,

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