From time to time, a pastor who might have been a missionary to the third world will lament what he might call “American Christianity.”

I think this a bad use of language. It runs the risk of throwing out the good with the bad. For the historically illiterate, it might just mean mega-church seeker-friendliness and blab-it-grab-it religious empires. For some it just means an absence of Christian humility of the sort we see in the third world, where humility is the product of extreme poverty. This, in turn, encourages bad theology here, Christians making the mistake of thinking the only way we can learn to depend on God is by enduring political and economic instability. You even see some pastors mistaking cowardice for holiness — scolding American Christians for insisting on their civil liberties in a way you would rarely see in the third world.

Historic American Christianity is the real thing. Its ‘Sola Scriptura’ demanded that every man and woman be literate, a Berean, a searcher of the Word. It grounded an entire culture in God’s law and His grace. Criminality was fought in the heart, and in the mind. There was a time, in America, where a divorce required the approval of the state legislature, when you knew foreigners by their willingness to do business on the Lord’s Day. It created brave and selfless warriors who freed their neighborhoods, and the world, of tyranny. American Christianity saw God given rights enshrined in a Constitution that, though battered, is the envy of the world.

Use the term “American Christianity” very carefully, pastor. It tells me a lot about you.