For some time, roughly between 1740 and 1820 the rigor exhibited by the Edwardsean ministers seemed representative of the wider culture or at least welcomed by it. Edwardsean theology, however, outlived its popular support. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as in the twentieth, the vast majority of American Christians identified themselves as members of one of the various Protestant groups. Yet, the differences between the Protestants of, say, 1800 and their descendants of 1875 and after are greater than the similarities. The everyday Protestant of 1800 subscribed to a rather complicated and rigidly defined body of dogma; attendance at a certain church had a markedly theological function. By 1875 American Protestants were much more likely to define their faith in terms of family morals, civic responsibility, and above all, in terms of the social function of churchgoing. Their actual creed was usually a liberal, even a sentimental one for which Edwards and his contemporaries would have felt scorn and horror. In an analogous way, Protestant churches over the same period shifted their emphasis from a primary concern with the doctrinal beliefs of their members to a preoccupation with numbers. In ecclesiastical and religious circles, attendance came to count for more than genuine adherence. Nothing could show better the nineteenth-century Protestant Churchâ€™s altered identity as an eager participant in the emerging consumer society than its obsession with popularity and its increasing disregard of intellectual issues.
This was written in the 1970′s. It’s far more true today.