Well - who’d have thought it?
The following quotes are taken from ‘Why did the English stop going to church?’ by Dr. Michael Watts, then Reader in Modern History at Nottingham University. It formed the 1995 lecture of the Dr. Williams’ library. Watts does not appear to be evangelical, making his comments all the more illuminating.
The liberalisation of Christianity was intended to make the faith relevant to the men and women of the modern world. It had instead the effect of making the churches irrelevant to the needs of twentieth-century men and women. (page 11)
How… can we explain the difference between the religious histories of England and the United States? The answer seems to be that the American churches, to a far greater extent than English churches, have held on to the doctrines that produced the upsurge in popular religion in both countries n the first half of the nineteenth century: the doctrines of the sinfulness of man and of his ultimate destruction in the fires of hell unless rescued by the blood shed by Christ at Calvary… conservative churches grow and liberal churches decline because liberal churches offer commodities such as ‘fellowship, entertainment and knowledge’ which are also provided by secular organisations, while conservative churches offer ‘the one incentive which is unique to churches’: salvation, the ‘promise of supernatural life after death’ (page 13).
Furthermore, and fascinating for Spurgeon fans, Watts writes
I began my study of Nonconformist history many years ago with an examination of the career of the great Baptist leader John Clifford. Inevitably, in the course of that study, I had to spend a good deal of time on the Down Grad controversy of the 1880s. In that controversy Spurgeon argued that the liberalisation of the English Presbyterians in the eighteenth century had led to the decline of Old Dissent and he warned that the liberalisation of Victorian Nonconformity that was occurring in his own day would, if not checked, issue in a similar conclusion. Clifford, as president of the Baptist Union in 1888 and as the most prominent of the Baptist liberals, had the task of defending his fellow Dissenters from what many of them regarded as Spurgeon’s libellous attacks. My own sympathies in the controversy were entirely with Clifford. It was not surprising that a young researcher should have scant sympathy for Spurgeon, the man who took some pride in his later years in the accusation that it would take a surgical operation to get a new idea into his head. Yet, a hundred years after the Down Grade controversy, I have to confess that both in his interpretation of history, and in his prognosis for the future, it was Spurgeon, not Clifford, who was right.
Well, who would have thought it? Abandon the gospel, and churches die…