The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism

James V. Heidinger

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Once a strong, vital, and growing denomination, the United Methodist Church is now barely recognizable after more than four decades of demoralization and membership decline. What has gone wrong?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the American church saw the rise of “theological liberalism,” a religious system that intended to respond to new scientific and intellectual currents that were sweeping across the culture. Instead, liberalism not only challenged, but often displaced the substance of the church’s doctrine and teaching, accommodating it to the new intellectual milieu of secularism and rationalism. 

In The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism, James Heidinger discusses the rise of liberalism in America, its anti-supernatural focuses, and the resulting transition in Wesleyan theology. While there are undoubtedly many dimensions to the decline of a denomination, Heidinger suggests we look no further than theological liberalism as the driving force behind the fall of the once-mighty United Methodist Church.