Some time ago, I attended a seminar on the topic of Evangelicalism – looking at the history, primarily as it has played out in the United States. To summarize…what a mess. I felt sooner or later it would be a topic worth writing about at this blog. It seems to follow well my earlier post on Christian Arrogance.
Evangelicalism did not arise at the time of the Reformation. Protestants travelled through pietism and puritanism before discovering this new identity.
What does it mean to evangelize? To bring the Good News. Nothing at all wrong with that. Evangelism focusses on four distinctive matters: conversionism, activism, Biblicism, and Cruxi-centrism (a focus on the cross and Christ’s sacrifice). The four of these began to come together in the eighteenth-century revivals – the “Great Awakening,” both in the United States and England.
John Wesley would preach of the need for conversion; George Whitfield would draw crowds in the thousands; Jonathan Edwards would write of the surprising work of God. Congregational churches would form in New England; Presbyterian in the middle colonies; Methodists and others in the south. Sermons were all based on Biblical texts, with pointed messages and offering direct application.
Then the fragmentation began (as if these three major denominations didn’t offer enough of this).
There was revivalism: western New York, Tennessee, the Cumberland Valley. Charles Grandison Finney – emotionalism for the sake of emotionalism. People have the free will to choose salvation (see Luther and Calvin spinning in their graves). You don’t have to wait for God to do His work; you decide – just come forward (a prototype for Billy Graham, it seems).
D. L. Moody – the YMCA, hymnals, the Moody Press. Billy Sunday – went from professional baseball player to evangelist. He attracted the largest crowds of any in the late eighteenth-century – and he played a significant role in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment (no booze).
Biblicism was weakened – just get a confession of faith; the door was opened to liberalism and the leftist version of the social justice movement. The Enlightenment contributed here: reason, divorced from God, could not accept many of the claims of the Bible. Let’s just try to hold onto the moral stuff, without the grounding in the Bible or in worship.
I am reminded of Murray Rothbard’s work, World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals:
Also animating both groups of progressives was a postmillennial pietist Protestantism that had conquered "Yankee" areas of northern Protestantism by the 1830s and had impelled the pietists to use local, state, and finally federal governments to stamp out "sin," to make America and eventually the world holy, and thereby to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.
The high-bar (or low-bar, more accurately) of this merger can be summed up in two words: Woodrow Wilson.
Returning to the evangelical timeline and splintering… What I view as, perhaps, the most corrupting: John Nelson Darby and Cyrus Scofield. A focus on end-times theology, a focus on a state for Israel (resulting in a worship of the modern state with that name). Scofield, a scoundrel in his personal life, would somehow have his reference Bible printed by the prestigious Oxford Press! Many denominations would read from his Bible.
There would be a further splintering in the form of “Bible-believing Christians” vs. liberal modernists – they would push for all having to conform (leftists never change). There would also be a mushy middle in every denomination, eventually leading to a growth in the liberal side – after all, if you don’t feel strongly about something, you won’t really fight for it.
Lyman Stewart, founder of Union Oil in California, would publish The Fundamentals, a set of ninety essays – call it a creed, a statement of “what we believe.” Try as we might, we can’t escape the need for such a thing. According to the forward of this work, it will be sent to every pastor, evangelist, missionary, theological professor, theological student, Sunday School superintendent, YMCA and YWCA secretary in the English speaking world – as far as addresses can be obtained. And…
…the time has come when a new statement of the fundamentals of Christianity should be made.
Given my previous post in this series, you can tell how I feel about such a statement: arrogant.
J. Gresham Machen would write of Christianity and Liberalism – Christianity being one religion and liberalism being another. Yet, the clearer that the lines were drawn, the more that mushy middle Christians would move to the left.
The Scopes Trial: fundamentalists won in court, but lost in public opinion. The fundamentalists would now splinter even further. Having lost in public opinion, they opened other avenues: missions, unaffiliated Bible colleges, Wycliffe translators, publishing houses, radio, Our Daily Bread. But this was all irrelevant to the broader culture – it had moved on. The seminaries at Harvard, Yale and Princeton all went hard left.
Dallas Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Biola, Moody, the National Association of Evangelicals, Christianity Today, World Vision, the Lausanne Initiative, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Promise Keepers, Forty Days of Purpose, seeker-sensitive churches, the Left-Behind series of books.
What a mess.
There will be at least one more part to this series. Two Christian Reformed pastors lamenting (to various degrees) the loss of a unified, worshipful Church – the Kingdom of God, with Christ at its head.
Perhaps we are coming full circle.
Very timely, bionic! Not only that, but it's seemingly coming from all directions in the last few days - something's up - my gut tells me so!ReplyDelete
Theodore Dalrymple has some interesting commentary on how it's an underappreciated thing to be a regular person and quietly do your job to the best of your ability - as opposed to bending over backwards and selling your soul to "become someone".ReplyDelete
It seems very applicable to the matter of accepting one's role in a denomination and submitting to doctrinal authority, as opposed to making up a new one every time a disagreement arises.
It's probably a lot easier when the arguments presented by the authority don't smell of self-serving BS, too...
cosmic, your last sentence is the difficult one to overcome. Many times, the corruption cannot be ignored.Delete
I wish I knew how to separate the value of proper worship from the open corruption from the leadership. I know some who are able to do this.
Finney was actually the biggest villain in your whole story. He took the supernatural God out of the church and relied on psychological techniques and human logic. We wasn't a part of the First Great Awakening of Wesley, Edwards and Whitfield. Those were all good men preaching the gospel. All with faults but sincere all the same.ReplyDelete
Finney and his theologically liberal, politically Progressive followers was a true stain. Those ideas had to be opposed. The fundamentalists had to reframe the old ideas in a way that addressed the new threat. I don't get all the hate on American Christian history with so broad a brush, mixing together bad fruit and good fruit together.
Part of Bible interpretation is proper dividing the Word of truth, knowing when to make distinctions and when to make associations.
I am not sure what or who exactly you are frustrated with. It would be better to specifically charge bad actors with their error and offer reproof and correction. There are Evangelicals that have done heinous things. Base crimes even. Their are also Evangelicals that have quietly served Jesus their whole lives and produced much good fruit.
Let's call out individual sin and praise individual righteousness. Truth isn't found at the level of abstraction. Truth is found in deeper levels of knowledge. We have to get to the details to understand the problem and propose the solution. Let's do that together.
RMB, my frustration is that individuals corrupt and institutions corrupt. The interaction between Martin Luther and the Church is the perfect example: Luther did not intend to launch a separation from the Church, yet within a few years he was leading the charge - and then lamented the dozen different directions that others took (launching the unfortunate complete fragmentation of what are today labeled "Protestants"). Yet, the Church was corrupt in many ways, and required correction or separation.Delete
The desire for earthly power and the feeling of self-righteousness has torn the Church (Christendom) apart, making it less effective as a messenger of the Good News and (as is the purpose of this blog) less effective in being a check on authoritarian regimes.
To be clear: I find many good (God-fearing, sound teaching) people as leaders in all traditions and all denominations. Just as I see many corrupt leaders in all of these.
I also don't believe that any one of these has the truth nailed down perfectly, nor do I see that any one of these has the only path to salvation. But there are, of course, central and necessary doctrines....
Vigano recently offered in a video that good Christians from all traditions come together to fight the current authoritarian regime. It is this subset that will, one day, provide the remnant necessary.
Looking forward to the second half. References are welcome if they don't slow you down or crowd out the content.ReplyDelete
I was raised in the John Nelson Darby "most corrupting", as you aptly put it, camp. Takes a few decades to get over, if one is even inclined to do so.
The way you brushed on the effects of "free will" evangelicalism was refreshing.
ducq, regarding references - at least from this post...all of this was just from my notes of the speakers. I did not want to name them or give time and place of the conference, just to keep some semblance of anonymity.Delete
However, if you are referring to something else, let me know and I will try to be more mindful.
The counter-culture of the 60s took over and that crowd hates the church (not the mushy middle who are not actual Christians). The true Church is a distinct minority in our society and is increasingly hated. As the hate increases, the denominations are going to fail and Christians will come together around what really matters.ReplyDelete
I don't see a way to have true worship under corrupt leadership.
Quartermaster, I tend to lean in the same direction. I think a subset from all traditions and denominations will come together in some common ground.Delete
I do know some people, however, who are able to participate in the more liturgical traditions in a worshipful manner even if the leadership is corrupt. They see through the priest to the Son. However, it doesn't make for any possibility of community.
Please see the following:
I find church history to be very interesting. My paternal ancestors arrived in 1631 in Massachusetts but by 1700 that family had embraced Quakerism. They were not alone and I have no understanding of the appeal of the Society of Friends. Not that I've tried so far.ReplyDelete
I'm not a person of faith and get so impatient with biblical language that I can read no more than a quarter of a page on those rare occasions that I open the Bible. Particular verses speak to me for their spiritual, historical, or human insights though I find the salvation message unsatisfactory.
That said, I'm not at all hostile to he faith and, in fact, can listen to sermons with great interest. What speaks to human needs and outlines the requirements of human communities, war, family, and marriage is worth listening to.
Having relied on my own ethical judgment over the decades I'm humbled by the results and find that a recent radio sermon was right on the money when the pastor observed that your enemy is not your fellow man but your own sinful nature.
This is perfect for our times for reasons I need not explain. Even that the West is a hollowed out she'll and committed to blaming religion, tradition, and the ancestors it seems there should be a premium on finding a new Great Awakening that speaks to the reason- and arrogance-besotted post-Enlightenment soul. The vast appeal of environmentalism is a possible light in the dark forest. The natural world is indeed magical as animal souls demonstrate. Perhaps a call to appreciate the humor, kindness, and efforts of can appeal to our modern thinking. Certainly dry-as-toast doctrinal discussions leave me cold. And, believe me, free will as an explanation for God's obvious indifference to have man's suffering is just weak.
A bit all over the place but there you are. :--)
Sounds like you accept the idea of humans having a sinful nature and that causing problems in the external world.Delete
That is the starting point for the salvation message that you find unsatisfactory. If you are all interested to discuss this topic, I definitely am. Maybe we could connect through email?
I certainly do. :--)Delete
My email address is on my website on the About page.
Given that the West is a hollowed out shell and committed to blaming religion . . . .
kindness, and efforts of our fellow human beings can appeal
Interesting how these splinter movements headed by Finney and others for "assembly line conversions" began during the Industrial Revolution.ReplyDelete