Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for the ‘Great Awakening’ Category

3 Month Introspective

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So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

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No Place for Truth by David Wells

These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism.  This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting.  I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return.  It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads.  I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc.  The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.

1.  No Place for Truth by David Wells  [e, p, s]

How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism.  Absolute classic.

2.  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll  [y, l, e, p, s]

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant.  You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.

3.  The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch  [e, p, s]

Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America.  His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.

4.  Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen  [e, p, s]

This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith.  86 years later it is still relevant.

5.  God in the Wasteland by David Wells  [e, p, s]

Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.

6.  The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells  [e, p, s]

The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism.  Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism.  Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism.  As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read:  in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.

7.  The New Shape of World Christianity:  How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll  [e, p, s]

I am surprised by the lack of press for this book.  Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East).  Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting.  This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail.  I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.

8.  Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden  [e, p, s]

This is a must read if you seek to understand our history.  Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.

9.  Reclaiming the Center:  Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors  [y, l, e, p, s]

Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness:  Challenging the Idol of Relevance.

10.  Christless Christianity by Michael Horton  [y, l, e, p, s]

This books has caused a bit of a stir.  You can read John Frame’s book review here.  I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism.  From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.

11.  Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk.  This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.

12.  Respectable Sins:  Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges  [y, l, e, p, s]

Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate:  gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.

13.  Why Johnny Can’t Preach:  The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon  [e, p, s]

Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.

14.  Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll  [y, l, e, p, s]

I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren.  This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.

15.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church:  In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck  [y, l, e, p, s]

The first book is a solid book on the emergent church.  I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church.  Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.

What we need is always adherence to the same three things:  orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 3b

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evangelicals ought to take a good hard look in the mirror

evangelicals ought to take a good hard look in the mirror

One of the aims of this little blog series is to help other evangelicals understand that many of the things that frustrate us about America, we not only did nothing to stop but are actually culpable in creating.   There are too many ironic consequences of the Second Great Awakening to warrant only a single post.  We need to take a hard look in the mirror and like the Escher drawing, things aren’t necessary as we thought they would appear…

Consider these quotes:

Americans of the early Republic experienced an epistemological crisis as severe as any in their history… Truth itself seemed to be shattered, and everything was left to the individual-the voter, the buyer, the religious believer-to make decisions strictly on his own.    Gordon S. Wood in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 275.

Instead of critically challenging the emerging culture of modernity, populist evangelicals were reshaping Christianity to fit the categories of modern experience.  Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 285.

An Arminian message and a free-church ecclesiology fit with their experience as independent, autonomous actors in a democratic polity and an expanding capitalist economy.  Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 285.

“The Puritan ideal of the minister as an intellectual and educational leader was steadily weakened in the face of the evangelical ideal of the minister as a popular crusader and exhorter”… Theological education began to focus more on practical techniques and less on intellectual training.    Nancy Pearcey and Richard Hofstatder in Total Truth, p. 286.

The outcome of all this was the rise of personality cults, the celebrity system that has become so entrenched in evangelicalism… the leaders of the populist evangelical movement made an end run around denominational structures and built movements based on sheer personality-on their ability to move people and win their confidence… “the ‘star’ system prevailed in religion before it reached the theater…”  Today we rail against the celebrity system within Christianity, thinking it was imported from Hollywood culture… but when we look back historically, we find that the star system began in Christian circles.    Nancy Pearcey and Richard Hofstatder in Total Truth, p. 287; 292.

One of the dangers of personality cults is that they lead easily to demagoguery.  The revivalists were often strong-willed leader who, ironically, ended up exercising an even higher degree of dogmatism and control than pastors in traditional denominations, whom they denounced…  John Nevin, argued that the revivalists’ “high-sounding phrases” of liberty and free inquiry were merely masks for a new form of domination.  Though they called loudly for “liberty,” he said, most evangelical groups pressed every member into “thinking its particular notions, shouting its shibboleths and passwords, dancing its religious hornpipes, and reading the Bible only through its theological goggles…” “so many wires that lead back at last into the hands of a few leading spirits, enabling them to wield a true hierarchical despotism over all who are thus brought within their power.  Thus, ironically, the magnetic leaders who encouraged people to break away from traditional theological structures often ended up becoming authoritarian leaders within their own groups, sometimes verging on demagoguery…  Most of all, perhaps, evangelicalism still produces a celebrity model of leadership-men who are entrepreneurial and pragmatic, who deliberately manipulate their listeners emotions, who subtly enhance their own image through self-serving personal anecdotes, whose leadership style within their own congregation or parachurch ministry tends to be imperious and domineering, who calculates success in terms of results, and who are willing to employ the latest secular techniques to boost numbers.    Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, p. 289; 290; 292.

Alexander de Tocqueville wrote concerning America:

Meet a politician where you expected to find a priest.   p. 306-307.  (Reminds me of much of the Christian Right)

David Wells on post-revolutionary Americans:

The person for whom democracy is not simply a political system but an entire worldview and for whom, therefore, culture and truth belong to the people… in America, the love of freedom, from which individualism arises, is as fierce as the love of equality, from which conformity arises.    David Wells in No Place for Truth, p. 189-190.

Calvinistic orthodoxy, which looked to be unhappily anchored in the older world of hierarchy and privilege and hence appeared to be decidedly undemocratic, was put to flight before Arminianism.  The church-centered faith that had been favored before the Revolution retreated before itinerant revivalism, reasoned faith retreated before exuberant testimony, and theological confession retreated before axioms of experience.    David Wells in No Place for Truth, p. 206.

Nancy Pearcey hits the nail on the head when she says:

Evangelicalism did not provide a critical stance from which to evaluate the new developments in politics and economics, but was itself in many ways a powerful force of modernization. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 286.

For the most part, evangelicals in America have not considered their heritage and the things they have cause willingly and inadvertently:

-Celebrity culture – culpable

-Enlightenment Project – culpable

-Modernism – culpable

-Democritization of knowledge – culpable  (implicit in this is also culpability in post-modernism)

We shall look next time at the split of Protestantism…

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 3

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Charles Finney

Charles Finney

The Second Great Awakening took place from 1790 to 1840.  The Second Great Awakening brought more of the revivalism of the First Great Awakening without many of the redeeming aspects of the First Great Awakening.  The critical difference between the First and Second Great Awakenings was the Revolutionary War that stood between the two.  The Revolutionary War had a profound affect on the ethos of American society.  There was a kind of rebellion not only against political hierarchy but of also religious and historical hierarchy.  Several US historians have pointed outthat following the Revolutionary War a democritization of knowledge also took place (see this and this and this).   The net effect of this was the weaving of anti-intellectualism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, and populism into the American tapestry.The First Great Awakening had the credence of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley, whilst the Second Great Awakening brought us Charles Finney, the Restoration Movement, and numerous “New Religious Movements” (aka. cults).

Mike Horton on the Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney – please read this article if you are unfamiliar with Finney’s revivalism.

No single man is more responsible for the distortion of Christian truth in our age than Charles Grandison Finney. His “new measures” created a framework for modern decision theology and Evangelical Revivalism.

The Restoration Movement was an interesting beast.  The movement sought to create a united Christianity harkening back to the apostolic times.  A lot of times when these movements come around they make the mistake of thinking that true unity = least common denominator Christianity.  The result of these movements is often anti-intellectual, atheological, and destructive.  The Restoration Movement had some weird things about it, namely, claiming that baptism by immersion is necessary for salvation and strange marriage to Enlightenment thinking, particularly John Locke.  The end result of the Restoration Movement is weird theology, and three mainline (liberal) Protestant denominations.

Numerous cults formed in the wake of the Second Great Awakening:  Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Millerites (and other Millenarian sects), Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Scientists.  One has to ask oneself why all these new religious movements formed within a few decades of the Second Great Awakening?  You cannot help but think that the lack of discipleship and theology from the revivalistic methods of the Second Great Awakening contributed in large part to the formation of these abherrent theologies.

We need to continue to explore the impact of the Second Great Awakening on the history of evangelicalism…

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 2

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Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

The First Great Awakening [1730s and 1740s] (as well as the Second that followed [1790-1840]) relied heavily on mass marketing to get people to the revivals.  Whitefield would send assistants up to two years in advance to a city to setup venue and distribute flyers.  Once there, people were confronted with a serious and emotional display of their status before God apart from accepting Christ.  People responded to this bad then good news by equally emotional responses.  Consider what Nancy Pearcey says regarding these revivals:

This kind of intense emotional conversion experience is exactly what the camp meetings of the First and Second Great Awakenings aimed to produce.  No profound teaching, no high church ceremonies, no theological subtleties, no solemn hymns.  Instead the revivalists used simple vernacular language and catchy folk tunes, delivered with lively theatrics to catch people’s attention and move their emotions.  Evangelical preachers broke with the older pattern of using sermons to instruct, and began to use their sermons to press hearers to a point of crisis, in order to produce a conversion experience.  Instead of talking about a gradual growth in faith through participation in a church, evangelicals began to treat a one-time conversion event as the only sufficient basis for claiming to be a Christian.  – Total Truth, p. 263.

The revivals were controversial.  The whole of Presbyterians in America were split in two in the Old Side-New Side controversy.  It is easy to empathize with people being heated over the matter.  On the one hand, the Holy Spirit appeared to be doing a great work and regenerating many hearts, bringing repentance and faith all over the colonies transcending denominational lines.  On the other hand, how many of these people were legitimately changed?  Were people just whipped into an emotional fervor and coerced into conversion?  Were these people ever connected to a local church to be nurtured, catechized, and discipled?

Jonathan Edwards, although not a Presbyterian, sought to bring some peace and truth to the matter and wrote Religious Affections.  Edwards evenhandedly carves out a Biblical middle-ground appropriately defending the role of emotions and the heart.  In essence, Edwards correctly saw that right beliefs (orthodoxy), right emotions (orthopathos), and right actions (orthopraxis) all go together.

Unfortunately, not everyone read Edwards, Religious Affections.  Consider some of the seeds the First Great Awakening planted among infant evangelicals:

The focus on an emotional response; the celebrity-style leader; the engineered publicity; the individual detached from his local congregation.  Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 268.

At times, we can see these seeds grown full and writ large in evangelicalism.  No sub-group is immune.  The Reformed types love their heroes, dead and living.  The charismatics can get carried away at times.  The para-church can become  de facto church surrogate.  The big box/megachurch/Christ-Depot/Willow Creek/Saddleback folk can sometimes get caught up in the mass marketing publicity and business model approaches.

Next time, we will look at the Second Great Awakening…

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